Sunday, February 27, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Action Stories, March 1932

That's a very striking cover by William Reusswig on this issue of DETECTIVE ACTION STORIES. And you'd be hard put to come up with a better group of writers: Frederick Nebel (with a Sgt. Brinkhaus story; I have the Altus Press collection of these stories and really need to get around to reading them), Carroll John Daly, J. Allan Dunn, J. Lane Linklater, Robert Turner, and Edward Parrish Ware. That's a fine bunch of pulpsters. 

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Wild West Weekly, September 21, 1940

I haven't posted a WILD WEST WEEKLY cover for a while and figured it was time. This painting by Duncan Coburn features an old codger, one of my favorite types of Western supporting character. Inside are some fine authors, including a Tommy Rockford story by Walker A. Tompkins (a series that really needs to be reprinted) and yarns by Chuck Martin, C. William Harrison, and Hapsburg Liebe writing under the house-name Philip F. Deere. The lead novella is by Shoshone Gwinn, actually William R. Gwinn, an author I'm not familiar with. But a while back I read and reviewed an early Gold Medal novel called DEATH LIES DEEP by William Guinn, evidently the only thing he ever wrote. I wonder if that could be the same guy despite the slight difference in spelling in the last name. We'll probably never know, but such speculation interests me. 

Friday, February 25, 2022

Blood Brand - Larry Lawson

Every so often I run across writers I’ve never even heard of, let alone read. One such is Larry Lawson, who wrote a few Western novels in the late Fifties and early Sixties. A friend of mine asked me about Lawson, and I had to admit to not knowing anything. But of course, that intrigued me, so I had to look up his books. They appeared to be fairly interesting, so I ordered three of them.

The first one I’ve read is BLOOD BRAND, a 1957 Pyramid Books paperback that’s actually a reprint of a novel called PRAIRIE GUNS, published in hardcover by Arcadia House a year earlier in 1956. As far as I can tell, this is Lawson’s first novel. The protagonist is Clabe Burdett, a convict who has spent fifteen years in prison for robbing a bank and wounding a man in his attempted getaway. He also killed three men in a gunfight before that. He’s getting a second chance, because the prison allows him out on what would now be called a work release program. Burdett becomes a hired man to farmer Mark Eccles, who’s in something of a bind because his crops have been bad and his former friend, the local cattle baron, has his eye on Eccles’ land. The rancher, whose name is Riker, has already gobbled up several smaller farms and ranches in the area.

By the way, Eccles also has a pretty wife and a young son. With that domestic set-up, a looming range war, and a bad guy named Riker, I think there’s a distinct possibility that Lawson read or watched SHANE at some point in his life.

However, before you start thinking that BLOOD BRAND is just a rip-off of a much more famous book and movie, you should know that while Lawson’s starting point does seem to be a little suspicious, he spins his yarn off into unexpected directions and develops his characters with admirable moral complexity. Clabe Burdett, while sympathetic, is never really a very likable protagonist, and you get that same mix of good and bad in just about everybody in this novel except the kid, who still has his youthful innocence. The action scenes, while a little sparse, are brutally effective. BLOOD BRAND isn’t a lost masterpiece, by any means, but it is a slightly above average traditional Western and I enjoyed reading it.

So who was Larry Lawson? According to copyright records, his real name was Clarence O. Lawson . . . unless it was Clarence V. Lawson, as the copyright records say in another place. When the original edition of this book came out in 1956 under the title PRAIRIE GUNS, a short, favorable review of it appeared in THE OAKLAND TRIBUNE and referred to Lawson as a Berkeley author, so I guess it’s safe to assume that he lived there then. The Fictionmags Index lists Larry Lawson as the author of one story in the pulp LOVE STORY in 1940, so I suppose it’s possible that’s the same guy. There are no listings for Clarence Lawson, C.V. Lawson, or C.O. Lawson. That’s all I know about him at this point. You can’t ever tell, maybe one of his relatives will see this post and give us more information about this forgotten Western writer. Stranger things have happened.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Speed Detective, August 1945

The cover on this issue of SPEED DETECTIVE is by Gordon Samstag, who did only one other pulp cover (an issue of ADVENTURE in 1946) but was well-regarded as a painter and sculptor. I think it's a pretty good cover, even though the girl is dressed more sedately than most on the covers of pulps from Trojan Publications. Inside are stories by some top-notch writers, including a Dan Turner yarn by Robert Leslie Bellem and stories by Roger Torrey and Howard Wandrei (as Robert A. Garron), plus Rex Whitechurch and Elizabeth Starr. 

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Action, January 1947

The cover on this issue of WESTERN ACTION is credited to Robert Stanley. It doesn't look exactly like a typical Stanley cover to me, but maybe I'm just used to his Mike Shayne covers. Archie Joscelyn has two stories in this issue, one under his own name and the lead novella as by Al Cody. Also on hand are T.W. Ford, Ralph Berard (Victor H. White), and Cliff Campbell, the last of those a house-name who could have been any of the other guys in this issue, or even none of them, although that doesn't seem likely. The Columbia pulps edited by Robert W. Lowndes were low-budget affairs but often quite good.

As a bonus, here's the cover of the Pocket Books edition of the novel BITTER CREEK, under the Al Cody by-line. There was also a hardback edition published by Dodd, Mead.

Friday, February 18, 2022

The Lake of Life - Edmond Hamilton

Most of you know that it’s hard to go wrong with Edmond Hamilton’s fiction. THE LAKE OF LIFE is a novel of his that I hadn’t heard of until recently. Originally serialized in the September, October, and November 1937 issues of WEIRD TALES, it was reprinted in 2019 by Armchair Fiction, the edition I read.

At first glance, THE LAKE OF LIFE bears a superficial resemblance to a Doc Savage novel. The protagonist’s name is even Clark . . . Clark Stannard, an adventurer and explorer who finds himself in financial straits and needs money to help his family. Because of this, he agrees to take on a job for millionaire Montgomery Burns—I’m sorry, I mean Asa Brand, but when you read this description from Hamilton, you’ll see why I made that mistake: “The old man was quite bald, and his hairless, yellowed skull and wrinkled hatchet face and scrawny neck made him look like an ancient, unclean vulture.”

Anyway, Brand hires Clark Stannard to find the legendary Lake of Life, which is supposedly located in deepest, darkest Africa behind a range of mountains known as the Mountains of Death. The legendary part comes in because the water from the Lake of Life is supposed to confer immortality on whoever drinks it, and Brand is willing to pay a high price for eternal life. In order to accomplish this, Stannard recruits a crew of five assistants (there’s that possible Doc Savage influence again) who are highly competent but who have suffered some sort of setback in life: Ephraim Quell, a sea captain who lost his ship in an accident and was stripped of his captain’s license; Mike Shinn, a heavyweight boxer whose career ended after he was paid to take a dive; John Morrow, an former army officer dishonorably discharged for punching a superior officer in a fight over a woman; gangster Blacky Cain, who had to leave the States because the law is after him; and Link Wilson, a gunfighting Texan on the run from a murder charge arising from a deadly shootout in a bordertown cantina.

Are all these stereotypes? Sure they are. Do I care? Not one bit, because Hamilton uses them to tell a very fast-paced tale full of colorful settings and breathless adventure and even a little bit of philosophy. Stannard and his crew find a way through the Mountains of Death, of course, and discover the Lake of Life, but at the same time they also discover a war between two lost races (a favorite plot of Edgar Rice Burroughs, as most of you probably are thinking right now). Our heroes get mixed up in that war, naturally, and equally naturally, there are two beautiful young women on hand, one good, one maybe not so good. Will Clark Stannard and his men survive the epic battles between one group that wants to protect the Lake of Life and another that wants to use it for evil?

I had an absolutely wonderful time reading this novel. It’s a Front Porch Book, for sure. The plot is nothing we haven’t all seen before, but Hamilton does such a superb job of spinning his yarn that I couldn’t stop turning the pages. I’m shocked that this was never published as half of an Ace Double in the Sixties, as some of Hamilton’s other pulp work was. If it had been, I’d have been right there on my parents’ front porch with it, galloping through it on a summer day with a big grin on my face. If you’ve read this far, you already know whether or not you like this kind of stuff. If you do, I give THE LAKE OF LIFE a very high recommendation.

A note on the cover of the Armchair Fiction edition: That’s actually a Robert Gibson Jones cover from the August 1951 issue of FANTASTIC ADVENTURES. As soon as I saw it, I thought to myself that it must have been a FANTASTIC ADVENTURES cover. It just has that look. But it kind of fits THE LAKE OF LIFE, too, if you squint your eyes and hold your mouth just right. I put that image at the top of this review because I wanted it to pop up when I share the post on Facebook. I figured the original WEIRD TALES covers by Margaret Brundage, which you can see below, might catch me a jail term from the censors over there.

Monday, February 14, 2022

The Digest Enthusiast, Book Fifteen - Richard Krauss, ed.

The history and evolution of Fantasy Tales as told by its editors Stephen Jones and David A. Sutton in a behind-the-scenes interview, complete with vintage photographs and artifacts.

Gary Lovisi exposes the licentious Marijuana Girl by N.R. de Mexico, as cited by the Select Committee on Current Pornographic Materials in 1952.

Howard Browne’s vision for the ultimate fantasy and science fiction digest: Fantastic. An in-depth review of its debut year, packed with the inside stories behind its fiction.

Tom Brinkmann uncovers the original 7 Year Itch with buxom beauty Vanessa Brown and Tom Ewell via the pocket-size pages of People Today.

Anthony Perconti corresponds with author William Preston about his Old Man series for Asimov’s Science Fiction, that includes a peek into the final episode, yet to come.

Peter Enfantino wraps up Manhunt’s third year in an edifying, gripping exposé, capped with his top ten picks for 1955.

Jack Seabrook lauds Avon’s Murder Mystery Monthly No. 31 with William Irish’s “If I Should Die Before I Wake” in a revealing examination of the master’s talent for terror and suspense.

Joseph Gollomb, once credited as the premier true crime reporter of the day, proves the conceit in our in-depth review of his digest classic: 11 True Crimes.

The crime fiction of “Lost Author” Carl G. Hodges is ripe for revival. Join the ranks of his fans as we recount his career with a deep dive into 1951’s digest novel: Crime On My Hands.

Steve Carper returns with a robust report on the rare children’s digest series, Boys’ and Girls’ Fiction, straight out of Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Robert A.W. Lowndes’ Startling Mystery Stories No. 2 gets its due in an inclusive review of its stories, with author backgrounds and feature summaries.

Industry news—with over 30 cover previews—from the digest world’s favorite editors, publishers, and writers.

In all, there’s nearly 150 magazine covers, cartoons by Bob Vojtko, and more. Cover by Rachel Krauss.

160 pages, published in color and b&w print editions, and Kindle, by Larque Press LLC.

There are a number of non-fiction journals devoted to subjects near and dear to my heart being published. One that I’ve been reading and greatly enjoying for several years is THE DIGEST ENTHUSIAST, which is up to Book Fifteen in its run. I was too late for the pulps, or rather, mostly too late; they were still being published after I was born, but I don’t recall ever seeing any new pulps except for some of the final issues of RANCH ROMANCES AND ADVENTURES, and by then it was only a quasi-pulp, not quite the same size and with trimmed edges. But I digress. I was talking about digest magazines, devoted mostly to genre fiction, and I was around for their heyday in the Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties. The format really got started in the late Forties and picked up a lot of steam in the Fifties, and when I was a kid those days were recent enough that I often came across used copies of those magazines and bought them, too, along with new issues off the magazine racks at the drugstore and grocery store.

To get back to THE DIGEST ENTHUSIAST, BOOK FIFTEEN, editor Richard Krauss and various contributors deliver the usual well-written, entertaining collection of articles, essays, and reviews pertaining to a wide variety of digest magazines. My favorites are Krauss’s article about the creation and first year of the SF/fantasy digest FANTASTIC; Peter Enfantino’s continuing examination of the iconic crime digest MANHUNT, this time focusing on the issues from 1955; and Krauss’s review of STARTLING MYSTERY STORIES, No. 2, Fall 1966. But as usual when I sit down with an issue of THE DIGEST ENTHUSIAST, I read it cover to cover and enjoyed everything about it. All the issues are available on Amazon, and if you’re interested in genre fiction, you really need to read these. Very high recommendation. 

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Amazing Stories, December 1950

This cover by James B. Settles is intriguing enough to make me want to read the story that goes with it, so I guess it did its job. I don't have time to read it right now, mind you, but if you want to, you can, because this issue of AMAZING STORIES is available on-line here. E.K. Jarvis was a Ziff-Davis house-name known to be used by Robert Bloch, Paul W. Fairman, Robert Silverberg, and Henry Slesar. 1950 is too early for Silverberg and Slesar. Fairman seems to me to be the best bet. Or the author might have been somebody else entirely. The second story in the issue is also by a Z-D house-name, P.F. Costello. William McGivern is known to have used that one, and since the story is called "Kiss and Kill", certainly a crime fiction sounding title, McGivern might well be the author. I've found that his SF and fantasy stories often have criminous elements. After that, we get some stories by authors using their real names: Clifford D. Simak, Raymond F. Jones, and John Jakes. A pretty good line-up, to be sure. 

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: .44 Western Magazine, September 1944

I always think of Sam Cherry as doing covers for the various Thrilling Group Western pulps, but he did quite a few for Popular Publications as well, including this one on the September 1944 issue of .44 WESTERN MAGAZINE featuring a dynamic action scene. This particular issue doesn't have an abundance of familiar names inside. Barry Cord (Peter Germano), Frank C. Robertson, and John A. Saxon are the best known. The other authors, who had decent careers but are pretty much forgotten, are James Shaffer, Le Roy Boyd, Stuart Friedman, and Melvin W. Holt.

Friday, February 11, 2022

Back Country - William Fuller

A few years ago, I read one of the Brad Dolan novels by William Fuller, a series published as paperback originals by Dell in the 1950s. I think it was BRAD DOLAN’S BLONDE CARGO, but I’m not sure about that. I am sure that I considered it okay at best and didn’t rush to read any more of them. However, the consistently excellent Black Gat Books line recently reprinted the first book in the series, BACK COUNTRY, with an informative introduction by Bill Pronzini, and since I have faith in the brain trust behind Black Gat, I gave it a try. I’m glad I did, because BACK COUNTRY is a solid, very enjoyable mid-Fifties hardboiled novel.

This novel introduces Brad Dolan, World War II and Korean War vet, former advertising man, and generally a knock-around sort of guy who’s driving through Florida, drifting aimlessly while he tries to recover from a nasty break-up with his wife, who is a beautiful New York City model. Brad finds himself in a town called Cartersville, meets a beautiful blonde in a gambling joint, has some trouble, and winds up running afoul of the local law. But he also meets the local kingpin, a rich man named Rand Ringo (who happens to be married to the blonde from the gambling joint). Brad, at loose ends, goes to work for Ringo even though he knows the man is a crook, because he hopes to cut himself in for a slice of the action and also because Ringo has a beautiful daughter, as well.

You know how it goes from there. The plot twists, Brad finds himself conflicted (because he’s really not as amoral as he thinks he is), he winds up framed for murder, and there’s a lot of sweaty passion to go with the mix of small-town corruption and violence.

And I thoroughly enjoyed every page of it, because Fuller, like John D. MacDonald, Harry Whittington, Charles Williams, Day Keene, and many others from that era, can flat-out write. Brad Dolan is a very engaging narrator/protagonist, smart, well-read, almost poetic at times, and plenty tough when he needs to be. The pace is actually fairly leisurely and the book doesn’t completely kick in right away, but getting there is still a nice ride before an even better build-up of genuine suspense.

BACK COUNTRY doesn’t really read like the first book of a series, but maybe Fuller liked Brad Dolan so much that he couldn’t resist writing more about him. I can understand that. This one is well worth reading and I give it a high recommendation.

Tuesday, February 08, 2022

Men's Adventure Quarterly #4: The Jungle Girls Issue

I’m running out of superlatives to describe what a beautiful publication MEN’S ADVENTURE QUARTERLY is. Every issue lovingly reprints great covers and interior art from the men’s adventure magazines of the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies, along with stories and features from those magazines, all of it enhanced by well-written and informative editorials and introductions from editors Bob Deis and Bill Cunningham. The fourth volume is out now, and it’s yet another fantastic issue, this time focusing on a subject near and dear to my heart ever since I first watched those early Tarzan movies (the ones with a very scantily clad Maureen O’Sullivan): jungle girls.

About half of this issue is devoted to Jane Dolinger, a top-notch travel and adventure writer who contributed many stories to the MAMs. But she was also a lovely young woman who posed for many photo features in those same magazines, making her unique among their contributors. Deis and Cunningham deliver plenty of excellent examples of all of Jane Dolinger’s talents, along with an interview with her biographer, Lawrence Abbott, that provides a lot of insight into her life and career.

There’s also a feature on Marion Michael, the star of two German films in which she played Liane, Jungle Goddess (that’s also the title of the first film). I’d never heard of Marion Michael or these movies, so I found this quite interesting. Looks like at least the first movie is available to watch on-line. I probably won’t get around to doing so . . . but I might.

This issue is rounded out by four mostly fictional stories with jungle girl themes, and my favorite, not surprisingly, is Donald Honig’s “Yank Explorer Who Ruled Guatemala’s Taboo Tribe”, from the August 1959 issue of FOR MEN ONLY. There’s been a Donald Honig story in every issue of MEN’S ADVENTURE QUARTERLY so far, and for good reason. He’s an excellent writer and always delivers an entertaining, fast-moving yarn, no matter what the subject matter.

As I may well have mentioned before, I used to eye those magazines every time I went to the drugstore to buy comic books and paperbacks, and I really wanted to buy some of them, but I knew I could never get them into the house past the eagle-eyed gaze of my mother. I had enough trouble with paperbacks. (Ah, Robert McGinnis!) Now, thanks to Deis and Cunningham and MEN’S ADVENTURE QUARTERLY, I can at least read some sterling examples of what I missed back then. Issue 4, THE JUNGLE GIRLS ISSUE, gets a very high recommendation from me. You can buy it directly from Bob Deis in his eBay store.

Sunday, February 06, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Dime Mystery Magazine, July 1940

Rafael De Soto provides not only some action and a good-looking redhead, but also some downright weirdness in this cover for DIME MYSTERY MAGAZINE. The Weird Menace boom was just about over by the time this pulp was published, but you can still see its lingering influence in the cover and the story titles. There are some excellent authors in this issue: Bruno Fischer (as Russell Gray), Wyatt Blassingame, Stewart Sterling, Ralph Oppenheim (best remembered for his aviation yarns), and the lesser-known Costa Carousso and W. Wayne Robbins.

Saturday, February 05, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Popular Western, December 1947

Here we have Injury to a Squeezebox on this issue of POPULAR WESTERN, but somehow I doubt if that will become a recurring category like Injury to a Hat. But you never know about these things. The lead story in this issue is a non-series yarn by the great W.C. Tuttle. Also in the issue are installments in two series that ran regularly in POPULAR WESTERN, Sheriff Blue Steele by Tom Gunn (probably Syl McDowell) and Sheriff Egg and Deputy Ham by Alfred L. Garry. I like what I've read of the Blue Steele series. The other authors in this issue are the always reliable Joseph Chadwick, C.V. Tench (a reprint from the March 1933 issue of ALL STAR WESTERN & FRONTIER MAGAZINE, a pulp I'm not familiar with) and the little-remembered Ted Fox and Andrew Bronson.

Friday, February 04, 2022

Down the Coast of Barbary - H. Bedford-Jones

In 1730, Patrick Spence is an American sea captain whose ship is sunk by pirates off the Barbary Coast. Spence is the only survivor. He’s picked up by a passing British vessel and taken to Algeria, where he finds himself broke and stranded, with no prospects of getting back to America.

He makes a friend, however, a British clergyman who is in Algeria to study ancient ruins. For an elderly preacher, he proves to be surprisingly handy with a sword, too, if that’s not too much of a spoiler, and I don’t think it is since this is an H. Bedford-Jones historical swashbuckler and you know there’s going to be a lot of swordplay.

At any rate, Spence and his friend Dr. Shaw soon find themselves up to their necks in intrigue and danger as they get involved with a Moroccan nobleman who’s trying to seize the throne of that country and a renegade Dutchman who is also after the throne so that he can consolidate all the countries along the Barbary Coast and promote a war with Spain. Everybody’s trying to get their hands on a mysterious box that holds the key to the fate of empires. Oh, and there’s a beautiful young Englishwoman in the mix, too.

DOWN THE COAST OF BARBARY is a short novel by H. Bedford-Jones first published in the October 21, 1922 issue of ARGOSY ALL-STORY WEEKLY, more than 99 years ago, but as always with Bedford-Jones, the prose is only slightly old-fashioned and he keeps the action moving along at a very nice pace. The plotting is a little too muddled here and there, making it difficult to keep up with everybody’s motivations, and a bit too much happens off-screen, but the action scenes (and there are plenty of them) are spectacular and Spence is a very likable protagonist. This novel isn’t in the top rank of Bedford-Jones’ work, but it’s a solid second-tier yarn and is well worth reading. I was entertained from start to finish.

DOWN THE COAST OF BARBARY was reprinted in PULP ADVENTURES #24, published by Bold Venture Press, and, being in the public domain, is also available on-line here and there.