Saturday, December 31, 2022

The Wrap Up

There’s no point in denying that 2022 was a rotten year in many ways, but there’s also no point in dwelling on that. So let’s turn our attention to more pleasant endeavors, such as writing, reading, editing, and publishing.

To take those things in reverse order, for most of this year I was the editor of Rough Edges Press, the mystery/thriller/men’s adventure imprint of Wolfpack Publishing. It was a wonderful job, as I got to work with Mike Bray, Jake Bray, Patience Bramlett, and all the other great people at Wolfpack, in addition to all the authors involved. While there, I was privileged to edit some really excellent books, and I’m proud of what the line accomplished. However, I stepped down at the end of October because I discovered that I couldn’t both edit and write at the level I wanted to, and although I didn’t mind slowing down some on my page production (more about that in the next paragraph) I just wasn’t ready to stop writing full-time. There are still too many books in my head clamoring to get out.

As I mentioned a few posts back, 2022 was the first year since 2004 that I didn’t write at least a million words of fiction. So the streak ends at 17 years, and while I might have preferred an even number (yes, I am a little OCD), I’m absolutely fine with that. I wrote approximately 900,000 words this year. That’s plenty. I think 750,000 would be a good total for 2023. I wrote at that level for many years before I started hitting a million, and I think I can continue producing at that level for a while yet. My plan for next year is to keep up with my regular ghost-writing job (I’m committed to approximately half a million words there) and devote the rest of the wordage to a few books of my own. We’ll see.

On the reading front, it was a good year, not at all rotten. I read 138 books. Here are my top ten favorites, in the order in which I read them:


GUNS OF THE DAMNED, Stone Cody (Thomas E. Mount)





FROM THE FILES OF . . . MIKE HAMMER, Mickey Spillane


JANE FURY, James Robert Daniels

CALICO, Lee Goldberg

I’m aware that’s a pretty odd mix. Two of them I edited (the Levinson memoir and the Spillane prose collection; the other Spillane book is a collection of the Mike Hammer comic strip I had nothing to do with). Two of them aren’t out yet because I read them in manuscript, JANE FURY and CALICO, but they’ll be out next year and you should remember those titles because they’re great. The pulp influence is there in GUNS OF THE DAMNED, the first novel in the Silver Trent series originally published in THE WESTERN RAIDER and STAR WESTERN, and in the Hopson novel because he got his start in the Western pulps, and in the new Spider novel by Will Murray since the Spider is one of the iconic pulp hero characters. My study of Stoic philosophy kind of petered out as the year went on, but the lessons I learned from it came in handy more than once and I still plan to get back to it.

There were at least two dozen other books right on the verge of making this list, including quite a few I edited, starting with Jamie Mason’s Father Barrett series and Ryan Fowler’s Father Tag Nolan series. Both of those feature priests/detectives and both are absolutely excellent, but beyond that, they couldn’t be more different. You should check them out if you haven’t already. Chuck Dixon’s Levon Cade series continued this year with several great entries. Brent Towns added another top-notch action/adventure series to his tireless output with TALON and also gave us some fine hardboiled private eye novels set in Australia. Nik Morton’s Leon Cazador books are fast-paced international thrillers with a great protagonist. Stephen Mertz’s latest Cody’s War novel demonstrates that he hasn’t lost a step and is still a legend in the action/adventure field. And these are just Rough Edges Press books. I also read some great pulp reprints from Altus Press/Steeger Books and several superb hardboiled/noir novels from Stark House/Black Gat Books/Staccato Crime. I swear, if you can’t find plenty of great books to read these days, you’re just not looking hard enough!

Finally, this blog suffered a bit in 2022 because I just didn’t have enough time to devote to it. As a result, there were fewer posts than any year since I started it in 2004—and since I started it in July, that was only half a year. I hope to post more in 2023, including more book reviews, the return of movie reviews, and maybe an occasional post about what else is going on in my life, although generally, that stuff is pretty boring. My thanks to all of you reading this, whether you’ve been a regular reader since 2004 or just found the blog. Like the WesternPulps email group (which will celebrate its 24th anniversary this spring), I intend to keep this going for a good long while yet.

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Street & Smith's Western Story Magazine, September 19, 1936

We close out the year with a moody, evocative Sidney Riesenberg cover on the granddaddy of Western pulps, WESTERN STORY. I'm not a big Riesenberg fan, but I really like this one. You can feel that cold, rainy wind, and the blonde is impressive, no hat despite the weather and packing iron. The line-up of authors in this issue is, well, an undistinguished one. The best known are probably Art Lawson and Arthur Hawthorne Carhart, and neither of those guys are much remembered these days. Other authors on hand are John Dudley Phelps, Lloyd Eric Reeves, Eugene R. Dutcher, W.H.B. Kent, and Ray Humphreys. Lawson was usually worth reading, and I'll bet some of the other stories are good, too.

Friday, December 30, 2022

Chuck Ryan, Logger - Frank Richardson Pierce

Frank Richardson Pierce was a prolific pulpster, writing close to a thousand stories in a career that lasted more than 40 years, from the late Teens to the early Sixties, with quite a few credits in the slicks, too. He wrote mostly Westerns and Northerns, with a detective or sports yarn mixed in here and there, publishing under his own name or his most common pseudonym, Seth Ranger. He used the names Roy Ford and Francis Bragg Middleton, as well. But he wrote only a handful of novels, one of which was CHUCK RYAN, LOGGER, published under his own name by Doubleday, Doran & Company in 1928. (As the old saying goes, whatever happened to Doran, anyway?)

CHUCK RYAN, LOGGER is a contemporary story and opens with a college football game in which our hero Chuck and his friends Brick Winslow, Shanks Emerson, and others are participating. Then Chuck gets word that his father is missing and presumed dead from a mishap during an Arctic expedition. Chuck and Brick leave school and head for Seattle, where they meet with a lawyer and discover that Chuck has inherited a big stand of valuable timber. Chuck decides that he’s going to try logging, especially when he finds out that a villainous timber tycoon named Crandall wants to get his hands on the trees.

Chuck and Brick run into all sorts of mysterious doings when they investigate Chuck’s inheritance, as well as making a staunch friend in Bud Tuttle, a massive young woodsman who becomes a valuable ally. As soon as it’s summer and school is out, Chuck brings in his entire college football team to work as loggers, except for one rich young man who owns his own airplane and goes to work for the Forest Service. Sabotage abounds, a sinister recluse known as String Bean Titus lurks around, mysterious lights flash on Fir Island, there are fights and airplane crashes and finally a forest fire that threatens everything.

CHUCK RYAN, LOGGER is a boy’s adventure book that plays like a slightly more grown-up Hardy Boys novel, with Chuck and Brick standing in for Frank and Joe. But it also reminded me of a good 1930s adventure movie, with John Wayne as Chuck, Ward Bond as Brick, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams as Bud, and Eugene Pallette as the bad guy Crandall. Would’ve made a fine film. Although they would have had to add a female character, since the entire cast of characters is male except for a few nameless secretaries and stenographers.

I had a fine time reading CHUCK RYAN, LOGGER and learned a few things about the timber industry, to boot. It’s a very old-fashioned book, but what would you expect since it was published nearly 100 years ago. And most of the time, I’m more than happy to retreat to that era in my mind. (Thanks and a tip o' the hat to Jack Cullers.)

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

The Annual December 27th Post

Regular readers of this blog may recall that today is the anniversary of my first fiction sale. 46 years ago today, on December 27, 1976, I became a professional fictioneer. I told the story here, in the first year of the blog, and I can't sum it up better, so if you haven't read about how I broke into this business, you can check out that post if you're of a mind to. Almost half a century later, I'm still at it and intend to keep going for a while yet. I think 500 books is out of reach (I just started novel #414) but I ought to be able to make it to a full 50 years as a professional writer.

In related news, there will be no "A Million Words and Counting" post this year. As I've threatened for a long time, I slowed down some this year (not entirely voluntarily) and will finish with about 900,000 words. So the streak comes to an end after 17 consecutive years. I'm fine with that.

My sincere thanks to everyone who's helped make it possible for me to keep spinning yarns all these years.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: New Love Magazine, January 1953

I know very little about the love pulps, but this one from Popular Publications has a very nice cover. None of the authors in this issue are familiar to me, either. But I don't care. That's a beautiful woman, and the art is very evocative of the Fifties. Good enough for me. Merry Christmas to all of you. I hope the day is wonderful.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ranch Romances, Second December Number, 1930

Merry Christmas Eve to all of you! RANCH ROMANCES had many Christmas-themed covers over the years. This is a sweet one, which was common when the magazine was still published by Clayton. Inside are stories by E.B. Mann, Ray Nafziger (writing as Robert Dale Denver), James W. Routh, William Freeman Hough, Marion Castle (writing as Monte Castle), Howard E. Morgan (who wrote a bunch of stories for WILD WEST WEEKLY under numerous house-names), and a writer I'm unfamiliar with, Appleton Wayne. I know Mann, Nafziger, and Routh are worth reading, and I'll bet the others are, too. 

Friday, December 23, 2022

Warhammer 40K: Gaunt's Ghosts #1: First and Only - Dan Abnett

Some years ago, I read several novels and anthologies set in the Warhammer 40K universe and enjoyed them. But as often happens with me (because I have the attention span of a six-week-old puppy) I moved on to other things and didn’t read any more of those books. Now, since there’s talk of a Warhammer 40K TV series being in development, and because I still have a bunch of the books on my shelves and on my Kindle, I thought I ought to give another one a try. So I read FIRST AND ONLY, the first novel in the Gaunt’s Ghosts mini-series, by Dan Abnett, who’s one of the most prolific and influential Warhammer 40K authors.

I probably should back up here for a minute, for those of you unfamiliar with Warhammer 40K. It started out as a tabletop role-playing game in the Eighties and expanded into a novel franchise, the same way Dungeons and Dragons and a lot of other role-playing games did. I don’t know how many Warhammer 40K novels and anthologies have been published, but there are a lot. Set 40,000 years in the future, hence the title, the basic storyline is that the Imperium of Earth is engaged in a galaxy-wide war with the forces of Chaos, an occult threat from somewhere beyond the galaxy. This mixture of high-tech military science fiction with supernatural horror is something I haven’t encountered anywhere else, and it allows for a variety of story types, although, boiled down, all of them have to do with the war and are pretty grim and bleak. The Imperium forces are the nominal good guys, and some of the individual characters are pretty noble and heroic, but mostly they’re just not as bad as the forces of Chaos.

FIRST AND ONLY is the first novel in a long-running series-within-the-series called Gaunt’s Ghosts, after its protagonist Ibram Gaunt. He leads an Imperial Guard regiment from the planet Tanith, the only survivors from that planet, in fact, which makes it the First Tanith, and the only one there’ll ever be. The Imperial Guard are the regular soldiers in the Imperium’s military, the equivalent of our armed forces. (There are a lot of other types of combatants we won’t go into here.)

Tanith was a wooded, frontier planet, so Gaunt’s Ghosts are trackers and hunters, which makes them perfect for commando missions. In this novel, Gaunt comes into possession of some vital information that reveals the hiding place of a secret so big and important that it could change the course of the war. To get his hands on it, he and his men have to contend not only with their usual bloodthirsty enemies but also some supposed allies who are plotting against them. A lot of political intrigue and double-crosses ensue, along with plenty of gritty action scenes and some epic battles. Occasional flashbacks fill in some of Gaunt’s history, but not all of it.

This was Abnett’s first published novel and the first book I’ve read by him. He did some comic book scripting for Marvel many years ago that I read and remember enjoying. In FIRST AND ONLY, he does a fine job of balancing all the plot elements and creates some compelling characters. It's still available as an e-book. I enjoyed this one quite a bit and want to read more in the series, as well as sampling some of the other Warhammer 40K authors. Maybe I’ll actually do that this time, instead of getting distracted.

Monday, December 19, 2022

The Dan Cushman Reader - Brent D. McCann

Yesterday’s post mentioned that Dan Cushman’s first story, “Girl of the Golden Lode”, was published in the Winter 1943 issue of the pulp NORTH-WEST ROMANCES. Today’s post is about Cushman as well. With a title like THE DAN CUSHMAN READER, you’d think this was a collection of his stories, right? Well, it’s not. Instead, THE DAN CUSHMAN READER is a book-length master’s thesis about Cushman and his work, written in 2001 by Brent D. McCann, a graduate student at the University of Montana who was able to interview Cushman numerous times before the author passed away. It's posted online here. I downloaded it several years ago and finally got around to reading it.

Despite being written as an academic paper, complete with footnotes and a bibliography, THE DAN CUSHMAN READER is very readable and entertaining. McCann does an excellent job with the biographical information, providing a clear, interesting overview of Cushman’s life. He covers Cushman’s career as a writer in-depth, too, and provides a detailed analysis of several of Cushman’s novels, most notably STAY AWAY, JOE, a controversial novel about life on an Indian reservation that was adapted into a Broadway play and then later into a movie starring Elvis Presley.

McCann seems to think, understandably so, that any lasting reputation Cushman has will be because of STAY AWAY, JOE. But despite its early popularity and success, over the ensuing years the novel has been criticized and memory-holed because of the controversy around it, and it doesn’t appear to be in print today, although used copies of it are readily available. On the other hand, at least eight volumes of Cushman’s pulp and paperback work are in print, and used copies of his other books are just as easily found as STAY AWAY, JOE. My personal favorites of his work are his Armless O’Neil stories from JUNGLE STORIES and ACTION STORIES, but his pulp Westerns and Northerns are consistently very good, too. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I haven’t read STAY AWAY, JOE, and I wrote the introduction to one of the volumes of collected Armless O’Neil stories published by Altus Press.)

I’ve mentioned before that it took me a while to warm up to Cushman’s style, but once I did, he became one of my favorite pulp writers. Because of that, I really enjoyed THE DAN CUSHMAN READER. I don’t have any idea what became of its author, Brent McCann, but I appreciate the work he did on this. If you’re a Cushman fan or a fan of pulp and paperback fiction in general, it’s well worth reading.  

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: North-West Romances, Winter 1943

RODEO ROMANCES yesterday, NORTH-WEST ROMANCES today. This is actually a fairly significant issue of the iconic "Northern" pulp because it features Dan Cushman's first published story, "Girl of the Golden Lode". And it's featured prominently on the cover, to boot. Also on hand in this issue are Tom W. Blackburn, Victor Rousseau, Chart Pitt, and lesser-known writers Ralph Cunningham, Glenn Vernam, and Douglas Durkin.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Rodeo Romances, October 1948

This cowgirl looks a little clean and unmussed to have just bulldogged that dogie, but hey, artistic license, right? I'm not going to complain about a pretty girl painted by Sam Cherry and a beautiful use of red and yellow on a Western pulp cover. Inside this issue of RODEO ROMANCES are stories by Stephen Payne, Johnston McCulley, Chuck Martin, Clinton Dangerfield, and house-name Jackson Cole. Had I been standing in front of a newsstand in 1948 with an extra dime and nickel in my pocket, I probably wouldn't have bought it (it has romance in the title, so I likely would've thought it was full o' that dang mushy stuff), but I might well have taken a closer look at that cover. And given those authors, I probably would have enjoyed the stories, too, to be honest.

Friday, December 16, 2022

The Devil's Dooryard - W.C. Tuttle

I've mentioned before that W.C. Tuttle's stories and novels featuring range detectives Hashknife Hartley and Sleepy Stevens are some of my favorite Western yarns. I recently read "The Devil's Dooryard", a Hashknife and Sleepy novelette from the May 3, 1921 issue of ADVENTURE.

In this one, our two heroes have drifted into a cowtown called Sundown, where they quickly find themselves in the middle of a gun battle. This gets them involved in a feud between two local ranches, one of which is ramrodded by an old friend of Hashknife's. The ranch's owner was killed in the shootout in town, so the foreman, with help from Hashknife and Sleepy, is determined to keep the spread going until the owner's only living relative arrives to claim it.

From there, accusations of rustling, bushwhackings, and plot twists (most of them predictable if you've ever read or watched many Westerns) move along at a fast pace until the final showdown in the desolate wasteland of an extinct volcano known as the Devil's Dooryard.

This is a very early Hashknife story, the third overall, and is narrated by Sleepy in a very dialect-heavy style. That can make it fairly hard going for modern readers, but I've read enough of that stuff that I didn't have any trouble with it. It also leans heavily toward comedy, although there's action and mystery as well. Tuttle employs the same formula in the later third person stories and novels, although it's more balanced there and I think those later entries in the series are considerably better.

Which isn't to say that I didn't enjoy "The Devil's Dooryard". I had a fine time reading it. The ending is a little abrupt for my taste, but other than that I really enjoyed it. You can find it on-line and read it for yourself, if you're of a mind to.

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: G-Men Detective, Winter 1946

I don’t own a copy of this pulp, but the Dan Fowler lead novel, “Diamonds Across the Atlantic” by Edward Churchill, used to be available as an inexpensive e-book. It appears to be gone from Amazon now, but it's still on my Kindle, so I read it recently. I’m going to be writing a Dan Fowler story myself in a few months, so I have to get in the proper frame of mind. Not to mention, I always enjoy the Fowler yarns that appeared in G-MEN and G-MEN DETECTIVE.

This story finds Inspector Dan Fowler of the F.B.I. on the trail of a gang that robbed a train traveling between New York and Detroit. Assisted as usual by fellow agents Larry Kendal and Sally Vane (Fowler’s girlfriend, but they can’t really get serious because they have jobs to do; you know how that goes), he soon discovers that the robbery is connected to a bunch of Nazi saboteurs smuggled into the country on a fishing boat that docked in Boston. The object of the robbery is a secret at first, but I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler (it’s right there in the title) to reveal that what everybody’s after is a bunch of industrial diamonds that the failing German war machine desperately needs. (By the time this issue was published, the war had been over for almost a year, but clearly, this Fowler novel was written much earlier.)

The trail of the Nazis and the diamonds leads from Detroit back to New York and then on to Miami and ultimately Brazil. Our heroes get shot at, knocked out, and thrown off speeding trains. There’s plenty of action, as well as some actual detective work by Fowler. The Fowler novels were never actually police procedurals, but they came close at times. Everything wraps up in a satisfying, high-flying climax.

Edward Churchill wrote ten Dan Fowler novels, some under his own name and some under the house-name C.K.M. Scanlon. He also wrote several dozen other stories for various detective, sports, and aviation pulps. He’s not much remembered these days, probably because his writing style was a little flat and bland at times. But on the other hand, he could put together an exciting, interesting plot, as he does in “Diamonds Across the Atlantic”. I wouldn’t put this one in the top rank of Dan Fowler stories, but I enjoyed it quite a bit and it probably won’t be long before I read the other Churchill entry I have, “Escape From Alcatraz”.

The rest of this issue, according to the Fictionmags Index, features stories by Norman A. Daniels (writing as Wayland Rice), Johnston McCulley, David X. Manners, and Curtiss T. Gardner. Daniels and McCulley are always worth reading. I haven’t sampled any work from the other two. But it looks like a good issue overall, with a nice cover.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ace-High Western Stories, May 1945

Another dramatic, action-packed cover on this issue of ACE-HIGH WESTERN STORIES. I don't know the artist. As always with Western pulps from Popular Publications, the lineup of authors is a good one and the story titles are great. On hard are prolific Western pulpsters Thomas Thompson, Wayne D. Overholser, Archie Joscelyn, and M. Howard Lane, but the lead-off story in this issue is by science fiction legend Clifford D. Simak. Simak was a solid enough Western writer that I think he could have made a bigger name for himself in that genre if he'd wanted to, but of course his main interests lay elsewhere.

Friday, December 09, 2022

The Man-Eater - Edgar Rice Burroughs

THE MAN-EATER is a short novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs that was serialized in the newspaper The New York Evening World in November 1915. Based on an unsold movie treatment, it never appeared in book form during Burroughs’ lifetime but eventually was reprinted in a double volume with another short novel, BEYOND THIRTY. Since then it’s appeared in numerous e-book versions, one of which I just read.

As you might guess from the title, THE MAN-EATER features a lion as one of the central characters. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the lion is one of the co-protagonists in this book, along with Richard Gordon, a bored, wealthy young playboy (but a good, decent, courageous sort, for all that) who travels to Africa on an impulsive quest to help a beautiful young woman he’s never met recover a missing will that’s the key to a fortune she stands to inherit. Opposing Gordon is the young woman’s cousin, one of the most dastardly villains you’ll ever hope to encounter. The fast-paced action shifts from Africa to Virginia, back to Africa, and then finally concludes with an exciting return to Virginia.

Burroughs’ tendency toward coincidence-driven fiction rises to a whole new level in this volume. One tiny chink in the vast wall of coincidence probably would bring the whole plot crashing down. And to this I say a resounding “Who cares?” I raced through the story with great enjoyment. The hero and the heroine are both stalwart, the villain and his henchmen are thoroughly despicable, and the vengeance-seeking lion is a great character.

As I’ve probably mentioned before, Burroughs is one of those writers I loved as a kid whose work doesn’t always hold up great when I read it now. THE MAN-EATER is a little creaky, but I had a lot of fun reading it. I can understand why some contemporary readers wouldn’t care for it, but while reading it I was fourteen years old again . . . and that’s one of the main reasons I read old books, and new ones that make me feel the same way.

Wednesday, December 07, 2022

Traitor! - W. Howard Baker

I was a freshman in high school when Lancer Books published TRAITOR! by W. Howard Baker, a novel that had been published two years earlier in England by Zenith Books under the title DESTINATION DIEPPE. As a World War II espionage novel, the first in a series starring British intelligence agent Richard Quintain, it would have been right in my wheelhouse at the time, and I’m sure I’d have grabbed a copy if I’d ever seen it. As it was, more than fifty years went by before I was even aware of this book’s existence, although I vaguely remember seeing some of the later books in the Quintain series. I didn’t realize they were set during World War II, though.

It’s the summer of 1942 as this book opens. The war has been going on for three years, and Quintain has already undertaken several hazardous missions operating behind enemy lines. He’s just been presented with a medal from the king for one of them when he’s summoned by his boss, Felix Fenner, and given a new assignment. The British army is planning an invasion of the Nazi-occupied French coastal town of Dieppe, and Quintain’s job is to parachute in first, make contact with a local group of resistance fighters, and blow up a bunch of German E-boats that would otherwise be used to help repel the invasion. Quintain has a partner in this effort, a beautiful female agent who’s already been behind the lines in France and knows the members of the resistance cell they’re supposed to link up with.

There’s a twist, however, as Fenner reveals to Quintain in private. He believes that one of the group is a traitor and is working with the Germans . . . and it could easily be Quintain’s beautiful partner.

This novel reminded me a great deal of mid-Sixties TV shows such as GARRISON’S GORILLAS and BLUE LIGHT, wartime espionage dramas that are mostly forgotten these days (but I’ll bet quite a few of you reading this remember them). It’s a little talky and sparse on the action in the first half but then picks up a lot of steam in the second half before bogging down in the history of the raid on Dieppe. Other than Quintain’s involvement and the traitor storyline, the history is portrayed with considerable accuracy, if not much flair.

That said, overall the prose is slick enough that I raced through the book pretty quickly and with quite a bit of enjoyment. We don’t learn much about Richard Quintain in this one, but he seems to be a likable enough protagonist and is both smart and tough when he needs to be. The scene where he’s interrogated by a beautiful blond Gestapo she-wolf (an actual historical character, according to a footnote) is very suspenseful and well done. The book could have used a little more of such things.

W. Howard Baker was as much an editor and publisher as he was a writer, and it’s known that many of the books with his name on them were either ghosted or had uncredited collaborators. For what it’s worth, the style in this one is very similar to the Sexton Blake novel credited to Baker that I read not long ago. Whoever actually wrote TRAITOR!, I liked it enough despite its occasional shortcomings to want to read more of the Richard Quintain series. I’m glad I have several more of them on hand.

Tuesday, December 06, 2022

The Big Bundle - Max Allan Collins

Max Allan Collins’ Nathan Heller series began in 1983 with TRUE DETECTIVE. (Almost 40 years ago? How is that possible?) TRUE DETECTIVE is one of the best private detective novels I’ve ever read. Through 18 more novels and story collections since then, Collins has maintained an incredibly lofty standard on this series and kept it alive through several different publishers, a pretty impressive feat in itself.

The Heller series moves to Hard Case Crime, a match that seems well-nigh perfect to me, with THE BIG BUNDLE. The Heller novels always involve real-life crimes, and in this one, it’s a high-profile kidnapping in Kansas City in which the six-year-old son of a wealthy Cadillac distributor is abducted. The kidnappers want $600,000 in ransom money. There’s something off about the whole deal, however, and Heller is called in to try to help recover the boy before it’s too late.

A lot of twists and turns and violence and tragedy ensue. The kidnappers are caught, but only half of the ransom money is recovered. What happened to the other half? That’s the question that brings Heller back to Missouri five years later, in a high-stakes mystery involving not only many low-level criminals but also Bobby Kennedy and Jimmy Hoffa.

As always, the research is thorough and meticulous, the background is fascinating, and the pace is great. Collins had me staying up later than usual and flipping the pages to find out what was going to happen. And of course, Nathan Heller is a great protagonist, smart, stubborn, plenty tough when he needs to be. THE BIG BUNDLE is classic private-eye fiction, just like the rest of the Heller series. I had a great time reading it and give it a high recommendation. It’s available in e-book and audio editions now, and a hardcover is on the way.

Monday, December 05, 2022

Sexton Blake: The Devil to Pay - Rex Dolphin

This is the first Sexton Blake novel I’ve been privileged to read in its original form, a slim, digest-sized paperback published in January 1961. Not only does it have an excellent cover, but the story inside is also probably the best Blake yarn I’ve read so far.

THE DEVIL TO PAY (Sexton Blake Library 4th Series, Number 467) is from the era when Blake is a private detective, complete with a beautiful blond secretary in Paula Dane. As it opens, Blake is meeting with movie writer/director Sam Waxman, who wants Blake to find the leading lady of the film he’s currently making in England. Sandra Kennedy is an English actress who moved to the States and found stardom in American films, but she’s gone missing from Waxman’s latest project. He thinks her disappearance has something to do with Sandra’s twin sister, who was murdered five years earlier in a castle-like tower on an isolated English estate, due to her involvement with a cult of wealthy devil worshippers, most of whom were killed in a fiery car crash while being pursued by a policeman after the ritualistic murder is discovered. But some of the cultists get away, including—maybe—the leader and owner of the estate, who’s descended from another aristocrat of the same name, who led a similar devil cult two hundred years earlier.

Got all that? Author Rex Dolphin really throws in the plot elements at a furious pace. Most of the previous paragraph is just back-story that gets Blake and Paula to sinister Deville Manor in the middle of the night, where a dangerous wild dog roams the grounds (it’s a German Shepherd, not a hound, in case you were wondering). Before you know it, there’s another murder, this one of the locked room variety, secret passages, corpses crumbling to dust, business and financial shenanigans, a hardboiled cop who also believes in ghosts, and a considerable amount of chasing around the estate and Blake getting knocked out.

I had a wonderful time reading this novel. Rex Dolphin (and that’s his real name, not a pseudonym or a house-name) could really spin a fast-moving tale, and the plot, while complicated, all ties together nicely. As with the last Blake novel from this era I read, DARK MAMBO, move the setting from England to Florida and this would have made an excellent Mike Shayne caper in MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE. This story has never been reprinted or scanned and posted online, so you’re not likely to come across a copy, but if you ever do, it’s well worth reading.

Sunday, December 04, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Astounding Stories, August 1936

I'm not sure what's going on in this cover by Howard V. Brown, but that looks like a mosh pit in the background. Well, they do say that science fiction can predict the future. Inside this issue of ASTOUNDING STORIES are stories by some great writers: Jack Williamson, Murray Leinster, Stanley G. Weinbaum, Nat Schachner, Raymond Z. Gallun, Ralph Milne Farley, and Wallace West. F. Orlin Tremaine was still the editor at this point, but John W. Campbell has an article in this issue. The whole issue is on-line at the Internet Archive, so I guess if I'm curious enough about that cover, I can find out. 

Saturday, December 03, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Action-Packed Western, September 1954

Action-packed, indeed. ACTION-PACKED WESTERN was one of the Columbia Publications pulps edited by Robert A.W. Lowndes on a very low budget. But he always got good writers despite the pay rates. This issue includes stories by Gordon D. Shirreffs, Seven Anderton, A.A. Baker, Gene Rodgers, and Lowndes himself writing under the name John Lackland. 

Friday, December 02, 2022

Battle at Rattlesnake Pass - Tom West (Fred East)

Tom West was actually an Englishman named Fred East who moved to the United States after being wounded in World War I, and after knocking around in various jobs, including journalism, he broke in as a Western novelist in the early 1940s, publishing books under the Tom West name as well as the pseudonym Roy Manning. He also wrote several novels under the Peter Field house-name in the Powder Valley series. I’ve found his work to be a little inconsistent, but generally I like his books quite a bit and really ought to read more of them. Here’s an excellent blog post about him with reviews of some of his books.

Many of the Tom West books were published originally as half of Ace Double Westerns. BATTLE AT RATTLESNAKE PASS was published in 1965 with TRAIL OF THE VANISHING RANCHERS by Stephen Payne on the other side of Ace Double M-124. It was reprinted by Ace sometime in the Seventies by itself, and that’s the edition I read recently. That’s my copy in the scan at the top of this post.

As this novel opens, hardbitten young cowboy and ex-convict Mike O’Brien is on a stagecoach heading back to his hometown in Arizona. He’s just served five years in Yuma Territorial Prison for shooting (but not killing) the man who killed his father in a shootout. O’Brien’s father was a hardscrabble rancher suspected of being a rustler, and he was gunned by the foreman of a rival cattleman after being caught with some cattle with blotted brands. Of course, O’Brien believes his father was framed. He intends to go back and take over the family ranch, but he knows everybody in the valley hates him and will try to run him out. On the stagecoach, he meets a beautiful young blonde, but he discovers that she’s the daughter of a sheepherder who’s trying to extend his grazing land.

Not surprisingly, trouble comes at O’Brien from all sides, and his only ally is a crippled gunfighter he befriends. He winds up being framed not only as a rustler but also as a murderer and has to go on the run to try to clear his name and uncover the mastermind behind all the trouble plaguing the valley.

As you can tell, the basic plot of this novel is pretty standard stuff, but West takes it in directions that I didn’t really expect. Honestly, I didn’t know what was going to happen or who the real villain was until the end, and that’s very unusual. There’s a lot of great action along the way, some humor, and colorful characters who speak in colorful dialogue that never quite reaches “Why, yuh mangy polecat!” levels. Mike O’Brien is a good protagonist, stubborn as all get-out, not quite likable some of the time, but always sympathetic.

Now, this is a book that sure could have used some better editing. There are quite a few typos, some awkward writing that could have been fixed pretty easily, and despite the title, there is no Rattlesnake Pass in this book. The only pass that’s ever mentioned is Sidewinder Pass. Somebody should have done something about that.

All that said, I really enjoyed BATTLE AT RATTLESNAKE PASS. It’s just a good, old-fashioned action Western, the kind of book I never tire of. I had a fine time reading it and I’m glad I have quite a few more Tom West books on my shelves. I need to get to some of them soon.