Sunday, May 28, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: All Star Adventure Fiction, September 1935

I'm not sure I've ever heard of ALL STAR ADVENTURE FICTION, let alone come across a copy. But I'm also not sure why it's not better known and wasn't successful at the time, running for only seven issues. It had decent covers by J.W. Scott, including this one, and some fine authors. This issue features stories by Donald Barr Chidsey, J. Allan Dunn, Frank Richardson Pierce, Lemuel de Bra, Rollin Brown, and Arthur Hawthorne Carhart, all of them fine pulpsters who appeared regularly in the top magazines. Their stories here may well have been rejects from ARGOSY, ADVENTURE, etc., but they were probably still pretty good.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Best Western, August 1953

Norman Saunders' work is instantly recognizable on the cover of this issue of BEST WESTERN, and he's probably the best-known name associated with this issue, too, although Noel M. Loomis and Lauran Paine are well-regarded as Western pulpsters and novelists. The other stories are by Robert L. Trimnell, Paul L. Peil, Theodore J. Roemer, and Jim Brewer. And of course, this is yet another appearance of our old friends The Stalwart Cowboy, The Beautiful Redhead (she may be angry, but she's not gun-toting this time), and The Wounded Old Geezer. I have got to write those three into a book.

Friday, May 26, 2023

The Man Who Tamed Dodge - Philip Ketchum

Philip Ketchum had a long, very successful career as a Western pulpster and novelist and also wrote many excellent crime, detective, and historical adventure yarns for the pulps. THE MAN WHO TAMED DODGE, published in 1967 by Lancer Books as a paperback original, is one of his later novels and is the first of at least three books about the character known as Cabot.

However, despite the title, the cover copy, and the cover art by Don Stivers featuring the iconic model Steve Holland, THE MAN WHO TAMED DODGE is not about a gun-slinging, town-taming lawman. Cabot, whose real name is Elijah Cabot Pickering, is a former sea captain who, after an argument with his shipping magnate father, heads west to make his own fame and fortune after vowing to return to Massachusetts someday and buy his family’s shipping line. On his way to Dodge, he makes the acquaintance of an affable gambler who promptly robs him. But when he reaches his destination, he finds that the gambler has used the stolen money as the stakes in a poker game and won big, which he splits with Cabot. Now Cabot has enough money to put his plan into motion: He’s figured out a way to cut in on the town’s fledgling cattle shipping business.

You should be getting the idea by now that this is not a shoot-em-up Western. In fact, it’s pretty deliberately paced and thoughtful, with a protagonist who’s not a traditional Western hero. But don’t assume it’s slow and boring, either. Cabot was tough enough to captain ships, and he doesn’t back down from trouble. He gets into several brutal fistfights, and although he’s not a natural gunman, he handles a Colt fairly effectively when he has to. He’s also smart and has the knack of getting people on his side. Ketchum piles on the twists and turns in the plot until everything comes together for a classic Western showdown at the end.

This is the first book I’ve read from the Will Robertson Collection, and that’s the copy in the scan above. It’s the third printing from 1969. As far as I know, it’s never been reprinted since then and neither have the other Cabot novels. THE MAN WHO TAMED DODGE is really good, a slightly offbeat Western that I had a great time reading. Ketchum never disappoints, at least in my experience.

Monday, May 22, 2023

The Will Robertson Collection

Will Robertson and I became friends through his comments on this blog and from emails we traded over the years. He passed away a while back, and before he died, he told his wife that he wanted me to have his book collection. She honored those wishes and passed the books along to me. It took a while for everything to line up so that I could get them, but Saturday I drove down to where she lives now and picked them up. Will and I shared very similar tastes in reading. So far I've opened only one of the boxes, but you can see from the photo that there are a lot of good books inside it. And there are 32 more boxes. I'm reading that Philip Ketchum Western now, and it's great so far. From now on, every time I read and review one of the books from this collection, I'm going to be sure to mention where it came from. So get used to posts tagged "The Will Robertson Collection". It's the least I can do to remember a great guy and a good friend.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy, July 25, 1936

This is an issue of ARGOSY that I've read (well, probably not the serial installments), but it was so many years ago I don't remember anything about it except that the Nick Fisher/Eddie Savoy story by Donald Barr Chidsey was excellent. Other authors with stand-alone stories are Tom Curry, William Merriam Rouse, Foster-Harris, and William Edward Hayes. The serials are by Frederick Faust writing as George Challis ("The Golden Knight", a novel that as far as I know hasn't been reprinted), Ralph R. Perry, and Patrick Lee. The cover is by John A. Coughlin. 

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: New Western Magazine, July 1951

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. That’s my copy in the scan. I’m not sure who the cover artist is. Possibly Robert Stanley. But it’s a good cover no matter who painted it.

As always with a Popular Publications pulp, this issue of NEW WESTERN has some good authors in it. The author of the lead story, John Prescott, is a familiar name to me, although I’m not sure if I’ve ever read anything by him until now. The “Man-Sized Novel” as it’s referred to on the Table of Contents page, “Bad Trouble in Lincoln County”, is more of a novelette, taking up a mere 15 pages in the magazine. But it’s a darned good yarn about a fictional clash taking place on the periphery of the historical Lincoln County War. His family wiped out in a raid on their ranch, the young protagonist sets out for vengeance but finds some unexpected enemies and allies. Prescott has a little more literary style than some of the Western pulpsters but doesn’t skimp on the hardboiled action, either. I need to read more by him.

Edward S. Fox wrote scores of Western and sports stories in a career that lasted from the early Thirties to the mid-Fifties. “A Man’s Land Is His Own!”, despite the exclamation mark, is a low-key tale about a young rancher battling a drought. It’s very well-written, and between that and the subject matter, it reminded me a little of Elmer Kelton’s work. I have to say I hated the ending, though.

I read a decent story by Marvin De Vries in another pulp recently. His story “Loot-Starved!” in this issue of NEW WESTERN falls into the same range. Set in Death Valley, it’s about how the search for a lost mine turns into a quest of another sort. It’s okay, certainly readable enough, but not very memorable.

The other “Man-Sized Novel” in this issue is “Sons of the Gunsmoke Breed” by Walt Coburn, which is a little longer than Prescott’s story but still basically a novelette. By this stage of his career, Coburn’s work was pretty hit-and-miss, but this is definitely a hit. It’s the story of two step-brothers, one an honest cowboy, the other an outlaw’s son who inherited his father’s gun and dishonest tendencies, who travel with a trail drive from Texas to Montana and stay to make a name for themselves in different ways. In Coburn’s best work, there’s an epic feel, and that comes through in this one as it builds to a very satisfying conclusion.

I generally enjoy Tom Roan’s work, but from time to time he wrote animal protagonist stories, and although I read and liked a bunch of those when I was a kid (Jim Kjelgaard’s dog stories were some of my favorites), I have a hard time with them now. Roan’s “Fangs of the Brave” in this issue features an old wolf, and although I tried, I didn’t make it all the way to the end.

I usually enjoy Frank Castle’s stories, too, and I’m happy to report that “Born Bad” in this issue is a good one. It’s from fairly early in Castle’s career, and he hadn’t yet developed the oddball style that marked much of his later work. It’s a more straightforward yarn about a rancher waiting for his ne’er-do-well brother to arrive on a train. The rancher has vengeance in his heart because his brother stole his girl from him a few years earlier and they ran off together. The girl came to a bad end. Now our protagonist plans to gun down his brother as soon as he steps off the train. But, not unexpectedly, things don’t quite play out that way. This one has some good action and a nice hardboiled tone. I enjoyed it quite a bit.

The issue wraps up with the novelette “Don’t Brand Him Yellow!” by Stone Cody, who was actually Thomas E. Mount. It’s a reprint from 1936, but there’s a bit of a mystery that goes with that. There’s no story by that title in Mount’s listing in the Fictionmags Index except this appearance in NEW WESTERN. So either its original appearance was a pulp that hasn’t been indexed yet, or it appeared under some other title, perhaps under Mount’s other pseudonym Oliver King. Whatever its origins, “Don’t Brand Him Yellow!” is a terrific story, with a professional gambler as the protagonist for once, rather than one of the villains. Bret Carew is an honest gambler and a fast gun, although he refuses to fight when accused of cheating because after a saloon shootout he promised his late wife that he would never kill another man. Carew’s beautiful daughter Pat travels with him, and when they run into trouble in a town run by a brutal saloon owner, it looks like luck has gone bad for both of them. Mount was great with action, and there’s plenty of it in this story. There’s also a late twist that’s somewhat predictable, but it still results in a great ending. This is my favorite story in this issue, and Mount is becoming one of my favorite Western writers.

This is a really strong issue of NEW WESTERN considering how late it came in the pulp era. The Coburn and Mount stories are excellent, and the ones by Prescott and Castle aren’t far behind them. If you have a copy of this one, it’s well worth pulling off the shelves and reading, especially those four stories.

Friday, May 19, 2023

The Nightmare Riders - Lynn Westland (Archie Joscelyn)

The very prolific Archie Joscelyn’s best-known pseudonym was Al Cody, but he wrote quite a few Western novels under the name Lynn Westland, too. THE NIGHTMARE RIDERS is an early Westland novel, published by lending library publisher Phoenix Press in 1940. My copy doesn't have a dust jacket, but I found the above image on-line.

This novel makes use of the old amnesia plot. I used it myself in one of my Longarms, I recall. In THE NIGHTMARE RIDERS, a drifting cowpoke who can’t remember who he is comes across a bushwhacked old-timer who recognizes him and calls him by the name Jody Johnson. But who is Jody Johnson? The old-timer dies before he can reveal that. Jody decides he might as well use that name, even though it means nothing to him, and soon discovers that the murdered man owned a ranch and had a beautiful granddaughter. The local saloon owner/cattle baron has his eyes on the ranch and also on a gold mine located on the spread, even though the diggings have never paid off. Jody hangs around to help the granddaughter, of course, and maybe find out more about who he really is.

That doesn’t take long, because he soon sees the deputy in town tacking up a reward poster stating that Jody Johnson is wanted for murder.

Well, we’re off on a whirlwind of action after that, as Jody foils the villain’s schemes and gradually uncovers the truth of his own identity. Joscelyn’s prose, especially at this stage of his career, runs toward the melodramatic, but a little purple prose never bothered me much. There are some excellent, highly suspenseful scenes late in the book that take place in the mine’s underground tunnels. I’m a little claustrophobic to start with, and this section was genuinely creepy to me. The ending’s not quite as dramatic as it could have been, but it still worked okay.

THE NIGHTMARE RIDERS reminded me of a 1930s B-Western movie, maybe not top tier Republic Pictures stuff, but better than, say, Monogram or PRC. It’s not one of Archie Joscelyn’s best novels but I still had a fine time reading it.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023


I've turned in my 415th novel and gotten a good start on #416. There was a time when a book had to mark a real milestone before I'd mention it, but the older I get and the closer I come to the end of my career, even these smaller increments mean something to me. I'm committed to enough work for the rest of this year and next year to carry me to #425. Will I pack it in after that? I don't know, something about 450 seems appealing to me. 500 is out of reach. I'd have to write hard for another 15 years to do that, and that's not going to happen.

Whatever the total winds up being, I've had fun and entertained some folks.

Movies I've Missed Until Now: The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw (1958)

Regular readers of this blog probably know that I’m not a big fan of humorous Western fiction, with the notable exception of work by Robert E. Howard and W.C. Tuttle. I like it better, however, when it comes to movies and have enjoyed a number of lighthearted Westerns over the years. For some reason, though, I never got around to watching THE SHERIFF OF FRACTURED JAW (1958) until now, maybe because one of the leads is Jayne Mansfield, and I’m not a fan of her work, either.

THE SHERIFF OF FRACTURED JAW makes use of the old “dude goes West” plot. In this case, the dude is an English gun salesman named Jonathan Tibbs (Kenneth More) who winds up in West Texas trying to expand his company’s sales territory. The stagecoach he’s riding in is attacked by Indians, and through a series of misunderstandings he manages to make the Indians break off their attack and allow the stage to proceed to the town of Fractured Jaw, where Tibbs is hailed as a hero. The town is in the middle of a range war between two rival ranches. Both sides mistake Tibbs for a hired gun brought in to fight for the enemy. Things get more complicated when Tibbs is appointed sheriff and also falls in love with the beautiful saloon owner played by Mansfield. Eventually everything works out, of course. Peace is restored, and Tibbs even puts an end to the threat of Indian attacks in an unexpected but effective way.

This is far from a hilarious movie. I smiled a few times and I think I chuckled once. But it is lighthearted and whimsical and thoroughly inoffensive. Kenneth More does a good job, and Mansfield is miscast but okay. There are a few musical numbers with her singing voice dubbed by Connie Francis. The supporting cast includes Bruce Cabot, Robert Morley, William Campbell, and Henry Hull, none of whom have much to do with the exception of Hull, who plays the mayor of Fractured Jaw and does some effective scenery-chewing. This is a pretty minor film overall, but not a bad way to pass a couple of hours. I’m glad I finally watched it.

Monday, May 15, 2023

Why Didn't They Ask Evans? - Agatha Christie

I had such a good time reading an Agatha Christie novel a few weeks ago that I decided to give another one a try. I went with one of her stand-alones this time, WHY DIDN’T THEY ASK EVANS?, which was published originally in 1934 under the title THE BOOMERANG CLUE. I have both versions on my shelves, a Dell from 1966 of THE BOOMERANG CLUE and a trade paperback tie-in edition of WHY DIDN’T THEY ASK EVANS?, with the stars of the recent TV mini-series on the cover. I went with the newer one simply because the print is larger and easier to read, an increasingly important consideration at my age.

The book opens with a young man named Bobby Jones (not the famous American golfer, as Christie points out) playing a round on a course next to some seaside cliffs in Wales. Bobby is the son of the local vicar, a former naval officer who is at loose ends at the moment. When he hits a slice over a cliff, he looks for the ball and spots a body lying on the rocks below. Since he’s playing with the local doctor, Bobby scrambles down to check on the fallen man and finds that he’s still alive but badly injured. He regains consciousness long enough to say just one thing: “Why didn’t they ask Evans?” And then dies, seemingly the victim of an accident.

Ah, but we know better than that, don’t we? The man was murdered, and Bobby sets out to find the killer, with help from his childhood friend, the beautiful Lady Frances Derwent, who lives on a nearby estate. Frankie, as she’s known, tackles the case with as much enthusiasm as Bobby does, and their investigation sends them to London, among other places, and involves them with numerous potentially shady characters, including a drug addict, a sinister doctor, and the doctor’s beautiful young wife, who’s being held a virtual prisoner in her husband’s spooky sanatarium.

WHY DIDN’T THEY ASK EVANS? has a lot of thriller elements to go with its traditional mystery. The plot itself is a bit convoluted and bogs down slightly in the middle of the book, but it all fits together nicely enough in the end although there are a couple of things that stretch suspension of disbelief quite a bit. The main things that appeal about this novel are its extremely likable protagonists, the witty dialogue, and the headlong pace of much of it. Most of the time, Christie had me turning the pages eagerly to find out what was going to happen.

There is one twist at the very end of the book that I didn’t really care for, because it negated one of the things that I liked most about the novel. No spoilers, but you’ll probably know it when you come to it, if you haven’t read this one before. I wouldn’t put WHY DIDN’T THEY ASK EVANS? in the top rank of Christie’s work, but it is a good, solid, very enjoyable mystery yarn. Certainly worth reading, if you haven’t already. I might watch the TV adaptation, one of these days.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy Allstory Weekly, June 16, 1928

We haven't had a pith helmet cover in a while. The one on this issue of ARGOSY ALLSTORY WEEKLY comes to us courtesy of Edgar Franklin Wittmack. As usual, there are some fine writers inside: Edgar Rice Burroughs (with an installment of the serial version of APACHE DEVIL), George F. Worts (with an installment of a Gillian Hazeltine serial), John Wilstach, Edgar Franklin, Charles L. Hall (his only credit in the Fictionmags Index), and the long-forgotten Robert Beith, Charles Divine, Carolyn MacDonald, and Douglas H. Woodworth. As usual with ARGOSY, the serials are the bane of a collector's/reader's existence, but if you were there to pick up the issues every week off the newsstand, I suppose it's a format that worked well at the time.

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Romances, July 1931

WESTERN ROMANCES was Dell's answer to RANCH ROMANCES, and this somewhat awkward cover certainly looks like it could have come off an issue of RANCH ROMANCES from that era. I don't know the artist. I can't complain about the quality of the authors inside: L.P. Holmes, Leslie Scott (as A. Leslie), Frank Robertson, Lawrence A. Keating, Eric Howard, Wilton West, and a couple of forgotten pulpsters, John A. Chase and William Wills Bradford. I don't own this issue, but with Holmes, Scott, and Robertson inside, I would read it if I did.

Friday, May 12, 2023

The Shadowed Circle #5 - Steve Donoso, ed.

The fifth issue of THE SHADOWED CIRCLE is here, and as usual, this journal devoted to the iconic character The Shadow continues to be outstanding. First of all, I love the front cover by Joe Booth. It’s as good a Shadow painting as I’ve seen in a long time and perfectly captures the feeling of the pulp, right down to the wear and tear along the edges. Booth also provides a couple of pieces of interior art that are excellent, as well.

Editor/publisher Steve Donoso has put together a fine group of articles about The Shadow. Some highlights for me:

“Shadow—and Substance, Part 2” by Dick Myers continues his examination of The Shadow’s organization, how it’s put together, functions, and is paid for. This is fascinating stuff to a long-time fan. Myers’ article was written a number of years ago but is being published for the first time in THE SHADOWED CIRCLE.

“Walter Gibson’s Mysterious Shadow Sabbatical” by Will Murray takes a look at an unexplained gap in Walter B. Gibson’s prodigious output of Shadow novels. Murray knows as much or more about The Shadow and Walter Gibson as anyone alive today and always produces great articles.

Speaking of Murray, Steve Donoso’s review of his latest book, DARK AVENGER: THE STRANGE SAGA OF THE SHADOW, is top-notch and highlights the differences between this volume and the fondly remembered THE DUENDE HISTORY OF THE SHADOW MAGAZINE that inspired it.

“Street & Smith’s World’s Finest” by M.J. Moran takes a look at the early novels featuring The Shadow and Doc Savage, focusing on their similarities and also their very distinct differences. Moran makes some interesting points that may run counter to the general impressions of long-time fans such as myself who have read extensively from all eras of the two series. But when you stop and think about it, he’s right.

In “The Shadow—Strange Creature in Black—The Comic Book Years: Part 2”, Todd D. Severin takes a look at some of The Shadow’s appearances in comic books that I actually remember this time around: the 1953 parody in MAD Magazine (I actually read this in a MAD paperback sometime in the early Sixties), the Archie Comics version (I bought some of these new and remember being unimpressed by them, even though I knew little or nothing of the character at that time), and the fantastic DC comics run in the Seventies by Denny O’Neil, Michael William Kaluta, and various other hands (I bought these new off the spinner rack as well and loved them, although like the change in artists from Kaluta to Frank Robbins was a real shock, an impression seemingly shared by most of the readers).

All the articles are good, but those are the ones that stood out most for me. As always, I sat down and read this new issue from cover to cover. I can’t imagine any fan of The Shadow not loving THE SHADOWED CIRCLE. I give it my highest recommendation. You can subscribe to it or buy back issues on the publisher’s website or pick up individual issues from Amazon. Next time around will be the first themed issue, devoted to The Shadow’s part-time agent Myra Reldon. I don’t know much about this character, so I’m very much looking forward to it.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Take Me As I Am - William H. Fielding (Darwin Teilhet)

The latest Black Gat Books reprint, TAKE ME AS I AM, was published originally by Gold Medal in 1952, so you know with that pedigree it’s almost certainly a good book. The author is Darwin Teilhet, who wrote it under the pseudonym William H. Fielding. I’d only vaguely heard of Teilhet and have never read anything else by him. The cover art is very familiar from having been used for fake books in countless memes, but it’s a classic image and fits this novel very well. I feel like I should know the artist, but I don’t.

As so many hardboiled and noir novels do, TAKE ME AS I AM starts with a crime. And it’s the proverbial humdinger, an armored car robbery that’s violent, fast-paced, and very effective. The crooks, led by a guy named Monk, get away with what’s supposed to be a million dollars. Unfortunately, when they pass off the loot to an accomplice, a beautiful blonde named Alma who’s supposed to deliver it to the gang’s leader, they find that it’s only a hundred thousand. Somebody’s double-crossing somebody. (To quote Steven Wright: “They offer you a penny for your thoughts, but then you have to put your two cents’ worth in . . . Somebody’s makin’ a penny.”)

Anyway, on her way to meet the big boss and hand over the hot money, Alma picks up a hitchhiker, a brawny 18-year-old guy named Bill Evans who’s got his own demons chasing him. As they travel west from Iowa (where the armored car stick-up took place) through Nebraska, odd things happen. Bill runs into a couple of other beautiful blondes, one of whom winds up dead and the other one almost meets the same fate. Coincidences and plot twists abound. Bill, who is actually a fairly bright guy but out of his depth, winds up in the hands of the bad guys but gets away. By now Alma wants the stolen dough for herself and doesn’t care what she has to do in order to keep it . . . or does she? Could she actually be falling for Bill?

Steve Lewis reviewed this novel several years ago on his great Mystery File website and compared it to the work of Cornell Woolrich. I can see that. Woolrich was from the one-damned-thing-after-another school of mystery writing, too, and that’s certainly an apt description of TAKE ME AS I AM. The plot twists pile up and take unexpected turns. The writing isn’t quite as smooth and compelling as Woolrich’s work, but it kept me turning the pages, that’s for sure. I really enjoyed TAKE ME AS I AM and galloped through the last quarter or so of it, unable to put it down until I’d finished. Great hardboiled storytelling and a great cover add up to a high recommendation from me. It’s available in both print and e-book editions.

Monday, May 08, 2023

The Phantom: The Complete Newspaper Dailies, Volume One, 1936-37 -- Lee Falk and Ray Moore

The local newspaper when I was growing up didn’t carry the comic strip THE PHANTOM, so I never knew anything about the character when I was a kid. MANDRAKE THE MAGICIAN, also created and written by Lee Falk, was in the Sunday paper for a while, but I didn’t know anything about the connection between the two strips and was never a Mandrake fan, anyway.

Over the years, as I learned more about comic strips, I was vaguely aware of THE PHANTOM but still hadn’t read any of the old strips. Then when I was in college, one day I went into Reader’s World, the little bookstore across the street from the campus and picked up an Avon paperback called THE STORY OF THE PHANTOM by Lee Falk, which had a nice cover by George Wilson. I knew by then that Falk created and wrote the comic strip, so it seemed like a good bet to learn more about the character.

I read that novel and loved it and wound up buying and reading all 15 books in the Avon series, which were written by Falk, Ron Goulart (as Frank S. Shawn), Basil Copper, Bruce Cassidy (as Carson Bingham), and Warren Shanahan (that may be a pseudonym, too, but if it is, I’m unaware of the actual author). Evidently, Falk actually wrote the novels attributed to him, which is a little unusual in a situation like that. Falk also wasn’t that pleased with the novels by the other authors, but I read ’em all and thoroughly enjoyed the series. I remember reading several of them while sitting on my parents’ front porch, and that was the right place for them.

So by now I knew the character, knew his back-story and some of his publication history, and as time went on I read some of the Phantom comic books (published by Charlton during that era?) and watched the Phantom movie serial with Tom Tyler playing the character.

In recent years, a publisher called Hermes Press has reprinted those novels originally published by Avon, and not only that, they’ve gone back to the character’s origins and reprinted the comic strip. I recently read the first volume, THE PHANTOM: THE COMPLETE NEWSPAPER DAILIES, VOLUME ONE: 1936-37. The first three storylines from the comic strip are included: “The Singh Brotherhood”, “The Sky Band”, and “The Diamond Hunters”.

“The Singh Brotherhood” takes a few days to introduce readers to The Phantom, but Diana Palmer, who eventually becomes the love of his life, appears right away, in the very first strip. She’s an adventuress and explorer on her way back to New York by ship with a load of valuable ambergris she’s discovered. What’s more, she’s located a veritable mother lode of ambergris on the ocean floor, the legendary graveyard of the whales. (Was Falk influenced by Tarzan movies where the bad guys always wanted to find the elephants’ graveyard? Who knows?) Mobsters target the ship, but The Phantom shows up and foils their plans. Turns out the mobsters were actually working for the evil Prince Achmed, who is part of the Singh Brotherhood, a fraternity of pirates that has raided and pillaged for hundreds of years.

This first long storyline finds The Phantom rescuing Diana numerous times, putting the kibosh on various Singh Brotherhood plans, and along the way telling Diana his origin story. The short version (most of you already know this): pirates marooned one of The Phantom’s ancestors on the island nation of Bengalla. (Wait, is it an island or somewhere on the South Asian mainland? I don’t know, and I’m not sure it matters.) The ancestor put on a mask and a costume and battled pirates as The Phantom and swore an oath that his descendants would do the same. I know there’s a timeline somewhere and The Phantom of the 1930s is the 14th or 15th Phantom (or something like that). Because it seems that The Phantom never dies, the natives from the jungles of Bengalla call him The Ghost Who Walks. He has a wolf named Devil as his sidekick.

Anyway, eventually The Phantom invades the secret hideout of the Singh Brotherhood and it winds up blowing up real good. But everything leads neatly into the second storyline, featuring a band of female air pirates called the Sky Band.

This storyline also involves The Phantom locating and infiltrating the hidden headquarters of the enemy. In some ways it’s a redo of the first story as The Phantom is captured and escapes, but it’s complicated by romantic rivalry between the Baroness, the leader of the Sky Band, and the beautiful Sala, her second-in-command, over the affections of The Phantom. Diana winds up playing a part in this, too.

The third storyline, “The Diamond Hunters”, definitely takes place in Africa, adding to the early confusion of where exactly all these fictional kingdoms and tribes are located. Such inconsistencies don’t bother me; I just figure The Phantom fights piracy and crime worldwide (a concept that’s really played up in the Avon novels, as I recall). A couple of prospectors stir up a war between rival tribes so they can grab a valuable diamond field. Eventually, Diana gets involved in this storyline, too, and gets kidnapped again so The Phantom has to rescue her. As the book draws to a close, the on-again, off-again love affair between The Phantom and Diana is off again . . . but we all know it won’t stay that way.

I really had a great time reading these newspaper strips. Lee Falk’s scripts are excellent, terse and well-paced and with moments of both humor and high adventure. The art by Ray Moore is great, with just enough detail and top-notch storytelling. He draws really good-looking women, too. I’ve found that some adventure strips are too repetitive when you read collections of them, but that’s not the case with these early Phantom storylines. They move right along like a well-done movie from that era. This volume is available in an e-book edition that can be read for free if you have Kindle Unlimited; that’s how I read it. Used copies of the hardcover edition are available, but they’re pricey. Later volumes in the series don’t seem to be available as e-books, only as expensive hardbacks. The jury’s still out on whether I’ll pick up any of them, but I sure enjoyed this one and if you don’t mind reading digital comics, I give it a very high recommendation.

Sunday, May 07, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Dime Detective, August 1952

Even this late in its run, DIME DETECTIVE looks like a pretty darned good pulp. This issue has a Norman Saunders cover, and the line-up of authors inside is really strong: John D. MacDonald, Richard Deming, Talmage Powell, Philip Ketchum, Larry Holden (Frederick Lorenz), Harry Widmer, Dane Gregory, and Albert Simmons. Some of those aren't as well-known as the top guys, of course, but with a Popular Publications pulp, chances are their stories are pretty entertaining.

Saturday, May 06, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Real Western Stories, August 1950

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. I think the cover is by A. Leslie Ross. The hat and the face look like Ross’s work to me, but maybe someone who is better than I am at artist identification can pin this down for us.

The lead novella in this issue is “Gun-Hung Range” by W. Edmunds Claussen. In a 12-year career from the mid-Forties to the late Fifties, Claussen produced around 80 stories for the Western pulps. Most of his output appeared in various Columbia Publications pulps, such as this issue of REAL WESTERN STORIES. But he also sold to some of the other publishers and authored half a dozen Western novels for Lion Books, Avon, Pocket Books, and Dodd, Mead, plus several volumes of historical non-fiction. I don’t recall reading anything by him before this novella, which uses the old plot of a villain trying to force out some small ranchers and grab their land because the railroad is coming through. The protagonist is a fairly interesting character, a rancher who is emotionally tortured because he’s married to a saloon floozy with whom he has a son but is actually in love with a beautiful schoolteacher. Unfortunately, the writing isn’t very good, with clunky prose that sometimes doesn’t flow very well and is hard to follow. The big battle at the end isn’t bad but doesn’t fully redeem the story. I have a couple of Claussen’s novels on my shelves, but I’m not going to be in any hurry to read them.

M.G. Baker published a dozen stories in various Columbia Western pulps in the late Forties and early Fifties. I suspect that the name might be a pseudonym or house name, but that’s all it is, a suspicion. Baker’s story in this issue, a novelette called “A Target For His Coffin”, is a first-person yarn, somewhat unusual for the Western pulps, narrated by the sheriff of a mining town who has 24 hours to uncover the identity of a killer and save a young visitor from the east from being lynched. It’s an okay story, a little predictable but reasonably entertaining.

T.W. Ford was a very prolific pulpster, turning out hundreds of Western, sports, and detective tales, as well as being an editor and writing a few novels, sometimes under the pseudonym Weston Clay. He has a novelette called “Boothill Brand” in this issue, and it’s a good hardboiled Western yarn in which an outlaw answers a call for help from an old flame and returns to the town where he was betrayed and framed for rustling. Plenty of action, the writing is decent (Ford was never much of a stylist), and I enjoyed this one quite a bit, not surprising since Ford was pretty consistent in his work.

Allan K. Echols is another very prolific Western pulp author/novelist. His story “Renegades Die Twice” is another pretty hardboiled yarn about the meeting between an old outlaw who’s dying and wants to make amends for his crimes and a younger owlhoot who has a clever plan. As usual in this type of story, things don’t work out as either man plans. You can see the twist coming, but it’s still effective and makes this a good story.

C.H. Cogswell authored several dozen stories during the Fifties, all appearing in Columbia Western pulps. His story in this issue, “Just One More Raid!”, is a well-written, poignant tale about an honest rancher and his best friend, an outlaw who wants to go straight and settle down, but before he does, he has to pull one more job . . . You know this story isn’t going to end well, but Cogswell does a good job with it.

Lon Williams is best remembered for his long-running series of supernaturally tinged tales about Deputy Sheriff Lee Winters, but he wrote quite a few stand-alone Western stories, too, including “Poady Hangs a Multitude” in this issue. It’s about a meek little hombre who’s elected sheriff as a joke, but he comes up with a bizarre way to bring law and order to a wide-open mining camp. This one maybe stretches credibility a bit too far. It’s an interesting story but not a particularly good one.

“Gun Mission” by W.F. Day is about a young man who teaches himself to be a fast gun in order to get revenge on a man who humiliated him. But when he returns to his hometown to accomplish this, he finds himself mixed up in something more complicated and has to change his plans. Lots of action in this one, and it’s pretty well-written. Day published only a handful of stories and I don’t know anything about him, but based on this yarn, he was a decent writer.

The issue wraps up with “Boothill Medico” by Brett Austin, a pseudonym for Lee Floren. This is a short-short about a doctor having to operate on a patient he has a grudge against. The writing is decent, but it seemed to lacking a final twist it should have had.

Overall I’d say this is a below-average issue of a Western pulp with a few good stories but nothing outstanding, and some mediocre but not terrible stories. I don’t consider the time spent reading it wasted, but it’s probably the weakest issue of a Robert Lowndes-edited pulp that I’ve read so far, proving that he couldn’t always work miracles on an almost non-existent budget.

Friday, May 05, 2023

The Wild Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Volume Two - Will Murray

Will Murray is back with THE WILD ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, VOLUME TWO, and as entertaining as the stories in the first volume were, I think this new collection is even better. Here are the stories in this one. All of them were published originally in various Holmesian anthologies.

The Singular Problem of the Extinguished Wicks
The Mystery of the Spectral Shelter
The Problem of the Surrey Samson
The Uncanny Adventure of the Hammersmith Wonder
The Repulsive Matter of the Bloodless Banker
The Adventure of the Abominable Adder
The Adventure of the Sorrowing Mudlark
The Adventure of the Emerald Urchin
The Adventure of the Expelled Master
The Conundrum of the Questionable Coins

All these stories feature some seemingly supernatural or paranormal element. Will Holmes be able to figure out these mysteries and provide logical, scientifically grounded explanations for all the strange events and grisly murders? You may think you know the answer to that, but as Murray points out in his introduction, you may have some surprises in store, too.

As an added bonus, three of the stories (The Adventure of the Abominable Adder, The Adventure of the Sorrowing Mudlark, and The Adventure of the Emerald Urchin) are actually crossover tales that feature Algernon Blackwood’s occult detective Dr. John Silence. Now, I’ve never read any of the John Silence stories, or anything else by Algernon Blackwood, for that matter, but I really enjoyed these and think it’s likely that I’ll sample some of Blackwood’s work in the reasonably near future. In addition, Holmes narrates one of the stories himself, rather than relying on Dr. John Watson to tell the tale, and that’s a nice change. Overall, Murray does a great job of capturing Watson’s voice and Arthur Conan Doyle’s style.

I’m no expert on Holmes pastiches, but I know what I like, as the saying goes, and I really enjoyed this collection, which is available in both print and e-book editions. I give it a high recommendation and look forward to the future collections of Murray’s Sherlock Holmes stories that are in the works.

Wednesday, May 03, 2023

There's Just One Problem . . .: True Tales From the Former, One-time, 7th Most Powerful Person in WWE - Brian Gewirtz

My time as a wrestling fan breaks down into two distinct eras. When I was a kid, one of the local TV stations showed wrestling matches from the North Side Coliseum in Fort Worth every Monday night. I was a devoted follower for a while and absolutely believed everything I was watching was completely real. I understand now why my dad, who watched with me sometimes, seemed rather amused by my enthusiasm. Out of curiosity, I looked around on the internet and found a site covering the Texas wrestling circuit in those days, and the only wrestler whose name I remembered was Pepper Gomez (not much sublety or political correctness in the early Sixties).

Almost forty years later, in the late Nineties/early 2000s, I became a regular viewer of what was then the WWF’s weekly show on UPN, FRIDAY NIGHT SMACKDOWN. This was what is now known as the Attitude Era, and some of the prominent wrestlers were The Rock, The Undertaker, Kane, the Big Show, Triple H, and my favorite, Mankind (the great Mick Foley). The whole thing was so goofy and over the top that I really enjoyed it for a few years before moving on to other things.

So when one of my friends on Facebook posted about this book, I knew I’d have to get a copy and read it for old-time’s sake. THERE’S JUST ONE PROBLEM . . .: TRUE TALES FROM THE FORMER, ONE-TIME, 7TH MOST POWERFUL PERSON IN WWE is by Brian Gewirtz, a former sitcom scripter who became WWE’s head writer during the time I was watching and remained in that position for fifteen years. Prior to that era, the managers and the wrestlers themselves came up with most of the storylines and dialogue they used. It was unusual to have an actual writing staff shaping the way things were going to go in the matches. Gewirtz and his fellow writers (some of whom were former wrestlers) took things to a different level.

Given his comedy writing background, it’s no surprise that THERE’S JUST ONE PROBLEM . . . is a very funny book, full of just the sort of bizarre tales you’d expect when you’re dealing with such colorful, larger than life personalities. There are some poignant and dramatic moments, too, but mostly I chuckled and laughed out loud reading this book. It’s nice to get to know these characters better and get an understanding of why some of the storylines developed as they did.

I think you’d have to be a wrestling fan, at least to a certain extent, to enjoy this book. As mentioned above, I’m a casual, part-time fan at best, but I still found enough to like that I had a great time reading THERE’S JUST ONE PROBLEM . . . Now I have to go to YouTube and see if I can find some of those old North Side Coliseum matches from the early Sixties.

Tuesday, May 02, 2023

The Fabelmans (2022)

THE FABELMANS is a fictionalized, semi-autobiographical film written and directed by Steven Spielberg, about a boy growing up in Cincinnati and Phoenix who’s obsessed with making movies and wants that to be his career. Stuff happens, both with his ambitions and some domestic drama involving his family. That’s really the extent of the plot.

To get the negatives out of the way first, the film is long (two and a half hours), self-indulgent (there are a number of characters and scenes that come across as Spielberg getting even with people he holds a grudge against), and misfires badly at times (the scene where Sammy Fabelman’s new-found girlfriend tries to convert him to Christianity is pretty cringe-worthy).

All that said . . . Man, when the film talks about art and creatity and myth, and the conflicts between family and the passions that drive us, it really resonated with me. So much of the dynamic between Sammy and his family resembles my own life. The scene late in the movie where Sammy meets John Ford reminds me of all the writers I grew up reading, only to meet them and in some cases become friends with them later in life. I don’t want to make this post all about me, me, me, but maybe there’s some justification for that when I’m writing about a Spielberg film that’s all about him, him, him.

What I’m saying is that for all the times this film made me feel impatient or annoyed, in the end I loved it. It left me with a feeling of kinship. I can tell by reading the reviews that many people did not feel the same way. But it’s well-made, well-acted, and moves along at a pretty good pace despite its length. THE FABELMANS isn’t the sort of movie I usually watch, but I’m glad I did.

Monday, May 01, 2023

Love Camp on Wheels - Tom Harland

The third novel in TRAILER TRAMPS, the great new collection from Stark House, is LOVE CAMP ON WHEELS by Tom Harland, published originally by Softcover Library (the successor to Beacon Books) in 1963. It’s the story of Stan Barton, a regular guy who manages a trailer park in an agricultural area of California. Many of the camp’s occupants are migratory workers and their families, but there are some full-time residents, too. Stan was in the lettuce business until automation forced him out, but he’s managed to land this nice job taking care of the trailer park.

Things get complicated, though, as they always do in these books, when Stan becomes romantically involved with three married women: his own ex-wife, a newcomer to the park, and a woman who works in the office there. Eventually the husbands of all three women cause trouble for Stan, as does the park’s owner, a lesbian who has fallen for one of the three women herself. Stan not only has to figure out which of the three he really wants, he also has to survive a threat on his life and trouble with the law.

I don’t know anything about Tom Harland and couldn’t find anything on-line about him except that he wrote half a dozen of these softcore novels for Beacon/Softcover Library in the early Sixties. I have a hunch the name is a pseudonym, but that’s all it is, a hunch. Whoever he was, he wasn’t as good a writer as Orrie Hitt and Doug Duperrault, the other two authors in TRAILER TRAMPS. His prose isn’t nearly as smooth. But he keeps the story moving along at a good pace, his depiction of the middle class lifestyle of the era is accurate, and his characters ring true.

Some of the book concerns the expansion of the trailer park, and I’ve been around enough construction projects to recognize that Harland knows what he’s talking about in those scenes. In fact, the writing is stronger in those parts, almost as if Harland was more interested in them than he was in the domestic drama.

That said, Stan Barton is a likable lug of a protagonist, despite his penchant for fooling around with married women, and you can’t help but root for him to figure things out and come up with a happy ending. I enjoyed LOVE CAMP ON WHEELS, and it makes a nice companion piece for the other two novels in this collection. This latest offering from Stark House is well worth reading.