Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Man's Favorite Sport? (1964)

This is a late Howard Hawks-directed comedy that I somehow never saw until now. I remember when it came out and it’s been on television many times, but I missed it anyway. I’m glad I finally caught up to it since Hawks is one of my favorite directors.

In a role that seems to have been written for Cary Grant, Rock Hudson plays an Abercrombie & Fitch salesman who specializes in fishing gear and has even written a successful book on fishing. But he has a secret: he’s never been fishing in his life. Then the publicity director (Paula Prentiss) for a lake lodge that sponsors a big fishing tournament has the bright idea of having Hudson’s character enter the competition. Hudson’s boss agrees. When he finally admits to Prentiss’s character that he can’t fish, she sets out to teach him. Slapstick hijinks ensue, as does romance, of course. This is, after all, a screwball romantic comedy from the director who made BRINGING UP BABY and MONKEY BUSINESS.

I enjoyed MAN’S FAVORITE SPORT? quite a bit. The reviews on IMDB talk about how hilarious it is, but I didn’t really find that to be the case. Consistently amusing and good-hearted, yes, definitely. I smiled a lot, chuckled a time or two, but didn’t really laugh out loud. I got caught up in the story, though, and the cast is good. I’ve never been a big Rock Hudson fan, but he’s a likeable lug and handles the slapstick stuff fairly well. Paula Prentiss really had that cute, early Sixties, Mary Tyler Moore thing going on. Or maybe Mary Tyler Moore had a Paula Prentiss thing going on, take your pick. Either way, I always liked her. John McIver, Norm Alden, and Roscoe Karns provide sturdy support. Maria Perschy, a beautiful German actress who didn’t make a lot of American films, is good as Prentiss’s sidekick. Charlene Holt, a latter-day member of the Hawks stock company, plays Hudson’s fiancee and doesn’t have much to do, but she’s spectacular to look at in one scantily dressed scene.

Hawks was past his peak when he made this film, but he was still a very good director and keeps things moving along quite well in MAN’S FAVORITE SPORT? It’s a good but not great film and is certainly worth watching.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Complete Stories, September 5, 1931

I like oil derrick covers. It's kind of an odd thing, I know, but it probably comes from spending quite a bit of time in West Texas when I was young. This COMPLETE STORIES cover is by Gerard Delano. COMPLETE STORIES strikes me as one of Street & Smith's lesser pulps, but some good authors appeared in its pages. This issue has stories by William E. Barrett, Hal Dunning (a White Wolf story), C.S. Montanye, Lawrence C. Blochman, and Bertrand Sinclair, among others.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Texas Rangers, April 1954

This is a pulp I own and read recently. That’s my copy in the scan, with the usual excellent, evocative cover by Sam Cherry.

The Jim Hatfield novel in this issue is “The Seventh Bullet”, written by Walker A. Tompkins under the Jackson Cole house name. Tompkins was the third-most prolific author of Hatfield novels after Leslie Scott (who created the series) and Tom Curry, who between them wrote a little more than half the series’ entire run. Tompkins wrote a bunch of them, though, and the ones I’ve read have ranged from very good to excellent.

By the Fifties, the Hatfield stories were a little grittier and more realistic than the ones from the Thirties and Forties, and “The Seventh Bullet” is no exception. As it opens, Hatfield is in a West Texas cowtown to pick up a prisoner: a member of a counterfeiting/smuggling ring that has been flooding the country with fake ten-dollar gold pieces. The prisoner also murdered the local sheriff, leaving the lawman’s beautiful blond daughter to pin on the badge and take the varmint into custody.

Hatfield’s mission seems simple: deliver the prisoner to Austin. But of course, things don’t work out that way. The prisoner is rescued by a shadowy gunman wielding a six-shooter that somehow fires seven bullets instead of the usual six. Naturally, Hatfield’s not going to let a prisoner get away, and in the process of going after him, the Ranger sets out to bust up the counterfeiting ring and discover the mastermind behind it.

Tompkins keeps things moving along at a brisk pace with plenty of action, and as usual, he throws in some clever plot twists, too, such as the method the villains use to smuggle the phony coins into the country. “The Seventh Bullet” isn’t in the top rank of Tompkins’ Hatfield novels, but it’s a solid, very entertaining yarn.

Moving on to the backup stories, first up is a short story entitled “The Brass Ring”, by an author whose work I’m not very fond of, Ben Frank. This is a stand-alone, not part of Frank’s two series featuring Doc Swap and Deputy Booboo Bounce. It’s a mild little comedy, the sort of thing Frank specialized in, featuring a good-hearted rancher who’s too much of an easy touch for hard-luck stories and is always broke because of it. It’s really predictable but pleasant enough that I read the whole thing.

“Ride to Tucson” by W.J. Reynolds couldn’t be more of a contrast. This is a grim, violent, suspenseful yarn about a man and woman trying to escape from a band of marauding Apaches in Arizona Territory. I’ve read several stories by W.J. Reynolds and been impressed by them. This is another good one. I don’t know anything about Reynolds except that between the mid-Forties and the early Seventies, he wrote about 120 Western and crime stories for assorted pulps, digests, and men’s magazines. I’m always glad to see his name in a Table of Contents.

George Kilrain was a pseudonym used by one of my favorite Western writers, William Heuman, for approximately 30 stories in various Western and sports pulps in the decade between the mid-Forties and the mid-Fifties. The Kilrain novelette in this issue, “Too Tough”, is, in fact, the final story to be published under that name. And it features one of the most unusual protagonists I’ve come across in Western pulps: a two-fisted, fast-shootin’ ventriloquist. Sad Sam Bones is a vaudeville performer, a comedian and song-and-dance-man as well as a ventriloquist, who travels the West performing with different theatrical troupes and also righting wrongs. In this tale, he helps out a theater owner in a mining boomtown whose shows keep getting sabotaged. This results in a number of fistfights and shootouts in which Sad Sam’s enemies keep underestimating him because, going by his description, he looks a lot like Don Knotts. And how I would have loved to see Don play the part on TV! Anyway, the ending of this story really makes it seem like Heuman intended it to be the first of a series, but as far as I know, it’s Sad Sam’s only appearance. That’s a shame, because this is a great story and I really enjoyed it. (Heuman also used the Kilrain name on two novels, SOUTH TO SANTA FE and MAVERICK WITH A STAR, both published as halves of Ace Doubles.)

You know Gordon D. Shirreffs’ work is nearly always good. He rounds out this issue with the short story “The Hollow Hero”, about a deputy marshal’s clash with a notorious gunman recently released from a 20-year stretch in Yuma Prison. The man claims he wants to go straight and even opens a law office, but are his old killer instincts still there just waiting to be unleashed? This one has a decent plot, some nice action, and a clever resolution. It’s minor Shirreffs, but that’s still pretty darned good.

Overall, this is an exceptional issue of TEXAS RANGERS with a good Jim Hatfield novel, a terrific story by William Heuman, and solid yarns by Gordon D. Shirreffs and W.J. Reynolds. Even the Ben Frank story is inoffensive and mildly entertaining. If you’re a TEXAS RANGERS fan and have this one on your shelves, it’s well worth reading.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Spill the Jackpot - A.A. Fair (Erle Stanley Gardner)

SPILL THE JACKPOT, published in hardcover by William Morrow in 1941 and reprinted in paperback more times than I’m going to count, is the fourth Donald Lam/Bertha Cool novel by Erle Stanley Gardner writing as A.A. Fair. Or the fifth if you count THE KNIFE SLIPPED. It doesn’t really matter, because either way this novel is early enough in the series that I got the feeling Gardner was still experimenting a little, deciding exactly how he wanted things to go with these books. As a result, he tries several things that are a little different.

For one thing, as this book opens Bertha has lost a lot of weight due to a stay in a sanitarium in Salt Lake City where she recovered from a bad bout of flu and pneumonia. When Donald arrives to pick her up, she’s not exactly thin, but she’s slimmed down enough to seem almost like a different person. Gardner even gives her a possible romantic interest in a man she meets on the plane going back to Las Vegas, where she and Donald are supposed to meet a potential client before returning to Los Angeles.

Wouldn’t you know it, the guy they meet on the plane turns out to be the client. He’s a wealthy businessman who wants to hire the B. Cool Detective Agency to locate a missing young woman who was engaged to his son. The only thing Donald and Bertha have to go on is that the missing girl got a letter from somebody in Las Vegas.

After that, things get very complicated, very quickly, even for a Gardner novel. Donald gets a lesson on how to steal from slot machines. He gets knocked down by a punch-drunk ex-boxer who then becomes a friend and ally. He meets several attractive young women, some of whom are probably not trustworthy. He tangles with another ex-boxer who’s definitely not a friend. He gets hauled in by the Vegas cops. And eventually, somebody winds up dead, a murder that Donald feels compelled to solve, even though in the middle of the investigation he up and quits Bertha’s agency.

Bertha, meanwhile, hangs out in the hotel and flirts with their client while Donald goes off to the desert for several days and then makes a quick trip to Reno and back. The reader knows not to take his resignation from the agency too seriously, of course, and as always, Donald figures out who committed the murder.

But along the way, Gardner gives us a long section where Donald, the girl he’s fallen for, and the amiable ex-boxer spend several days camping in the desert and Donald gets lessons in pugilism. This has almost nothing to do with the plot and reads more like Gardner was trying his hand at some Hemingwayesque mainstream fiction . . . and I loved it. The writing is very vivid, reminiscent of Gardner’s Whispering Sands stories without the mystery and adventure elements. It’s just Donald, his girl, and his friend getting back to nature for a while. This is such nice stuff I could have read a whole novel of it, I think.

Of course, sooner or later Donald has to go back and solve the crime, which he wraps up neatly, but also with a double reverse that I actually didn’t figure out until several hours after I’d finished the book. And when it hit me what actually happened, it was almost a jaw-dropping moment. Donald is always thinking two or three steps ahead of everybody else in the book, and Gardner was definitely that far ahead of me.

I was prepared to say in this review that the changes Gardner makes in Bertha are a big misfire (and they still don’t really ring true for me), but by the end of the book he’s resolved that angle satisfactorily, too. Overall, SPILL THE JACKPOT is one of my favorite books in the series. I’m reading/rereading the Cool and Lam books in order, and it’s pretty interesting to watch Gardner’s development as a writer . . . and to think about what he might have done if he had gone in different directions.

Monday, January 23, 2023

The Maverick Star - L.P. Holmes

I usually read several L.P. Holmes novels every year. As I’ve mentioned before, he’s become one of my favorite Western authors, and since I came to his work fairly late in my life, there are still a bunch of his novels that I haven’t read yet. I won’t get to all of them, but he’s always reliable when I need an entertaining Western yarn.

The most recent one I’ve read by him is THE MAVERICK STAR, published as a paperback original by Ace Books in 1969. I’m pretty sure this isn’t a reprint of one of Holmes’ stories from the Western pulps, where he was very prolific in the Twenties, Thirties, and Forties. It begins with the funeral of a veteran lawman who, as sheriff, has kept the peace between two feuding cattle barons whose ranches are the biggest in the area. Each of those cattle barons has a hand-picked man he wants to replace the sheriff, but instead the job goes to the town marshal . . . who only packs the star for half an hour before he’s gunned down, shot in the back.

The county commissioners still don’t want to give the job to one of the other candidates, so they turn to Logan Keogh, the foreman of the other big ranch in the area. With considerable reluctance, Keogh accepts, knowing that he’ll probably have a target on his back, too. And sure enough, there are attempts on his life as he tries to keep the feuding cattle barons from going to war against each other and find out who killed the previous sheriff before the shadowy murderer succeeds again.

THE MAVERICK STAR is a well-paced traditional Western yarn with a little more of a mystery angle than some, and I don’t mind admitting that I didn’t figure out who the killer was ahead of time. The solution actually took me a little by surprise. The action scenes are excellent, although the book probably could have used a few more of them. By the time this book came out, Holmes had been a professional writer for more than forty years, and it’s not uncommon for an author’s work not to have quite as much fire and passion after they’ve been in the game for that long.

But like a good wide receiver in football who may have lost a step in speed, Holmes can still get by on savvy and experience. He knows what he’s doing, and THE MAVERICK STAR is a solid, entertaining tale that kept me turning the pages. I enjoyed it and think it’s worth reading if you’re a fan of traditional Westerns. That’s my beat-up copy in the scan, by the way.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

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

H.J. Ward provides another typically lurid cover on this issue of SPICY-ADVENTURE STORIES. Inside are some of the usual Spicy authors: Robert Leslie Bellem (as Jerome Severs Perry), E. Hoffmann Price, Hugh B. Cave (an Eel story as Justin Case), Edwin Truett Long (as Dale Boyd and Charles Daw), and two authors not known to be house-names, Ross Flynn and Wyreck Brent. However, both guys published only a few stories and only in various Spicy pulps, so I wouldn't put too much faith in those being their real names.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ace-High Western Magazine, February 1937

This issue of ACE-HIGH WESTERN MAGAZINE sports a very nice Tom Lovell cover and the usual assortment of top-notch Western pulpsters we've come to expect from Popular Publications: Walt Coburn, Harry F. Olmsted, Ray Nafziger, Cliff Farrell, Stone Cody (Thomas Mount), Robert E. Mahaffey, and Norrell Gregory. That's pretty close to an all-star lineup.

Friday, January 20, 2023

Luciano's Luck - Jack Higgins

Years ago I read and enjoyed quite a few books by Jack Higgins, but then he started writing a series about a character I didn’t care for (Sean Dillon) and I got out of the habit of reading his books. Plus his writing seemed not as good, much like Alistair Maclean in the later stages of his career.

But I found myself in the mood to read one of his books, and I’m a sucker for books about gangsters, so I gave LUCIANO’S LUCK a try. The plot is an intriguing one: During World War II, a British intelligence agent arranges for Lucky Luciano to be released temporarily from prison so that they can parachute into Sicily and try to make an alliance with the capo of the Mafia there to assist the allies in their upcoming invasion of the island. So it’s a gangster book and a World War II book. Right up my alley.

And I enjoyed it, too, although it’s not without its faults. It was published originally in 1981, about the time Higgins’ books started to get not quite as good. This one is still pretty well-written. The main problem I have with it is that the plot takes a long time to really get going. The mission in Sicily doesn’t actually begin until the book is half over. Before that there’s a lot of assembling the team stuff, including the introduction of a lot of supporting characters and several Nazi bad guys. That results in not much action, which continues even after the scene switches to Sicily.

Ah, but the last 50 or so pages! That last section is a whirlwind of action with unexpected plot twists that really had me galloping along to find out what was going to happen. If the whole book had been like that, LUCIANO’S LUCK would be a classic, and also exhausting. As far as I’m concerned, it redeems the book overall and makes me glad I read it. I think I need to go back and catch up on some of the earlier Jack Higgins books I haven’t read. I have quite a few of them. Meanwhile, if you want to give LUCIANO’S LUCK a try, it’s still available in both e-book and paperback editions.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Dark Avenger: The Strange Saga of The Shadow - Will Murray

One of the first books I ever bought about pulps was THE DUENDE HISTORY OF THE SHADOW MAGAZINE by Will Murray, an author/editor/pulp fan who I probably met through our mutual friend Tom Johnson. This was more than 40 years ago, so some of the details have slipped my memory. But I was a big fan of The Shadow, having listened to the radio shows, read all the original novels published by Belmont (having no idea at the time that they were written by Dennis Lynds, another guy who would become a friend years later) and all the reprinted pulp novels from Bantam, Pyramid, Jove, Tempo, Dover, etc. So I dived into THE DUENDE HISTORY OF THE SHADOW MAGAZINE with great enthusiasm and was well-rewarded. I loved it. It’s one of the all-time best books about pulps, in my opinion. Plus it’s a beautiful oversized paperback with a great cover by Frank Hamilton.

Of course, my copy was lost in the Fire of ’08 and I never got around to replacing it.

But now we come to today, and Will Murray’s latest book DARK AVENGER: THE STRANGE SAGA OF THE SHADOW. This is a greatly revised and expanded version of THE DUENDE HISTORY OF THE SHADOW MAGAZINE and includes all the information Murray gleaned from the past forty-some-odd years of research. I opened it with the same enthusiasm I felt four decades ago and wasn’t the least bit disappointed. This is the best, most exhaustive volume about a single pulp magazine ever written.

Anything you want to know about THE SHADOW MAGAZINE is in here. The authors are covered extensively (mostly Walter B. Gibson, of course, but there’s plenty about Theodore Tinsley, Bruce Elliott, and Lester Dent, as well), as well as the editors and illustrators and the Street & Smith executives who were involved in the magazine’s production. The entire run of 325 novels is broken down into distinct categories, and Murray explores how they were written, how the series evolved, and the various influences that caused that evolution. He touches on the various versions of The Shadow after the pulp ended, but this is mostly about the 18-year run between 1931 and 1949. Rightly so, as far as I’m concerned since the pulp Shadow is my favorite.

The cover of this new edition is by Joe DeVito, who has done great covers for many of Murray’s books in recent years. I really like this one because it captures The Shadow’s personality quite well and also includes Myra Reldon, one of The Shadow’s agents from the novels who usually isn’t featured in artwork about the character and the pulp. An excellent job all around by DeVito. The book also includes a lot of the interior illustrations by Frank Hamilton from the earlier edition. I always loved Hamilton’s work and am very pleased to see these illustrations again. They really bring back a bygone era of pulp fandom filled with printed fanzines and books like THE DUENDE HISTORY OF THE SHADOW MAGAZINE.

Even if you’re a fan of The Shadow and read the original version, you’re going to want to read the new edition, too. I raced through it, unable to put it down, having the time of my life reliving memories of the Shadow novels I’ve read and being reminded of all the great ones still waiting for me to read. Between the great journal THE SHADOWED CIRCLE and the books devoted to the character by Will Murray, this is the new Golden Age of Shadow Fandom. DARK AVENGER gets my highest recommendation. It’s available in both e-book and trade paperback editions.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Critic's Choice (1963)

This will be a pretty short review. I was looking forward to CRITIC’S CHOICE since it’s a Bob Hope movie I’d never seen, and I’m a big Bob Hope fan. He plays an acerbic theater critic in New York. Lucille Ball is his wife, who decides to write a play of her own. John Dehner is a producer friend of theirs who decides to put the play on Broadway. Rip Torn is the womanizing director. Jim Backus is the psychiatrist neighbor of Hope and Ball. Richard Deacon is a rival theater critic.

Other than a few—very few—slightly amusing moments, this is a terrible movie. Why hire Bob Hope and then give him a dreary, depressing script that never lets him be Bob Hope? He and Ball are both miscast. Nobody in the movie is very likable, except for a couple of kid actors. I’d just as soon have continued to miss this one. I don’t like to write bad reviews, but this was just a big disappointment.

Monday, January 16, 2023

The Wolf Pack - Frank Wynne (Brian Garfield)

I bought this Ace Double Western for the Lee Hoffman novel on the other side, but since I read a book by her recently, I decided to go ahead and read the other half first, which is THE WOLF PACK by Frank Wynne, who was really Brian Garfield. Which was no secret even in 1966, by the way. The blurb on the inside of the book freely admits the author’s real identity.

Garfield started writing and selling Western novels at a young age and produced them at a steady clip during the Sixties. The protagonist of this one is Dave Cord, formerly a town-taming lawman until an accidental tragedy drove him to hang up his gun and retire. However, he’s dragged back into gun work when an old flame writes to him and asks for his help with some unspecified trouble. He can’t refuse, so he heads for the Arizona settlement near her ranch. Before he gets there, he runs into an old acquaintance who’s gunned down right in front of Cord. Clearly, he’s headed into trouble, but he doesn’t let that stop him.

Not surprisingly, Cord’s old flame, now a beautiful widow, has rustler problems and a foreman who can’t be trusted. Throw in some ambushes, fistfights, a crooked lawman, a dandified hired gunfighter, some outlaws who may or may not be as bad as they’re made out to be, and an adulterous affair (one thing that sets this novel off from the mostly very traditional Western it is). The plot isn’t overly complicated and culminates in a long chase and battle scene that takes up most of the second half of the book. Garfield’s writing is excellent, though, very vivid in its descriptions and with deeper characterization than some in the genre.

That said, I’ve never been enough of a fan of Garfield’s work to read a bunch of books. The ones I’ve read have been bleak and thoroughly humorless. All the characters are emotionally tortured and go around acting like they have a bad taste in their mouth. This is okay now and then but not something I want a steady diet of. Don’t get me wrong, I raced right through THE WOLF PACK and enjoyed it, and I’m sure I’ll read more Brian Garfield Westerns in the future. Just not anytime soon.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

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

“Escape From Alcatraz”, from the April 1946 issue of G-MEN DETECTIVE, is another of the Dan Fowler stories that’s available on-line. It was published a couple of issues after “Diamonds Across the Atlantic”, also written by Edward Churchill, which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago.

I thought that other Churchill story was okay, but “Escape From Alcatraz” is considerably better. It opens with the escape of the title, as gangster Killer Joe Boyd makes a successful getaway from the Rock and then disappears. The FBI, represented by our heroes Inspector Dan Fowler and Special Agent Larry Kendal, tracks him to a small town in Washington state not far from the Canadian border. Fowler and Kendal take off for the Pacific Northwest while Special Agent Sally Vane tries to track down the escaped killer’s girlfriend.

Then Churchill springs a nice twist in the plot pretty early on, and the case takes on a broader sweep that involves police corruption, smuggling, and a missing fortune in cash and negotiable bonds.

“Escape From Alcatraz” reads like a fairly realistic law enforcement procedural at times, although there are plenty of shootouts and fistfights and chase scenes along the way, too. Churchill certainly doesn’t forget that his story is being published in a pulp. His style is a little flat at times, but he keeps things moving along at an entertaining clip. Also, it’s hard not to like the trio of Fowler, Kendal, and Vane. They’re not exactly Perry Mason, Paul Drake, and Della Street, but a little of that same camaraderie comes through at times.

I read the e-book version of the Fowler story and don’t own the pulp, but as you can see, the cover is a good one and actually represents the lead novel pretty well. There are some good authors with stories in there, too, including Roger Torrey, Norman A. Daniels, and Robert Sidney Bowen. If you happen to have a copy of this one, it ought to be worth pulling down from the shelf and reading. Or you can find the whole thing on the Internet Archive here.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Double-Action Western, January 1951

Yet another Old West poker game that ends in powdersmoke and hot lead! This is a pulp that I own and read recently. That’s my copy in the scan, complete with a pencil-scribbled address, 547 W. Main. Whenever I see something like this, I always wonder: What was located at 547 W. Main? Why did one of this pulp’s previous owners have to grab a pencil and write that address on whatever was handy . . . like the January 1951 issue of DOUBLE-ACTION WESTERN? With that cover date, which was an off-sale date, this issue would have been on the newsstands and magazine racks during December 1950. But that doesn’t mean that’s when the address was written on it. Could have been then, could have been any time since then until the time the copy came into my hands. We’ll never know. But I like to ponder such things anyway.

The lead novel in this issue—and at 60 pages of small, double-columned type, it actually is pretty close to novel length—is “Satan’s Home Spread” by Galen C. Colin. I’ve seen Colin’s name on plenty of Western pulp TOCs, but I don’t recall reading anything by him until now. In this story, our protagonist Brad Towler has escaped from prison in Montana, where he was locked up for a crime he didn’t commit, and headed for Arizona, where he hopes to find the outlaw Sonora Jackson, who framed him and got him sent to prison. No sooner does Brad arrive in the cowtown of Loder than he encounters gambler and gunman Apache Crockett, whose younger brother Tom just happened to be Brad’s cellmate in prison and who was also framed for a crime he didn’t commit by the villainous Sonora Jackson. Crockett convinces Brad to pose as notorious gunman Buck Briggs so he can infiltrate Jackson’s gang, but he neglects to tell Brad that Briggs is wanted for murder, so Brad soon finds himself behind bars again with a lynch mob howling for his blood. Oh, and the rancher Buck Briggs supposedly shot in the back has a beautiful daughter, and Brad falls for her right away even though she hates him because she believes he gunned down her father.

Got all that? If it sounds like there’s enough coincidence and back-story for a Walt Coburn yarn, that’s because there is, and Colin piles it fast and thick. And honestly, before the end of the story he kind of loses control of the plot, so that several twists stretch our suspension of disbelief past the breaking point.

Despite that, “Satan’s Home Spread” is an entertaining tale, no doubt about that. Brad is a good protagonist, the action moves along at a fast pace, and a very appealing little dog figures heavily in the plot, which isn’t something you see a lot of in Western pulps. I own one novel by Galen C. Colin and I’m sure I’ll read it eventually, but probably not right away.

Next up is the short story “Only Dead Men Leave” by an author I’m not familiar with, Floyd C. Day. It’s about a young man blackmailed into joining an outlaw gang to keep his father’s crimes from being exposed. It’s okay but utterly forgettable. Day only published a few stories, but for different publishers so he seems to have been a real guy, not a house-name.

“Test of Guilt” is by T.W. Ford, a very prolific and generally dependable pulpster who wrote scores of Western and sports yarns. It’s a low-key story about a rancher who has to determine whether his ne’er-do-well brother-in-law is really a murderer. It’s a minor story that Ford probably wrote in a couple of hours, but it’s well-written and effective enough to be entertaining.

The issue concludes with the short story “Hell’s Postmaster” by Cliff Campbell, which was a Columbia Publications house name. Whenever I see a house name, I always suspect that the actual author already has a story in the same issue under his own name or another pseudonym, so I immediately thought that T.W. Ford might be the author of this tale about a two-fisted, fast-on-the-draw postmaster, a stolen gold shipment, and a hidden mine. Based on the style, which includes heavy use of what I call “Yuh mangy polecat” dialect, I don’t think it’s Ford’s work after all. So I don’t know who wrote this yarn, but it has enough over-the-top action in it that I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Overall, I wouldn’t call this an outstanding issue, but every story in it is readable, and despite some reservations about the plotting, I’m glad I finally read a story by Galen C. Colin.

Friday, January 13, 2023

Morgue for Venus - Jonathan Craig (Frank E. Smith)

I remember Bill Crider telling me that he liked this series of police procedural novels featuring New York City detectives Pete Selby (the narrator) and his partner Stan Rayder. They were published originally by Gold Medal and some were reprinted by Belmont/Tower. I’m not sure if all of the series was reprinted. MORGUE FOR VENUS is the second book in the series but the first I’ve read. That doesn’t really matter since in those days, series books could usually be read in any order.

MORGUE FOR VENUS opens with Selby and Rayder catching a new case. The scantily clad body of a beautiful redheaded teenage girl has been pulled out of the Hudson River. The circumstances seem to indicate that she was murdered, so the two detectives set out to discover her identity, learn all they can about her life, and figure out who killed her.

That’s really all the plot amounts to, although there are some twists and turns as it’s revealed that the murder victim knew a lot of different people and some of them were criminals. Selby and Rayder go here and there and talk to this person and that, and they use the medical and scientific capabilities of the NYPD to study evidence, and finally, they confront the killer.

When Belmont/Tower reprinted the series (with the numbers all out of order, by the way, which was common for Belmont/Tower), they called the books Sixth Precinct Thrillers, as if they were similar to the 87th Precinct series. And in a very basic way, they are, of course. But the predominant influence on this book seems to be DRAGNET. Although it’s set in New York instead of Los Angeles, the plot, the pacing, and especially the dialogue seem to be very DRAGNET-inspired. Practically everything Pete Selby says in his dialogue and narration, I heard it in Jack Webb’s voice.

This is a good thing, mind you. I love DRAGNET, and this is a very good substitute. Like most substitutes, not quite up to the level of the real thing, of course, but still pretty darned enjoyable and satisfying. I felt like the resolution of the plot was a little lacking and could have used one more good twist, but other than that, I had a fine time reading MORGUE FOR VENUS. I think I have more of this series on my shelves, and I’m going to check today.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Dad's Army (2016)

I usually enjoy homefront stories, both British and American, set during World War II, so when I came across this movie about a group of Home Guardsmen protecting a small English town near the White Cliffs of Dover, I figured it might be worth watching. I was vaguely aware of a 1960s British comedy TV series called DAD’S ARMY and assumed this was a reboot with a different cast, which is exactly right.

I later discovered that this movie version is almost universally reviled by fans of the original series.

Never having seen the original, all I can do is take the movie for what it is: a well-made, mildly amusing comedy with a very predictable plot about a Nazi spy showing up in the village and trying to obtain some vital information that could alter the course of the war. Hijinks and sporadic slapstick ensue.

The cast, which includes Toby Jones and Bill Nighy as members of the Home Guard and Catherine Zeta-Jones as a beautiful magazine reporter, is pretty good. The scenery and production values are excellent. However, none of it ever gels into anything more than an okay way to pass a couple of hours. I’m intrigued by the idea of watching the original TV series now, though. I may have to look into that.

Monday, January 09, 2023

Nothing But a Drifter - Lee Hoffman

A couple of weeks ago, a friend emailed me to ask my opinion of Western writer Lee Hoffman, who was a well-known science fiction fan and fanzine editor before she began writing Western novels in the Sixties. I knew I’d read one novel by Hoffman but had to look up her books before I recalled which one. It turned out to be her first novel, THE LEGEND OF BLACKJACK SAM, and I read it more than fifty years ago when it came out. I also recalled that I thought it was okay, but I never read anything else by her, possibly because it was a comedic Western, and as I’ve mentioned many times, those usually don’t work for me unless they’re by W.C. Tuttle or Robert E. Howard.

However, Hoffman’s 1976 novel NOTHING BUT A DRIFTER is available as an e-book on Kindle Unlimited, and since I know that her work is generally well-regarded, I decided it was time to read another of her novels and see what I thought about it now.

The drifter of the title is a Texas cowboy named Brian who finds himself in Wyoming or Montana (Hoffman never specifies the setting, but that’s the impression I got) looking for a riding job. He encounters another Texan, a rancher who has moved north with his Swedish wife, their beautiful daughter, and two sons, and started a small spread. When an accident on the range leaves the man laid up for a while, Brian agrees to stay on and help keep the ranch running.

If you’ve ever read any Westerns, you know things aren’t going to work out that simply. Soon, Brian finds himself up to his neck in rustling, a possible range war, a threat of trouble with the local Indians, and a romantic rivalry over the rancher’s beautiful daughter with a neighboring cattleman who’s ruthless enough to stop at nothing to get what he wants. As you can tell from that description, NOTHING BUT A DRIFTER is a pretty traditional Western.

It’s also a very well-written one, and if the plot twists that Hoffman adds don’t come as huge surprises, they still work well and are quite satisfying. And some of the twists I was expecting didn’t come about, which is a nice surprise in itself. This book leans toward the low-key, more realistic side of the scale, more Elmer Kelton than Ed Earl Repp, and Hoffman does a fine job with it. The action is a little sparse until late in the book, but there’s plenty of suspense and the slam-bang ending is worth waiting for.

Overall, I’m glad I gave Lee Hoffman another chance because NOTHING BUT A DRIFTER is a terrific book and thoroughly entertaining. It was published originally in hardback by Doubleday in 1976 as part of the Double D line, reprinted in paperback by Leisure in 2010, and is still available in paperback and e-book editions. As soon as I finished it, I immediately ordered another Lee Hoffman novel, LOCO, the one my friend recommended to me. I’m looking forward to reading it.

Sunday, January 08, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Popular Detective, June 1943

Well, that's certainly a creepy cover. I don't know the artist, but this issue of POPULAR DETECTIVE caught my eye, so he did his job. The Dr. Zeng novella by "Walt Bruce" is actually by W.T. Ballard and Robert Leslie Bellem. Also on hand in this issue are Norman A. Daniels, Dale Clark, Joe Archibald, William Morrison (really Joseph Samachson, the guy who created the Martian Manhunter for DC Comics), Lee Fredericks, and Ted Coughlan. Not an all-star line-up, maybe, but I'll bet it's a pretty entertaining issue. The Dr. Zeng story, along with the others in that series, has been reprinted by Steeger Books in the volume DR. ZENG ARCHIVES. I have a copy but have never read it. One of these days . . .

Saturday, January 07, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Star Western, March 1942

I don't know who painted this STAR WESTERN cover, but it's quite effective and dramatic. Those "Six Complete Novels" are actually novelettes, of course, but why quibble over terminology when you've got authors like Tom Roan and Thomas Mount (writing as Stone Cody with one of the Silver Trent stories), plus dependable Western pulpsters John Colohan, Robert E. Mahaffey, Norrell Gregory, and Charles W. Tyler? 

Friday, January 06, 2023

Pot of Honey - John Furlough (Glenn Dale Lough)

POT OF HONEY by John Furlough, published by Softcover Library in 1966, has several things going for it that I like. It takes place in a short period of time, a little more than 24 hours, and it has several overlapping storylines that come together, veer apart, and then gradually intertwine even more.

We have a middle-aged, well-off-but-not-exactly rich widower who marries a younger widow with two beautiful daughters. The widower’s brutal jerk of a son lusts after the widow’s daughters and doesn’t care that they’re now his stepsisters. We have a young couple who own a farm and are unhappy in their marriage. We have the hired man on the farm, who’s also a brutal jerk. If you think that’s a plot designed to include a lot of sex scenes, you’re right. But the author also throws in a missing $10,000, a lot of scheming to get hold of that money, and a shooting.

It's well-documented that many, if not most, of the soft-core novels published in the Fifties and early Sixties are actually crime novels with some euphemistic, not too graphic sex scenes added to them. By the mid-Sixties, a gradual trend had set in: there were more sex scenes in the books, they were a little more graphic (although still not what anybody would consider hardcore), and the crime elements weren’t as important. That’s the window in which POT OF HONEY falls. The sex was what sold books like this when they were new; it’s the noirish crime angle that keeps guys like me reading them today.

John Furlough was a pseudonym for Glenn Dale Lough (1906-1991), who used the names Glenn Low and G. Davisson Low to author several dozen Western and detective stories for a variety of pulps from the mid-Forties to the mid-Fifties. By the Sixties, usually as Glenn Low but sometimes as John Furlough, he had become a prolific soft-core novelist specializing in small-town and rural stories, turning out books for Beacon Books, its successor Softcover Library, and Novel Books. The Western stories I’ve read by him have been good. I’m a little surprised he didn’t become a Western novelist. Maybe he tried and just wasn’t able to sell in that market. Maybe he had some luck with the soft-core market and just stuck with it. A lot of writers will do that. We just don’t know.

What we do know is that Lough was a decent writer, able to come up with interesting characters and move his plots along nicely. As a soft-core writer, he never reached the levels of Orrie Hitt or the authors who went on to other things such as Lawrence Block, Robert Silverberg, and Donald Westlake. As a crime/noir author, he was no Harry Whittington, Day Keene, or Charles Williams. But he was a solid craftsman, based on what I’ve read so far, and everything I’ve read by him was entertaining and kept me flipping the pages. If you have any of his books on your shelves, or if you run across any, I think his work is worth reading.

Wednesday, January 04, 2023

Awake and Die - Robert Ames (Charles L. Clifford)

Will Peters is a Korean War vet with shrapnel in his head and woman trouble. Although he’s an intelligent, reasonably well-educated guy, he ekes out a living as a clam digger along the New Jersey shore. He spends his time with a slatternly tramp who drinks too much and is cheating on her husband. Then two things happen that put Will even farther along the road to ruin: the tramp decides she’s going to leave her husband for good and move in with Will so they’ll have a common-law marriage, and he meets and falls for a beautiful blonde who’s married to a rich, abusive, wealthy businessman. We all know what that’s a perfect set-up for. But don’t assume you know how everything’s going to play out in AWAKE AND DIE, a novel by Robert Ames published originally by Gold Medal in 1955 and recently reprinted by Black Gat Books.

A lot of books with similar plots to this one are slow burns, taking their time to build up the pressure on the protagonist. Not AWAKE AND DIE. The killing starts almost right away, and it doesn’t let up for a while. The slow burn part comes more in the middle, where we wonder if Will is going to get away with what he’s done and watch his maneuvering to protect himself. Then it all kicks into higher gear again as the author throws plot twist after plot twist into the mix and does so with really good control over what he’s doing. Things that seem kind of random and haphazard really aren’t . . . and then something else happens to tighten the screws on Will even more.

“Robert Ames” was really Charles L. Clifford, an author who, like William Chamberlain, combined a military career with that of a pulp writer. While serving in the army for 35 years, Clifford wrote dozens of war and adventure stories under his real name for top pulps such as ADVENTURE, ARGOSY, BLUE BOOK, and SHORT STORIES and even cracked the slicks a number of times, too. He wrote four novels under his own name and three hardboiled crime novels for Gold Medal as Robert Ames. Despite those credits, it’s safe to say he was almost completely forgotten until Black Gat Books reprinted this one.

AWAKE AND DIE is one of the bleakest Gold Medals I’ve read, and Will Peters is one of the most unsympathetic protagonists—and that’s saying a lot, considering what you get in many Gold Medals. And yet Clifford keeps the reader turning the pages to find out what’s going to happen, and there are moments when you want Will to succeed in his various schemes, even though you know you shouldn’t. It’s a good book, well worth reading, and I’m going to have to look for the author’s other two Robert Ames books, as well as some of his pulp stories.

Sunday, January 01, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Adventure, March 1936

We'll start the year with a pith helmet alert and a fine cover by Hubert Rogers, an artist I've really come to appreciate in the past few years. This issue of ADVENTURE features stories by W.C. Tuttle, Gordon Young, and Tom Roan, all top-notch pulpsters, as well as H.H. Matteson, Andrew A. Caffrey, and Captain Jean M. Ellrich ("Sharkologist"! The cover says so). I hope all of you have a great, pulpish, adventurous year.