Sunday, November 27, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Clues, November 1931

This cover is by H.W. Wessolowski, best remembered for his science fiction pulp covers, usually billed as Wesso or H.W. Wesso. But he did a number of covers for pulps in other genres, such as this issue of CLUES. Oddly enough, a number of the authors in this issue are probably best known as Western writers: T.T. Flynn, Tom Curry, Edward Parrish Ware, Oscar Schisgall, and Johnston McCulley. Although to be fair, all of those guys were very prolific in the detective pulps as well. Also on hand are John Wilstach, Richard Howells Watkins, Eric Taylor, and Lemuel de Bra, none of whom I actually think of as mystery writers. But they were good writers, and being good pulpsters, they could do a lot of different things in order to make a sale. Which makes me think this would be an entertaining issue.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Novel and Short Stories, August 1934

Here's a Sidney Riesenberg cover I like a little more than the one on last Saturday's Western pulp. This issue of WESTERN NOVEL AND SHORT STORIES lives up to its name. Most of the pages are occupied by Clarence E. Mulford's Hopalong Cassidy novel "Black Buttes". I don't know if it was abridged for this pulp appearance. Even at 98 pages of double-columned small print, it probably was. Backing it up are two stories, one by Raymond W. Porter (who I've heard of but never read, as far as I recall) and James Corson (who I've never heard of). 

Friday, November 25, 2022

The Deadly Pay-Off - William H. Duhart

I had a copy of the original Gold Medal edition of THE DEADLY PAY-OFF by William H. Duhart on my shelves for more than 30 years and never got around to reading it. That copy was lost in the Fire of ’08, and I never replaced it. But Black Gat Books is about to reprint the novel next month and I was fortunate enough to get an ARC. I know when the universe is telling me to read something. And I’m very glad I did.

The protagonist of THE DEADLY PAY-OFF is professional gambler Tank Tabor, whose younger brother Bill is a private detective. Bill is poking around in a case and annoys Arky Calahan, the crime boss of Milwaukee, where this novel takes place. Calahan puts pressure on Tank to get his brother to back off, and when Bill refuses to do so, Tank finds himself framed for several crimes, including hooking an underage girl on drugs. Bill still refuses to drop the case and winds up dead. And Tank is framed for that killing, too, and has to go on the run to clear his name, solve several other murders, and keep himself and his friends alive.

Boiled down, this is a pretty standard hardboiled crime novel plot, but Duhart puts a number of interesting and unexpected spins on it. He also keeps things moving at a good clip, provides some swift and effective dialogue, and really heaps problem after problem on his hero. I had no idea how Tabor was going to get out from under the sheer weight of everything stacked against him. THE DEADLY PAY-OFF is a good book, not the same level as those from Gold Medal stalwarts such as Harry Whittington, Day Keene, Charles Williams, and John D. MacDonald, but for a first novel it’s really solid and very much worth reading.

And the author is just about as interesting as the book, as we discover from the fine introduction to the Black Gat edition by Bill Kelly. William H. Duhart was a black ex-convict with literary ambitions who started this novel in prison and finished it while attending a prestigious writer’s colony in Illinois. You can’t tell that from the writing. Like Frank Yerby and John B. West, Duhart seems to have been a black author writing for a primarily white audience. However, probably the most sympathetic character in the book is Jock Adams, a black former numbers runner who’s had a falling out with the crime boss. He meets Tabor while both are in jail and teams up with him to bring Arky Calahan down. Jock is an excellent character, and I wish Duhart had given us some novels featuring him as the protagonist.

However, after his debut with THE DEADLY PAY-OFF, Duhart published only 11 short stories in the lower-rung crime fiction digests of the late Fifties and early Sixties, and then the novel RAVISHING SEDUCTRESS, which came out from Merit Books in 1962. That seems to be the end of his writing career, although he didn’t pass away until 2003. There are some great titles among the short stories: “Fear Stacks the Deck!”, “Lust of the Damned!”, “Never Con a Killer!”, “Passion Swamp!”, and more. I realize it would really be a niche market item, but a reprint of RAVISHING SEDUCTRESS, along with those short stories, would be a great thing to have. I know I’d want a copy. Maybe one of these days.

In the meantime, the Black Cat edition of THE DEADLY PAY-OFF will be out in a couple of weeks, and you can pre-order it on Amazon. I had a fine time reading it, and if you’re a hardboiled crime fiction fan, you should check it out.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Monday, November 21, 2022

Riders of Fortune - Walt Coburn

Walt Coburn remains one of my favorite Western authors. RIDERS OF FORTUNE, published by Five Star in 2007, reprints two of Coburn’s novellas and one of his novelettes from the pulp ACTION STORIES that originally appeared in 1925, during an era in which Coburn was writing exclusively for Fiction House.

The first novella, “Ride ‘Im, Cowboy”, is from the January 1925 issue of ACTION STORIES. Young cowboy Tom Rawlins, who rides for the Circle C ranch in Montana (a spread owned by Coburn’s father in real life, and where he grew up), gets word that he’s inherited a ranch in Arizona from a long-estranged uncle. Tom heads south to claim that legacy, but along the way he’s drugged and robbed of the papers that prove his identity, and then later, when the train he’s riding on is held up, he’s taken for one of the robbers and winds up in jail in the town near the ranch he means to claim. As it turns out, somebody claiming to be Tom Rawlins has already shown up to take over the ranch. Tom’s uncle was murdered, there’s a lynch mob figuring to string Tom up, and his only ally is the sheriff’s beautiful redheaded daughter . . .

That’s a pretty standard plot, but remember, this story was first published almost a hundred years ago. Coburn does an excellent job of juggling all the elements, there are several villains and they’re all suitably despicable, and as usual, the heroine is a strong character. Coburn based most of his female leads on his wife Pat, in both appearance and personality. This yarn is a little more straightforward than some of Coburn’s work, which often relies heavily on the characters’ back-stories and features some psychological angst to go along with the ridin’ and shootin’ and fightin’.

Next up is the novelette “The Sun Dance Kid”, from the July 1925 issue of ACTION STORIES, which finds the title character, a hot-headed, fast-shootin’ young cowboy, fleeing from Arizona across the border into Mexico after he robs a crooked gambler who cheated him. Once there, he’s captured by a gang of Mexican revolutionaries and by a twist of fate becomes their leader, eventually known as Colonel Sun Dance Kid. Evidently he was demoted by the time the story was reprinted under the title “Captain Gringo” in the Fall 1940 issue of FRONTIER STORIES. I have to wonder if Lou Cameron read that version of the story and remembered the name, using it as the name of the protagonist in his long-running paperback series RENEGADE, published by Warner Books under the pseudonym Ramsey Thorne.

But to get back to the story, Coburn soon introduces another character, an American showgirl stranded below the border, and despite the action that breaks out occasionally, “The Sun Dance Kid” becomes a screwball romantic comedy. It works pretty well, too, with a lot of fast-paced, slangy dialogue that’s reminiscent of Ben Hecht and Howard Hawks. The thing is, Coburn’s yarn predates the movies for which those two are famous, so this was just Coburn being Coburn. I’ve found the same sort of dialogue in his more traditional action Westerns, too. Comedy, romance, and action all come together in “The Sun Dance Kid” to make it one of the best stories I’ve read by him so far.

The title story of this volume, “Riders of Fortune”, is from the September 1928 issue of ACTION STORIES. Like the other two stories, it’s set along and on both sides of the Arizona/Mexico border and concerns a line of rugged, desolate hills called the Devil’s Bend that serves as a hideout for a horde of American and Mexican outlaws. Coburn really packs a lot into this short novel. There’s a fortune in gold and gems hidden by a Mexican revolutionary, a mysterious, badly scarred rancher, a millionaire who’s also a secret agent (shades of Amos Burke, for those of you with long memories!), a couple of Border Patrol agents, a beautiful girl who sings in a cantina, and a band of dastardly villains including a German, an Italian, and a Russian Cossack! Many of these characters aren’t who they seem to be at first. Most of them have secrets (finally, this is a Coburn yarn with one of his trademarks: tons and tons of back-story).

In fact, with all these characters and sub-plots, “Riders of Fortune” winds up being a little too busy and muddled. It all makes sense, but it takes time and a lot of explaining to untangle everything. Because of that, I found it to be the weakest of the three tales in this collection. But the fast-paced dialogue, the epic action scenes, and the vivid setting are all great, as usual, so I still found it fun to read.

In addition to the border setting, all three of these stories are also contemporary Westerns, or at least contemporary to the time Coburn wrote them, meaning that there are cars around and several of the characters in “Riders of Fortune” fought together in World War I. Having grown up on Roy Rogers and Gene Autry movies, I have a real fondness for this sort of tale.

Overall, I found RIDERS OF FORTUNE well worth reading and it maintains Coburn’s standing as one of my favorite Western writers. My copy is a discard from the Rochester Public Library in Rochester, New Hampshire. I’m glad it found its way to Texas so I could read it.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Adventure, May 1934

Here's another pith helmet cover, this one by Duncan McMillan. I like the colors on this one. This issue of ADVENTURE has some excellent writers in it, including Gordon MacCreagh with a Kingi Bwana story. Also on hand are W.C. Tuttle, Albert Richard Wetjen, Gordon Young (with a serial installment), and a couple of lesser-known writers, Andrew McCaffrey and James Stevens.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Frontier Stories, Winter 1944

I'm not crazy about this Sidney Riesenberg cover, but inside this issue of FRONTIER STORIES are yarns by Dan Cushman, Les Savage Jr., Tom W. Blackburn, Curtis Bishop, and Harold Preece. That's an excellent bunch of writers, so I'll bet this is an entertaining issue.

Friday, November 18, 2022

The Angel of Terror - Edgar Wallace

Over the past few days, I’ve been discussing various aspects of British thriller fiction with a friend of mine, which made me think about the fact that I’d never read anything by Edgar Wallace, despite being aware of his work for at least 50 years. Since I have several e-book editions of his novels, I decided to remedy that and picked one at random to read: THE ANGEL OF TERROR, originally published in 1922.

Set in London and on the French Riviera, this is the story of a beautiful young heiress, the lawyer who wants to protect her, the retired British soldier hired to be her bodyguard, and the despicable villains who want to murder her so they can inherit a fortune. Plus a few assorted con artists and an escaped lunatic.

This isn’t a mystery at all; the reader is fully aware the whole time of who the villains are and is privy to all their sinister plans, which get really sinister at times, including a plot to infect the poor girl with smallpox. Despite the grisly nature of some of the goings-on, the writing is, for the most part, fairly genteel and restrained. Thankfully, there are a few welcome moments of blood and thunder.

My reaction to this one was really mixed. A lot is going on, and the book is well-paced. There’s a nice sense of “one damned thing after another”. The dialogue is top-notch. The villains are thoroughly evil, the hero stalwart.

But the heiress is annoyingly dense, even for 1922. Even though there’s no real mystery, there is a big plot twist near the end, but unfortunately, it was obvious as soon as Wallace laid the groundwork for it early on. And the ending is, well, pretty unsatisfying, to the point that I looked at the Kindle and said, “Wait. What?”

All that said, I actually did enjoy the book and found myself wanting to get back to it to find out what was going to happen. There’s something to be said for sheer storytelling ability, and Wallace seems to have had it. I have no idea how THE ANGEL OF TERROR is regarded among his body of work, but I liked it enough that I want to read more. I hope whichever book I try next will be a little better, though.

Since I read an e-book version, I looked online for a cover scan. The one above is the best I found. Most were pretty sedate or didn’t fit the book at all.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Hell on the Bottom - Carl Jacobi

Carl Jacobi is best remembered as an author of weird fiction, of course, but he also wrote a lot of straight adventure yarns for the pulps. HELL ON THE BOTTOM is a 2001 chapbook from Black Dog Books that reprints two of those adventure stories and features the first-ever publication of another one that went unsold when Jacobi wrote it in the late Thirties.

The first of these, a novelette called “Captain Jinx”, appeared in the August 1940 issue of RED STAR ADVENTURES. It was bought by the Frank Munsey Company for ARGOSY but wound up in another Munsey pulp, as sometimes happens. The protagonist is a down-on-his-luck sea captain (the South Seas and the Far East were just full of down-on-their-luck sea captains during the pulp era) who is hired to take command of a ship owned by a rather disreputable line, and in addition to the regular cargo, he's supposed to deliver six bottles of heliotrope perfume to a certain lady. (Jacobi’s original title for the story was “Heliotrope Cruise”.) Could there possibly be something shady about this deal? Our hero thinks so, especially when somebody tries to kill him and a beautiful blonde shows up on a Chinese junk . . . and she wants the perfume, even though she’s not the lady for which it was intended. This is a well-written, really enjoyable story. The plot twists are pretty predictable, but that doesn’t take away from its entertainment value.

“The Caves of Malo-Oa” is the never-before-published story, sent by Jacobi’s agent Lurton Blassingame to the pulp SOUTH SEAS STORIES, which promptly lost it for several months before finding the manuscript, only to reject it. A great treasure is hidden on an uncharted island in the caves of the title, and after it are a beautiful girl, a ship’s captain who can’t be trusted, and a down-on-his-luck wireless operator (this during a time when being a ship’s wireless operator was still a romantic, two-fisted occupation). Honestly, I don’t know why this story didn’t sell to some adventure pulp. It’s well-written, moves right along, has interesting characters, and I had a good time reading it.

The third story, “Hell on the Bottom”, appeared originally as “Drowned Destiny” in the May 1939 issue of the Ace pulp 12 ADVENTURE STORIES. This is a deep sea diving yarn set in the Caribbean, as the protagonist attempts to recover from a sunken ship half a million dollars in gold that was intended to finance a Central American revolution. But since Jacobi wrote this intending to sell it to THRILLING MYSTERY, it’s actually a Weird Menace story and the treasure is supposed to be protected by monsters and evil spirits. The explanation for all the apparently supernatural menaces is rushed and pretty lame (as often happened in Weird Menace stories), which may explain why Margulies rejected it and it wound up over at Ace. But the actual deep sea diving scenes are excellent and the story is still fun.

I don’t know how many of these Black Dog Books chapbooks there were, but I bought most of them directly from the publisher, Tom Roberts, and really enjoyed them. Tom went on to do many beautiful trade paperback pulp collections under the Black Dog Books imprint, but I have a special fondness for these early chapbooks. They have a lot of charm and reprinted some great material. I’m glad I've finally gotten around to reading this one. I have EAST OF SAMARINDA, the other collection of Jacobi’s pulp adventure stories, and plan to get around to it fairly soon. It would be all right with me if someone reprinted even more of them.

Monday, November 14, 2022

The Shadowed Circle #4 - Steve Donoso, ed.

THE SHADOWED CIRCLE #4 is out and is available from the publisher and Amazon. This publication continues to be a very welcome return to the classic days of pulp fanzines. The issue starts out strongly with a great Rozen-like cover with art by Kevin Duncan and color and design by Steve Novak. This is my favorite cover so far and perfectly captures the feel of The Shadow.

Editor Steve Donoso has put together an exceptional array of articles, leading off with the first installment of a three-part article by long-time pulp fan Dick Myers, who passed away in 2005. This never-before-published article, written probably in the early Seventies, was found among his papers and deals with just how The Shadow went about financing his vast organization of agents and assistants. It’s clear that Myers put a lot of thought into this and the article makes for fascinating reading.

Will Murray muses about mysteries concerning The Shadow to which Walter B. Gibson never revealed the answers. Tim King tackles one of those mysteries with some very interesting speculation and makes a strong case for his conclusion, as far as I’m concerned. Todd D. Severin begins a series covering The Shadow’s appearances in comic books and concentrates on the Forties in this part. Since that’s an area of The Shadow's history which I’ve seldom read about in detail, I learned a lot and really enjoyed this article, as I did the following article by Daryl Morrisey that covers the comic book meetings between The Shadow and Doc Savage. John Olsen, the only person I can think of who’s read every single Shadow pulp novel, writes about the radio show this time around, in particular the final broadcast, and his article is both informative and poignant.

This issue also features the second part of a lengthy interview with writer and producer Michael Uslan, who has written several comic book stories and graphic novels featuring The Shadow. Uslan discusses several mini-series I’d never even heard of, so of course I had to go to Amazon and pick up copies of them. I’m looking forward to reading them.

The back cover features the two novels written by Will Murray that feature meetings between Doc Savage and The Shadow, THE SINISTER SHADOW and EMPIRE OF DOOM, with beautiful artwork by Joe DeVito. It’s a fitting wrap-up for what is, in my opinion, the finest issue of THE SHADOWED CIRCLE so far. If you’re a fan of the character, I give it my highest recommendation . . . and I suspect the next issue will continue that trajectory.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Fiction Weekly, June 22, 1940

The Emmett Watson cover on this issue of DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY depicts a guy in a straitjacket surrounded by accusing fingers pointing at him. Of course it illustrates a story by Cornell Woolrich! What author would be more fitting for such a cover? Other authors on hand in this issue are Richard Sale, Lawrence Treat, Walt Sheldon, William Gray Beyer, and C.V. Tench. That's a pretty solid line-up. 

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Thrilling Ranch Stories, May 1950

I'm pretty sure I've never read an issue of THRILLING RANCH STORIES. It generally had pretty good covers, though, like this one, which I want to say is by Kirk Wilson, although it might be Sam Cherry's work. Some solid authors in this issue, as well, including Johnston McCulley (writing as Raley Brian), Tom Curry, Ray Townsend, Cliff Walters, and Harold F. Cruickshank (not a favorite of mine, but a lot of readers liked his work).

Friday, November 11, 2022

Sexton Blake: Dark Mambo - W. Howard Baker

The only Sexton Blake stories I’ve read have been from the early 20th Century when he’s a Sherlock Holmes-like “consulting detective”. But later in the character’s career, he’s more of a regular private eye type. I recently read my first Blake novel from that era, DARK MAMBO by W. Howard Baker, published in July 1956 as Sexton Blake Library, Series 4, Number 361 . I read it on the Comic Book Plus website, which has more than 250 Sexton Blake novels and stories scanned, ranging from 1919 to 1958.

This one opens on a rainy Sunday afternoon in London. Blake is in his office alone, wrapping up a report on a case, when the telephone rings. It's a potential client wanting Blake to come see him at once. He doesn’t explain what it’s about, but Blake is intrigued by the man’s seeming sense of desperation and agrees to pay him a visit.

When he gets there, he finds that the caller is a wealthy man whose mistress, a beautiful blond nightclub singer, is lying on a rug in his study with her throat cut. She’s been blackmailing him, so he knows he’ll be the prime suspect in her murder. He hires Blake to find the real killer. Before long, another woman is killed the same way.

Aided in his investigation by his beautiful blond secretary Paula Dane (there are several beautiful blondes in this book) and following a trail that leads to Madrid, Blake uncovers connections between the victims and a couple of shady nightclub owners, a handsome young bullfighter, and the beautiful widow of a high-ranking Nazi officer. Unraveling the whole thing puts both Blake and Paula in danger.

As I was reading this, something about it struck me as familiar. I knew that I hadn’t read it before, but eventually I realized that it reminded me of the sort of Mike Shayne story that showed up a lot in MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE. Move the opening scene from London to Miami and it would work just fine. There’s even an antagonistic cop and a friendly cop, like Peter Painter and Will Gentry in the Shayne stories. Blake gets knocked out and taken for a ride by the bad guys, and that’s certainly a scene I’ve read (and written) before. Paula Dane even serves as a Lucy Hamilton sort of character.

I’m not saying there’s any connection between Blake and Shayne. Not at all. It’s more a matter of just remarking on the similarities that crop up in the genre. And for all I know, W. Howard Baker may well have read some of the original Mike Shayne novels. Baker was a prolific British paperbacker who’s probably best known in the United States for writing some of the tie-in novels based on the Patrick McGoohan TV series SECRET AGENT. Macfadden-Bartell published several of them in paperback in the U.S. His prose in DARK MAMBO is functional, pretty meat-and-potatoes most of the time, but you can tell that he’s at least attempting to be more poetic in a noirish way now and then. He does a decent job of it, too.

I enjoyed DARK MAMBO quite a bit. I plan to read more of those Sexton Blake, Private Eye yarns. Short, fast-moving, and fun really fits the bill of what I’m looking for most of the time these days.

Sunday, November 06, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy, July 6, 1940

"Three Big Serials Every Week!" boasts this ARGOSY cover, and that's exactly what makes this one of the most frustrating pulps. ARGOSY published a ton of great stories and novels, but if you're like me, you like to have all the installments of a serial at hand before you start reading it. Which means that for a lot of issues, I read the short stories and novelettes but never got around to the serials. I'm pretty sure I owned a copy of this issue many years ago, but I don't think I ever got around to reading any of it. I like this cover by Marshall Frantz, who did relatively few pulp covers but was a prolific interior illustrator. There are plenty of good writers in this issue: Richard Sale, Jack Byrne, John Myers Myers, Robert Arthur, Kurt Steel, and Louis C. Goldsmith. ARGOSY was at its best in the Thirties but remained pretty strong on into the Forties.

Saturday, November 05, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Cowboy Stories, July 1935

That's a nice dramatic cover on this issue of COWBOY STORIES. I don't know the artist, but he did a good job. Other than James P. Olsen and S. Omar Barker, this issue doesn't have many well-known authors on hand. The other stories are by Jay Kalez, William E. Brandon, Eben Garrett, Victor Kaufman, Paul R. Morrison, Butler Van Steenbergh, Carl F. Happel, and house-name Ken Martin. It's understandable if you're saying "Who?" in response to most of those. Doesn't mean the stories aren't enjoyable, though.

UPDATE: This cover is by Tom Lovell. Thanks to those who identified it as his work.

Friday, November 04, 2022

The Case of the Buried Clock - Erle Stanley Gardner

As I’ve mentioned before, the short Pocket Books editions with Robert McGinnis covers are the classic Perry Mason editions as far as I’m concerned. They’re the ones I saw on spinner racks and in used bookstores when I was growing up in the Sixties. (I’m also fond of the Triangle Books cheap hardback reprints published by Blakiston, many of which I checked out from our local library, but that’s probably the subject of another post.)

This Mason novel was published originally by William Morrow in 1943. The copy I read, which is the scan above, is the ninth Pocket Books printing from November 1962. So it’s sixty years old this month and in great shape for its age, square and uncreased and with only lightly tanned pages. But is it any good, you ask? Well, it’s a Perry Mason novel. Of course it’s enjoyable . . . but with a few reservations.

Most of the Mason novels start with a potential client showing up at Perry’s office and being announced by Della Street. This is one of the rare entries where Erle Stanley Gardner introduces most of the major characters and sets up the situation before Perry, Della, and Paul Drake ever appear. We have a mountain cabin belonging to a wealthy banker, the banker’s beautiful unmarried daughter, the banker’s other, somewhat less attractive daughter who’s married to a cad and a bounder, a stalwart GI who’s been wounded in action, discharged, and sent home to recuperate, a beautiful widow who runs a nearby ranch, an artist/wildlife photographer (who seems perfectly healthy; why isn’t he off fighting in the war?), yet another beautiful young woman and her brother, an abandoned mine, and the buried clock of the title, which is set for the wrong time.

Naturally, there’s a murder at the cabin, Perry is hired to defend the person put on trial for the crime, and the final third of the novel is a series of courtroom scenes with Perry sparring against a new opponent, an assistant district attorney named McNair, before the prosecution brings in poor old Hamilton Burger to deliver the knockout punch and finally convict one of Perry’s clients. Yeah, right.

The plot is the usual complicated stew of motives and deceptions, and the large cast of characters (some of whom are just names and never actually appear in the book) make the story hard to follow at times. The clock seems to be forgotten for most of the book before it plays a major part at the end, and the killer’s motive really seems to come from farther out in left field than usual in these books. Because of that, I can’t put THE CASE OF THE BURIED CLOCK in the top rank of Perry Mason novels, but it’s still quite a bit of fun to read anyway. At this point in the series, Perry is farther away from his pulp roots, but he’s still a little rough around the edges and doesn’t hesitate to bend the law on behalf of his client. And the banter between Perry, Della, and Paul is top-notch and pretty funny in places. Gardner’s writing seems a little more descriptive at times, too, and he does a fine job with the setting. If you’ve never read a Perry Mason novel before, this probably wouldn’t be a great one to start with. If you’re a long-time fan like me, you’ll probably find enough to like to make reading it worthwhile.

Wednesday, November 02, 2022

The Ranch Cat (Straight from Boothill) - William Hopson

I’ll admit, I bought this book partially because of the great Mitchell Hooks wrap-around cover, which you can see below in an image found on the Internet. The scan at the top of this post is of my copy. I also bought it partially because I’ve found William Hopson to be a good to very good and occasionally excellent Western author, and because it’s a Lion Book, a short-lived but influential paperback house that published a lot of great authors in the early Fifties. I’m always glad to add another Lion Book to my collection.

THE RANCH CAT was published originally in hardback under the title STRAIGHT FROM BOOTHILL by lending library publisher Phoenix Press in 1947. This retitled reprint from Lion Books came out in 1951. Later, the novel was reprinted in paperback under its original title by Avon (with Steve Holland on the cover!), Macfadden-Bartell, and Leisure Books, at least. There was also a large print edition from Chivers Press. There may be other paperback editions I’m not aware of. But with those bibliographic details out of the way, you may be asking, is it any good?

Oh, yes. This is the best book by William Hopson that I’ve read so far, and one of the best books I’ve read this year, to boot.

Rather than the lurid tale promised by the Hooks cover, the title, and the copy on THE RANCH CAT, or the traditional shoot-em-up indicated by the original title and the other reprint covers, this novel is a low-key, somewhat realistic portrait of ranch life in Montana in the 1890s. It covers several years in time (not counting a modern-day framing sequence) and is narrated by Jim Devers, the son of the ranch owner who, in the course of the book, goes from a gangling teenage boy to a grown man who runs the spread. His sister is the title character in the Lion reprint, a flirtatious beauty who stirs up a great deal of trouble among the crew.

There are some fistfights and a couple of shootings in this book, along with a crooked gambler and a hanging, but none of it is presented in any sort of melodramatic fashion. When violence does break out, it’s sudden and shocking and tragic. A lot of the book is a slow, deliberate ratcheting up of tension among the characters.

And then there’s Quong, a mysterious Chinese cowboy with some secrets in his past. He’s a great character who has a big part to play in the unfolding of life on the Devers ranch. It takes a skilled author to pull off such an oddball plot element without it seeming goofy, and Hopson does a great job of it.

THE RANCH CAT/STRAIGHT FROM BOOTHILL is a hard book to describe but a joy to read. Fairly inexpensive copies of the various editions under the original title are available on Amazon. If you want the Lion edition, it’ll cost you a little more, but still not all that much for a great, forgotten Western novel. I think I’ll remember this one for a long time.

William Hopson

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

Editing and Writing Update

Effective today, I’m retired as the editor of Rough Edges Press. I sold the original REP to Wolfpack Publishing a little more than a year ago and stayed on to run the line. After much thought, I’ve decided that I need to get back to writing full-time for a few more years. I really enjoyed working for Wolfpack, and I’m proud of the books we published there. I want to thank Mike Bray, Jake Bray, Paul Bishop, Laura Sarrafan, Kristin Yahner, all the fine authors I worked with, and especially the amazing Patience Bramlett, who did all the heavy lifting and made it possible for Rough Edges Press to function. I’m leaving the line in her capable hands, and I know there’ll be some great books coming from REP in the future.

On the writing front, my production for the year is right around 750,000 words, so with only two months left in 2022, I think it’s safe to say that my million-words-a-year streak really is ending this time. I’ll probably finish somewhere between 850K and 900K, which is still pretty productive. I’m committed to doing around half a million words in my regular ghosting job next year, and I hope to do a few books of my own, too. 750K is a good pace. I did that for almost 20 years before bumping it up to a million. I’d like to ease back even more than that. But I’m sure that as long as I’m capable of stringing words together coherently, no matter how long it takes, I’ll be writing something.