Sunday, March 27, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Spicy-Adventure Stories, November 1938

Looks like the Skipper traded Gilligan for a different little buddy. I'm talking about the monkey, of course. This is another good cover by H.J. Ward on one of the Spicy pulps. The stories inside this issue of SPICY-ADVENTURE STORIES are all by stalwarts of the Spicy line: Robert Leslie Bellem, E. Hoffmann Price, Victor Rousseau (as Hugh Speer), Edwin Truett Long (as Jose Vaca), Laurence Donovan (as Larry Dunn), and Wyatt Blassingame (as William B. Rainey).

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Pete Rice Magazine, August 1934

I don't normally associate beautiful women with Walter Baumhofer's pulp covers, like I do with, say, Allen Anderson or Earle Bergey, but the blonde on this issue of PETE RICE MAGAZINE proves that he could paint one when he wanted to. The Pete Rice series is an odd one. Created by Street & Smith to try to recreate the success of DOC SAVAGE, it featured the heroic Pete Rice as an Arizona sheriff with a group of colorful assistants. The pulp ran for 32 issues and almost three years, with most of the novels being written by Ben Conlon under the house-name Austin Gridley. Then, after Pete's own magazine was cancelled, he appeared in 20 more adventures in WILD WEST WEEKLY, still under the Gridley name but written by Conlon, Laurence Donovan, Lee Bond, Paul S. Powers, and Ronald Oliphant. Despite all that material, few, if any, of the Pete Rice stories have ever been reprinted. I read one issue of the pulp many years ago with a Conlon novel in it, and I recall not liking it much. Even so, I'd be interested in reading more of them. Sometimes my first impression of a series doesn't hold up. At any rate, I like this Baumhofer cover, and the other authors in this issue are Harold A. Davis (who would go on to ghost some of the Doc Savage novels), Wilfred McCormick (whose juvenile sports novels were favorites of mine when I was a kid), and George Allan Moffett, who was really prolific pulpster Edwin V. Burkholder.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Round Trip - Don Tracy

Don Tracy had an odd career as a writer. As a young man, he published four well-regarded hardboiled novels during the Thirties while he was still working as a newspaper and radio journalist. Then he became a full-time writer and turned out scores of short stories for various sports and detective pulps, as well as having his work appear frequently in the slicks. He didn’t return to novels until the late Forties with some popular historical sagas, and then he concentrated on those for the next dozen or so years before turning to detective novels with a long-running series about an army investigator named Giff Speer. Also during the Sixties he wrote a number of movie novelizations and TV tie-in novels, as well as a few more historical epics, under the name Roger Fuller. (This is how I first encountered Tracy, with his BURKE’S LAW novels.) He wrote some non-fiction, as well. So he’s really a hard author to pin down and is mostly forgotten now.

Not by the fine folks at Staccato Crime, though, an imprint of Stark House Press that specializes in reprinting what they call Jazz-Age Noir Classics. They’ve recently done a double volume of Tracy’s first two novels, ROUND TRIP and CRISS-CROSS (which was made into a popular 1949 movie that deleted the hyphen and added Burt Lancaster). I just read ROUND TRIP, and it is indeed both hardboiled and noir. Very much so in both categories.

Retitled paperback edition; I don't know the artist

The narrator/protagonist is a young man named Eddie McGruder, who works as a news photographer for a Baltimore newspaper. As the book opens, he and one of the paper’s reporters are sent to a small town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore to get the story on the lynching of a black man who was accused of some crime (and Tracy never really specifies what crime, as if it doesn’t really matter, which adds to the bleakness). The trouble Eddie runs into there is only a small part of the book, however. There are some flashbacks to his checkered past. Then he falls in love. Then there’s a sensational manslaughter trial. Everybody drinks a lot. The book reminds me of some of Elmore Leonard’s novels, in that a lot of stuff happens, but there’s not really much of a linear plot. Things just meander around, kind of like real life. And like real life, there’s a lot that can go wrong . . . and does.

Tracy’s prose in this book is about as lean and tough as you’ll find anywhere, reminiscent of Paul Cain. He can nail a character or a setting in just a few terse lines. ROUND TRIP is a very impressive book, but it’s a tough one to actually like, because of the air of inevitable doom that hangs over it. But then, that’s noir, isn’t it? If you’re a fan, I give it a high recommendation, and I’m glad it’s been reprinted so I had a chance to read it. I’ll be reading CRISS-CROSS, the other novel in this volume, soon, and I’m looking forward to it. The paperback edition of this book is available here, and there's an ebook edition, as well.

And maybe I’ll read some of Tracy’s historical novels, too. I have several of them on my shelves but have never gotten around to them. 

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Wonder Stories, June 1951

Okay, is that a space helmet or a bowling ball this space babe is holding? If it's a bowling ball, I want to read the story this Earle Bergey cover is illustrating. Of course, it's probably just a space helmet. Either way, there are some fine writers in the pages behind this cover: Jack Vance, James Blish, Charles L. Harness, Carter Sprague (actually my old mentor, Sam Merwin Jr.), Roger Dee, H.B. Fyfe, and somebody I don't normally associate with science fiction, even though he wrote a respectable amount of it, William Campbell Gault. If you want to read this issue, you can find a PDF of it on this page.

UPDATE: As Rick Robinson points out in the comments, it's actually Earth the lady is holding. I should have noticed that. I just got distracted by the bowling ball idea. (I know there have been science fiction stories about other sports, such as baseball, but I wonder if there's ever been one about bowling . . .)

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Leading Western, April 1945

This is the first issue of LEADING WESTERN, a late entry in the Western pulp field from Trojan Publishing Corporation, the outfit behind the Spicy and Speed pulp imprints. I like the cover (I don't know the artist), and there's a strong line-up of authors inside. The lead novella is by L.P. Holmes, and also on hand are Giff Cheshire, Laurence Donovan, Victor Rousseau writing as Lew Merrill, and Tonto Green, author of only a handful of stories, all for the same publisher, which makes me think that might have been a pseudonym or house-name. Either way, the other authors in this issue are enough to make it worth reading.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Red Hot Ice - Frank Kane

2nd Paperback; Art by Ron Lesser

I’ve been reading Frank Kane’s Johnny Liddell novels since I was in high school, when the Dell editions with excellent covers by Victor Kalin and Ron Lesser kept catching my eye at the used bookstores I frequented. (I didn’t know anything about Victor Kalin or Ron Lesser then, but no matter.) I loved hardboiled private eye yarns and still do, and Johnny Liddell, while no Mike Shayne or Shell Scott, always had interesting, fast-moving adventures. I still read one now and then, which brings us to RED HOT ICE, a 1955 entry in the series first published in hardback by Ives Washburn and then reprinted in paperback by Dell in 1956 and 1967.

1st Paperback; Art by Victor Kalin

This one actually starts with Muggsy Kiely, beautiful redheaded reporter with whom Liddell has an on-again, off-again romance. Muggsy is probably my favorite private eye’s girlfriend/sidekick/assistant in the genre. She’s smart and tough and Kane gives her some fine dialogue. She gets involved with a couple of high-stakes gamblers who are running a flying crap game (literally in an airplane that takes off and flies around while the gambling is going on), and that leads to Liddell’s involvement with a drunken, washed-up stage star who owes the gamblers a big chunk of money. The blonde figures on paying off the debt with some illicitly gotten diamonds, and she hires Liddell’s agency to protect her during the transfer of the stones.

Ives Washburn Hardback; Artist Unknown

Well, things go wrong, of course. Two people wind up dead, and that’s just the start. I actually lost count of how many murders there are in this book. I know there were four by the halfway point, as witnesses and potential witnesses keep getting rubbed out. Liddell roams around from swanky supper clubs to flophouses to drug dens. He gets threatened by gangsters and even taken for a ride by a couple of trigger men at one point. (Spoiler: He survives.) Beautiful women try to seduce him. Everybody lies to him. I don’t recall him getting knocked out, but he does get beaten up at least once.

Sure, we all know how this stuff goes, but Kane does such a fine job of putting Liddell through his paces that any familiarity doesn’t matter. The plot is a decent mystery, too, with clues and everything, and while I had the killer pegged pretty early on, I didn’t figure out all the twists. Liddell was definitely ahead of me on some of it.

RED HOT ICE is a good solid private eye novel, not a classic of the genre by any means, but a highly entertaining couple of hours of reading. For me, it was like being back in high school and college, when I was consuming books like this as if they were salted peanuts. I really enjoyed it. If you want to give it a try, an ebook edition is available here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

War Picture Library: Battle of Britain - Ian Kennedy

Famed British comics artist Ian Kennedy passed away a few weeks ago. I’ve seen many excellent covers  by Kennedy on issues of COMMANDO, but I haven’t read many stories that used his interior art. The volume WAR PICTURE LIBRARY: BATTLE OF BRITAIN reprints two such stories, “Steel Bats” and “’Never Say Die’ Wapiti” (both of which actually first appeared in the comic AIR ACE PICTURE LIBRARY in 1961 and 1964). As you’d expect from the collection’s title, both stories deal with the RAF’s efforts to combat the Germans’ intensive bombing raids on England during the early days of World War II.

“Steel Bats” follows the often used storyline of a younger, more impulsive pilot clashing with an older, more by-the-book superior officer. It plays out against a fascinating background, though, that of the British pilots struggling to shoot down German bombers they can’t see simply because the nights are too dark. In order to do that, the pilots have to come up with new ways of attacking the enemy, and who better to do that than our brash young protagonist? There’s plenty of action and drama before the odds begin to turn in the RAF’s favor in a climax that seems a tad bit rushed in its resolution of the story’s emotional conflict. That doesn’t detract from the story’s overall enjoyment, however.

The protagonist of “’Never Say Die’ Wapiti” is a young pilot dogged by bad luck. After several brushes with catastrophe, he’s assigned as the commanding officer of an air field where obsolete planes are stored as part of an effort to make it look like a functioning base to German reconnaissance planes. However, our hero and another young officer at the base decide to fix up one of the planes and get it in flying shape again. They decide to use this plane, a decrepit Westland Wapiti, to launch an unauthorized bombing raid on a German installation on the French coast. Well, we all know that’s not going to go smoothly, and sure enough, even though they get the Wapiti in the air, that sets off a complicated and action-packed chain of events. This is a superb story with a lot of twists and a satisfying ending.

The authors of these stories are unknown, but Ian Kennedy provides outstanding artwork on both of them. Kennedy was a great storyteller with his art and makes even aerial dogfights easy to follow, as well as giving the characters a lot of personality. I really enjoyed both of these stories, and if you’re a fan of British war comics, WAR PICTURE LIBRARY: BATTLE OF BRITAIN is worth seeking out. It's available in a Kindle edition or as a paperback.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Detective, July 1944

That's certainly an eye-catching cover by Rudolph Belarski on this issue of THRILLING DETECTIVE. Inside are stories by some great authors, including Fredric Brown, Leigh Brackett, G.T. Fleming-Roberts, Edward S. Aarons (writing as Edward Ronns), and lesser known Robert C. Blackmon, Bill Morgan, and Edward W. Ludwig. I would have plunked down a dime for this one back in 1944.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Lariat Story Magazine, July 1948

I like to think that if I'd been around during the pulp era, I could have written for LARIAT STORY MAGAZINE. This issue features another dynamic cover by Allen Anderson. Inside are stories by some top pros: William Heuman, W.T. Ballard, and Laurence Donovan, plus lesser-known but still prolific Al Storm, H. Frederic Young, and Costa Carousso. The lead novella is by William J. Hodgson, and the odd thing about that is that it's his only story listed in the Fictionmags Index. I'm not sure why a writer would get cover-featured with his first (and apparently only) story, but that happened some in the pulps. Or maybe Hodgson was actually a pseudonym for somebody else in that issue. Heuman, Ballard, and Donovan wrote a lot, under many different names. Likely we'll never know, but I always find these questions intriguing.

Friday, March 11, 2022

Rio Grande - Curtis Bishop

Curtis Bishop (1912-1967) is a forgotten writer these days, but he had a decent career in the pulps, publishing more than a hundred stories in various Western, Northern, and sports pulps between the mid-Thirties and the early Fifties. After that, he wrote quite a few juvenile sports novels and a handful of Westerns.

I recently picked up several of the Westerns, and the first one I’ve read is RIO GRANDE, published in hardback by Avalon Books in 1961. There’s also a large print edition from Center Point published in 2016. Although marketed as a Western, this is actually more of a historical novel, set in Texas and Mexico in 1842 and centered around real-life events including General Woll’s invasion and capture of San Antonio for the Mexican dictator Santa Anna, the retaliatory incursion into Mexico by a group of Texian irregulars, and their capture and the subsequent execution of some of them following the notorious black bean incident at Salado.

Being a Texan born, bred, and forever, I’m pretty much steeped in this history, so I knew the general outlines of what was going to happen. Bishop sticks pretty close to the actual incidents, too, inventing a young Texian named Joel Howard and having him interact with various real-life characters like Bigfoot Wallace, Jack Hays, and Samuel Walker and take part in what really happened.

There’s also a purely fictional storyline about Joel’s romance with the beautiful granddaughter of a wealthy Mexican rancher, and Bishop does a fine job of blending this storyline with the history. Overall, this is a very good book with nice action scenes and a good sense of time and place. My only complaint is that the ending is a bit of an anti-climax, but I enjoyed the book enough that I’ll certainly read more by Curtis Bishop.

One other thing I liked about this book: I read the 1961 Avalon edition, and the first stop on its no doubt circuitous way to me was at the Beemer Public Library in Beemer, Nebraska. I know this because the library card, card pocket, and due date slip are still in the book, as well as a notation that the library added the book to its collection on January 27, 1961. It’s book number 4220 in that collection, in fact. It was checked out 19 times, with the due date hand-written on the slip that’s glued into the book, and each patron signed the book’s card when it was checked out. That’s exactly the way we did it when I started working in my hometown’s small, recently established library in 1964. I love these little windows back into a time that’s long gone, but that I remember so well. Which has nothing to do with the book itself, but I thought some of you might appreciate it.

(My copy has no dust jacket and there are no images of that jacket on-line, so that’s why I’ve used a stock photo of the large print edition’s cover.)

Sunday, March 06, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Dime Detective, September 1935

That's a pretty gruesome but certainly effective cover by Walter Baumhofer on this issue of DIME DETECTIVE. And as usual, the lineup of writers inside can't be beat: Carroll John Daly (with a Race Williams novella), Erle Stanley Gardner, Norvell W. Page, Cornell Woolrich, and O.B. Myers, best remembered these days for his stories in the aviation pulps but also a prolific author of detective yarns.

Saturday, March 05, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Walt Coburn's Western Magazine, November 1950

I don't know who did this cover, but dang, I like it! That hombre's gonna read 'em from the book, no doubt about it. There was a discussion about WALT COBURN'S WESTERN MAGAZINE earlier this week on the PulpMags email group, and that prompted me to take a look at the covers on that pulp and pick out one I like for this post. Seeing as how WALT COBURN'S WESTERN MAGAZINE was a reprint pulp, the editors had plenty of good stories to choose from. In this issue, we have a Walt Coburn novella, naturally, and also stories from Cliff Farrell, Ray Nafziger, Robert E. Mahaffey, Jay Lucas, and Lloyd Eric Reeve. That's a pretty good bunch of authors.

Friday, March 04, 2022

Martian Adventure - Robert Moore Williams

This blandly titled short novel is the other half of the Armchair Fiction edition of Edmond Hamilton's THE LAKE OF LIFE, which I read and reviewed a couple of weeks ago. I figured that while I had the book out, I might as well read MARTIAN ADVENTURE, although I've never been a big fan of its author, Robert Moore Williams. It originally appeared in the October 1944 issue of the pulp FANTASTIC ADVENTURES, when the magazine was playing up the fact that many of its writers were serving in the armed forces during World War II. So the by-line in the pulp is "Pvt. Robert Moore Williams".

In this story, quite a few people from Earth live on Mars, but they haven't conquered the planet, by any means. The native Martians still run things, and their entire criminal justice system consists of a forbidden zone known as Serenity. (Williams never explains the name.) Anybody found guilty of a crime, any crime, is dropped into Serenity and condemned to stay there for the rest of his or her life. It's a lawless land where only the tough and strong survive.

Unfortunately for the first Earth expedition to Mars, that's where their ship crash-landed, so by Martian law the Earthlings are doomed to stay behind Serenity's walls forever. Later expeditions establish an Earthling colony on Mars, and the settlers petition for the release of the ones stuck behind the walls, but the Willies won't budge from their custom. (The Willies are what the Earthlings call the Martians. Williams never explains why.)

That's all back-story from a couple of generations earlier. Our protagonist, two-fisted Bruce Harden, is the only Earthling ever to escape from Serenity, and he wants to break back in to rescue the girl he loves. In order to do so, he gets mixed up with an Earth gangster and a beautiful redheaded grad student studying Martian culture. Oh, and there's actually a lost temple in the middle of the forbidden zone where a fortune in loot is hidden. Williams mixes all this up into a fast-moving yarn with plenty of action.

There are some nice concepts and a few atmospheric, well-written scenes, but the problem is that Williams just isn't a consistent enough writer to really pull this off. A very nice scene can be followed by a really clumsy one. Some plot elements are never developed, and the coincidences strain credibility, even for 1940s pulp SF. In the hands of an Edmond Hamilton, a Leigh Brackett, or a Henry Kuttner, this could have been a great story.

But with that said . . . damn, some scenes, like the ones in the lost temple, are really good, and the pace moves along quite nicely. Those things make MARTIAN ADVENTURE worth reading, I think. That title, though . . . I mean, Williams even uses the phrase "Devil's Island of Mars". That's what I would have called this one.