Sunday, April 30, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Fantastic Adventures, January 1952

This is a pulp I own and read recently. That’s my copy in the scan. FANTASTIC ADVENTURES was an odd mix of different kinds of fantasy stories with a science fiction yarn sneaking in occasionally. At this point in its run, it was edited by Howard Browne, a good editor and an excellent author in his own right. The cover of this issue is by an artist I associate more with science fiction, Ed Valigursky. He did a lot of covers for the Ace Double science fiction line, I believe.

One thing the Ziff-Davis pulps did that was different from other pulp publishers was to put the word count of each story on the Table of Contents. Those counts probably weren’t completely accurate, but they still give a good approximation of each story’s length. The lead novel in this issue, “Rest In Agony”, comes in at 32,000 words. That’s long enough to call it a novel, as far as I’m concerned. The author, Ivar Jorgensen, was actually Paul W. Fairman in this case. Fairman was a regular in the Ziff-Davis stable, both as a writer and an editor. He doesn’t have a very high reputation in either role, but I’ve always found his work to be enjoyable for the most part. The narrator of “Rest In Agony” is clean-cut young college student Hal Brent. Hal’s Uncle Ambrose dies, but then, after the funeral, Hal gets a phone call from him, begging for help. It seems that Ambrose was involved with a Satanic cult and wrote a book about their activities, and now the members of the cult will do anything to get their hands on that volume, including menacing the lives of Hal and his beautiful teenage sister.

This is an odd story, at times leisurely paced and poetic, almost dream-like, reminding me a little of A. Merritt. Then at other times it’s lurid and over the top like a Weird Menace yarn. There’s some very good writing in it in places, and in other places the prose is rather clumsy. I’ll say this for it, though: it kept me turning the pages. This story is available in an e-book edition as a stand-alone novel under Fairman’s real name, if you’re interested in checking it out yourself and don’t have a copy of this pulp. I enjoyed it while still being aware that it’s hardly a great story. Kind of like most of Fairman’s work that I’ve read.

Geoff St. Reynard was really Robert W. Krepps, best remembered today, aside from his science fiction, as the author of numerous movie novelizations and several well-regarded novels about Africa. His story in this issue, under the St. Reynard pseudonym, is a novelette called “Wrestlers Are Revolting!” Since it was written and published in the Fifties, this story comes from a time when most science fiction writers and readers still considered a centralized, heavy-handed, oppressive government to be a bad thing, so the villains are the political rulers of the Federated Americas. They’ve banned all professional sports except wrestling, since that’s the one where it’s easiest to control the outcome of the matches, and the government-sponsored wrestler known as The Chimera is unbeatable, not only defeating every challenger with his signature move, the Siberian Death Lock, but also killing them in the ring, which is permitted in this era. As always happens in cases of political oppression, an underground has developed, dedicated to overthrowing the Federated Americas, and the movement’s leaders are all wrestlers, including the story’s protagonist Johnny Bell, who wants to be a writer but is forced into wrestling by the government.

Clearly, this is a pretty goofy concept for a story. But it’s so well-written that Krepps makes it easy for the reader to suspend disbelief and just roll with it. It’s very funny in places, too, especially if you’re a wrestling fan. The names, the gimmicks, the way the matches are staged, all that stuff is very familiar to anybody who ever watched much professional wrestling. The Chimera is a classic heel, and Johnny Bell, who competes under the name Bellerophon the Great, is pure babyface. In an accidental prediction, there’s even a wrestler-turned-referee named Paul Bearer! The wrestling part is amusing, the political background is prophetic (especially since the story is set in the early 2020s), and Krepps’ talent elevates what should have been silliness into a very entertaining yarn.

Paul W. Fairman returns under his own name with a short story called “The Secret of Gallows Hill”, which features some nice illustrations by Virgil Finlay. This is a ghost story—or is it?—with its roots stretching back to the Revolutionary War. Fairman springs a pretty nice twist ending in this one, making it one of the better things I’ve read by him.

I don’t know anything about Francis G. Rayer except that he was a fairly prolific but almost completely forgotten British science fiction author. His story in this issue, “When Greed Steps In”, is about a couple of miners competing for a rare, valuable metal on a newly discovered planet. It’s a pretty mild story and also has a twist ending which gives it a little more punch than it might have had otherwise. But it’s hardly memorable.

The issue wraps up with the novelette “Satellite of Destruction” by Ziff-Davis regular Berkely Livingston writing under the pseudonym Burt B. Liston. This is an alien invasion yarn, but rather than the attackers coming to Earth in rocket ships, they arrive in a mobile asteroid that they put into the planet’s orbit as a second moon. This is a fairly intriguing idea, but Livingston doesn’t do much with it, delivering instead a World War II commando yarn with SF trappings. I made it to the end of this story, but just barely. It just didn’t resonate with me.

FANTASTIC ADVENTURES doesn’t have a great reputation as a science fiction/fantasy pulp, and this issue is a good example of why not. One really good (but not great) story by Krepps, two pretty good stories by Fairman, and the other two are readable but not much more. Still, I’ve found something to like in every issue of FANTASTIC ADVENTURES I’ve read, so I’m sure I’ll be picking up another one sometime in the future.

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: West, January 1949

A simple but very effective cover by Sam Cherry on this issue of the Western pulp with the simplest name: WEST. And of course there's plenty of red and yellow on there, too. The lineup of authors inside includes one of my favorites, Leslie Scott, with a novella, plus the always dependable Johnston McCulley, Larry Harris, and Steuart Emery. Nothing fancy, just good solid Western entertainment, I'll bet.

Friday, April 28, 2023

Gunfighter's Return - Leslie Ernenwein

Leslie Ernenwein was a prolific contributor to the Western pulps from the late Thirties to the end of the pulp era. He also wrote several dozen Western novels and had a successful career as a journalist. I read a couple of his novels many years ago and remember enjoying them, and recently I’ve read a few of his pulp stories and liked them as well. So I figured it was time to read another novel by him and picked up GUNFIGHTER’S RETURN, published originally by Gold Medal in 1950. That’s my copy in the scan. I feel like I should know the artist who did the cover, but I don’t, and there’s no signature that I can see.

This book has a terrific opening paragraph:

Durango died at noon. He didn’t say a word. Didn’t even grunt. He just lay down and died.

I don’t know about you, but something that terse and hardboiled sure makes me want to keep reading. The Durango referred to is the leader of a revolutionary movement in Mexico who was betrayed to the federales by a cantina dancer. He and American gunfighter/soldier of fortune Jim Rimbaud are the only ones who escape an ambush by federal troops, and when Durango dies, Rimbaud is left on his own to make it back across the border to Arizona if he can.

It's no spoiler to say that he does so. The book’s title is GUNFIGHTER’S RETURN, after all. He finds himself back in the cowtown where he recuperated from a gunshot wound a couple of years earlier. There’s a girl there he’s interested in, a pretty redhead who runs a café. After his narrow escape, Rimbaud thinks maybe it’s time for him to give up helling around and settle down.

Yeah, we all know how well that always works out in Western novels, don’t we?

A range war is brewing, and in a nice twist, it’s connected to that failed revolution in Mexico. The man who saved Rimbaud’s life two years earlier is now on the run from the law, framed as a rustler. Rimbaud owes him and is the type who always pays his debts . . . and it doesn’t matter that the hombre he’s indebted to is also engaged to the girl Rimbaud wants for himself.

From this setup, Ernenwein spins an excellent hardboiled Western yarn with plenty of gritty action and a frankness about sexual matters that’s unusual for the era. There’s a large, well-developed cast of characters, a nice sense of time and place, and a pace that never lets up for very long. Jim Rimbaud is a tough but hardly superhuman protagonist. He suffers a lot of punishment in this book but manages to keep slugging away at his enemies.

This is one of the better Westerns I’ve read recently and really makes me want to read more by Ernenwein. Luckily, I have several of his books on my shelves and e-books of several more on my Kindle. If you’re a fan of traditional Westerns, I give GUNFIGHTER’S RETURN a high recommendation.

Monday, April 24, 2023

The Autobiography of Matthew Scudder - Lawrence Block

Is the autobiography of a fictional character still fiction? I think that’s what you’d have to call it. Not that it really matters in this case. Whatever else it is, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MATTHEW SCUDDER is a very good book.

Those of you who follow Lawrence Block’s career know that he’s been in a contemplative mood the past few years, publishing several books that serve as a look back and summing up not only of his life as a professional writer but also the lives of some of the characters he’s created. A quote from early in this book addresses that: "One reaches an age when the past is as interesting as the present, and a bit less difficult to make sense of."

This tendency can be seen in his most recent novel, THE BURGLAR WHO MET FREDRIC BROWN and in the Matt Scudder collection THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC and the Scudder novella A TIME TO SCATTER STONES. Block brings this trend to its logical conclusion by letting Scudder tell the story of his life up to the point where Block began chronicling his cases with THE SINS OF THE FATHER. As he has Scudder say in the book, "And what the hell am I writing now? I suppose it's the part between the books, the part you'd skip."

Yes, this concept is pretty meta, as they say. But it works. Since Scudder is the narrator of all the previous novels and stories about him, the voice is the same. Scudder the character takes a few gentle shots at Block the author for changing things in the fiction, such as his birthday. And he fills in the background on events that happened in some of the novels. But for the most part, this is a straightforward telling of Matt Scudder’s life and how he got to the point where the novels take up the story. It’s a tale that is, in many ways, compelling in its ordinariness. Scudder is no superhero, no eccentric genius of a detective, just a fairly ordinary guy with instincts that made him a good cop and unlicensed private detective, a guy with a lot of admirable qualities and a few deep flaws that threaten those better qualities but never quite overwhelm them. You just can’t help liking him, which of course is one of the appeals of the long-running series about him.

THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MATTHEW SCUDDER isn’t a mystery and I’m not sure you can even call it a novel. But it’s a very well-written book that kept me turning the pages and thoroughly entertained me. It’ll be out in June, and you can pre-order the e-book already. I’m not sure what the plans are for print editions, but I know there’ll be some. This is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year, and I give it a very high recommendation.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Exciting Mystery, Winter 1943

That's a pretty lurid cover. I don't know the artist. This is the second issue of a very short-lived pulp. EXCITING MYSTERY lasted only three issues. There are some good authors in this issue, including Norman A. Daniels (twice, once as himself and once as Lew Martin), my old mentor Sam Merwin Jr., Dixon Wells (actually writer/editor Samuel Mines), and house name Robert Wallace, who could have been any of those three or somebody else entirely. I'm not sure why EXCITING MYSTERY wasn't as successful as the other Thrilling Group pulps. Looks like good reading to me.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Big-Book Western Magazine, February 1941

Yet another example of what should have been a friendly poker game interrupted by gunplay on this issue of BIG-BOOK WESTERN MAGAZINE. Those "2 Big Novels" are actually novellas, of course, but I can't disagree with the "2 Top-Hand Authors" part of that blurb. Given Ed Earl Repp's tendency to use ghostwriters, there's no telling who actually wrote "Boothill Guns Save Satan's Range", but here's the thing: Repp helped plot the ghosted stories and often revised them as well (according to Frank Bonham's famous essay "Tarzana Nights", and as bitter as Bonham was toward Repp, I don't see any reason for him to lie about that), and the ones I've read have all been pretty good no matter who the actual author was. And William L. Hopson, author of "Iron Man of Vengeance Valley" is a long-time favorite of mine. Also on hand in this issue are Tom W. Blackburn, Dee Linford, Jim Kjelgaard, Cliff M. Bisbee, and Le Roy Boyd.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Trailer Tramp - Orrie Hitt

TRAILER TRAMPS, the new triple-decker collection from Stark House, has to have an Orrie Hitt novel in it, of course, and what better one than the similarly named TRAILER TRAMP? Published originally by Beacon Books in 1957, TRAILER TRAMP is Orrie Hitt near the top of his game, although there are some differences in it from his usual books, too.

For one thing, the protagonist of this novel, Joan Baker, isn’t trapped in a hardscrabble existence like many of Hitt’s protagonists. Instead, she’s a smart, hard-working young woman who runs a successful trailer camp established by her parents, who are now taking an extended vacation and have left Joan in charge. So money isn’t a worry as it so often is in a Hitt novel.

Which doesn’t mean that Joan is carefree. She has her personal demons to deal with. She was in love with a young man but after he tried to pressure her into sex and she refused (she’s a virgin), he turned to another girl to get what he wanted. But she still has feelings for the guy, and it doesn’t help when he starts working at the trailer camp.

Then a construction crew putting in a pipeline shows up and the boss of the job, Big Mike Summers, moves his trailer into the camp and Joan is immediately drawn to him. When she gives in to her feelings, she worries that she’s becoming a tramp. (Well, it’s right there in the title, although to be honest, Joan never comes across as particularly trampish.)

Other complications crop up, and although a lot of the book is domestic drama, it becomes a crime yarn as Hitt pulls off several nice twists, leaving the reader unsure of what’s going to happen almost right up to the end of the book.

I know Hitt worked as the manager of a hunting camp, but I don’t recall if he ever had any connection to trailer camps. He must have, because he does a great job with the setting in this book. As in so much of his work, the details of middle-class and lower-class life really have the ring of authenticity. His writing is sharp and the pace moves along at a nice clip. This is fine storytelling.

TRAILER TRAMP is in the top rank of the Orrie Hitt novels I’ve read. Along with TRAILER CAMP WOMAN by Doug Duperrault, it makes this new Stark House collection a solid two-for-two so far. That leaves LOVE CAMP ON WHEELS by Tom Harland, which I’ll be getting to soon. TRAILER TRAMPS is available in both e-book and print editions.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

The Blazing Land - Hal G. Evarts

There were two Western writers named Hal G. Evarts, father and son. The father was a successful author during the first three decades of the 20th Century. His son was even more prolific during the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies. THE BLAZING LAND is by Evarts Jr. and is the first thing I’ve read by either of them.

This novel, published as a paperback original by Dell in 1960 and reprinted in 1966 (the edition I read) is set in California and Arizona during the early days of the Civil War. It opens in the sleepy little town of Los Angeles, where rancher Will Colladay is looking for his ne’er-do-well brother Andy. Andy has really gotten himself in trouble this time. Thrown in jail by the army for expressing sentiments in support of the Confederacy, Andy has broken out and killed a soldier in the process. The woman he’s engaged to marry, a beautiful redheaded faro dealer, convinces Will to help his brother escape his pursuers. In order to do that, Will makes a deal with a shady character that puts his ranch at risk, but he succeeds in getting Andy away from Los Angeles and together with the redhead, who insists on coming along, they head for Mexico with the intention of eventually getting back to Texas and joining in the fight on the side of the South.

But to get there, they have to take a roundabout route through the Mojave Desert, which means they’ll have to survive the elements, hostile Indians, treacherous whites, and pursuit from the military, not to mention clashes with each other.

THE BLAZING LAND is a little slow to get started, but once it does, it becomes more hardboiled and suspenseful. Evarts does a great job with the setting and the characters are all well-developed and interesting, with some really despicable villains. (Some of you may have noticed that I like books with really despicable villains.) The outcome is maybe a little bit predictable and the book could have used a few more action scenes, but overall, I think it’s a really solid traditional Western. I definitely plan to read more by Evarts Jr. I have a few books by Evarts Sr., too, and I may even get around to them one of these days.

Monday, April 17, 2023

Peril at End House - Agatha Christie

I read a bunch of Agatha Christie novels when I was in junior high and high school, beginning with THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY, which I checked out of the school library when I was in the sixth grade. (Just for the record, that’s the same year I read GOLDFINGER by Ian Fleming and THE DEEP by Mickey Spillane. My reading tastes were nothing if not varied.) At any rate, my favorites of Christie’s work have always been the Hercule Poirot novels. There are a number of them I’ve never read, so I pick one up now and then and revisit an old friend.

Which brings us to PERIL AT END HOUSE, originally published in 1932. It’s the sixth novel in the series, and as it opens, Poirot is already talking about being retired. He and Captain Hastings, his friend/Watson/narrator, are vacationing at a resort hotel on the southern coast of England. Visible from the hotel’s terrace is a big, old house set on a point of land that juts out into the sea. That’s the End House of the title, of course. On a pleasant afternoon, Poirot and Hastings are sitting on the terrace when they see an attractive young woman cutting through the garden between the hotel and End House. Then somebody takes a shot at her, narrowly missing her. She doesn’t even realize how close she has come to death, but Poirot does, and when he questions her, he discovers that this is the fourth attempt on her life in as many days.

Well, Poirot can’t stand to see such villainy right under his mustaches, of course, so he sets out to discover who wants the young woman dead. That leads him and Hastings into a complex plot involving drugs, a missing will, fireworks, poisoned chocolates, a secret chamber, a large fortune, a séance, and, naturally, murder.

Christie is famous for her plotting, and justly so, but I’ll be honest, I figured out all but a few details in this one well before the end, including the murderer’s identity. That didn’t really detract from my enjoyment of the book, though. Christie writes really well, with good characterizations, some sharp social commentary (her books are usually considerably darker than what you think of when you think about cozy mysteries), and a really fast pace, especially when you consider the fact that the books consist mainly of people standing around talking to each other. (There’s a little action, and some books have more of it than others.) The banter between Poirot and Hastings always leaves me feeling a little sorry for Hastings, but at the same time you get a sense of the deep friendship between the two of them.

I had a really good time reading PERIL AT END HOUSE. It took me back to those long-ago days when I was devouring Christie novels. I may just read more of them. The past is looking more and more appealing to me.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Ten Detective Aces, November 1942

For some reason, I've always liked those TEN DETECTIVE ACES covers with the red borders around them. It's a nice distinctive look. And I always love Norman Saunders covers. This one is no exception. Great action and details and that's a really good-looking woman. The stories inside are by some authors who ain't half-bad, either: Frederick C. Davis, Walker A. Tompkins, Norman A. Daniels, Harold Q. Masur, Joe Archibald, Lee E. Well, Stuart Friedman, plus a couple I hadn't heard of, Ken Kessler and Jimmy O'Brien, plus house name Guy Fleming. A couple of those authors, Tompkins and Wells, are best known as Western writers, but Davis and Archibald wrote quite a few Westerns, too, and Daniels did a few.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp Revisited: Dime Western, May 1946

I’ve featured this issue before, but a friend sent me a copy of the actual pulp and I read it this week. Thanks, Ryan! Here’s how I opened that previous post: “We already know that it wasn't safe to play poker or go to the barber shop in the Old West, but now we realize that you couldn't even sit down to tickle the ivories without winding up in the middle of a gunfight, thanks to this cover on DIME WESTERN, Popular Publications' leading Western pulp.” I’m unsure of the artist on this cover. It might be Robert Stanley; he was doing a lot of covers for DIME WESTERN during this era.

The first story is by an author whose name is somewhat familiar to me, but I don’t believe I’ve ever read anything by him until now: Charles W. Tyler. Although billed as a novel, “Those Three Texas Hellions!” is fairly short, closer to novelette length. The three Texas Hellions in question are a couple of old-timers called Dewlap and Wattles and a gun-fast youngster known as the Hairpin Kid. You might guess from those names that this is a humorous Western, and if you’ve been paying attention you know that I generally don’t like those much unless they’re by Robert E. Howard or W.C. Tuttle. Well, Tyler is not in the same league as those two, but this story isn’t bad. One of the old codgers gets his hands on a map that’s supposed to lead to the Lost San Saba Mine, and in their search for it they cross trails with a gang of outlaws and a Texas Ranger. The humor doesn’t descend too far into slapstick, there’s plenty of action, and the characters are more likable than I expected them to be. Based on this story, I’d read more by Tyler.

By the way, despite the Table of Contents page claiming “All Stories New—No Reprints!”, a story by Charles W. Tyler entitled “Those Three Texas Hellions!” also appeared in the June 1943 issue of STAR WESTERN. Whether this is the same story, or whether Tyler just reused the title, I don’t know. I’d have to compare both issues, and I don’t own that STAR WESTERN. Not that it really matters.

Next up is “Manhunt at Gillams”, a tense story about a man catching up to the outlaw who robbed him at an isolated way station. The authors are Everett and Olga Webber, who wrote several historical novels together. Everett Webber contributed around 70 Western and detective stories to various pulps and slicks during the Thirties, Forties, and Fifties, sometimes in collaboration with his wife Olga. This is a low-key, well-written yarn that reminded me a little of Ernest Haycox’s work.

Also featured on the cover is Walt Coburn’s novelette “Wet Cattle—Heading North!” Despite the title, the story has a lot more to do with stealing horses rather than cattle. By this point in his career, Coburn’s drinking problem was bad enough that the editors at Popular Publications supposedly had to rewrite his manuscripts to make them publishable. I don’t know if that’s true or not. This one, like most of Coburn’s stories from this era, is so weighted down with back-story that it takes a long time for the actual plot to get going. I’m a big fan of Coburn’s work, but this is a pretty weak entry. There are a few bits of description that really ring true and authentic, and the action scenes are well-done, but mostly it just muddles along, hard to follow. If this was someone’s first Coburn story, they’d probably have a difficult time understanding why he was so popular.

Harry F. Olmsted’s longest-running series, written under the pseudonym Bart Cassidy, featured drifting good-guy outlaw Tensleep Maxon in more than 120 stories between 1933 and 1951. “Tensleep—Wedding Buster” in this issue is typical of the series: in colorful first-person narration, Tensleep finds himself in the middle of trouble at a Mormon wedding. I’ve read a few of the stories in this series, and while I love Olmsted’s work overall, I’m not a big fan of the Tensleep stories. This one’s not bad, certainly readable and entertaining, but it’ll never be one of my favorite series.

It's always cool when I read a pulp and come across a story by an author I’ve actually met. Thomas Thompson was the long-time story editor on the TV show BONANZA, but before that he had a successful career as a Western pulpster and novelist. He was also at the Western Writers of America convention in Fort Worth in 1986, where I met him and got to talk to him briefly. His story in this issue, “The Killer and the Lady”, is a low-key tale about a woman whose old suitor returns, but unfortunately, he's become an outlaw. This is a well-written story, and with its emotion and characterization, it also reminds me of Ernest Haycox.

Old pro William R. Cox contributes the novelette “A Range to Die For!” This is a cattleman vs. nesters story, but Cox gives it a nice twist that brings about a very satisfying resolution. I enjoyed this one a lot.

“War Smoke on Black Hill” is by another author whose name is vaguely familiar to me, Marvin De Vries. It’s about an army scout trying to solve the mystery of who betrayed a patrol and led them into an Indian ambush. Not a bad story, although it’s very obvious where the plot is going.

“As a Man Fights—” by Harold R. Stoakes is a decent little action yarn about an unlikely subject: the clash between a riverboat captain with a load of sugar and the owner of a sorghum mill who’s making molasses. No range war here or water rights battle in this one. It’s a sweetener war, instead. I don’t know anything about Stoakes except that he wrote several dozen Western stories in the Forties and Fifties. This one is off-beat enough that I liked it.

Another series by Harry F. Olmsted that appeared regularly in DIME WESTERN under Olmsted’s name featured Friar Robusto, an adventurer in Spanish California. Robusto isn’t an actual priest, he only pretends to be one, and he has a masked secret identity as a Robin Hood outlaw known as the Phantom Highwayman. Any resemblance to Johnston McCulley’s Zorro series probably isn’t coincidental. These are more historical swashbucklers than traditional Westerns, but I love them. Every one I’ve read has been great, including “Friar Robusto at the Devil’s Deadline” in this issue. This is the 23rd and final story in the series, and it finds Robusto caught up in political upheaval between the King of Spain and the Viceroy of Spanish California. Lots of blood-and-thunder action, including several sword fights, and Robusto is a great character. If you’re a fan of the serial ZORRO’S FIGHTING LEGION, like I am, you’ll find a lot of the same feeling in Olmsted’s Friar Robusto stories. This series would be a good candidate for reprinting, and with only 23 novelettes, it could be done in three or four volumes.

Overall, this is a very solid issue of a consistently good Western pulp. The stories range from good to excellent, with the best being the Friar Robusto yarn and the weakest the one from Walt Coburn, and it’s not terrible, just not up to the standards of his best work. I had a very good time reading this issue.

Friday, April 14, 2023

Gunfight at Laramie - Lee Hoffman

This is the first Western novel that Lee Hoffman wrote, although it was published second after THE LEGEND OF BLACKJACK SAM. Hoffman was an active member of science fiction fandom and wrote this novel at the urging of her friend, SF author, editor, and fan Ted White. She submitted it to fellow SF fan Terry Carr, then working as an editor at Ace Books, and he bought it, which explains the dedication to “Norman Edwards, who made this book possible,” because Norman Edwards was a pseudonym shared by White and Carr for their collaborations. There are a couple of similar Easter eggs later in the book, with the mention of a character named Ron Archer (another pseudonym of White’s) and a Pinkerton operative named Vanarnam, after another of White’s collaborators, Dave Van Arnam. It’s entirely possible there may be others that slipped past me.

Despite that science fiction background, GUNFIGHT AT LARAMIE is a pure traditional Western novel, and a really good one, at that. The protagonist Devereaux (I don’t think we ever get his first name; he’s just known as Dev) is a former railroader who served in the Union army during the Civil War and spent time in a Confederate prison camp. Following the war, he became a telegrapher in Illinois and remained in that job until he was implicated in a train wreck and the robbery that followed it. He was framed, of course, but he was blacklisted anyway and can’t work for any railroad anymore. He’s been working as a skinner in a buffalo hunting camp, but when he gets word that the man he blames for framing him is in Laramie, he hitches a ride on a train heading in that direction. The time is not long after the war, when the transcontinental railroad is just being built. It hasn’t reached the raw new town of Laramie yet, but it soon will. Unfortunately for Dev, the train he’s riding on is derailed, and once again he’s caught in the middle of a disaster for which he may be blamed.

Most of this is back-story, and Hoffman gets it out of the way quickly. When Dev arrives in Laramie, he not only has to hunt down the man he holds responsible for all his trouble, but he also finds himself in the middle of a complex storyline involving a beautiful saloon owner, her husband, a couple of fast guns, a mysterious Indian, and an embittered farmer. A lot of GUNFIGHT AT LARAMIE reads like a hardboiled crime novel as Dev has to sort out friend from foe, figure out what’s really behind everything, and survive several attempts on his life.

Hoffman packs a lot into this short novel (as half of an Ace Double with Brian Garfield’s THE WILD PACK on the other side, it’s maybe 40,000 words). But it all makes sense, the story moves along at a nice clip, and the gritty action scenes are excellent. The characters are well-developed, and there’s a sexual element to the plot that’s unusual for that era of Western novels.

This is the second of Hoffman’s traditional Western novels I’ve read this year, and I’m really impressed by her work so far. I’m glad there are still quite a few more of them for me to get around to. In the meantime, if you’re a Western fan, I give GUNFIGHT AT LARAMIE a high recommendation.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Men's Adventure Quarterly #7: Gang Girls! - Robert Deis and Bill Cunningham, eds.

I’ve read novels about gang girls by such masters as Orrie Hitt and Robert Silverberg and always enjoyed them. The subject came up frequently in the men’s adventure magazines, too, providing an excellent theme for the seventh issue of MEN’S ADVENTURE QUARTERLY. This time around, this great publication offers seven stories of juvenile delinquents, biker gangs, and the tough, beautiful girls who ran with them. Included is a lengthy condensation of one of the most notorious and sought-after gang girl novels, ZIP-GUN ANGEL by the mysterious and possibly pseudonymous Albert L. Quandt. Since it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever own a copy of the collectible original edition published by Original Novels in 1952, I’m glad I got a chance to read this version, which was published first in the September 1958 issue of MAN’S ILLUSTRATED.

It’s the story of Pebbles Jackson, a beautiful teenager with an ex-con father who finds herself caught up in the rivalry between two gangs, as well as being the object of attention from a handsome young cop who doesn’t know whether to arrest her or kiss her. Quandt keeps things moving along at a very fast pace, made even faster by the abridgment. Whoever he was, he was a good storyteller and kept me turning the pages.

One of the other stories is by Wenzell Brown, who wrote numerous novels and non-fiction volumes about juvenile delinquency, but who I first encounted in some espionage stories published in THE SAINT MAGAZINE during the Sixties. I’ve always enjoyed Brown’s work, and his story here, “Tomboy Jungle”, from the November 1957 issue of FOR MEN ONLY, is a top-notch blend of gritty fiction, history, and sociology.

My other favorite this time around is “Street Queens Are Taking Over Teenage Gangs”, from the January 1962 issue of WILDCAT ADVENTURES. Pure fiction presented as a true exposé, it’s a bloody, lurid tale of rival gang girls worth of being published in a magazine with “Wildcat” in its title.

Editors Robert Deis and Bill Cunningham have assembled another winner here. The two of them, along with guest editors Jules Burt and Andrew Nette, provide some fascinating articles and story introductions, and of course there’s plenty of great, beautifully reproduced art by Samson Pollen, Bruce Minney, Earl Norem, Robert Maguire, and others.

I’ve run out of superlatives to describe just how good MEN’S ADVENTURE QUARTERLY is. If you’re interested in the men’s adventure magazines, beautiful art, and stories that are a real window into another era, I give this issue and all the previous ones my highest recommendation. You can pick up this issue from Amazon or directly from the publisher.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Amsterdam (2022)

Three friends who meet during World War I—a doctor, a lawyer, and a nurse—come together again in 1933 when they become involved in a murder and a vast, dangerous conspiracy. AMSTERDAM, released last year, reminds me a little of CHINATOWN with its period setting, the complex plot very loosely based on historical incidents, and its mutilated protagonist (Jake Gittes with his nose, Dr. Burt Berendson with his glass eye and injured back). Amsterdam becomes something of a metaphor, just as Chinatown did.

AMSTERDAM is a good film and I enjoyed it, but it’s not in CHINATOWN’s league. Few movies are. The sepia-toned photography is beautiful and the cast led by Christian Bale and Margot Robbie is good. Robert DeNiro is more restrained than usual and is effective in a supporting role. The bad guys are suitably despicable. In reading the reviews of this movie, which I usually do after I’ve watched one, I see that they’re pretty evenly split, and for the most part, people either love it or hate it. I come down in the middle of that. I think AMSTERDAM is a pretty good movie but not a great one.

Monday, April 10, 2023

Trailer Camp Woman - Doug Duperrault

What a great idea for a themed anthology! TRAILER TRAMPS, coming out from Stark House later this month, collects three soft-core novels originally published by Beacon Books concerning love and lust in the trailer parks. For reasons I’ll explain later, I decided to start with the middle book in the trio, TRAILER CAMP WOMAN by Doug Duperrault, originally published in 1959.

The protagonist of this novel is Arlene Ford, a beautiful blonde who lives with her salesman husband Buddy in a trailer park on the outskirts of Norfolk, Virginia, where a lot of the population and business comes from the nearby naval base. Buddy travels a lot in his job, and it’s not a very happy marriage to start with since he’s considerably older than Arlene and doesn’t treat her well, so she’s lonely and resentful. Despite that, she tries to remain faithful to Buddy . . . until she meets a young sailor. And until she gets curious about the lifestyle of the two lesbians who live in the trailer next door. While Arlene is wrestling with those temptations, who should show up but her vengeful ex-fiancee, who begins stalking and threatening her. Now Arlene has to figure out not only what she wants to do with her life, but also has to survive that psychotic threat out of her past.

TRAILER CAMP WOMAN really races along. Duperrault’s writing is very smooth and fast-paced, and he does a good job with the characters. Arlene, her sailor, and her lesbian friends are all sympathetic and very likable. The bad guys are suitably despicable. Most Beacon Books had happy endings, but sometimes they feel forced. Not so here, as the outcome of everything develops naturally and believably. It’s just a good story where you keep reading because you want to know what’s going to happen.

I’ve been familiar with Doug Duperrault’s name for many years and had a few of his books before the Fire of ’08, but I never read anything by him until now. I looked him up to find out more about him before I dug into this collection and found his biography interesting enough that I wanted to read his book first. Born in Massachusetts in 1929, he grew up in various places in New England. As a young man he worked as an actor in children’s theater in New York, then moved to California in 1950 where he took on a number of different jobs: typist (at MGM Studios), aircraft parts worker, private detective, insurance investigator, and ice cream truck driver. A varied background, to say the least! In the mid-Fifties, he got into television and began a long career as a programming director and promotions manager in Arkansas, Louisiana, and finally Florida, where he wound up spending most of his life. He died in Tampa, where he was active in civic affairs, in 2005. Sounds like a pretty solid, decent guy.

And while he was doing all that in the Fifties and Sixties, he wrote 24 soft-core novels for assorted publishers, all of them under his real name. Based on TRAILER CAMP WOMAN, I suspect that most if not all of them are worth reading. I intend to seek out more of them, if I can get around to it.

Sunday, April 09, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Smashing Detective Stories, May 1955

This is an issue from late in the pulp era that I own and read recently. That’s my copy in the scan. I think the cover art is okay, not great but effective enough. I don’t know who the artist is.

This is also a momentous issue, although you wouldn’t necessarily think that an issue of SMASHING DETECTIVE STORIES, a low-budget, last gasp pulp from Columbia Publications, would ever fall into that category. But it contains the final Race Williams story by Carroll John Daly. That’s right, 32 years after the character made his debut in “Knights of the Open Palm” in the June 1, 1923 issue of BLACK MASK, the series comes to an end with “Head Over Homicide” in this issue.

I’d never read any of the later Race Williams stories, even though I have the Black Dog Books collection RACE WILLIAMS’ DOUBLE DATE and the massive complete stories collections from Altus Press. The only ones I’ve read come from the Twenties and Thirties. So I found “Head Over Homicide” pretty interesting. The story opens with Race rescuing the beautiful, kidnapped daughter of an oil tycoon. But when he returns her to her family, he quickly realizes that not everything is as it seems, and it’s not long until murder rears its ugly head. Or does it?

The writing is a little smoother and more polished than in the early stories but still unmistakably Daly. Nobody else’s writing ever sounded like his. And honestly, it seemed a little out of place to me in a story obviously set in the Fifties with several references to television. But I still enjoy Daly’s voice. This is a cleverly plotted yarn, too, going back and forth on what’s true and what’s not, and Daly keeps a nice final twist on reserve for very late in the story. It could have used more action—there’s hardly any—but all in all, for a final story in the series it’s hardly an embarrassment. I rather enjoyed it.

I was familiar with Arnold Drake as a comic book writer—how can you be a comics fan and not know the guy who co-created The Doom Patrol, Deadman, and the Guardians of the Galaxy?—but didn’t realize he turned out a few pulp stories as well, including “The Lady and the Lawyer” in this one. It’s a private eye yarn, with the detective narrator hired by a lawyer to shadow a beautiful young socialite who he insists is homicidal. The story moves along well, has just enough twists in the plot to be intriguing, but then the ending is completely limp and lacking in drama, a surprise from somebody with Drake’s talent.

Betty Brooks turned out only a handful of stories, all for Columbia detective pulps. Her story in this issue, “The Cocky Robbins Kill”, is about a murder in a small-town hotel during a blizzard. There are a lot of characters, but the plot is well-handled and she did a good job with the hotel setting. This one’s nothing special but well-written enough that I enjoyed it.

I read a science fiction story by Basil Wells a while back that I didn’t care for. His story in this issue, “Red is the Tower”, is about murder on a farm (the tower in the title is a silo), and while it was better than the SF yarn, I still didn’t like it much and found it overly literary and pretentious. Wells may be one of those writers whose work just doesn’t resonate with me. That’s not really his fault.

“He Had To Be Tough” is about a young, scientific-minded police detective trying to convince the grizzled veterans he works with that they ought to give up their strongarm tactics. Then something happens that makes him rethink that, and it’s furious action the rest of the way in this yarn. This is a good, entertaining story despite a late twist that may come from a little too far out in left field. The author is J.J. Matthews, who wrote approximately 120 Western, detective, and sports stories during the Fifties, all of them appearing in various Columbia pulps. Even though this isn’t an acknowledged house name, I have a strong hunch that it is.

If not for a few sales to Fiction House’s JUNGLE STORIES, I would think that Francis C. Battle was a Columbia house name, too. Nearly all of his several dozen detective and Western stories appeared in Columbia pulps. “Ju-Ju for the White Man” is a jungle story, too, as well as an “Off-Trail Crime Story”, as the blurb says. A big game hunter schemes to use witchcraft to get rid of a rival. The ending, while predictable, is effective, and it’s not a bad little yarn.

Mat Rand is a well-known and widely used house name, so there’s no telling who actually wrote “Jailbreak”. It’s about a convicted murderer trying to come up with an escape plan before he’s executed. Like the previous story, the ending is pretty obvious, but again, it’s well-written and reasonably entertaining.

Despite the presence of Race Williams, nobody is ever going to mistake SMASHING DETECTIVE STORIES for BLACK MASK or DIME DETECTIVE (where Race also appeared), but I had a pretty good time reading this issue. The Arnold Drake story is disappointing because of the ending and I didn’t like the Basil Wells story, but all the others kept me turning the pages and entertained me. If I come across any more issues, I wouldn’t hesitate to give them a try.

Saturday, April 08, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Lariat Story Magazine, December 1934

I'm not a big fan of artist Fred Craft, but I'll admit that his cover for this early issue of LARIAT STORY MAGAZINE is pretty dynamic. And the line-up of authors in this issue can't be beat: Walt Coburn, Eugene Cunningham, Tom Roan, Richard Wormser, James P. Olsen, C.K. Shaw, Archie Joscelyn, and house-name John Starr. Lots of good reading there, I'll bet.

Friday, April 07, 2023

The Purple Wizard - Volsted Gridban (John Russell Fearn)

I’ve been aware of John Russell Fearn’s reputation as a prolific British science fiction author for a long time but hadn’t read anything by him until a short story in an issue of STARTLING STORIES not that long ago. That story was okay but didn’t impress me all that much.

I was still interested in reading more by Fearn, though, so I picked up a few e-books by him, reprints of British paperbacks he wrote during the paperback explosion in England following World War II. The first one I’ve gotten around to reading (because the description sounded interesting) is THE PURPLE WIZARD, a novel published originally by Scion Books in 1954 under the pseudonym Volsted Gridban, a pen-name that originated with E.C. Tubb but was used only a few times before Fearn took it on and was much more prolific under it.

This is a time travel novel in which a scientist invents a device that will transport people forward and backward in time. For the first full-fledged test of the gizmo, he sends his daughter and her fiancee back to the year 828, chosen on a whim because that’s the family’s phone number. The fiancee’s name, by the way, is Arthur. Hmmm . . . sending somebody named Arthur back to medieval England . . . I wonder what’s going to happen.

As it turned out, however, my suspicion about where the plot was going turned out to be completely wrong. I hope it’s not too much of a spoiler, but this is not a King Arthur story at all. Arthur and Kitty (the scientist’s beautiful daughter) do have a number of adventures when things go wrong and they’re marooned in the past, while in the present Kitty’s father struggles to retrieve them. They wind up being condemned to death by King Egbert, the first king of England. Will science save them in time?

THE PURPLE WIZARD is a novel of missed opportunities. There’s quite a bit I like about it. A very dry sense of humor runs through the book. The professor who comes up with the time travel device isn’t your typical mad scientist. Instead he’s a rather stuffy, middle-class British guy whose laboratory is a converted garden shed in his backyard. The thing that goes wrong and strands the time travellers is about as prosaic as you can get, which is also a nice change from the stereotypes. The explanation for how time travel works at least sounds good, no matter how far-fetched it really is. Fearn does a nice job with the setting, and there are a few action scenes that are okay, although I think they could have been more dramatic.

That low-key approach is THE PURPLE WIZARD’s main flaw as far as I’m concerned. It’s fine for a while, even appealing, but eventually in a book like this I want higher stakes and more blood and thunder. Even at its relatively short length, I think it could have achieved more of an epic feeling.

Despite that, I enjoyed this book enough that I intend to read more by Fearn. If there are any of his books those of you reading this can recommend, please do.

Wednesday, April 05, 2023

Murders in Silk - Mike Teagle (Asa Bordages)

Tie (for Tiberius) Bixby is a former reporter turned press agent in New York who, as this novel opens, is on his way to visit his eccentric family on Long Island. It’s his father’s 70th birthday, and Tie intends to present the old man with a couple of bottles of whiskey to commemorate the occasion. Tie’s father Zeb drinks a considerable amount, you see. In fact, everybody in this novel drinks a lot. They soak up more alcohol than anybody this side of a Jonathan Latimer novel.

Anyway, while riding the Long Island Railroad, Tie spots a good-looking young woman in a red hat, but she’s with a rather suspicious-looking guy, so Tie doesn’t make a pass at her. A short time later, she goes into the ladies’ room on the train car and discovers her companion there, dead with his throat cut. (The murder weapon turns out to be a miniature Gurkha knife. This will be important later.)

One of Tie’s old friends from childhood winds up being the police detective in charge of the case. This does not exempt Tie from suspicion, but eventually he makes it to his family home where he visits with his father. Then, wouldn’t you know it, the backyard laboratory belonging to the eccentric scientist next door goes up in flames, and the scientist dies in the blaze, which turns out to be arson, making his death the second murder Tie just happens to be close to in a short period of time. And get this . . . the pretty girl in the red hat may be involved in this murder, too!

You’re probably getting the idea by now that MURDERS IN SILK is kind of a screwball yarn. Well, yeah, it sure is. Everybody in it is colorful at best, or downright eccentric, usually, and guzzles booze like a fish. There are cops, gangsters, scientists, beautiful dames, and a lady dentist. Tie gets in fights, gets shot at, runs from the cops, steals a cab, and falls in love. People banter between drinks. And while all this is going on, clues are skillfully planted in a plot that approaches Erle Stanley Gardner levels of complexity.

MURDERS IN SILK was published in hardback by Hillman-Curl in 1938 and then reprinted in paperback (a slightly updated and revised edition) in 1951 by Lion Books. The by-line on both editions was the suitably tough-sounding Mike Teagle, but the actual author was reporter and playwright Asa Bordages, who wrote four novels, two as Teagle and two under his real name. I’d never heard of him under either name until Black Gat Books reprinted MURDERS IN SILK. Their edition will be out soon.

I really enjoyed this novel. It’s very funny in places, has plenty of tough action, and I didn’t even come close to figuring out the plot, although all the clues are there and when everything is explained in the end, they fit together very nicely. It’s a fine little forgotten gem, and I’m glad it’s going to be back in print. If you’re a hardboiled mystery fan, MURDERS IN SILK gets a high recommendation from me.

Tuesday, April 04, 2023

2 Days in the Valley (1996)

After I reviewed the movie BULLET TRAIN recently and mentioned that I like complicated, interlocking plots, a friend asked me if I’d seen 2 DAYS IN THE VALLEY. I looked it up and realized that I hadn’t, so I figured it might be worth a try. As you can tell from the title, it takes place in Southern California and has a large cast including a couple of hitmen (James Spader and Danny Aiello), an Olympic skier (Teri Hatcher), a burned-out writer/director (Paul Mazursky), a nurse (Marsha Mason), assorted cops (Jeff Daniels, Eric Stoltz, Keith Carradine), and a beautiful blonde (Charlize Theron in her film debut, and I’d be falling down in my job as a thoughtful critic of the cinema if I failed to point out that she gets nekkid in this movie). Writer/director John Herzfeld’s script jumps around a lot starting out as it establishes all these characters and more, but then things begin to come together and we see how everything is related, although some of those connections are just pure coincidence.

Double-crosses abound, along with bloody shootouts. Characters you think will probably survive maybe don’t. Some of them do survive to find redemption. If a dark, nihilistic movie like this can be heart-warming, 2 DAYS IN THE VALLEY kind of is. I enjoyed it quite a bit. It’s not as good as ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD or BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE, both of which it reminded me of, but I think it’s well worth watching.

Sunday, April 02, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy, February 25, 1939

My favorite era of ARGOSY is the mid-Thirties. Even in 1939 it was still a great pulp. This issue has a fine Viking cover by George Rozen and features stories by Jack Williamson, Richard Sale, Philip Ketchum, Robert Carse, Allan Vaughan Elston, Marco Page, Nard Jones, and a reprint by George W. Ogden. It would be hard to find a wider variety of adventure fiction than that, and all by top-notch authors, too.

Saturday, April 01, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ranch Romances, 2nd August Number, 1955

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. That’s my copy in the scan, with an excellent Kirk Wilson cover. I wasn’t familiar with Wilson’s work until the past few years, but I really like his covers, especially the ones he did for RANCH ROMANCES.

Walker A. Tompkins wrote some of the Jim Hatfield novels in TEXAS RANGERS that were reprinted in paperback by Popular Library during the Sixties. At that point, I had no idea who was behind the house name Jackson Cole or even that it was a house name, but as it turns out, some of the books I liked the most back then were actually written by Tompkins. So I’ve been reading and enjoying his work for close to 60 years now. He leads off this issue of RANCH ROMANCES with the novella “Land-Grabber Law”. Val Shannon, a troubleshooter for a large land and cattle combine, is sent to Arizona to arrest a ranch foreman who’s been rustling from the spread he works for. (Like Steve Reese in RANGE RIDERS, Shannon is also a deputy U.S. marshal, so he can go where he wants to and arrest people.) When he gets there, though, he interrupts some wedding plans and discovers that the situation isn’t as straightforward as he thought. It also involves a romantic triangle and a land grab, hence the title, and Shannon winds up riding deep into Mexico on the trail of a runaway groom and his new bride. There are only a few action scenes in this one, but they’re well-done and the story has a nice, complex plot. Tompkins wrote quite a few of the Steve Reese novels, and I have to wonder if this story is based on an unused outline he wrote for that series. Impossible to know at this late date, and it doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that in “Land-Grabber Law”, Tompkins delivers another well-written, entertaining traditional Western yarn.

Kenneth L. Sinclair is a familiar name from Western pulps. I don’t recall if I’ve read any of his work before. His story “Badman From Funnybone” is lightweight, as you’d expect from the title, but it’s not really an out-and-out comedy. A practical-joking cowboy accused of a bank robbery he didn’t commit runs into a beautiful female peddler on a one-way trail and winds up getting caught by the law because of it. The woman sets out to clear his name. As you’d expect, everything works out in the end, but the story flows along at a nice pace and the romance angle is well-handled.

Theodore J. Roemer wrote a couple of hundred Western and sports stories for various pulps from the mid-Thirties through the late Fifties. Despite him being fairly prolific, I don’t think I’ve read anything by him until now. His novelette in this issue, “Three Loves to Oregon” has a sappy title but is an excellent story. It’s about a saloon singer who wants to escape her past and does so by joining a wagon train bound for Oregon. The gambler who got her into that life comes after her, but by the time he catches up, the girl is already in a low-key romantic triangle with the wagonmaster and one of the farmers bound for a new life. With all that romance going on, there’s barely time to worry about the Pawnee war party that attacks the wagon train . . . Roemer does a great job with this setup and keeps things from bogging down in angst, which they easily could have. And not everything plays out the way I expected, which is always a bonus.

It's always nice to run into a story in a pulp by an author I’ve met. Jeanne Williams was still writing highly regarded historical novels in the Eighties and Nineties and I met her at several Western Writers of America conventions. Her story in this issue, “Rails Into Santos”, is about the clash between the construction boss and a female doctor during the construction of a railroad line in South Texas. There’s no real action, but the emotional stakes are high and the story is very well-written and satisfying.

“The Lonely Dusk” is by Donald Bayne Hobart, a long-time stalwart of the Western pulps, especially those in the Thrilling Group. He’s probably best remembered for his Masked Rider novels, a number of which were reprinted in paperback during the Sixties and Seventies. This short tale about a ranch widow and a former suitor who rides back to see her is another one that doesn’t have any real action, but again it’s well-written and the emotions of the characters are handled very well. It’s a little unusual for Hobart, but he does a good job of it.

“Galahad in Levis” is by Will Cotton, who published a couple of dozen Western and detective yarns during the Fifties. That seems to be the extent of his work. This one starts out as a lightweight tale about a hapless cowboy and a mail-order bride mix-up, but then it turns a lot darker and winds up with a surprising and very effective twist.

There’s also an installment of “Longhorn Stampede” by Philip Ketchum, which I didn’t read. This was published as a novel under the same title by Popular Library in 1956 with a cover by A. Leslie Ross. I don’t know if I have this one on my shelves or not, but Ketchum is always worth reading.

Then there are the usual features on pen pals, astrology, and movies, plus a poem and cartoon or two. Also as usual, I just glanced at those.

This issue is heavier on the romance than is common during this era of the magazine's run. Despite the title, many of the stories in RANCH ROMANCES during the Fifties were just traditional Western yarns with little or no romantic element. But romance plays a major part in every story in this issue. It’s also a really top-notch issue with the stories ranging from very good to excellent. This is one of the best pulps I’ve read in a while, and if you happen to own a copy, it’s well worth reading.