Sunday, January 16, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Tales, February 1942

I hope whoever has that gun hands it to the babe in the red dress. She looks a lot more capable of using it than that doofus she's tied up with. I don't know who painted this cover. Inside this issue of DETECTIVE TALES is an absolutely top-notch group of writers: Fredric Brown, Day Keene, John K. Butler, D.L. Champion, Stewart Sterling, John Hawkins, Curt Hamlin, Edward S. Williams, and William Benton Johnston. I'm not familiar with the last one of those guys, but I'll bet he was a pretty good writer to crack a Popular Publications pulp. 

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Story, December 5, 1942

This cowboy's got a lot of trouble coming at him in this cover by H.W. Scott for WESTERN STORY, the granddaddy of the Western pulp genre. Inside this issue is the novella featured on the cover, "Salinas Showdown" by Bennett Foster, plus other stories by Wayne D. Overholster, Gunnison Steele (Bennie Gardner), Hapsburg Liebe, Cliff Walters, and Kenneth Gilbert. That's a solid lineup of Western authors.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Dead End Trail - Norman A. Fox

Norman A. Fox was a prolific, consistently good Western author in both the pulps and the novel market for more than twenty years, from the late Thirties until his death in 1960. He published 31 novels during that time, as well as more than 400 stories, all of them Westerns except for one detective yarn. His most successful decade was probably the Fifties, when several of his novels were made into movies.

DEAD END TRAIL, published in hardcover by Dodd, Mead in 1944 and reprinted several times in paperback, is the first of four novels featuring range detectives Rowdy Dow and Stumpy Grampis, Fox’s only series characters. Actually, in this one the duo start out as reformed outlaws. Rowdy has received a pardon for his crimes because he heroically risked his life to warn a whole valley full of settlers when a dam burst, so they could escape before the resulting flood washed them away. As the novel opens, the two friends are on the drift in Montana, but they soon find themselves in trouble when a U.S. marshal recruits them to help him on a mysterious errand: he wants Rowdy and Stumpy to deliver a china figurine of a rearing stallion to a rancher in Latigo Basin. This rouses Rowdy’s curiosity enough for him to go along with the plan.

Well, you know things are bound to get a lot more complicated than that. Turns out the china figurine is the key to recovering a fortune in hidden loot. But that’s not all. There’s a land swindle going on in Latigo Basin, plus a legendary outlaw who’s escaped from prison (Butch Rafferty . . . Hmm, wonder who he’s based on?), a dimwitted giant who can repeat, verbatim, anything he’s ever been told, a county fair, a hot air balloon, some rustling, and oh, yeah, a pretty girl. Fox mixes it all together into a pretty complicated plot that changes direction several times. The story sprawls around enough that I wondered if Fox came up with it by combining a couple of his pulp stories, but that’s pure speculation on my part.

Whatever its origins, DEAD END TRAIL is a solid, entertaining traditional Western. The pace is a little leisurely and there’s quite a bit of droll humor, but Fox can bring the hardboiled action when he needs to. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Rowdy and Stumpy remind me quite a bit of Roy Rogers and Gabby Hayes, but again, that’s pure speculation on my part. What I do know is that I enjoyed this novel, and if you’re a fan of traditional Westerns, I think there’s a good chance you will, too. The other Rowdy Dow and Stumpy Grampis novels are THE DEVIL'S SADDLE, THE FEATHERED SOMBRERO, and THE PHANTOM SPUR. With titles like those, you can bet there's a pretty good chance I'll be reading them sooner or later.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy - William B. Irvine

For the last several years, I’ve had a growing interest in Stoic philosophy (upper-case S, by the way; the generally accepted definition of “stoic” isn’t really what Stoic philosophy is about). Like a lot of writers, I battle off-and-on with depression and anxiety, and from what I’d read about the Stoics, they seemed to have some ideas that might prove helpful in dealing with such problems. Recently I decided to delve a little deeper into the subject, so I picked up what appears to be a well-regarded book about it, A GUIDE TO THE GOOD LIFE: THE ANCIENT ART OF STOIC JOY by William B. Irvine.

Now, as you know, I’m a fiction guy. Most of the non-fiction I read is about books and/or writers. Normally, reading a book about philosophical ideas would make my eyes (and my brain) glaze over. But A GUIDE TO THE GOOD LIFE is surprisingly readable, probably because Irvine’s prose is clear and concise, without a lot of academic jargon, and a thread of self-deprecating humor runs all through the book. He starts with a good historical background and biographical sketches of the ancient Roman philosophers who developed Stoicism from its Greek origins, then lays out the central principles of it. That’s all excellent, but the following section that goes into detail about applying Stoicism to obstacles encountered in modern life is probably the most valuable.

I won’t even attempt to go into all of that here. A lot of it strikes me as being just common sense, and I was a little surprised to discover that some of the things I already try to do go right along with Stoicism. But I think that reading this book and pondering more about it has helped me already to deal with adversity. Maybe not much, mind you; it’s certainly no magic bullet. But hey, any ideas that help you get along in this crazy day and age are worth something, I think.

I don’t agree with everything in Irvine’s book, but I’m intrigued enough that I’ve ordered a couple more volumes about Stoicism and plan to read them soon. And I have to admit, I also like the fact that this may well be the only blog on the Internet where you can read reviews of Tom Roan’s THE DRAGON STRIKES BACK and a book on Stoic philosophy in less than a week’s time.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Fancy Anders Goes to War: Who Killed Rosie the Riveter - Max Allan Collins

Fancy Anders is a rich, beautiful blond socialite during World War II. She worked as a secretary in her father’s successful private detective business, and when he’s called back to active duty, she takes over the agency. Not as a detective, mind you, but simply somebody to refer potential clients to other agencies and keep the business existing in name only.

Now really, what rich, beautiful blond socialite is going to be satisfied with a set-up like that? Especially when a young woman who works in an aircraft plant dies under suspicious circumstances, and the man who owns the plant is an old friend of Fancy’s family? Naturally, Fancy decides to go undercover and join the millions of women who have entered the workforce with most of the men off at war. She’s determined to find out if the young woman’s death was an accident, as it appears at first . . . or murder.

FANCY ANDERS GOES TO WAR: WHO KILLED ROSIE THE RIVETER? is a book that seems to have been designed with me as the target audience. And since Max Allan Collins is one of the modern masters of the historical mystery, it doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. This is a highly entertaining novel, with a fast pace, a suitably twisty plot, and a great protagonist in Fancy Anders. The cover and illustrations by Fay Dalton just make it that much more appealing. I had a wonderful time reading this book and give it a high recommendation. And I’m happy to know that there are at least two more Fancy Anders tales in the works, because I’m looking forward to reading them, too.

Sunday, January 09, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Short Stories, January 10, 1943

A pith helmet, a swastika, a mysterious ring, a guy who looks a little like Robert Mitchum, and a red sun in the background . . . Yep, this is a cover for SHORT STORIES, one of the great adventure pulps. The artist is E. Franklin Wittmack. Authors on hand in this issue are H. Bedford-Jones, William MacLeod Raine, Allan Vaughan Elston, William R. Cox, Philip Ketchum, Fulton T. Grant, and H.S.M. Kemp. Since the dates on pulp magazines were off-sale dates, when newsstand employees would pull them to return, that means this issue was still on the stands 79 years ago today. You'd have to grab it before the next day if you wanted a copy.

Saturday, January 08, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Novels and Short Stories, October 1947

There's almost enough happening on this cover that it reminds me of Norman Saunders' work, but it's not a Saunders cover. Even so, I like it quite a bit. No idea who did the art. Inside this issue of WESTERN NOVELS AND SHORT STORIES are stories by some good pulpsters, including Giles A. Lutz, Ray Gaulden, Nelson C. Nye, John H. Latham, and little-known Harry E. Baker, who published only a few stories. I can't say that any of those authors are actual favorites of mine, but I'll bet it's an entertaining issue anyway.

Friday, January 07, 2022

The Dragon Strikes Back - Tom Roan

Tom Roan, the son of an Alabama sheriff and a lawman himself, is best remembered for the hundreds of stories he wrote for the Western pulps in a career that lasted more than thirty years, from the early Twenties to the mid-Fifties. He wrote a handful of Western novels, too, and died in 1958. While the vast majority of his work falls in the Western genre, he wrote quite a few detective stories and thrillers, as well, including the espionage yarn THE DRAGON STRIKES BACK, published in 1936 by Julian Messner and reprinted by A.L. Burt a couple of years later.

Years ago, I read some pretty negative comments about this novel but thought it sounded intriguing enough to check out, so I hunted up a copy. However, I never got around to reading it before it was lost in the Fire of ’08, and I never replaced it because copies for sale on-line are fairly expensive. Livia knew I still wanted to read it, though, so she found one and got it for me as a Christmas present. So finally, more than a dozen years after I originally set out to, I’ve read THE DRAGON STRIKES BACK.

My copy is lacking a dust jacket, so that cover image above is one I found on-line. And it’s more than enough to tell you that this is a Yellow Peril novel, although it doesn’t follow in the footsteps of Sax Rohmer quite as much as you might think from the cover. The plot is pretty simple: somebody is trying to provoke a war between the United States and Japan. Ships are sunk. Japanese diplomats in San Francisco are murdered in some mysterious, grotesque fashion. An admiral’s beautiful daughter is abducted. The world trembles on the brink of war.

Tasked with sorting everything out and preventing that war are Secret Service agents William “Eternity Bill” Mandell, a corpulent, Nero Wolfe-like detective, and his Archie Goodwin, an Army captain named Andrew Lee who’s on detached duty from the cavalry. Captain Lee is also in love with the admiral’s kidnapped daughter. Their investigation puts them afoul of the deadly tongs in Chinatown and ultimately involves secret passages, chases through the sewers, an underground temple, a really grisly murder method, and plenty of the pulpish, over the top, breakneck action that I love. Plus, Roan saves a really nice twist for near the end, when the true identities of the plotters are revealed.

Now, given the fact that this is a Yellow Peril novel published in 1936, is THE DRAGON STRIKES BACK politically incorrect to the point of offensiveness? Well, yes and no. Some modern readers might be put off by some of the dialogue, but I didn’t find it any worse than a lot of other popular fiction from that era. I don’t have a problem accepting a work of fiction as a product of its time. But that’s just me. Is it also clumsily written in places? Yes . . . but that’s just Tom Roan. He was a storyteller, not a stylist, and was more concerned with keeping the action galloping along, which he does quite well. And there are occasional passages that are well-written, especially when he’s describing the settings, whether it’s fog-bound San Francisco or an ornately furnished hidden temple or a slimy, sinister sewer tunnel with something lurking inside it.

So, was it worth it to finally read THE DRAGON STRIKES BACK after all this time? I’d say it was, definitely. I had a fine time reading this novel and stayed up late with it a couple of nights, turning the pages to find out what was going to happen, reluctant to put it down. I think the ending could have maybe been a little stronger, but I still enjoyed it quite a bit, although it certainly isn’t a book for everyone.

Monday, January 03, 2022

All of the Marvels - Douglas Wolk

Douglas Wolk had a really great idea for a book: read all of the superhero comics published by Marvel since FANTASTIC FOUR #1 was published in 1961 (approximately 27,000 comic books through 2017) and then write an overview of them, considering them all to form one single, self-contained story, the largest work of fiction ever published. It’s exactly the sort of thing that a long-time (since Christmas Day, 1963) Marvel Comics fan like me would find fascinating.

The execution of that really great idea? Well, that’s something else again.

Good news first. ALL OF THE MARVELS is about 90% of a great book. When he’s actually writing about the comics, Wolk is top-notch, summarizing them well and doing an excellent job of fitting everything together. He fills in the historical background well and is affectionate and even-handed in his treatment of the creators of those comics. It doesn’t hurt that he devotes an entire chapter, and a long one, at that, to MASTER OF KUNG FU, my favorite comic from the Seventies. He gives a lot of love to FANTASTIC FOUR, my all-time favorite comic book, and also to THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, which is also very high on my list. Best of all, when he’s writing about the Sixties and Seventies, the book makes me feel like I’m there again, walking across the highway to Lester’s Drugstore to pick up the new issues every week.

Unfortunately, before he gets to that point, Wolk spends a lot of time early on lecturing the reader and making it clear that he dislikes long-time comics fans (you know, the ones who plunked down their nickels and dimes and quarters every week for years so that there would still be a Marvel Comics for him to write about) and considers any of us who don’t care for Marvel’s current comics to be horrible people. He comes across as smug, arrogant, and very morally superior to anybody who disagrees with him.

Luckily, as I said, most of this is very early on. If you’re a long-time fan and/or have no interest in what Marvel is publishing these days, I’d advise skimming the first two chapters and skipping Chapter 3 completely. Heck, if you’re a long-time fan, you can probably just start with Chapter 4, which focuses on, appropriately enough, the Fantastic Four. There are a few brief shots at older fans later on, but they’re easy enough to ignore.

Don’t get me wrong. Overall, I enjoyed ALL OF THE MARVELS quite a bit and consider it well worth reading. Yeah, there were a few times when I felt like throwing the book against the wall, but mostly I raced through it, flipping the pages eagerly, having a great time reliving some fifty- and sixty-year-old memories. Just know what you’re getting into if you were there at or near the beginning, like I was.

Sunday, January 02, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Book Magazine, Fall 1938

All you have to do is look at how much is going on in this great cover to know it's by Norman Saunders. Holy cow! They just don't get much more pulpish than this one. Inside this issue of DETECTIVE BOOK MAGAZINE are a Duncan Maclain novel by Bayard Kendrick, a reprint of an Amusement Inc. story by Theodore Tinsley, and more yarns by James P. Olsen, Stewart Sterling, and Franklin H. Martin. Looks like a fantastic issue.  

Saturday, January 01, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Frontier Stories, Spring 1951

I don't know who did the dynamic cover on this issue of FRONTIER STORIES. Possibly Allan Anderson, based on the way the horse looks. The group of authors inside is certainly a good one, though: Gordon D. Shirreffs, William R. Cox, Frank Castle, Bennett Foster, John Jo Carpenter (John Reese), and a couple of lesser-known authors, Gene L. Henderson and Walter Hutchings. The Cox and Foster stories are reprints from the Summer 1943 issue of FRONTIER STORIES. It's good to be starting another year of these posts.