Friday, June 30, 2023

Reading and Writing Update

I said for years that I was going to slow down on the writing, but I never managed to do it to any meaningful degree. Well, age and circumstances have done it for me. Halfway through the year, I'm on pace to write just a hair more than half a million words this year. I realize that's still pretty productive, but it's half of what I used to do, and the frustrating part is that I'm still working almost as many hours at it. Getting the pages done just takes me longer.

But on the reading front, I've read 80 books so far this year, which is pretty good, I think.

Reading or writing, we do what we can do and move on to whatever's next, I guess.

The Art of Ron Lesser, Volume 1: Deadly Dames and Sexy Sirens - Robert Deis, Bill Cunningham, and J. Kingston Pierce, eds.

THE ART OF RON LESSER, VOLUME 1: DEADLY DAMES AND SEXY SIRENS is the latest fantastic art book from the editing combo of Robert Deis and Bill Cunningham, joined this time by crime fiction expert J. Kingston Pierce. This book really got its start from a series of interviews with Lesser conducted by Pierce. Expanded versions of those interviews are included in this volume, along with features on Lesser’s favorite models (including his wife; that's her on the cover above) and reproductions not only of dozens of paperbacks for which he did the covers but also the original paintings which were used on those covers.

In a word, beautiful.

But of course, I’m going to say more than a word. Any book with Bill Cunningham handling the production is going to be very well done, and DEADLY DAMES AND SEXY SIRENS is no exception. This is a substantial hardback volume, and the cover reproductions are some of the best I’ve ever seen. Those covers looked great on spinner racks, but they look even better at the large size made possible by a book like this.

The text put together by Bob Deis is informative and entertaining. I knew who Ron Lesser is but knew very little about him. Pierce’s interviews and Deis’s features provide plenty of background about Lesser’s life and career.

What really strikes me about this book is realizing how many of those paperbacks with Ron Lesser covers I bought over the years! I could flip through the pages and say, “Yeah, I had that one and that one and that one . . .” Clearly, Lesser’s covers helped sell those books to me. I’m certainly guilty of misidentifying some of his covers as being by Robert McGinnis, as Deis mentions is common. In recent years I think I’ve gotten a little better eye for such things. I’m happy to have those earlier misconceptions of mine cleared up, because Ron Lesser deserves all the credit he can get for being a substantial part of my reading life.

This is just the first of several planned volumes on Lesser’s career. It concentrates on the covers that feature beautiful women. Later volumes will zero in on Lesser’s work for Western, war, and adventure paperbacks. I can’t wait to see them. If you’re a long-time paperback fan and want to relive some glorious days, I give DEADLY DAMES AND SEXY SIRENS my highest recommendation. It’s one of the best books I’ve read so far this year.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

13 French Street - Gil Brewer

13 FRENCH STREET was the second novel written by Gil Brewer to be published by Gold Medal in 1951. It went on to be the bestselling novel of Brewer’s career with more than 1.2 million copies sold. And that number continues to rise, as it’s paired with SATAN IS A WOMAN in the latest Brewer double volume from Stark House.

It's easy to see why 13 FRENCH STREET was so successful. It’s such an intense depiction of sexual obsession that the readers of the early Fifties probably hadn’t ever encountered anything like it before. The narrator is Alex Bland, an archeologist and straight-arrow kind of guy who lives up to his name. He goes to visit his old army buddy Verne Lawrence, who lives at the title address just outside a midwestern city. Verne is married to beautiful, dark-haired Petra, who has been corresponding with Alex and has formed a friendship with him. Or at least, that’s what Alex thinks.

When he steps in the door and meets Petra in person, things immediately change. Lust seems to erupt in both of them. Verne isn’t himself because of some business reverses, and to take care of them, he has to leave Alex and Petra there alone, except for Verne’s elderly mother, who spies on the would-be lovers.

The first half of this novel kind of meanders along with not much happening except Alex wanting Petra and Petra teasing him mercilessly. But the book is so well-written that the slow burn works and keeps the reader turning the pages. Then, abruptly, murder and blackmail complicate things, as they so often do in these books, and 13 FRENCH STREET races to a harrowing conclusion that’s still oddly satisfying for all its bleakness.

This is probably the best-written Gil Brewer novel I’ve read. Some of the images are stunning in their simple poetry. Petra is the personification of evil in many ways, but Brewer makes her too complex to write her off as that and nothing else. I think she’s a reflection of the darkness under the narrator’s placid surface. If somebody like Alex can do the things he does, what are the rest of us capable of if driven by the right (or wrong) urges? Starting out, Brewer wanted to write mainstream novels, and in 13 FRENCH STREET he comes close, although combined with crime and suspense.

This isn’t necessarily the sort of book you feel good about when you finish it, but it sure does stick with you. For that reason, I give 13 FRENCH STREET a very high recommendation, and I'm glad I finally got around to reading it.

Monday, June 26, 2023

The E. Hoffmann Price Spicy Adventure Megapack - E. Hoffmann Price

Thank goodness for the Spicy pulps! I don’t know of a better cure for the reading funks in which I sometimes find myself, when I don’t have the attention span to tackle a novel and none of them I have on hand appeal to me, anyway. But a Spicy pulp yarn that I can read in half an hour or less . . . yeah, now that I can handle.

For a while now I’ve been working my way through THE E. HOFFMANN PRICE SPICY ADVENTURE MEGAPACK, reading stories between other things. Price is a long-time favorite of mine, one of those writers who could tackle almost any genre and do a good job of it. The stories in this collection certainly provide a wide variety in their subject matter:

“Satan’s Daughter”, SPICY MYSTERY STORIES, January 1936 – Ancient evil in a Middle Eastern archeology dig

“Pit of Madness”, SPICY MYSTERY STORIES, April 1936 – Devil worshippers in Paris

“The Walking Dead”, SPICY MYSTERY STORIES, November 1935 – Zombies (what else?) in the Louisiana swamps

“Every Man a King”, SPEED ADVENTURE STORIES, November 1943 – Political intrigue and civil war in 14th Century Samarkand

“Revolt of the Damned”, SPICY-ADVENTURE STORIES, March 1937 – Drug smuggling and gang war along the California-Mexico border.

“Crystal Clues”, SPICY DETECTIVE STORIES, August 1936 – Hardboiled detective yarn set at a hot springs resort featuring hotel dick Cliff Cragin (which I first read as Cliff Clavin, which would have been a totally different story . . . but not necessarily a bad one).

“Night in Manila”, SPICY-ADVENTURE STORIES, November 1935 – A two-fisted Yank soldier goes undercover to bust up a smuggling ring in the Philippines.

“Murder Salvage”, SPICY DETECTIVE STORIES, April 1941 – Private eye yarn featuring Price’s series character Honest John Carmody tangling with murder and a stolen car racket.

“Triangle With Variations”, SPICY DETECTIVE STORIES, August 1935 – A man is murdered, and the man who’s in love with his wife sets out to find the killer.

“Scourge of the Silver Dragon”, GOLD SEAL DETECTIVE, December 1935 – A G-Man goes undercover to bust up an opium smuggling ring in California and Arizona.

“Drink or Draw”, SPEED WESTERN STORIES, December 1943, and “She Herded Him Around”, SPICY WESTERN STORIES, February 1941 – These are entries in Price’s long-running series of humorous, tall-tale Western yarns about wandering gunfighter Simon Bolivar Grimes.

“You Can’t Fight a Woman”, SPICY WESTERN STORIES, January 1939 – Starts out as a Romeo-and-Juliet/cattlemen vs. nesters story, becomes a chase the bad guys to El Paso story before circling back to the original plot.

“Short-Cut to Hell”, THRILLING ADVENTURES, January 1939 – A wagon train yarn featuring drifting peddler/tinker Saul Epstein, who appeared in three other stories by Price. Epstein is a supporting character in this one and I suspect in the other stories with him, as well.
Of course, some of these stories are better than others. Here are some highlights.

Despite being a novelette, “Revolt of the Damned” is a hardboiled, large-cast mini-epic about the drug trade along the border with enough plot for a full-length novel. It rockets along from character to character at a breakneck pace in a yarn filled with double-crosses, revenge, brutal murders, and an apocalyptic climax. This is just a terrific story, one of the best things I’ve ever read by Price.

“Murder Salvage” is the first of Price’s Honest John Carmody stories I’ve read. A private detective who got his nickname because he was a cop who got kicked off the force for not going along with corruption, he’s a good character and I’d happily read more about him. This particular story has a nice, twisty plot and good supporting characters.

“Triangle With Variations” has a good twist with the protagonist who’s in love with a married woman setting out to find her husband’s murderer so that he can pursue her in good conscience. Note that Price’s first published story, which appeared in the June 1924 issue of DROLL STORIES, is also called “Triangle With Variations”, but it’s a totally different story.

“Scourge of the Silver Dragon” is a solid action tale with a confusing but interesting bit of business in it: the sinister criminal mastermind and the type of opium that he’s smuggling are both known as the Silver Dragon. Plenty of good shootouts and fistfights in this one.

I read all the Simon Bolivar Grimes stories years ago, including “Drink or Draw” and “She Herded Him Around”, and even wrote the introduction to a collection of some of them, so I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t reread them this time around. But the Grimes series is consistently entertaining and well worth reading. If you haven’t tried them, you should pick up NOMAD’S TRAIL from Black Dog Books, the collection I just mentioned.

“You Can’t Fight a Woman” is interesting because, in addition to being a well-written, action-packed yarn, one of the characters mentions being from Cross Plains, Texas. I’m sure nearly all the readers of SPICY WESTERN STORIES read right past that, but it jumped out at me, of course, since Cross Plains was the home of Price’s friend Robert E. Howard, who had been gone five years at the time this story was written. A nice Easter egg in a good story. (Price, as you’ll recall, was the only person to meet REH, H.P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith in person.)

“Short-Cut to Hell” has a small romance element, but it’s really not a spicy yarn, which isn’t a surprise considering that it appeared originally in THRILLING ADVENTURES. But this story of a wagon train journey and the dangers along the way has a nice epic feel, and the character of Saul Epstein is a good one, serving as sidekick and behind the scenes manipulator much the same way as John Solomon in that series by H. Bedford-Jones. This is an excellent story and shows that Price could write a serious, hardboiled Western when he wanted to.

Overall, THE E. HOFFMANN PRICE SPICY ADVENTURE MEGAPACK is a top-notch collection full of fast-paced, entertaining stories. Well worth the time to read, and it makes me glad that I have several other megapacks of Price’s work on my Kindle, ready for the next time I need one of them.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Blue Book, August 1941

I don't think this cover is as good as many others by Herbert Morton Stoops, but this is an important issue of BLUE BOOK anyway. It's the last one that was a true pulp. Trimmed, maybe, but still a pulp. The next issue it went to the larger quarto size. As usual with BLUE BOOK, H. Bedford-Jones is well-represented in the Table of Contents with three stories, one under his own name and one each as by Gordon Keyne and Michael Gallister. Also contributing to this issue are Richard Wormser, Georges Surdez, Lemuel de Bra, Robert R. Mill, Raymond S. Spears, Jacland Marmur, and little-known writers John Upton Terrell, George Agnew Chamberlain, Charles Wellington Furlong, and George Weston. With Bedford-Jones anchoring their stable, BLUE BOOK always had good authors in its pages.

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Famous Western, Summer 1944

That's a nice dramatic cover on this issue of FAMOUS WESTERN, although the hand holding the knife looks 'way too large to me. It's almost as big as the other guy's head! There are some good authors inside, including T.W. Ford, Joe Austell Small, Wilbur S. Peacock, and Archie Joscelyn. Also on hand are Lee Floren, Brett Austin (Lee Floren), Lee Thomas (also Lee Floren), Charles S. Richardson, the completely unknown to me James Lebur (he published a dozen stories in various Western pulps, but I don't recall ever coming across his name before), and house-name Cliff Campbell. Hmm, wonder if that could be Lee Floren? I wouldn't rule it out.

Monday, June 19, 2023

Blonde Bait - Stephen Marlowe

Stephen Marlowe is best remembered for his long-running series of paperback originals about private detective/international troubleshooter Chester Drum. But he also wrote science fiction under his birth name, Milton Lesser, and various pseudonyms, big historical novels late in his career as Stephen Marlowe, and numerous non-series noir and suspense novels, also as Marlowe. One of those stand-alones is BLONDE BAIT, originally published by Avon in 1959 with cover art by Ernest Chiriacka under his pseudonym Darcy. Stark House has just reprinted it under the great Black Gat Books imprint.

There’s at least one other noir novel entitled BLONDE BAIT, this one by Ed Lacy (Leonard Zinberg). I reviewed it more than ten years ago and had some reservations about it. But if ever there was a title that fit a genre, BLONDE BAIT is it. It goes together perfectly with noir. The blonde in this case is Bunny Kemp, a beautiful, unhappily married woman who pays a visit to a ski resort in upstate New York where our narrator, Chuck Odlum, is also unhappily married (to the resort’s owner) and runs the ski school there. Bunny and her husband have a secret, though, and once Chuck gets involved with her, things quickly spiral out of control and more than one brutal murder occurs. You know how it goes in noir novels.

I really enjoyed this BLONDE BAIT. Marlowe was a top-notch writer, skillfully mixing character, setting, and plot to create a fast-paced novel that careens along from one complication to another in a series of harrowing scenes. As Gil Brewer did in SATAN WAS A WOMAN, which I read recently, Marlowe uses nature to great effect, making the snowy setting almost a character in itself.

I’m glad Black Gat Books has reprinted this novel. It’s one I never came across, never even heard of as far as I recall. It’s an excellent yarn, and if you’re a fan of Fifties hardboiled noir, you shouldn’t hesitate to snap up this BLONDE BAIT. It's available in paperback and e-book editions.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Dragnet, August 1930

That's a pretty dramatic cover by Don Hewitt on this issue of DETECTIVE DRAGNET, although the guy being choked looks strangely untroubled by what's going on. And yes, that's a swastika on the cover, before it had the sinister implications it would a few years later. Philip Ketchum, writing as Carl McK. Saunders, is probably the best-known author in this issue, although Irving Stone, later a bestselling historical novelist, has an early story in these pages. I'm assuming it's the same Irving Stone, but I don't know that for sure. Eugene A. Clancy and William H. Stueber are names that some Western pulp fans will remember. Also on hand are Jack Compton, R.E. Alexander, and James Howard Leveque, all of whom produced a considerable number of stories for the pulps but are pretty much forgotten now. DETECTIVE DRAGNET was originally called THE DRAGNET MAGAZINE and eventually changed its name to the one under which it's best remembered, TEN DETECTIVE ACES.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Texas Rangers, April 1939

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. I don’t have access to a scanner at the moment, so I took a picture of my copy instead, and that’s it above. The cover is by Carl Reiter, and all I know about him is that he did a few pulp covers. As you know if you’re a regular reader of this blog, I’m a long-time fan of the pulp TEXAS RANGERS and have been reading the Jim Hatfield novels published in it for more than 50 years, since I discovered them in paperback reprints in the Sixties.

This issue is from fairly early in the series’ run, when most of the Hatfield novels were written by either Leslie Scott, the series creator, or Tom Curry. “Vaquero Guns” is one of Curry’s entries, and as usual in his novels, it features a secondary hero. In this case, it’s drifting cowboy Jerry Farmon, who starts the action off by searching for a missing friend of his, a deputy sheriff who disappeared while on the trail of an escaped killer. But Hatfield, a Texas Ranger who’s known as the Lone Wolf, is soon involved, being sent by his boss, Captain “Roarin’” Bill McDowell, to West Texas to break up a gang of masked marauders that has been raiding settlements along the border.

When Hatfield arrives on the scene, he quickly discovers that there’s a violent feud going on between the biggest ranch in the area, the Square A, and everybody else in the region. The Square A’s crew is composed of vaqueros imported from Mexico, and they’re the ones who have been raiding the settlements. Or are they? Could something else actually be going on, something more sinister behind the scenes?

After a long series of gunfights, fistfights, captures, and escapes, Hatfield uncovers the truth and exposes the criminal mastermind who will have been obvious to most readers from very early on in the novel. That’s the main problem with this one. Even for a pulp yarn, everything is just too predictable.

Even so, there are some things to like about “Vaquero Guns”. The opening scene, which features a nighttime escape from a train, is very evocative and well-written. The action scenes are always good in a Curry novel, and the big battles have a nice epic feel. There are clever callbacks to previous Hatfield novels written by Curry. And Hatfield himself is a great character as always, mostly superhuman but still likable and believable. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who hasn’t read a Hatfield novel before, because it really is one of the series’ weaker entries, but as an old-timer, I found it enjoyable reading.

Moving on to the back-up stories, “White Hat for an Outlaw” is by Robert E. Obets, who, under that name and as Bob Obets, wrote scores of stories for various Western pulps between the mid-Thirties and the mid-Fifties. Almost completely forgotten now, he was a solid writer, and his story in this issue is very good. It’s about a young outlaw infiltrating a company of Texas Rangers to lead them into a trap, then having to decide whether he wants to continue on the owlhoot trail or go over to the side of law and order. I liked it quite a bit.

“Gun-Gang Plot” is by an even more forgotten writer, Anson Hard. It’s about a saloon swamper who witnesses a confrontation between a gang of stagecoach robbers and a stranger who might be a Texas Ranger. This one has a twist ending I should have seen coming but didn’t, and again, I enjoyed it.

Syl MacDowell is best remembered for his humorous Swap and Whopper series and the Sheriff Blue Steele series he wrote under the pseudonym Tom Gunn. But he wrote plenty of traditional, stand-alone Western tales, too, including “West of the Pecos” in this issue, which finds a young Ranger trying to rescue the sister of a dead pal from a life of shame and degradation as a soiled dove, although MacDowell is never quite that blunt about what’s going on. This one is well-written and also has a twist ending that’s a little more of a stretch but still effective. I don’t care for Swap and Whopper but have enjoyed everything else I’ve read by MacDowell, including this one.

Given that the Hatfield novel isn’t one of the best and it takes up most of the pages, this is probably a below-average issue of TEXAS RANGERS. Of course, I’m still glad that I read it. If you’re a long-time Hatfield fan like me, you’d probably enjoy it, too.

Friday, June 16, 2023

The Brushpopper and the Lady - Les Savage, Jr.

RANCH LOVE STORIES lasted only one issue in 1950. A pretty blatant attempt by Interstate Publishing to compete with the long-running RANCH ROMANCES, it seems to have been a spectacular failure. It’s hard to understand why, though, since the lone issue had a cover by Norman Saunders and some fine writers who contributed stories.

One of those authors is Les Savage, Jr., whose novella “The Brushpopper and the Lady” is the featured story in this issue and is almost long enough to have been reprinted as an Ace Double. Maybe it would have been, if not for Savage’s early and untimely death. Thanks to the good folks at the PulpGen Archive, though, this story is available again as a downloadable PDF, and being a long-time fan of Les Savage, Jr.’s work, I was quick to grab a copy and read it.

As you might guess from the title, “The Brushpopper and the Lady” is set in the South Texas chaparral country, as are several of Savage’s novels. Hugh Mitchell is the foreman of the vast Broken Shield ranch, which was owned by an English expatriate who was like a father to Mitchell. The man has passed away, leaving the ranch to his niece, who comes from England to claim her inheritance. But something about the whole situation seems wrong to Mitchell, and things are complicated by the heiress’s wastrel cousin and a greedy gambler in the nearby town who has his eyes on taking over the ranch himself. It doesn’t help that Mitchell seems to be falling in love with Lady Agatha. And then the specter of murder rears its ugly head.

This is a fast-paced yarn with plenty of action, including a couple of the brutal fistfights for which Savage’s stories are known. The plot has several effective twists and turns, and while I had a pretty good idea what would happen, I wasn’t sure how things would play out until the end. The overall tone is hardboiled, and while the romance element is fairly strong, as you’d expect from RANCH LOVE STORIES, it never overpowers the action.

“The Brushpopper and the Lady” is a really good story. If you’re a Les Savage, Jr. fan or just a reader of traditional Westerns, I think there’s a good chance you’d enjoy it. I certainly did. Check it out on the PulpGen Archive.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

The Naked and the Deadly - Lawrence Block

As I’ve mentioned many times before, Lawrence Block is one of my favorite authors, and I’m glad that so much of the work from early in his career is available again. The latest Block collection, THE NAKED AND THE DEADLY, comes from Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle at the Men’s Adventure Library, and it showcases some of Block’s earliest published work as well as some later yarns, too.

As Sheldon Lord, the name he later used on soft-core novels published by Midwood, Block wrote several articles from the late Fifties and on into the Sixties for various men’s adventure magazines. Maritime disasters, hookers, swinging stewardesses, and bloodthirsty Nazis were all suitable subjects for these articles, which were a mixture of fact and fiction. Block’s skill as a writer is already apparent in these early efforts, especially in the pacing. These stories move right along and come to natural, well-developed endings. One thing I’ve noticed about the men’s adventure magazine stories is that many of them end rather abruptly as if the author had made the word count and wrapped things up as quickly as possible. The better writers didn’t do this, of course, and Block is certainly among their number.

Also included in this volume are three long private eye novellas featuring Ed London, the protagonist of Block’s early novel DEATH PULLS A DOUBLECROSS. London is Block’s first series character and the stories featuring him are top-notch, as you’d expect from the creator of Matt Scudder. I’d read these before but enjoyed them all over again.

There are also condensed versions—the magazines where they were first published called them Book Bonuses—of two of Block’s Evan Tanner novels. I had read the original versions of these when they were published as paperback originals nearly 60 years ago, but after all that time, reading the Book Bonus versions was like they were new to me, and I had a great time with both of them.

As usual with the books from the Men’s Adventure Library, plenty of great cover art from various books and magazines is lovingly reproduced, and there are informative and entertaining essays and introductions from editor Deis and Block himself. All of it comes together in a package that is well worth your time to read. THE NAKED AND THE DEADLY is available in a paperback edition, an e-book edition, and an expanded hardback edition, not to mention a limited signed edition. No matter which way you want to go, if you’re a fan of Lawrence Block’s work, you need this book. I really enjoyed it.

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Crime Busters, October 1938

Western pulps weren't the only ones that favored a red and yellow color scheme. Here's an example of one on CRIME BUSTERS, a detective pulp that often featured photo covers but not this time. It also specialized in series characters, and the line-up in this issue is full of heavyweight authors. There's a Click Rush story by Lester Dent, a Carrie Cashin story by Theodore Tinsley, a Clay Holt story by Carroll John Daly, a Red Drake story by W.T. Ballard, and a Doc Trouble story by Robert C. Blackmon. I've heard of Click Rush and Carrie Cashin, but I'll admit, the others are new ones on me. Daly's Clay Holt appeared in six stories, the first four in DIME DETECTIVE, this one in CRIME BUSTERS, and a final yarn in BLACK MASK. I'm guessing Ballard's Red Drake was probably a private eye. He appeared in more than two dozen stories in BLACK MASK, CRIME BUSTERS, and STREET & SMITH'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE. Blackmon's Doc Trouble appeared in 18 stories in CRIME BUSTERS and STREET & SMITH'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE. I'll bet these are all good characters and good stories, and if any of you are familiar with them, please feel free to tell us about them in the comments.

Saturday, June 10, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Speed Western Stories, January 1946

Looks like H.W. Scott's work to me on the cover of this issue of SPEED WESTERN STORIES. Inside are stories by the consistently good authors William Heuman and Laurence Donovan, plus James W. Routh, who was a regular contributor to RANCH ROMANCES for many years, house name Paul Hanna (possibly Donovan since he has a story under his own name in this issue), and an author I haven't heard of, Warren Bean. Heuman's story is probably a reject from a better market, but I suspect it's still good.

Friday, June 09, 2023

Satan Is A Woman - Gil Brewer

I’ve read and enjoyed many books by Gil Brewer over the years, but for some reason, two of his earliest and most successful novels have sat unread on my shelves for quite some time now. So I took the arrival of Stark House’s latest Gil Brewer double volume to be an omen that I ought to go ahead and read them. I’m going to start with SATAN IS A WOMAN, which was Brewer’s second published novel. He had previously expanded a Day Keene pulp novelette into a full-length novel that was published as LOVE ME AND DIE under Keene’s name. My review of that one can be found here. SATAN IS A WOMAN was published by Gold Medal in 1951 with a great Barye Phillips cover and launched Brewer’s career under his own name.

Larry Cole, the narrator of this novel, is one of Brewer’s everyman protagonists. He owns a not-too-successful beachfront bar on the west coast of Florida, is a World War II veteran, and is trying to live a respectable life even though he comes from a family of criminals. His father was a mob gunman, his mother was a prostitute, and his older brother Tad has been mixed up in plenty of shady deals. When they were growing up, Tad tried to keep Larry on the straight and narrow despite his own activities. As the novel opens, Tad is on the run from a murder rap and hiding out at Larry’s house. He gets caught and sent to prison, and while Larry would like to get him a better lawyer and try to help him, there doesn’t seem to be any way for him to do so. The guilt Larry feels over this tortures him.

He's about to feel a lot more guilty, because one day a beautiful blonde named Joan Turner walks into his bar, and that starts Larry on a path that includes robbery and multiple murders. Larry wants to do the right thing, but he’s so caught up by love, lust, and circumstances that he seems doomed right from the start, in the finest tradition of noir novels.

Then, late in the novel, Brewer springs a really nifty plot twist that I didn’t see coming at all. It was a real “D’oh!” moment for me because everything is set up fairly, right out in the open, and with Brewer’s angst-ridden, breakneck style, I just went right past all the clues. I love it when that happens.

SATAN IS A WOMAN is one of the best-written Brewer novels I’ve read, with plenty of action and some poetic, poignant moments that are very effective. There’s also a long scene set in a rowboat on a stormy sea that gave a confirmed landlubber like me the galloping fantods. It’s wonderful stuff.

I can see why SATAN IS A WOMAN sold well and made Brewer a successful author right off the bat. It’s really, really good. I give it a high recommendation. The new Stark House reprint, along with Brewer’s all-time bestselling novel, 13 FRENCH STREET, will be out next month and is available for pre-order now. I’ll be getting to that novel very soon.

Wednesday, June 07, 2023

The Saint Settles a Score - Keith Chapman

When I was in junior high, it would have been difficult to decide who was my favorite fictional character: the Saint, Doc Savage, or Ben Grimm. I'm sure it depended on what I was reading at the time. But I loved all three of them and still do. I've written before about how I discovered the Saint and told the story again in the introduction I provided for the most recent reprint of THE SAINT IN MIAMI, which is available in an inexpensive e-book edition and can even be read for free if you have Kindle Unlimited.

So I don't know how I missed "The Saint Settles a Score", a 16-page Saint comic book story from the early Sixties written by Keith Chapman, an old friend of this blog. It was reprinted on Gary Dobbs' Tainted Archive blog a number of years ago, but I'm just now catching up to it. And I'm glad I did, because it really takes me back to those days when I was devouring Saint stories as fast as I could get my hands on them.

"The Saint Settles a Score" is very much influenced by Leslie Charteris's early stories about the character. Simon Templar answers a call for help from an old friend, a professional burglar who's opposed to violence. The fellow is in trouble, and it catches up to him quickly when he keeps a rendezvous with Simon. He's gunned down by some thugs and lives just long enough to put Simon on the trail of his killers, an investigation that involves wealthy art dealers, a beautiful blonde, a fabulously valuable painting, and some deadly double crosses.

Chapman's script is swift, humorous in places, and has plenty of action. Its light yet adventurous tone matches up very well in comparison to Charteris's Saint yarns. The art, furnished by an unknown Spanish artist, does a pretty good job of capturing Simon's personality and conveying the action. All in all, this is a very good story and I really enjoyed reading it.

If you're a Saint fan and missed this one like I did, you can find all 16 pages in two posts on the Tainted Archives blog, here and here. Be sure and read the comments, too, as they contain further information about the story and Chapman's involvement with the character. Check out this post, as well, for more background. It's great stuff.

Sunday, June 04, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Adventure, July 30, 1923

A.G. Peck, an artist I'm not familiar with, painted the evocative cover on this issue of ADVENTURE. As usual, the line-up of authors inside is very strong: Harold Lamb, J. Allan Dunn, Georges Surdez, Hugh Pendexter, J.D. Newsom, Karl W. Detzer, Bill Adams, and Raymond S. Spears. Arthur Sullivant Hoffman was still the editor at this point. ADVENTURE was a great pulp, issue after issue.

Saturday, June 03, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Popular Western, September 1944

Sam Cherry's cover on this issue of POPULAR WESTERN is a slightly humorous one, which is a little unusual for him. His covers were dramatic and often action-packed, but most of the time they're not funny. I like this one quite a bit. The blonde reminds me of Gloria Grahame. Inside are stories by Syl McDowell (a Sheriff Blue Steele yarn under the Tom Gunn pseudonym), Johnston McCulley, Oscar J. Friend, Cliff Walters, Alfred L. Garry, and house names Scott Carleton (a Buffalo Billy Bates story) and Jackson Cole.

Friday, June 02, 2023

The Frightened Fiancee -- George Harmon Coxe

George Harmon Coxe was a prolific pulpster, contributing scores of detective and adventure yarns to BLACK MASK, ARGOSY, BLUE BOOK, and other pulps. For BLACK MASK, he created a long-running series starring crime photographer Jack “Flashgun” Casey, who also served as the protagonist in several of Coxe’s novels. Coxe became a very successful mystery novelist in the Forties, Fifties, and Sixties. When I was a kid, every public library had a couple of shelves of his books, all published by Knopf, in their mystery sections. Most of those books featured another crime photographer character, Kent Murdock, who was slightly more sophisticated than the two-fisted Flash Casey.

But Coxe wrote quite a few stand-alone novels, too, and one of them is THE FRIGHTENED FIANCÉE, published by Knopf in 1950, reprinted in paperback by Dell in 1955, and still available today as an e-book. The protagonist is oil company engineer John Holland, who returns from a business trip to find the girl he loves engaged to another man. Before leaving, Holland had asked her to marry him, but she got him to agree to a 30-day delay before she gave him her answer. When he gets back a couple of days early, he visits her family home in Connecticut, only to discover that she plans to marry somebody else—and soon.

That big house in Connecticut is full of family and friends, most of whom have secrets and hidden agendas. Domestic drama and valuable inheritances lurk behind the scenes. And sure enough, Holland isn’t there long before someone is murdered. That won’t be the last killing, either. Holland has his hands full trying to unravel what’s going on and save the girl he loves.

As I was reading this novel, with its big country house full of secrets and suspects, it struck me that THE FRIGHTENED FIANCÉE is very similar to an English country house mystery, but because there’s some tough talk and a few punches are thrown, it qualifies as a medium-boiled yarn, too. The setting, the tone, and the very complicated plot made me realize this novel is sort of like Agatha Christie and Erle Stanley Gardner collaborated on a book. Feeling as I do about Christie and Gardner, it’s no surprise that I enjoyed THE FRIGHTENED FIANCÉE quite a bit. Coxe keeps things moving along at a pretty good pace. I’m not a huge fan of the way he tends to summarize conversations rather than giving us the actual dialogue, but that’s just his style and it’s not too distracting.

The current e-book edition calls this a Sam Crombie mystery. Crombie is the owner of a private detective agency who gets involved in the story, and while he’s a very good supporting character, in no way is he the star of this book. John Holland is the protagonist and solves the mystery. He’s a little on the bland side but still likable.

The Flash Casey stories and novels are my favorites of Coxe’s work, and I liked all the Kent Murdock novels I’ve read, too. But his stand-alones are good as well and always worth reading, so if you’re a fan of traditional, semi-hardboiled mysteries, you’ll probably enjoy THE FRIGHTENED FIANCÉE like I did.