Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Coming Soon: West Texas Blood Feud - James Reasoner

The Nashes and the Lockharts have been feuding so long that nobody in Pecos even remembers what fueled the bloody hatred. The patriarchs of the two families, Axel Nash and Jubal Lockhart, would like nothing better than to wipe out their enemies. But Edward Nash, Axel’s nephew, wants no part of the feud and would rather concentrate on his law practice in partnership with the veteran attorney Billy Cambridge.

But then Edward’s younger brother Johnny winds up dead, apparently at the hands of Jubal Lockhart’s son Matt, and all of Reeves County is set to rip wide open in a hot lead war between the two clans. Add in an ambitious politician, his beautiful daughter, and a twist of fate that finds Edward defending his own brother’s accused killer in court, and you have another powerful, exciting tale from bestselling Western author James Reasoner. Fists and bullets will fly before peace returns to Pecos!

This will be out September 5 and is available for pre-order now.

Red Sonja: The Ballad of the Red Goddess - Roy Thomas, Esteban Maroto, and Santi Casas

Back in my comic book reading days, I was never a big fan of the character Red Sonja. Not really a Robert E. Howard character but more Howard-adjacent, let's say, she was very loosely based on the character Red Sonya in Howard's historical adventure yarn "The Shadow of the Vulture". So in reality she was actually created by scripter Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith, with her visual appearance being revamped early on by artist Esteban Maroto. Mind you, these are not bad things. Roy Thomas is one of my all-time favorite comics writers, and Maroto and Windsor-Smith are top-notch artists. But when Red Sonja got her own book, I read it only sporadically, and although I had copies of all six novels by David C. Smith and Richard Tierney that featured the character, I never got around to reading them before they were lost in the Fire of '08. These days copies of the novels tend to be pretty expensive, so I've never replaced them.

All that said, when I came across a digital version of the graphic novel RED SONJA: THE BALLAD OF THE RED GODDESS available on Kindle Unlimited, I didn't hesitate to download and read it. Maybe it was time to reevaluate the character, I told myself. And with a script by Roy Thomas and art by Esteban Maroto, the two guys who basically came up with the character, it seemed like a good bet whether it turned me into a Red Sonja fan or not.

The jury is still out on that, but I really enjoyed this graphic novel done originally for a Spanish publisher several years ago. Thomas's script is an origin story with a framing sequence. It covers ground that has been covered to a certain extent in previous stories but fleshes it out in an enjoyable fashion. The tale even provides a reasonable explanation for the infamous chain-mail bikini the character wears, over and above the idea of appealing to horny male comic book readers in the Seventies. (Hey! I resemble that remark!) The action is good, Sonja is a likable character, and while this doesn't break any new ground, it's a perfectly acceptable sword-and-sorcery yarn that entertained me quite a bit. Maroto's art is very good (I've always liked his work) and the art in the framing sequence by Santi Casas is good as well.

There are e-book editions of other Red Sonja collections that reprint the original comics run from the Seventies. Might be time to check them out, too.

Monday, August 28, 2023

The Digest Enthusiast, Book Sixteen - Richard Krauss, ed.

For those of us who are long-time fans of genre fiction, this is kind of a Golden Age. Not only are there more readily available reprints of vintage material than even the most devoted fan could ever get around to reading, there are also a number of magazines and journals devoted to the fiction we love. For example, MEN’S ADVENTURE QUARTERLY, THE SHADOWED CIRCLE, THE BRONZE GAZETTE, and the subject of today’s post, THE DIGEST ENTHUSIAST. Book Sixteen in that series is now available, and it’s one of my favorite issues so far.

It starts off with a very nice keyhole cover featuring pinup model Jeanne Carmen, who’s featured in a long article about her career, lavishly illustrated (as they say) with many photographs and magazine cover reproductions.

Inside, regular contributor Steve Carper starts things off with an in-depth article about Handi-Books and their publisher James Quinn. Handi-Books published one of my favorite Harry Whittington novels, SLAY RIDE FOR A LADY, as well as good books by Robert Leslie Bellem, Cleve F. Adams, Paul Evan Lehman, Leslie Ernenwein, and others.

TDE editor Richard Krauss examines the first year of Howard Browne’s tenure as editor of FANTASTIC and returns later in the issue with a look at Robert A.W. Lowndes’ editorship of various magazines published by Health Knowledge. I’ve long been interested in Lowndes, who was known for editing some entertaining pulp magazines on next-to-nonexistent budgets. Krauss’s article about the Health Knowledge magazines is fascinating. Those magazines were never distributed to any of the stores and newsstands I frequented as a kid, or I would have picked them up for sure. I have a few in my collection now and always find them interesting.

Peter Enfantino continues his survey of MANHUNT, the best crime fiction digest of the Fifties, and Anthony Perconti takes a look at some of the digest-sized comic book reprint collections published by DC in the Eighties. I enjoyed both of these articles as well. Perconti’s stirred up some nice nostalgic memories because I bought and read quite a few of those digest comics collections when they were new. I actually remember seeing some of the very late issues of MANHUNT on the stands when they were new, but I never bought any of them. I’m not sure why, unless my allowance and the money I earned just wouldn’t stretch quite that far. EQMM was my mystery digest of choice in those days.

So there’s something for just about everybody in Book Sixteen of THE DIGEST ENTHUSIAST, and it’s all well-written, informative, and entertaining. This is a great series, and the latest volume is available on Amazon in both a full color and a black-and-white edition. Highly recommended.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Amazing Stories, October 1941

The unmistakable artwork of J. Allen St. John graces the cover of this issue of AMAZING STORIES, and with a St. John cover, it's no surprise that there's an Edgar Rice Burroughs story inside. In this case, it's "Invisible Men of Mars", the fourth and final novella that was fixed up into the John Carter novel LLANA OF GATHOL. I read that book many, many years ago in the Ballantine edition with an explosive Robert Abbett cover that you can see at the bottom of this post, but I don't remember a thing about it except that I liked it, because I liked all the John Carter books. I ought to read it again one of these days. Unlikely, but you never know. Anyway, before I wander too far off into the weeds . . . this issue of AMAZING STORIES also features stories by William P. McGivern (under the house-name P.F. Costello), David Wright O'Brien (under his pseudonym John York Cabot), editor Raymond A. Palmer (under the house-name A.R. Steber and in collaboration with Thornton Ayre, who was really John Russell Fearn), and Festus Pragnell (as himself). I sure loved those Mars books when I was a kid. I'll bet many of you reading this did, as well.

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Super Western, August 1937

This is the first issue of a short-lived Western pulp from Ace. Four issues were published under this title, plus a dozen more as VARIETY WESTERN and ALL-NOVEL WESTERN. Calling this one SUPER WESTERN might have been pulp hyperbole, but it actually had pretty good credentials, starting with a cover by Norman Saunders. Inside are stories by Tom Roan, Norrell Gregory, Joe Archibald, W.H.B. Kent, forgotten pulpster Glenn A. Conner, and house-name Cliff Howe. Not quite super, maybe, but no publisher was going to put out a pulp called PROBABLY PRETTY GOOD WESTERN . . . even though that's what it was.

Monday, August 21, 2023

The Last Place God Made - Jack Higgins (Harry Patterson)

THE LAST PLACE GOD MADE (1971) is one of the many high adventure novels Jack Higgins wrote before becoming an international bestseller with THE EAGLE HAS LANDED in 1975. Many Higgins fans regard these earlier novels as his best work, and I can’t say as I disagree with them.

THE LAST PLACE GOD MADE is set in Brazil in 1938 and is narrated by Neil Mallory, a down-on-his-luck British pilot who, through a series of misadventures, winds up working for an American flier named Sam Hannah, who was a flying ace in the Lafayette Escadrille during World War I. Hannah was even known as the Black Baron, the Allies’ answer to the Red Baron. But now he’s come down in the world considerably and has a contract to fly mail and supplies to various isolated settlements in the Amazon jungle.

Things take a turn for the worse when a mission hospital is attacked by natives and the priest and nuns who work there are slaughtered, except for two nuns who are missing when the atrocity is discovered. The sister of one of those nuns, who is a beautiful nightclub singer and aspiring movie star, shows up along with another nun, and Mallory and Hannah are drawn into their efforts to locate the missing women or at least find out what happened to them. Not surprisingly, this does not go well.

As usual, Higgins (whose real name was Harry Patterson) does a great job with the setting, vividly portraying the beauties and the dangers—mostly the dangers—of the Amazon rainforest. His characters are well-developed, none of them completely sympathetic or truly evil. The romantic triangle that develops between Mallory, Hannah, and the young American woman is believable and handled in a realistic fashion. And of course, there’s plenty of action, both in the jungle and in the skies above it. The problem in this book, if there is one, is that the plot is fairly thin and sort of meanders along without any real twists. The one late development that takes Mallory by surprise has been pretty obvious to the reader all along.

But that wasn’t enough to detract from my overall enjoyment of the book. The last section is very suspenseful and then it all comes to a fitting conclusion. I had a good time reading THE LAST PLACE GOD MADE, but I’ve read enough by Jack Higgins in the past that I wasn't surprised by that. I’m sure I’ll be reading more by him in the future, especially more of those early novels before he was a household name. This one is still in print from Amazon in both e-book and paperback editions.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Novels Magazine, October 1940

I don't know who did this cover, but the guy in the eyepatch is certainly sinister-looking. It's safe to say that Norman A. Daniels wrote more than half of this issue since both of the lead "novels" are by him: a Crimson Mask story under the pseudonym Frank Johnson and a Candid Camera Kid story under the pseudonym John L. Benton. I really like the Candid Camera Kid series. The Crimson Mask stories are about two-fisted pharmacist and part-time crimefighter Robert "Doc" Clarke. I've read one or two of them and they're okay, slickly written as always with Daniels' work. Other stories in this issue are by the prodigiously prolific Arthur J. Burks, a forgotten pulpster named Robert Gordon, and Rod Brink, whose story here is his only credit in the Fictionmags Index. He may well have been Norman Daniels, too. 

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Lariat Story Magazine, April 1935

This issue of LARIAT STORY MAGAZINE sports a nice dramatic cover by Emery Clarke (who also did a bunch of Doc Savage covers in the late Thirties and early Forties) and a really strong group of authors inside. There are stories by Walt Coburn, Eugene Cunningham, James P. Olsen, Bennett Foster, Richard Wormser, Ralph Condon, house-name John Starr, and Fred J. Jackson, unknown to me but who wrote hundreds of stories in a career that lasted from 1906 to 1937. That's a good long run! Coburn, Cunningham, and Olsen are favorites of mine and Foster and Wormser were dependable pulpsters, as well. Plenty of good reading in this issue, I'll bet.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Malibu Burning - Lee Goldberg

Lee Goldberg is one of the best thriller authors in the business and proves it again with MALIBU BURNING, the first book in a new series featuring a team of arson investigators for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Walter Sharpe is a veteran when it comes to figuring out the source of fires, a Sherlock Holmes of arson. Andrew Walker is Sharpe’s new partner, a former U.S. Marshal who has switched jobs because he’s promised his pregnant wife that he’ll do something safer than chasing down fugitives.

I think we can all guess how that’s going to work out.

On the opposite side of this equation from Sharpe and Walker is Danny Cole, a brilliant con man and master thief who was arrested by Walker at one time in the past and became a convict firefighter. This background gives Danny the idea for a spectacular heist when he gets out, and also provides him with a motive for revenge on a wealthy businessman who has a huge mansion in the Malibu hills. All Danny has to do is reunite his old team and set a few huge wildfires . . .

With some flashbacks to Danny working out his plan and setting things up, in classic heist novel fashion, Goldberg keeps things racing along at such a pace, and in such smooth prose, that it’s almost impossible to stop reading in this novel. I stayed up late to finish it, which is almost unheard of for me these days. Us old guys need our sleep! But giving up a little of it was well worthwhile because MALIBU BURNING barrels along to a great climax and a very satisfying ending. I thoroughly enjoyed it and give it a very high recommendation. It’ll be available from Amazon in e-book and paperback editions on September 1, but you can pre-order it now.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Slaves of the Blood Wolves - Robert Weinberg, ed.

This is a modern-day reprint published by Wildside Press of a collection originally edited and published by Robert Weinberg in 1979 that reprinted four Weird Menace pulp stories from the Thirties. The Weinberg edition has a very nice cover by Stephen Fabian that the Wildside Press reprint also uses. This collection features four authors who were million-words-a-year guys, or close to it, anyway.

The author who leads off this collection, Arthur J. Burks, definitely produced more than a million words a year for a number of years during the pulp era. He wrote all types of stories, as well: detective, aviation, adventure, science fiction, even a few Westerns and sports yarns. He was a prolific contributor to the Weird Menace pulps. His story “Slaves of the Blood Wolves” appeared in the December 1935 issue of TERROR TALES. It’s about a doctor and nurse flying into a blizzard to reach a remote Canadian settlement where the doctor’s father once lived. The people there are beset by two calamities: a mysterious wasting disease and the threat from a horde of starving, blood-hungry wolves. Things turn nasty quickly, as you might expect. Unlike most Weird Menace stories, there’s no real mystery or Scooby Doo ending in this one, just pure action and horror. It’s well-written but maybe a little too over the top for my tastes. (Yes, such a thing is possible, believe it or not.)

Wyatt Blassingame had a great career in the pulps, writing hundreds of detective, Western, and sports stories in addition to being one of the leading authors of Weird Menace yarns. His novelette “Satan Sends a Woman” appeared in the January 1936 issue of TERROR TALES. In it, two-fisted adventurer Ed Roland explores a sinister Alabama swamp where several men have disappeared. The swamp is also the only way to reach an area of the coast where a ship carrying a fortune in pearls is supposed to have run aground some years earlier. Not only does Roland have to deal with the regular dangers that a swamp poses (snakes, alligators, quicksand, etc.), but he also encounters a strangely beautiful young woman who may not be what she seems. Like the Burks yarn that precedes it in this collection, “Satan Sends a Woman” doesn’t really follow the Weird Menace formula, but it’s well-written and gallops along in an entertaining fashion. I’ve read quite a few stories by Blassingame in the past few years and always enjoy his work.

Norvell Page is best known for writing most of the Spider novels, of course, but he wrote a bunch of other stuff for the pulps, including stories for some of the Weird Menace magazines. His novella “The Red Eye of Rin-Po-Che” appeared in the November 1939 issue of DIME MYSTERY MAGAZINE. Its protagonist is globe-trotting Irish adventurer Moriarity O’Moore, who is in a New York City nightclub one evening when a beautiful young woman jumps up from a table as he’s passing by, throws her arms around him, and kisses him like he’s her long-lost lover. Only thing is, O’Moore has never laid eyes on her before. But the man she’s with is a sinister-looking bozo, and when she begs O’Moore for help, you know he’s going to play along with the gag, whatever it is. And so off we gallop into a yarn that’s almost non-stop action as O’Moore battles to save a beautiful girl and a fabulously valuable ruby from the evil clutches of some cultists and their high priest. As with the first two stories in this collection, “The Red Eye of Rin-Po-Che” isn’t a standard Weird Menace yarn, either, and it probably would have been more at home in a detective pulp or some magazine like ARGOSY. But I’m not complaining, because this is a great tale that reminds us Norvell Page was one of the top action writers in the pulps, right up there with Robert E. Howard and Lester Dent. There’s a second Moriarty O’Moore story, “The Red Eye of Kali”, which also appeared in DIME MYSTERY a year later, in the November 1940 issue, but it appears never to have been reprinted.

This collection wraps up with “Girl of the Goat-God” by Arthur Leo Zagat, one of the top names in Weird Menace pulps and also the author of numerous detective, science fiction, and adventure yarns. Originally published in the November 1935 issue of DIME MYSTERY MAGAZINE, this story actually does fall firmly within the usual Weird Menace boundaries: there’s a sinister old house with some sinister gardens, a statue of Pan that may be coming to life and killing people, a swamp, a beautiful young woman with a menacing aunt, a stalwart hero who loves the girl, and a herd of goats that stampedes at the worst possible time. All of it told in Zagat’s slick, breathless prose that makes the pages just race by. Anybody who has read many Weird Menace stories will figure out the ending pretty quickly, but that doesn’t matter. The fun lies in how Zagat gets there, and it’s a lot of fun indeed.

As we’ve seen, SLAVES OF THE BLOOD WOLVES isn’t really that representative of the Weird Menace genre, but every story in it is very well-written and highly entertaining. My favorite is the Norvell Page yarn with its fantastic action and pace, but the other stories are all well worth reading as well. For pulp fans, I give this collection a high recommendation.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Dime Detective Magazine, November 1945

I love Sam Cherry's Western pulp covers--and he did a lot of 'em!--but he painted quite a few non-Western covers, too, and they're all very good like this one on an issue of DIME DETECTIVE MAGAZINE. That fellow looks a lot like Boris Karloff to me. The group of authors inside is a strong one, too, with T.T. Flynn, D.L. Champion, and G.T. Fleming-Roberts leading the way, plus a couple of lesser-known authors in Fergus Truslow (a distinctive name, but not anyone whose work I've ever read as far as I recall) and Jean Prentice (her only credit in the Fictionmags Index). Flynn, Champion, Fleming-Roberts, and Cherry are plenty to make this issue noteworthy.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Mammoth Western, December 1948

That's certainly an eye-catching cover by Arnold Kohn on this issue of MAMMOTH WESTERN. The line-up of authors inside is a little eye-catching, too, but not for the reason you might expect. There's not a single author in this issue who's really known as a Western writer. Paul W. Fairman is the closest thing to that. Some of the others are Ziff-Davis house names: S.M. Tenneshaw, Alexander Blade, G.H. Irwin. The rest are science fiction authors: Don Wilcox (who has two stories in this issue, one under his own name and one as Max Overton) and Charles Recour (who was really Henry Bott). Which is not to say that the stories are bad, I really don't know. I don't own this issue and it doesn't appear to be on-line, so I'll probably never find out. But I do like the cover.

Friday, August 11, 2023

The Fugitive Trail - Zane Grey

As I’ve mentioned before, the elementary school I attended didn’t have a library, but each room had a shelf of books in it that the students could borrow and read. I have no doubt that the teachers provided those books themselves. When I was in fourth or fifth grade, one of the books in our room was THE MYSTERIOUS RIDER by Zane Grey. I remember reading it, but that’s all I can tell you about it. The plot has faded completely from my mind. But I must have liked it because not long after that I got a copy of Grey’s THE LOST WAGON TRAIN from our little public library. I enjoyed it, too, and over the years I read more of Grey’s novels from the library and the bookmobile or in paperback editions picked up here and there. I don’t recall whom I started reading first—Grey, Max Brand, or Clarence E. Mulford—but those three were my introduction to Westerns for grown-ups. They were also the three big names in the genre during the first two decades of the Twentieth Century. I’m not forgetting Owen Wister, but despite Wister’s huge influence on the genre, he didn’t write nearly as much as those other three and wasn’t as much in the public eye. We tend to forget these days that, sales-wise, Zane Grey was the James Patterson/John Grisham/Stephen King of his time, and his books still sold very well all the way through the Sixties and Seventies.

Over the decades I read quite a few of Grey’s novels but nowhere near all of them, so I still pick one up now and then when I’m in the right mood. And Grey is definitely one of those writers I have to be in the mood for. His flowery, melodramatic, old-fashioned style makes his books difficult going for most modern readers. I’ve always been able to put myself in the mindset of readers from the first half of the Twentieth Century, though, so I still enjoy his books. For example, THE FUGITIVE TRAIL, which I just read.

This is one of the novels published after Grey’s death, but unlike today when popular authors continue producing new books long after they’ve passed on, Grey actually wrote his posthumous novels and left quite an inventory of them when he died of heart failure in 1939. It’s possible that his wife and son polished and fleshed out those manuscripts; I’m not enough of a Zane Grey scholar to say one way or the other. THE FUGITIVE TRAIL was published in 1957 by Harper & Brothers and has been reprinted in paperback editions many, many times.

Set in Texas in the late 1870s, it’s the story of former buffalo hunter and scout Bruce Lockheart, who allows himself to be blamed for a bank robbery that his wastrel twin brother really took part in. Bruce believes that the girl he loves, Trinity Spencer, is actually in love with his brother, so for her sake, he goes on the run and lets the law think he’s the owlhoot, not his twin. Such self-sacrifice in the name of love is common in Grey’s novels. I did mention that his books are a little old-fashioned.

Another well-worn plot element is that Trinity is a foundling, the only survivor of an apparent Indian attack when she was a baby. But is she really the orphan she appears to be, or does she have a family and a surprising fate waiting for her somewhere in the vastness of the Texas frontier?

And what about Quade Belton, the gambler/outlaw who got Bruce’s brother in trouble to start with? Do you think he might show up somewhere later on and cause more trouble for Bruce and Trinity, who are actually in love with each other although they won’t admit it at first?

The first half of THE FUGITIVE TRAIL is an epic chase yarn that covers a span of several years while Bruce is trying to avoid being captured or killed by the Texas Rangers and Trinity is trying to find him, since she’s realized she’s in love with him, not his brother. The second half of the book settles down into a more standard battle-the-rustlers-and-save-the-ranch story driven very much by coincidence. One thing to remember about Grey’s work is that while he didn’t really invent most of these plot elements—credit for that goes more to Wister and Mulford—he was one of the earliest practitioners of them. What seems stereotypical to us was much fresher in those days, and that’s the way you have to approach Grey’s novels.

Although the romance angle is a huge part of the plot, as it usually was in his books, there’s a lot of action, too, including numerous shootouts and chase scenes and a dramatic, large-scale battle at the end. Grey may be known these days more for his descriptive prose and his convoluted romances than anything else, but when he wanted to, he could burn powder pretty darned good, too.

THE FUGITIVE TRAIL isn’t one of Grey’s better-known novels, and it’s not a classic like RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE or DESERT GOLD, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. If you like very traditional Westerns, you might, as well.

Wednesday, August 09, 2023

Six-Gun Legends - Jim Beard and John C. Bruening, eds.

I’ve known about this Western anthology and have been looking forward to it for a while. SIX-GUN LEGENDS certainly doesn’t disappoint. Editors Jim Beard and John C. Bruening have assembled a collection of brand-new Western novellas featuring characters who have achieved legendary status on the frontier, the sort of characters who might have starred in pulps, paperbacks, or movies and TV shows. These are all new characters, not the classic ones you might be thinking of from the past, and their exploits are highly entertaining.

This anthology is anchored by three of the best writers in the business today: Jeffrey J. Mariotte, Will Murray, and Terrence McCauley. Here’s the line-up:

Introduction: Return With Us Now to Those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear – Jim Beard

The Widowmaker in “Dead Man Walking” by Jeffrey J. Mariotte

The Outlaw Moore in “Blazing Guns, Rolling Death” by Christopher Ryan

El Halcon in “An Affair of Honor” by Duane Spurlock

Mr. and Mrs. Smith & Wesson in “Boot Hill Bondage” by Jim Beard

Porlock in “Porlock’s Gold” by Trevor Holliday

Judge Colt in “The Law of Judge Colt” by Will Murray

The Six-Gun Spectre in “Last Stand at Cedarwood” by John C. Bruening

Deacon Beck in “Five Brothers” by Fred Adams Jr.

Buckskin Alice in “The Trail to Lumley’s Roose” by Terry Alexander

Lt. Aaron Mackey in “Some Choose Honor” by Terrence McCauley

All the stories are good, but I have my favorites, of course. “Dead Man Walking” by Jeffrey J. Mariotte is a clever yarn about a hired killer called the Widowmaker who accomplishes his murderous assignments in an unusual fashion. Mr. and Mrs. Smith & Wesson (that’s them on the excellent cover by Ted Hammond) are a pair of married gunfighters and adventurers in co-editor Jim Beard’s action-packed story, and they’re very likable protagonists. Will Murray gives us Judge Colt, an eerie figure of vengeance whose outfit is reminiscent of The Shadow. The Six-Gun Spectre, in co-editor John C. Bruening’s story, is also very Shadow-like, and the ending of this one is very satisfying. Terrence McCauley’s story is a prequel to his popular series of novels starring lawman Aaron Mackey and finds Mackey as a young lieutenant in the cavalry, posted to Arizona and fighting Apaches.

SIX-GUN LEGENDS is a really strong anthology with an intriguing concept and a good bunch of authors and stories. If you’re a Western fan, I give it a high recommendation. It’s available in trade paperback and e-book editions.

Monday, August 07, 2023

Conan the Barbarian #1 - Jim Zub and Roberto de la Torre

I was a regular reader of the comics CONAN THE BARBARIAN and THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN back in the Seventies and Eighties. I still remember how excited I was when I spotted a copy of CONAN THE BARBARIAN #1 on the comics rack in a little convenience store in my hometown. In those days we didn’t know months in advance what comics were coming out. I didn’t even know Marvel had a Conan series in the works. But being a huge fan of Robert E. Howard’s work, I grabbed that issue and thoroughly enjoyed the story by Roy Thomas and the art by Barry Windsor-Smith, although he may have still been billed as Barry Smith at that point. (As an aside, I don’t recall ever purchasing another comic book at that particular store. I didn’t stop in there very often.) When SSOC came out, I bought most of the issues at Lester’s Pharmacy, my main comics source. Great stuff all around, including the articles about Howard and his work by a guy named Fred Blosser, who I’m honored to call my friend all these years later.

When Dark Horse started publishing Conan comics 18 years ago (That long? Really?) with scripts by Kurt Busiek and art by Cary Nord, I read and enjoyed the trade paperback collecting the first several issues. My review of it is here. But I didn’t continue reading that version and haven’t even sampled any of the issues from other publishers since then. I was out of the loop, as they say, when it comes to Conan and comics.

But then, having seen several mentions of it, on a whim I picked up a digital copy of the first issue of a new Conan series from Titan Comics. CONAN THE BARBARIAN #1 is written by Jim Zub, an author I know nothing about, with art by Roberto de la Torre, another unknown to me, and a main cover (there are numerous variants) by Dan Panosian, whom I’ve at least heard of. Now that you’ve waded through all the obligatory nostalgia above, what did I think of this new comic, you ask?

Well, I liked it. Quite a bit, in fact.

Zub’s script finds Conan still a relatively young man but with several years of mercenary experience behind him, heading back to his homeland of Cimmeria for a visit. He’s still in northern Aquilonia, stopping over at a tavern where he gets in a fight with the captain of the mercenary company he belongs to, and then a Pictish warrior woman shows up with the unhappy news that a horde of demon-possessed Picts are about to swarm over the place and kill them all. Much hacking and slashing ensues before the issue ends on a cliffhanger of sorts.

I get the feeling that Zub’s Conan isn’t quite REH’s character, but pretty darned close. Don’t ask me for specifics, it’s more of a gut feeling, but although I’m confident that Zub has read the original stories, his Conan seems filtered through all the previous Conan comics stories by Roy Thomas, Chuck Dixon, and a dozen or more other writers. But as I said, he comes close, close enough that I found the character believable and engaging. De la Torre’s artwork is very influenced by John Buscema, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Buscema’s Conan is the definitive comics version of the character. Honestly, even when I’m reading Howard’s original stories, Buscema’s Conan is who I see in my head. So I’m pleased with de la Torre has done here. The variant covers, many of which are included with the digital edition I read, are very good, too.

Overall, I found the new CONAN THE BARBARIAN to be the equal of any of the previous versions not written by Thomas or Dixon, and I enjoyed it enough that I’ve already pre-ordered the second issue. If you’re a fan of Conan comics, you definitely should check it out.

Sunday, August 06, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Fantastic Story Magazine, Winter 1952

The artist for this cover is unattributed in the usual online sources. The presence of a space babe in a skimpy outfit makes me think immediately of Earle Bergey, but something about this one seems like it's not Bergey's work. If anyone has any more information, it will be much appreciated, as always. Whoever painted it, it's a great cover and I really like it. FANTASTIC STORY MAGAZINE was edited by Samuel Mines at this point in its run, and the contents are a mixture of new stories and reprints. The reprints in this issue are by David H. Keller (one of the early big names in science fiction), Wesley Arnold (don't know that name at all), and Gordon A. Giles (who was really Otto Binder). The new stories are by L. Sprague de Camp, Mack Reynolds, Robert Moore Williams, and H.B. Fyfe. That's not a bad line-up, although hardly a star-studded one. The whole issue is on the Internet Archive, if you want to check it out for yourself.

Saturday, August 05, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Fighting Western, June 1946

More proof, as if we needed it, of how dangerous it was to go to the barber shop in the Old West. I'm pretty sure this cover is by H.W. Scott, who did most of them for FIGHTING WESTERN during this era. Since this was a Trojan Publishing Corporation pulp, it's not surprising that a couple of the authors were also stalwart contributors to the Spicy/Speed pulps. E. Hoffmann Price is on hand with a Simon Bolivar Grimes story, and Victor Rousseau has two stories, one under his own name and one as by Lew Merrill. Prolific Western pulpster and genuine cowboy Chuck Martin is in these pages, too, and there's a Johnny Hardluck story by Branch Carter, apparently that author's real name. Who's Johnny Hardluck, you ask? I don't know since I've never read any of the stories about him, but Carter wrote nine Johnny Hardluck yarns, all of which appeared in 10 STORY WESTERN except this one, which happens to be the second in the series. I may have some of his 10 STORY WESTERN appearances; I'll have to check and see.

Friday, August 04, 2023

Blue Mascara Tears - James McKimmey

The original 1965 Ballantine edition of James McKimmey’s novel BLUE MASCARA TEARS sports one of my favorite Ron Lesser covers (see below). If I’d seen this on a spinner rack back then, I would have had to buy it. As it is, I just read the new Stark House reprint of the book, in a double volume with 24 HOURS TO KILL, which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago. So this is my second McKimmey novel, but it certainly won’t be my last.

BLUE MASCARA TEARS is a hardboiled cop novel centering around Inspector Jack Cummings, who works in a big city that I think is probably San Francisco, although McKimmey doesn’t ever specify that. Cummings is investigating two cases, the murder of a gambler who was gunned down in his hotel room by an intruder who stole a wad of money from him and the rape of a neighborhood teenage girl. At the same time, he’s carrying out a vendetta of sorts against gangster Knocko Cutter, whom Cummings blames for the gambler’s murder even though he has an alibi. Knocko is protected by higher-ups in the police department, so Cummings has to battle that corruption, too, as he tries to get to the bottom of the two cases.

This book races along until about two-thirds of the way through when it suddenly appears that Cummings has solved everything. Ah, but then there’s a suspicious suicide that Cummings believes is murder, and in a way the whole thing starts again. The suspense ratchets up more and more until McKimmey really had me turning to the pages to get to the very emotional ending.

BLUE MASCARA TEARS is an excellent novel with a complicated protagonist. Is Cummings right about Knocko Cutter’s involvement with the crimes, or is he too obsessed with getting the gangster and letting that cloud his judgment? Is he so afraid of the corruption rubbing off on him that he sees it where there isn’t any? These questions lurk in the back of the reader’s mind, and even Cummings sometimes questions his own objectivity. This is a pretty philosophical book for a hardboiled crime novel, but McKimmey never lets it bog down with navel-gazing. It stays tough and fast all the way through. I give it a high recommendation, especially since you can get it in that double volume with an equally compelling yarn, 24 HOURS TO KILL.


Wednesday, August 02, 2023

Draw the Curtain Close - Thomas B. Dewey

Thomas B. Dewey’s series about a hardboiled Chicago private detective known as Mac was fairly popular back in the Sixties. The hardbacks showed up often on library shelves, and paperback reprints were common on the spinner racks in the drugstores and grocery stores. I read quite a few of them and enjoyed them all, but more than fifty years later it’s hard to remember which ones I’ve read and which I haven’t. Not that it really matters, because I’ve decided to read and/or reread the series in order, rather than haphazardly like I did back then.

The first Mac novel is DRAW THE CURTAIN CLOSE, published originally in hardback by Jefferson House in 1947 and reprinted in various paperback editions. Like the rest of the series, it’s now available as an e-book on Amazon from Wildside Press, which is the edition I read. I’m reasonably sure I’d never read this one before.

It opens with Mac being summoned to the mansion of a powerful gangster modeled somewhat after Al Capone. He wants to hire Mac to protect his estranged wife from some unspecified danger. At least, that’s what he tells Mac, but when he turns down the job, it quickly becomes obvious that something else is going on. He meets the gangster’s beautiful nightclub singer mistress, some hoods pay him a visit, and the first of several murders takes place. Whether he wants to be or not, Mac is involved with this case, so for the next twenty-four hours, he spends a lot of time driving around Chicago, getting grabbed and beaten up by various tough guys, helping out and possibly falling for the gangster’s wife, and trying to figure out what a valuable Gutenberg bible has to do with all these seedy but dangerous characters.

The MacGuffin, when it’s finally revealed, comes sort of out of left field. Not quite to the warning track, but almost. But I’m not sure that matters, since the reader has had a good time getting there. Mac’s first-person narration is really good, reminiscent of Hammett’s Continental Op stories with a little bit of Frederick Nebel thrown in. There’s plenty of good action. As I recall, as the series goes on it gets less hardboiled, more Ross Macdonald than Hammett or Nebel, but that’s certainly okay, too.

If you’ve never read any of this series, I marked a passage I like that will give you a good example of Dewey’s style and the character:

“Call me Mac,” I said. “I’m just a guy. I go around and get in jams and then try to figure a way out of them. I work hard. I don’t make very much money and most people insult me one way or another. I’m thirty-eight years old, a fairly good shot with small arms, slow-thinking but thorough and very dirty in a clinch.”

That’s good stuff, the kind of thing that kept me reading fifty years ago and still does. If you’re a fan of hardboiled detective novels and haven’t made Mac’s acquaintance, you really need to, and DRAW THE CURTAIN CLOSE is a fine place to start.

As for me, I’m looking forward to the next one in the series, EVERY BET’S A SURE THING, since I know I have read that one and there’s even a story that goes with it . . . but we’ll get to that.