Saturday, September 30, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Aces, June 1942

This is kind of an unusual issue of WESTERN ACES because it doesn't have a story by J. Edward Leithead in it. His yarns appeared in almost every issue of WESTERN ACES during the Forties, sometimes several in an issue under his real name and pseudonyms. It seemed that way, anyway, which is okay with me because I really like his work. But even though there's no Leithead, this issue does have a good cover by Norman Saunders and a lead story by one of my other favorite Western authors, Walker A. Tompkins. Also on hand are Tom J. Hopkins, Stephen Payne, Orlando Rigoni, R.S. Lerch, and a handful of lesser-known pulpsters. I've enjoyed every issue of WESTERN ACES I've ever read and I'm sure this one is entertaining, as well.

Friday, September 29, 2023

Conan: Lord of the Mount - Stephen Graham Jones

CONAN: LORD OF THE MOUNT by Stephen Graham Jones is the first in a new series of short stories and novellas based on characters created by Robert E. Howard, written by various hands and published by Titan Books. I avoided reading any reviews of it after it was published earlier this week until I’d had a chance to read it myself, but I couldn’t help but be aware that the reaction to it has been somewhat mixed.

The story starts out with Conan waking up after a battle, apparently the only survivor from the force he was aligned with, falling in with a lotus addict who’s driving a small group of cows to market, getting sidetracked to a deserted castle where a man-eating beast supposedly lives, and battling said beast. That’s the extent of the plot.

I had never read anything by Stephen Graham Jones and was only vaguely familiar with his name, knowing him to be an author of horror novels. Not necessarily somebody I’d think of as writing a Conan pastiche. I don’t doubt that he likes the character and is a fan of Robert E. Howard’s work, but to be honest, for a couple of reasons I think he misses the mark in LORD OF THE MOUNT.

The first reason is the pacing. The story is slow to develop with the first half just meandering along, not much happening except that Jones does lay the groundwork for some plot developments that come along later. He does so without any of the characters actually doing anything other than talking, though. Howard didn’t always start his stories with action, but there’s always something happening in an REH yarn, some sense of movement and suspense. I didn’t find any of that in the opening scenes of LORD OF THE MOUNT.

The other problem I have with this story is that I think Jones doesn’t quite have Conan’s character down. I can’t provide specifics without getting into spoiler territory, but during the battle with the monster there’s one moment when Conan does something that seems totally out of character for him, and in the end of the story he comes across to me as wantonly, unnecessarily cruel. Not that he wouldn’t have gotten his revenge on someone who wronged him, but the way he goes about it doesn’t ring true to me.

Now that I think about it, I believe the nature of the threat Conan faces could have been developed a bit more, too.

All that said, the battle is quite good for the most part, and except for those two moments that jumped out at me, Conan’s dialogue works fairly well. Jones’s description of the abandoned castle is excellent, and the pace does pick up nicely in the second half of the story. LORD OF THE MOUNT isn’t terrible, by any means, but it’s not really to my taste, either. If you want to check it out and form your own opinion—and if you’re a Howard fan, you probably should—it’s available as an e-book on Amazon.

Overall, I’m pleased that Titan Books is launching this series of new stories based on Howard’s characters. I’m an REH purist in that I think his original work should be available and not tampered with by modern-day editing. When I first became involved in Howard fandom nearly thirty years ago, very little of Howard’s work was in print, and none of his Conan stories were available in new editions. In fact, they were being suppressed by various corporate entities. This has changed over the years, of course. Just about everything Howard wrote can be found now in textually accurate editions. I have no objection to pastiches in general. It would be pretty hypocritical of me to take that stance, considering how many millions of words I’ve written using characters, settings, and situations created by other authors. So I’m fine with Howard pastiches and will continue to read the ones that interest me.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Coming Soon: Texas Bushwhack - James Reasoner

In the Texas panhandle, a stagecoach full of passengers rolls southward over lonely, dangerous trails. A group of buffalo hunters led by a brutal, ruthless killer stalks one of the last of the great herds of the shaggy beasts. And a Comanche war party under the command of the legendary chief Quanah sets out to drive the white invaders from their lands.

These three groups will come together in a frenzy of fire, blood, and death in TEXAS BUSHWHACK, the latest Western from bestselling author James Reasoner. Full of violent action and compelling characters, this is a novel sure to please readers of traditional Western tales.

(This will be out next week but it's up for pre-order now.)

Monday, September 25, 2023

The Chronicles of Hanuvar #1: Lord of a Shattered Land - Howard Andrew Jones

I’ve been online friends with Howard Andrew Jones for a number of years now and have enjoyed his essays on various pulp-related subjects on his own blog and in various other places. He was one of the first people I came across who was also a fan of the Ki-Gor series from JUNGLE STORIES, for example. But I’d never read any of his fiction until now. I picked up LORD OF A SHATTERED LAND, the first book in his new series THE CHRONICLES OF HANUVAR, and tackled it, although it’s considerably longer than the books I normally read.

This series is loosely based on the wars between Rome and Carthage, with Derva being Rome, Volanus being Carthage, and Hanuvar being Hannibal. But that’s just a starting point as Jones creates a very different world from our own, one with dragons and sorcerers and monsters and spirits, and the events in Hanuvar’s life don’t play out the same way Hannibal’s did. Hanuvar is both the political and military leader of Volanus, but as the book opens he’s believed to be dead following the conclusion of the third war between Derva and Volanus. But Hanuvar actually survived the death of the dragon he was riding and a plunge into the sea, and now, alone and friendless, he sets out to rescue the survivors of his people and take them to the colony of New Volanus, which he started across the ocean several years earlier.

LORD OF A SHATTERED LAND is a fix-up novel comprised of fourteen novelettes and novellas, some of which were published previously in magazines and anthologies, and this episodic nature really works in its favor, allowing Jones to keep the story moving at a good pace as we follow Hanuvar on his quest. So many books like this are full of padding, but LORD OF A SHATTERED LAND really isn’t. Each section builds on the previous tales as Hanuvar gathers information, makes friends, battles both new threats and old, travels with a circus, and finally, at the end of the book, positions himself to launch the next step of his plan to free his people. This novel has an epic feel to it that works very well.

As for the stories—the characters, the writing, the action—I felt like I was reading Robert E. Howard in the Lancer editions, Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories in the Ace editions, John Jake’s original Brak the Barbarian stories in the Avon paperback, and even good old Thongor in the first Ace edition of Lin Carter’s THE WIZARD OF LEMURIA. In other words, I was right back there in the Sixties, sitting on my parents’ front porch, having a spectacularly good time reading rousing sword and sorcery yarns. LORD OF A SHATTERED LAND is that good. Better than Jakes and Carter, for my money, and if it doesn’t quite rise to the level of Howard and Leiber . . . well, those guys have nostalgia going for them, too, while Jones’ novel is brand new. In time, as I continue reading the Hanuvar books (the second one will be out next month, and I already have it pre-ordered), he may give those giants a run for their money. I can’t wait to find out. If you’re a fan of sword and sorcery fiction, this one has my highest recommendation. It's available in ebook and hardcover editions.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Astounding Science-Fiction, November 1941

Hubert Rogers did some good covers for the issues of ASTOUNDING SCIENCE-FICTION that had Lensman stories by E.E. "Doc" Smith in them. This issue features the opening installment of the novel SECOND STAGE LENSMAN. Other authors of note in this issue are Eric Frank Russell (I've enjoyed everything I've read by him, I need to read more), L. Sprague de Camp, Malcolm Jameson, John Hawkins, and forgotten SF authors E.A. Grosser and Oliver Saari (forgotten by me, anyway, or more precisely, I don't recall ever hearing of them before). Even though when it comes to Forties science fiction my tastes run more toward STARTLING STORIES, THRILLING WONDER STORIES, and PLANET STORIES, there was a lot of classic work published in ASTOUNDING.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Max Brand's Western Magazine, July 1952

MAX BRAND'S WESTERN MAGAZINE started out as a reprint pulp, using older stories not only by Frederick Faust under his Max Brand pseudonym and other pen-names but also stories by other Western pulpsters. As time went on, though, the magazine published more and more new stories. By the time the July 1952 issue came out, there was only one reprint in the Table of Contents, a John Colohan story from the July 1936 issue of DIME WESTERN. Authors with new stories in this issue include Philip Ketchum, Ray Townsend, Lee Floren, Allan K. Echols, Cy Kees, Robert L. Trimnell, and Marvin De Vries. Most of those may not be big names, but they published regularly in the Western pulps. And that dramatic cover, which I like, is by H.W. Scott.

Friday, September 22, 2023

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

I really enjoyed the first two collections of Will Murray’s Sherlock Holmes stories. He pulls out all the stops in THE WILD ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, VOLUME THREE, which reprints (with one exception) stories that were published originally in various Holmes anthologies.

That exception is the centerpiece of the book, a never-before-published novella that finds Holmes, his brother Mycroft, and Dr. Watson battling H.G. Wells’ Martian invaders in a second war of the worlds. This is a great yarn that also features a cameo appearance, of sorts, of a Jules Verne character.

But that’s not all you get in the way of crossovers. Holmes also encounters Frank L. Packard’s Jimmie Dale, the Gray Seal, one of the first masked crimefighters with a secret identity who was an influence on Batman, The Shadow, The Spider, The Green Hornet, and numerous other characters. There’s a fateful meeting between Holmes and H.P. Lovecraft’s Herbert West, Reanimator. Colonel Richard Savage, the inspiration for Doc Savage, makes a return appearance in the series as well.

In addition to those stories, Murray creates his own recurring villain for Holmes to cross swords with, metaphorically speaking. While Giles Greengold may not equal Professor Moriarty as Holmes’ mortal enemy, he’s pretty darned villainous and proves to be a worthy opponent in several stories.

THE WILD ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, VOLUME THREE is the best of these collections so far, and that’s saying quite a bit. If you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan, I give it a very high recommendation. It's available in e-book and paperback editions. I had a great time reading it.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Blood In Your Eye - Robert Patrick Wilmot

First of all, Steve Considine is a great name for a fictional private detective. I mean, just say it out loud: “Steve Considine, Private Eye.” With a name like that, what else could the guy be? A gunfighter in a 1950s Western paperback, maybe. But he really needs to be packing a gat and making his way down rain-wet, big city streets.

Which Steve Considine does in Robert Patrick Wilmot’s debut novel BLOOD IN YOUR EYE, published in hardback by Lippincott in 1952 and reprinted in paperback by Pocket Books in 1953. Steve, who narrates the book, isn’t a lone wolf private eye. He’s an operative for Confidential Investigations, which caters to wealthy, upper-crust clients. His boss is Mike Zacharias. As this book opens on a rainy day in New York, the agency is hired to make sure that the alcoholic scion of a rich family makes it to England all right, where he’s going to get a drying-out treatment from a fancy doctor. Steve is given the job of babysitting the lush until the next day, then accompanying him to England on a plane. But wouldn’t you know it? Before that can happen, the lush witnesses a murder and then disappears, and Steve has to find him before the killer can locate him and rub him out so he can’t spill his guts to the cops.

Naturally, there are some beautiful dames involved, two of them in fact: a rich blonde who’s in love with the drunk guy, and a gorgeous brunette who’s either a kindergarten teacher or a high-class call girl . . . or could she maybe be both? Steve also has to contend with a hired killer and various goons. In classic private eye fashion, he gets beaten up and knocked out more than once.

Then, three-quarters of the way through the book, the plot takes an abrupt left turn into a storyline that seems completely unrelated at first, but any veteran reader of PI novels is going to suspect that eventually everything will be tied together, and I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to tell you that’s exactly what happens, leading to a genuinely suspenseful climax.

Robert Patrick Wilmot made quite a splash, publishing three novels (all featuring Steve Considine) and half a dozen stories in MANHUNT and THE SATURDAY EVENING POST, all during a short stretch from 1952 to 1954, plus one last MANHUNT story in 1965. The books got good reviews and the stories were well-received. But then that was it for Wilmot’s writing career, for some reason unknown to me.

BLOOD IN YOUR EYE, which I read in the Pocket Books edition with a cover by James Meese, seems like a book that would be right up my alley. And at times it is. There are some good action scenes here and there and some nice tough-guy dialogue, but I have to be honest with you: I didn’t like this book very much. Steve Considine isn’t a very compelling protagonist and too much of the book just plods along. The plot seems too thin most of the way and then abruptly gets extremely complicated at the end. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a terrible novel, but I don’t get the critics’ comparisons to Raymond Chandler at all. Chandler had a much more interesting and entertaining voice than what Wilmot displays here.

I have the second book in the series, MURDER ON MONDAY, and there’s a good chance I’ll read it sooner or later . . . but there’s also a chance I may never get around to it, based on my disappointment with BLOOD IN YOUR EYE.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy, May 11, 1940

This issue is a good example of why ARGOSY was a great magazine, even in the later years of its pulp run. Start with a good cover by Rudolph Belarski that promises action, and follow that inside with stories by E. Hoffmann Price, Theodore Roscoe, Murray Leinster, Robert Arthur, Charles Marquis Warren, Willliam Du Bois, and forgotten pulpster William Templeton. The only drawback, as usual, is that two of the stories are serial installments (Warren and Du Bois) and you're out of luck if you don't have the other parts. Well, in Warren's case you're not completely out of luck because his serial "Bugles Are For Soldiers" was reprinted as a novel, used copies of which are readily available. The title was changed, and I honestly don't remember which of Warren's Western novels it is, either ONLY THE VALIANT or VALLEY OF THE SHADOW. But I know it's one of them because at one point I had both the serial version and the novel version. And this will come as no surprise, I never got around to reading either of them. Warren is supposed to have been a pretty good writer. He wrote, produced, and/or directed a number of Western movies and TV shows, including GUNSMOKE and RAWHIDE.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: 2 Western-Action Books, Winter 1951

Double covers are usually pretty good. There's still enough room for a decent scene, while the triple covers (such as on the Thrilling Group's TRIPLE WESTERN) are often too small to be very effective. I like this double cover on the Winter 1951 issue of 2 WESTERN-ACTION BOOKS. I don't know the artist(s). I believe this is a Fiction House pulp, although officially it was published by Fight Stories Inc. As you'd expect from the title, there are only two stories in it, both novellas. One is by Lee Floren, not a favorite author of mine but one capable of decent work. The other is by Dave Ricks, and it's his only credit in the Fictionmags Index. My sneaking suspicion is that the name is a pseudonym, possibly for Lee Floren since he has the other story in this issue. But I don't know and would be happy to learn more about him, if any of you have any info.

Friday, September 15, 2023

The Gunman and the Actress - Chap O'Keefe (Keith Chapman)

I’ve read several books featuring Chap O’Keefe’s range detective character Joshua Dillard and always enjoyed them. Dillard is a former Pinkerton agent who quit that agency after his wife’s murder at the hands of an outlaw gang he was pursuing. Now he’s a drifter, hiring out his gun and his detective skills and usually winding up taking hard luck cases that put him in danger and never net him much profit.

In THE GUNMAN AND THE ACTRESS, Dillard’s second recorded case, originally published in 1995 by Robert Hale as part of the Black Horse Western line and now available in a revised and expanded e-book edition, he’s hired by a theater impresario to protect the scandalous French actress Giséle Bourdette, who is on a tour of the West with her troupe, putting on shows at various frontier opera houses. Dillard joins the troupe in Argos City, Texas, where they will perform at a fancy new opera house built by the local cattle baron.

That cattle baron has a beautiful, headstrong daughter who dislikes the potential husband her father has picked out for her, and there’s a gang of Mexican bandits raising havoc in the borderlands, too. Both of those things will complicate Joshua Dillard’s efforts to keep Giséle safe and incidentally protect the proceeds from her tour, and he also has to navigate an unexpected passionate affair with the actress.

Chap O’Keefe, who is really veteran author and editor Keith Chapman, is a fine storyteller and keeps the action moving along at a very nice pace in THE GUNMAN AND THE ACTRESS. Joshua Dillard’s adventures always play a bit like hardboiled detective yarns set in the Old West, and this one is no exception. Chapman throws in a number of plot twists and brings everything to a suitably rousing climax. I had a lot of fun reading THE GUNMAN AND THE ACTRESS, and if you’re a traditional Western fan, there’s a good chance you will, too. Recommended.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

The Flying Z - Leo W. Banks

Leo W. Banks is the author of two critically acclaimed thrillers featuring former professional baseball player turned trailer park owner Whip Stark, DOUBLE WIDE and CHAMPAGNE COWBOYS, and a stand-alone about politics, crime, and corruption called ,45-CALIBER PERFUME. All of them are set in Arizona, as is his fourth novel THE FLYING Z, which also happens to be the first book I’ve read by Banks.

As you might or might not guess from the title, the Flying Z is the name of a ranch. Specifically, a ranch not far above the Arizona/Mexico border which has been home to the Zachary family for generations. Will Zachary and his uncle Buck, along with a colorful cast of friends and employees, are trying to keep it going despite a bad economy and the growing encroachments of drug smugglers working for the Mexican cartels. Then one day, a beautiful young grad student driving across the country to Stanford decides to follow an Arizona dirt road looking for a brief adventure and finds much more than she bargained for, turning Will Zachary’s life upside down in the process.

That’s the set-up. So what does THE FLYING Z turn into from there? Is it a romance? Well, not exactly, although the love story between Will Zachary and Merry O’Hara is at the heart of it and is handled with skill and sensitivity. Is it a modern-day Western? That’s a little closer, since there’s plenty of ridin’ and shootin’ and cowboyin’. Is it a crime thriller? I suppose, since Will’s violent clashes with the cartel and uncovering the identity of a murderer all play important parts in the plot. Or is it maybe a fantasy, since some things that have no reasonable explanation are crucial to how everything turns out? In a lot of scenes where Banks is writing about life on the ranch and in the nearby small town, THE FLYING Z reads very much like a mainstream literary novel because of his deft touch with character, setting, and dialogue.

I don’t know, and with some books, such questions are more for marketing purposes than anything else. I can tell you what I think THE FLYING Z is.

It's one of the best books I’ve read this year. You should read it. It's available in paperback and e-book editions.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

The Old Way (2023)

What can I say? I like Nicolas Cage movies. They’re not always great or even good, but they’re usually interesting. THE OLD WAY is his first Western. He plays a ruthless, deadly hired gun who puts all that behind him, settles down, runs a store, marries, and has a daughter. With a set-up like that, what do you think is going to happen? Maybe some threat from his past is going to reappear with tragic consequences and force him to strap on his guns again? Admit it, you’d be disappointed if that didn’t happen. I certainly would have been.

Luckily, in THE OLD WAY we get that classic revenge plot as the son of a man Cage’s character killed twenty years earlier shows up looking to settle the score. He’s an outlaw who has three other owlhoots with him, and they wreak bloody havoc when they come calling. The script by Carl W. Lucas throws an unexpected twist into the story, though, as Cage is forced to take his 12-year-old daughter along with him on his vengeance quest. He’s really not suited for parenting, but when it comes to teaching somebody how to survive, he’s pretty good at that.

THE OLD WAY has a lot of things going for it. Brett Donowho’s direction keeps things moving along at a nice brisk pace, and the movie looks great with its Montana scenery and excellent photography. The cast is top-notch with Nick Searcy playing a federal marshal on the trail of the same outlaws Cage is seeking, Clint Howard (who I still remember as a very little kid actor!) as a grizzled old owlhoot, Abraham Benrubi as another member of the gang, and Ryan Kiera Armstrong, who absolutely steals the movie as Cage’s daughter. By the end of it, you’ll believe that a 12-year-old girl can be a badass when she needs to be, and there are some funny scenes along the way that demonstrate how the character has inherited some of her father’s borderline sociopathic tendencies.

I really enjoyed THE OLD WAY. It’s a well-made traditional Western with a few oddball qualities, and I found it very entertaining and well worth watching.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Private Detective Stories, May 1939

H.L. Parkhurst provides the eye-catching cover for this issue of PRIVATE DETECTIVE STORIES. "Intimate Revelations of Private Investigators", indeed! The cover story by Roger Torrey is a novella, and knowing Torrey's work, it's probably good. There's also a novelette by Edwin Truett Long writing as Dale Boyd, a novelette by Howard Wandrei writing as Robert A. Garron, and a couple of stories by forgotten pulpsters George Shute and James H.S. Moynahan. Quite a few issues of PRIVATE DETECTIVE STORIES can be found on-line, but this doesn't appear to be one of them. Looks like an issue worth reading if you ever come across a copy. 

Saturday, September 09, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Star Western, April 1936

A dramatic cover by Walter Baumhofer graces this issue of STAR WESTERN, my favorite Western pulp published by Popular Publications. A look at the authors inside will tell you why I feel that way: T.T. Flynn, Ray Nafziger, Luke Short, W. Ryerson Johnson, Robert E. Mahaffey (twice, with a short story and a novelette), William F. Bragg, and Foster-Harris. I also like STAR WESTERN because it ran more novellas and novelettes than short stories. I like short stories just fine, but I think the novella is just about the perfect length for all types of genre fiction.

Friday, September 08, 2023

Tex: The Lonesome Rider - Claudio Nizzi and Joe Kubert

Joe Kubert was one of the first comic book artists whose style I could recognize immediately, based on my reading of his Sgt. Rock stories in OUR ARMY AT WAR and then a little later the Enemy Ace stories in various DC war comics. I loved his work in those comics and then later when DC began publishing TARZAN and Kubert both wrote and drew the stories.

A recent discussion on the WesternPulps email group about Western comics published in Europe reminded me that about twenty years ago, Kubert illustrated a long graphic novel about Tex Willer, a Western hero who’s been appearing in Italian comics for more than fifty years. TEX: THE LONESOME RIDER is one of the few Tex Willer stories that’s available in English, and I’d been meaning to read it, so I found an affordable copy on-line and ordered it.

Tex is both a Texas Ranger and an honorary chief of the Navajo tribe, but that’s really all I know about him. In this book, he’s out of his usual bailiwick since he’s going to visit some old friends of his, a married couple with a beautiful daughter. But when Tex arrives at their ranch, he discovers that the whole family has been murdered by four hardcase drifters. He sets off on their trail after burying his friends and vowing to avenge them.

The script by veteran TEX writer Claudio Nizzi plays very much like a Spaghetti Western movie (well, duh) or a Piccadilly Cowboys paperback from the Seventies. Tex trails one of the killers to a town run by the outlaw’s brother and a corrupt sheriff. Another section of the book takes Tex to a showdown in a ghost town, and then he ventures into an Apache village where he winds up fighting for his life against another of his quarry. There’s nothing in this story that Western readers haven’t seen many, many times before, but of course, how well it’s executed means everything.

And this is where Kubert comes in. His art is extraordinary and lifts a competent script into an excellent Western graphic novel. TEX: THE LONESOME RIDER is printed in black and white, which allows Kubert to make very effective use of light and shadow and contrast. His storytelling is fantastic, which you’d expect from someone with many decades of experience in the comics business. With some comics artists, I have to look at a page multiple times and ask myself what’s happening there, but not with Kubert. The action flows clearly and effortlessly from panel to panel. His close-ups, especially in scenes where Tex steps out of the shadows to confront his enemies, are very effective. I expected to like the art in this book, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

I suspect that as an introduction to Tex Willer, THE LONESOME RIDER isn’t very typical of the character, but I enjoyed it very much and think it’s well worth reading for Western comics fans. I already have several more English-language collections from the Italian comics and I’m looking forward to reading them so that I can get a sample of Tex’s regular adventures.

Thursday, September 07, 2023

Now Available: 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!

Since I retired from editing and publishing and have cut back on my ghostwriting commitments, I've had more time to work on books of my own. As a result, if all goes as planned over the next few years, you're going to see quite a few more books with my name on them, starting with this one. I have a lot in the works--Westerns, crime novels, a private detective series that Livia and I are working on, science fiction/space opera . . . I might even dust off that sword and sorcery novella I started a while back and finish it. At my age, if I'm going to get these books written, I'd better go ahead and do it! I've never been very good about promoting my own work, but I'll try to get the word out whenever I have something new. For now, I think WEST TEXAS BLOOD FEUD is a pretty good Western yarn (see how I oversell it there?), and I hope some of you will give it a try and enjoy it. It's available on Amazon.

Wednesday, September 06, 2023

Conan the Barbarian #2: Bound in Black Stone, Part 2 - Jim Zub and Rob de la Torre

I've read the second issue of the new CONAN THE BARBARIAN comic book and continue to be very impressed. This is Part 2 of the storyline "Bound in Black Stone", which finds Conan, still a relatively young mercenary and adventurer, and his companion, the Pictish female scout Brissa, on the run from and battling a horde of undead warriors flooding north from Aquilonia into Cimmeria.

Jim Zub's script is very good, striking a perfect balance between dialogue and captions. I'm no expert on modern comics, as I've said many times, but my impression is that captions are somewhat frowned upon by many of today's writers. That makes Zub's effective use of them very refreshing to me. I grew up reading Stan Lee, remember, and Stan wrote great captions. So did most of the other comics scripters of the Sixties and Seventies.

Rob de la Torre's art continues to be fantastic. His storytelling and attention to detail are excellent. Like Zub's writing, de la Torre's art really fits this character.

If I have one quibble, it's a very minor one. The necessity to write story arcs that can be reprinted in trade paperbacks sometimes leads to a slower pace than I like. So far this hasn't been a real problem in this series, but I do feel that the story could move along just a little faster. But that feeling hasn't detracted from my enjoyment, and based on the three issues I've read so far (I read the Free Comic Book Day prequel but didn't blog about it), I give CONAN THE BARBARIAN a very high recommendation directed at long-time fans and newcomers alike. I read the digital edition of the second issue, and I've already pre-ordered the third issue.

Monday, September 04, 2023

A Gunfight Too Many - Chap O'Keefe (Keith Chapman)

When it comes to popular fiction, Keith Chapman is something of a treasure. He’s a long-time reader and commenter on this blog, of course, but beyond that he’s a writer and editor whose career stretches back 60-some-odd years, to the days of Sexton Blake and EDGAR WALLACE MYSTERY MAGAZINE, of which he was the founding editor. Over the years he’s also been a prolific author of fine Western novels under the pseudonym Chap O’Keefe, many of them published originally as Black Horse Westerns by Robert Hale. The good news for Western readers is that quite a few of those novels are available again as e-books, and more are in the works.

The latest of these is A GUNFIGHT TOO MANY, originally published by Hale in 2008 and reprinted in large print by Ulverscroft in 2009. I really like that title, and it’s fitting, too, because the protagonist is Sheriff Sam Hammond, an aging lawman who wonders if he’s lost enough of his edge that one of these days he’ll come up against some badman who’s faster on the draw than he is and lose his life in a gunfight too many.

That worry doesn’t relieve Sam of his devotion to duty, though, and his job as sheriff becomes more complicated—and more dangerous—when a detective shows up in Rainbow City on the trail of an elusive, notorious bank robber known as Dick Slick. Is it possible that this ruthless outlaw is hiding out in plain sight in Sam Hammond’s bailiwick, posing as a respectable citizen?

Sam has to deal not only with that problem but also with a beautiful widow who has her sights set on him, an equally beautiful rancher’s daughter, a deputy who’s wounded and laid up for a spell, and various rustlers. Everything leads up to a spectacular underground showdown in an abandoned mine.

As you’d expect from his background, Chapman is an excellent yarn-spinner and storyteller. He writes books that are just plain fun to read, and A GUNFIGHT TOO MANY is no exception. The action moves along at a good pace and Sam Hammond is a really likable protagonist. The villains are properly despicable, as they need to be in a book like this. I had a fine time reading this novel and think most traditional Western fans would agree. The e-book edition is available on Amazon and several other platforms, which you can find here.

By the way, the cover artist is Duncan McMillan, and this painting appeared originally on the February 4, 1931 issue of the pulp WEST. Just one more indication that Keith Chapman is working in a legendary tradition.

Sunday, September 03, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Short Stories, October 10, 1935

This issue of SHORT STORIES features a good French Foreign Legion cover by Pete Kuhlhoff, although he's credited as E.H. Kuhlhoff. He was a good artist, as you can see here, but he's best remembered as a gun expert who contributed scores of articles and columns on the subject to various pulps. This issue has an excellent group of writers inside, as well: Clarence E. Mulford, Frank Richardson Pierce, J. Allan Dunn, James B. Hendryx, Bob Du Soe, Richard Howells Watkins, Henry Herbert Knibbs, and forgotten pulpsters Perry Adams, Alexander Lake, and Don Cameron Shafer. Plenty of good reading in those pages, I'll bet.

Saturday, September 02, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Smashing Western, June 1939

All right, who's the artist on this SMASHING WESTERN cover? There's a big letter "R" down in the lower left corner, but is that the artist's initial, or just something written on there by somebody who owned that copy at some time in the past? My first thought was A. Leslie Ross because of that hat brim, but Ross often signed his covers and his signature doesn't look like the letter on this one. The man's face reminds me a little of Walter Baumhofer or Tom Lovell without convincing me it's either of them. Many of you are better at artist IDs than I am, so I'm hoping someone knows. As far as what's inside this pulp, there are stories by three excellent Western authors--E.B. Mann, Wayne D. Overholser, and C. William Harrison--and two house names, James Rourke and Cliff Campbell. According to the Fictionmags Index, Abner J. Sundell wrote the Cliff Campbell story. I believe Campbell started out as a personal pseudonym for Sundell before becoming a house name later on. I like the cover and that's a good bunch of authors, making me think this is probably a pretty good issue.

UPDATE: This cover is definitely by A. Leslie Ross. See the comments for more info. 

Friday, September 01, 2023

Any Man's Girl - Basil Heatter

The girl of the title in this book is Lucinda Perky, a beautiful young blonde who lives at a fishing camp on Lake Okeechobee in Florida that’s run by her husband Russ. Unfortunately for Lucinda, she’s dead before the book even begins, raped and murdered, and her husband has been arrested for the crime.

Living not too far away are Dan Waxman, a scientist from New York who has come to Florida to try to perfect a new system of hydroponic farming, and his wife Martine (who goes by Marty), a lawyer who has given up her practice to accompany Dan to Florida. The Waxmans are acquainted with Russ Perky and his wife, and Marty decides she’s going to be Russ’s lawyer and defend him against the charge of murdering Lucinda. The rest of ANY MAN’S GIRL, a novel by Basil Heatter published originally by Gold Medal in 1961, revolves around Marty’s investigation into the case and her gradual uncovering of Lucinda’s past and several other suspects, all of it leading up to some extremely suspenseful scenes at the end that really had me turning the pages to find out what was going to happen.

Heatter, the son of radio commentator Gabriel Heatter, does a fine job cutting back and forth between his large cast of characters. Marty Waxman is the nominal protagonist of ANY MAN’S GIRL, but Heatter takes the reader inside the head of just about all the other characters involved in the story. This is a well-written book that does a fine job of capturing the setting and the people. Heatter does seem to be a bit biased against the South and Southerners, but I suppose given the time period and the fact that he was New England born and bred, that’s understandable.

This is a well-constructed suspense novel with some really nasty plot twists along the way. I never read anything by Heatter, although his name is familiar. I plan to give some of his other books a try. ANY MAN’S GIRL is being reprinted by Black Gat Books and is available for pre-order on Amazon. It’s a really good yarn, and if you’re a crime fiction fan, it’s well worth reading.