Tuesday, October 31, 2023

The Curse of the Harcourts - Chandler H. Whipple

Since today is Halloween, I want to post about a classic horror yarn that not all that many people are familiar with. But a lot of pulp fans are. I’m speaking, of course, of THE CURSE OF THE HARCOURTS by Chandler Whipple, a collection of six grisly, bone-chilling novelettes originally published in the Weird Menace pulp DIME MYSTERY MAGAZINE in 1935 that fit together to form one compelling narrative. These stories were reprinted several years ago by Altus Press in handsome trade paperback and e-book editions.

As John Pelan points out in his excellent introduction, despite being published in DIME MYSTERY, these are not traditional Weird Menace stories. They have historical settings, blatantly supernatural plot elements, and a high degree of graphic violence that isn’t explained away in the end by some logical resolution. No, these are straight out, full speed, blood and thunder horror yarns . . . which happens to be the kind I like best.

The first story, “The Son of Darkness”, appeared in the February 1935 issue of DIME MYSTERY. Set in Normandy, it tells of the visit of an Italian nobleman, Count Pirelli, to the castle of Baron d’Harcourt and his family in the year 1000 (approximately). The baron welcomes Pirelli and even throws a party to celebrate his visit, but when the count tries to seduce d’Harcourt’s daughter, the baron whips him, humiliates him, and throws him out. That causes Pirelli to curse d’Harcourt and all his family and vow to exterminate them from the face of the earth, no matter how long it takes. Since it turns out that Pirelli is in league with Satan and probably can’t be killed, that’s liable to take a while, but he gets a good start on his bloody vengeance in this story.

Two hundred years have passed by the time of “Curse of the Harcourts” from the March 1935 issue. The d’Harcourt family is now English, and the current head of the family, Sir Henry d’Harcourt is in charge of a castle on the border between England and Wales which is besieged by an army of Welsh rebels. Then the castle is infiltrated by Druid sorcerers bent on revenge against the family for disrespecting their gods, revenge that involves human sacrifice and a literal trip to Hell for Henry.

Two hundred years after that, in “Shadow of the Plague” (April 1935), the Harcourt family now lives in London during the time of the Black Plague, and the evil entity that has stalked them through time takes advantage of that deadly disease to further his vengeance.

By the time of “White Lady of Hell” (June 1935), the Harcourt family has shrunk to three—a brother and sister and their mother—and has been exiled to Florence because of political intrigue in England. More than a hundred years has passed since the previous story, but you can bet that the evil Pirelli, who was Florence originally and made his deal with the Devil there, will show up again, and so he does, with the Harcourt siblings barely surviving to carry on the line. Not with each other, mind you. These stories are pretty lurid, but they don’t go quite that far.

In “A Child for Satan”, which originally appeared in the September 1935 issue of DIME MYSTERY, we learn that there were Harcourts living in Salem at the time of the witch trials, because, well, sure, why not? This is the only story in the series with a female protagonist, a young woman who is married to a Harcourt and has an infant son with him. But the evil Count Pirelli wants the child for Satan and will resort to any evil means to get him. In some respects, despite the supernatural menace of the Count, this one does bear more of a resemblance to a typical Weird Menace yarn.

The series concludes with “The Last Harcourt” (October 1935), which takes place in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts in 1932 and features the final showdown between the Harcourts and the satanic Count Pirelli. That showdown has a pretty epic feel to it, too, and then Whipple gives us a nice little twist in the ending.

I enjoyed this series, but I have to give it a qualified recommendation, that qualification being that if you want to read it for Halloween, start at the beginning of October and space out the stories over the entire month, rather than reading the whole thing in less than a week like I did. The sameness of the plots tends to weaken them, and the relentless parade of torture, misery, and death is just overwhelming. I think the series would be more effective with plenty of time between installments, the way the readers of DIME MYSTERY encountered it back in 1935. That said, if you’re a pulp fan, I really think you ought to read THE CURSE OF THE HARCOURTS, because I’ve never run across anything else exactly like it in the pulps. (The art on all those issues of DIME MYSTERY MAGAZINE is by Walter M. Baumhofer, by the way.)

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Fantastic Adventures, October 1942

I don't think J. Allen St. John's cover on this issue of FANTASTIC ADVENTURES is one of his best, but it's still pretty darned good and is intriguing enough to make me want to read the story it illustrates, so I guess it did its job. The whole issue is on-line here, along with lots of other issues of FANTASTIC ADVENTURES. Will I ever get around to reading it? Who knows? But there's a good group of writers inside including Robert Bloch, Nelson S. Bond, Don Wilcox, Ross Rocklynne, Leroy Yerxa, Dwight V. Swain (writing as Clark South), James Norman, and Robert Moore Williams (writing as Russell Storm). The lead novel is by house-name E.K. Jarvis, so there's really no telling who actually wrote that one.  

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Thrilling Western, March 1953

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. That’s my copy in the scan. I’m not sure who did the cover. There’s a signature in the lower left corner that seems to match the signature of an obscure artist named J.G. Hame, whose only credit in the Fictionmags Index is the cover on the November 10, 1950 issue of RANCH ROMANCES. I can’t find anything online about Hame. Maybe some of you know more.

The lead novella in this issue is almost long enough to be considered an actual novel. “Boom-Town Bonanza” (no hyphen on the cover, but it’s there in the TOC and the text) is by Ray Townsend, a dependably entertaining Western pulp author. As you’d expect from the title, it’s a mining yarn. In the early days after the Civil War, ex-Confederate Jim Sheldon comes to Nevada in answer to a summons from his old friend who has found a profitable silver claim. But no sooner does Jim arrive than his friend is gunned down and he finds himself involved in a war between the two big mine owners (one of whom is a beautiful woman) and the owners of the smaller mines (one of whom has a beautiful daughter). It’s basically a range war story, only with mines instead of cattle, and not surprisingly, Townsend does a good job with it. His characters are well-drawn, as is the setting, and the action scenes are excellent. My only complaint is that some aspects of the plot seem to be glossed over rather quickly, as if Townsend had trouble fitting everything into 35,000 words. Townsend’s career was short, only about eight years, but in that time he produced nearly 100 pulp stories and four novels. I plan to read more by him.

I don’t know anything about Don Peterson except that he published two Western stories and had one story in WEIRD TALES, all in the early Fifties. His story in this issue, “Cradled in Hell”, is a really bleak yarn about a stagecoach shotgun guard captured by a gang of Mexican bandits. It’s fairly well-written and it doesn’t end the way I expected it to (always a plus), but it’s so dark I found it more admirable than enjoyable.

“Land of No Surrender” is the only credit for Ray Conley in the Fictionmags Index. I don’t know if that name is a pseudonym or if this is the only story he ever sold. It’s about a crippled Pawnee warrior who seeks redemption and acceptance in a battle against the Sioux. A little on the predictable side, but not a bad story.

Ben Smith’s name is familiar to me mostly from the Western novels he wrote for Ace and Bantam, but he also wrote several dozen stories for the Western pulps in the Forties and Fifties. His novelette in this issue, “Bridge of the Eagle”, is the first thing by him that I’ve read, as far as I remember. In it, drifting cowpoke Johnny Quinn is in Arizona Territory when he gets his horse stolen from him and then a short time later is arrested for holding up a stagecoach and killing the guard. He winds up escaping from jail with a hardened killer who’s on his way to join a gang holed up in an isolated stronghold in the mountains along the border. It’s a colorful, fast-moving yarn, and Smith manages to tie up the various threads of the plot in a way that makes sense. I enjoyed it enough that it made me want to dig out more of Smith’s work. I know I have an Ace Double around here somewhere with half of it by him . . .

“Mama Rides the Norther” is by one of my favorite Western authors, Lewis B. Patten, but it’s not a typical Patten story with noir elements. Instead it’s more of a homespun frontier drama about a married couple and their two young children who leave a life in the city to establish a homestead on the Great Plains. It’s well-written and somewhat suspenseful when a blizzard blows in, but overall a pretty minor entry considering the author.

The issue wraps up with “Turn Home Again”, a short story by J.L. Bouma about a dissatisfied young farm boy who wants to leave home . . . until he has an encounter with an outlaw on the run and a posse. Bouma had a long, prolific career writing for the pulps and as a Western paperbacker, as well as writing other types of novels. I’ve always found his work to be dependably good without being outstanding. That’s the case with this story, which is enjoyable to read and comes to a satisfactory conclusion. I doubt if it’ll be very memorable, though.

Overall, this is about as middle-of-the-road an issue of a Western pulp as you’ll ever find, good but not great stories, but no stinkers, either. It’s worth reading if you have a copy, especially the Townsend and Smith stories.

Friday, October 27, 2023

The Soft Whisper of the Dead - Charles L. Grant

I haven’t forgotten that Halloween is coming up and that I usually read at least a little horror fiction at this time of year. I’ve read a few novels by Charles L. Grant over the years and enjoyed them. He wrote mostly what some people call “quiet horror”, which is generally a little too slow-paced for my taste, so I’ve never considered him a favorite of mine. However, I was intrigued by a trilogy he wrote as a tribute to the great Universal and Hammer horror films of the past and recently read the first one in that series, THE SOFT WHISPER OF THE DEAD.

A lot of Grant’s fiction is set in the small Connecticut town of Oxrun Station, but in the modern day. This novel is the first Oxrun Station book set in historical times, 1881, to be precise. The daughter of one of the town’s richest men is expecting a visit from a childhood friend, but when the young woman arrives, she brings some unexpected companions: a giant wolf, some mysterious flying thing, and a tall, dark, sinister European count named Brastov. Our heroine has to cope not only with these vague threats but also a romantic triangle that includes a dashing young businessman and a police detective whose father is the chief of the local force.

Grant isn’t trying to break any new ground here. He’s just having fun writing an old-fashioned horror yarn, complete with some bloody murders, a lot of lurking around, and an action-packed finale. Well, actually, that finale could have used a little more action. I found it to be not as dramatic and over-the-top as I would have liked. Also, Grant has a habit in this book of skipping over important scenes and then summarizing them later. I think it would have been more effective to have some of that on-screen, so to speak. It’s been long enough since I read any of his other work that I don’t know if that’s a regular technique of his, but it happens enough in this book that I found it distracting.

That said, I enjoyed THE SOFT WHISPER OF THE DEAD. It has a nice, playful sense of fun about it, a feeling that Grant is winking at the reader and expecting the reader to wink back. I believe his heart was in the right place when he wrote this, and I certainly had a good enough time reading it that I intend to read the other two books in the trilogy.

This book was published originally in hardcover in 1982 by Donald M. Grant (no relation, as Charles Grant points out in his foreword), reprinted in paperback by Berkley in 1987, and is currently available from Amazon in an e-book edition published by Crossroad Press.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Acapulco G.P.O. - Day Keene

(Since Black Gat Books has just reprinted this novel, it seems like a good time for me to repost my review of it from 15 years ago. This post originally appeared in slightly different form on August 29, 2008.)

Day Keene, whose real name was Gunard Hjertstedt, started his writing career in the pulps and went on to become one of the most reliably entertaining authors of paperback suspense novels for Gold Medal and other publishers during the Fifties. In the Sixties, in addition to his crime and suspense novels, he also began writing glossy soap opera-type novels. ACAPULCO G.P.O., from 1967, fits quite nicely in that category.

Not that there’s no crime and suspense in this novel. There’s plenty, as there is in any good soap opera. Centered around Acapulco and a nearby former fishing village that’s now home to a number of wealthy jet-setters, Keene spins a yarn with a large cast and a number of intersecting storylines. Among the characters are a former Red Chinese army general who defected and wound up in Mexico, a beautiful movie star whose popularity has faded (you’ve got to have one of those in a book of this type), an angst-ridden artist and his model wife, and numerous horny teenagers. As for plotlines, you get drug smuggling, prostitution, kidnapping, murder, and lots of sex to go along with the crime and violence. Make no mistake about it, this is a lurid book.

Which, of course, is part of its guilty-pleasure appeal. Keene knows what he’s doing and does it extremely well. The storytelling skills he honed in the pulps keep things moving at a very fast pace, and then he springs a late twist in the outcome of one of the storylines that took me completely by surprise. ACAPULCO G.P.O. is well worth reading.

(The Black Gat Books reprint is available from Amazon in both paperback and e-book editions.)

Monday, October 23, 2023

Priestess of the Fire-Gods - Steve Dilks

Still in the mood for sword and sorcery, I decided to give Steve Dilks’ character Gunthar a try. “Priestess of the Fire-Gods” is the opening novella in the collection GUNTHAR: WARRIOR OF THE LOST WORLD. Gunthar is a brawny, blond-haired warrior, thief, and mercenary from the northern steppes of his world—which may or may not be Earth in the far, post-apocalyptic future. In this story, he’s hired by a priestess to steal an idol from the temple of a rival cult and deliver it to her on her private island where she’s surrounded by warrior women. Naturally, he and a beautiful young woman who falls in with him are pursued by the evil high priest from whom he stole the idol. The whole thing turns out to be involved with a sorcerous threat that could destroy the world in which they live.

This novella is a lot of fun. There’s a decent level of characterization and world-building, but no real info-dumps like you might expect in the first story of a series. Instead, Dilks gives you just enough information for everything to make sense without ever interfering with the headlong pace. The action never slows down for long in this yarn, and it’s well-written action, at that. The prose is maybe a little unpolished at times, but the story’s sheer enthusiasm more than makes up for that. I also found Gunthar to be a very likable protagonist.

I really enjoyed “Priestess of the Fire-Gods” and look forward to reading the other stories in this collection, which you can find on Amazon in both e-book and paperback editions. Based on what I’ve read so far, I give it a solid recommendation for sword and sorcery fans.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Dime Detective Magazine, August 1936

Yikes! What a disturbing cover by Walter Baumhofer for this issue of DIME DETECTIVE. I'm sure there are quite a few jolts in the stories, too. Authors in this issue include Fred MacIsaac (with a Rambler story), William E. Barrett (with a Needle Mike story), John K. Butler (with a "Tricky" Enright story--I'm not familiar with that character at all), Leslie T. White (with a Duke and Phyllis Martendel story--nope, don't know them, either), and forgotten pulpster Denslow M. Dade.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Texas Rangers, August 1951

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. That’s my copy in the scan. The cover is by Sam Cherry, of course.

The Jim Hatfield story in this issue, “Rustlers Ride”, has been attributed to A. Leslie Scott, but when I started reading it, I said, “Wait a minute. This has to be a Tom Curry story.” The first two chapters have all the hallmarks of a Hatfield yarn by Curry, including several scenes setting up the plot before Hatfield is ever introduced and a proxy hero in the person of stalwart young rancher Arch Haley. The prose is the straightforward storytelling of Curry, as well, lacking any of the descriptions and catch phrases you always find in Scott’s work.

Then, in Chapter 3, everything changes. The writing is definitely Scott’s, and that continues to the end of the novel. There are a number of plot twists that don’t turn out the way they seem to be set up in the first two chapters. If I had to guess, I’d say Tom Curry started this novel, and then for some unknown reason Scott took over with the third chapter. I could be ’way off on that theory, of course. This is pure speculation on my part. But it comes from reading a bunch of both authors’ work over the past 60 years.

Anyway, regardless of who wrote what, is “Rustlers Ride” a good Jim Hatfield novel? Yes, it is. Despite the title, rustling plays almost no part in this story. Instead, it’s about a gold strike in West Texas and the gang of outlaws preying on the mines and the nearby town. Hatfield foils numerous of the gang’s plans before finally figuring out who the mastermind is, and even though the big boss’s identity is pretty obvious, it still involves one of those nice twists mentioned above. The breakneck pace and the action scenes are good, as always. There’s nothing here Hatfield fans haven’t read many times before, but it’s done well and I had a really good time reading this story.

Moving on, Leslie Ernenwein’s short story “Outlaw Hunch” is about a former owlhoot gone straight and turned livery stable owner who has to consider a return to outlawry, but for noble reasons. This is a fairly lightweight, almost humorous story until it turns deadly serious near the end. I really like the way Ernenwein writes, and this is a very good story, reprinted from the March 1946 issue of THE RIO KID WESTERN. I need to read more of Ernenwein’s novels.

Wayne D. Overholser’s novelette “Traitors’ Blood is Red” originally appeared in the April 1947 issue of THRILLING WESTERN. Like much of Overholser’s work, it’s set in the Pacific Northwest. This story involves espionage and a conspiracy during the Civil War which, if it succeeds, will not only alter the course of the war but change the entire country as well. It’s an odd plot—you don’t often think of the Pacific Northwest in terms of being important to the Civil War, or at least I don’t—but Overholser makes it work. The writing is a little bland, but I find that to be true of most of Overholser’s stories.

Tom Curry appears under his own name with a short story original to this issue, “Stranger in Town”. A drifting gambler is blamed for a murder he didn’t commit and has to uncover the truth. It’s a fairly common plot, but Curry, always a dependable writer, does a good job with it.

I don’t know anything about Cibolo Ford except that he published several dozen stories in various Western pulps in the Thirties, Forties, and Fifties. The name has always sounded like a pseudonym to me, but I don’t know that it is. His story story “Widelooper Luck”, also original to this issue, features cowpokes Stony Lonesome and Stingaree Stanton helping their friend Gooble Nutter save his ranch from the evil scheming of lawyer J. Tubelo Zero. Those names were almost enough to make me skip this one, but I stuck with it and it’s actually okay. Mildly humorous, and I found myself liking the characters, which I didn’t expect to.

Barry Scobee is the only pulp writer to have a mountain named after him. It’s in the Davis Mountains in West Texas, near the town of Fort Davis. In addition to writing for the pulps, Scobee was a journalist and newspaper publisher and was instrumental in getting old Fort Davis, an abandoned military outpost from frontier days, restored and turned into a tourist attraction. His story in this issue, “Always Wanting Something”, is a reprint from the January 1946 issue of THE RIO KID WESTERN. It’s about a young cowboy at a turning point in his life, trying to figure out which direction to go, and is well written enough but never really very involving.

Best remembered for his Western poetry, S. Omar Barker turned out quite a bit of fiction as well. His story “Rowdy Romance”, as you’d expect from that title, is a humorous tale about a cowboy who sets aside his wild, devil-may-care ways in order to try to win a girl, only to have things turn out differently than he expects. Barker had an appealing way with words and the story is entertaining without ever really amounting to much. It’s a reprint from the December 1936 issue of THRILLING WESTERN.

There are also interior illustrations by H.L. Parkhurst and Nick Eggenhoffer, among other, unsigned illustrations.

I enjoyed this issue because “Rustlers Ride” is a slightly above-average Jim Hatfield novel and the short story by Leslie Ernenwein is pretty good. The other stories are highly forgettable. But I’m glad I read the Hatfield yarn.

Friday, October 20, 2023

Conan: Black Starlight

Having read John C. Hocking’s two Conan novels, CONAN AND THE EMERALD LOTUS and CONAN AND THE LIVING PLAGUE (both of which are soon to be published in an omnibus volume, by the way), I expected to like his novella BLACK STARLIGHT, the second in Titan Books’ new series of short fiction based on Robert E. Howard’s characters. I was not disappointed in the least.

BLACK STARLIGHT is a sequel to CONAN AND THE EMERALD LOTUS and finds Conan traveling with three companions: a powerful sorceress, her mute Khitan bodyguard/lover, and a beautiful, knife-throwing scribe. They arrived at a bordertown on the river Styx, intending to cross from Stygia to Shem, but the place turns out to be a ghost town full of dangers, and to survive they have to penetrate a powerful enemy’s stronghold on some cliffs overlooking the Styx.

Hocking’s Conan yarns always feature numerous supernatural menaces, and that’s certainly true in BLACK STARLIGHT. Several different kinds of evil, necromantic creatures threaten the Cimmerian and his friends, and the action scenes as Conan battles to survive are excellent. The sorcerous stuff is genuinely creepy, as well, providing a blend of adventure and horror that works really well. I raced through this novella and really enjoyed it.

BLACK STARLIGHT was serialized previously in one of the Conan comic book series, but since I wasn’t keeping up with the comics at that time, I vaguely knew of its existence but never read it. I’m glad Titan Books has brought it back and published it in stand-alone form. Not surprisingly, it’s one of the best Conan pastiches I’ve read. Available now and highly recommended.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

A Mystery, Crime & Noir Notebook - Gary Lovisi

I’ve known Gary Lovisi for more years than I like to think about and have been a fan of his work, both fiction and non-fiction, for all that time. His magazine PAPERBACK PARADE has been an indispensable resource for fans of genre fiction for decades, and his Gryphon Books imprint has published a lot of top-notch novels and collections in the mystery and science fiction fields.

His latest collection from Stark House, A MYSTERY, CRIME & NOIR NOTEBOOK, brings together approximately 50 articles and essays covering those title subjects. Originally published in a variety of magazines, anthologies, and collections, they concentrate mostly on vintage hardboiled paperbacks but discuss some newer books, too. (In this case, newer generally means 20 years old, instead of 50 or 60.) There are articles about specific publishers and many about particular authors. And lots and lots of beautiful cover reproductions, of course.

This is a wonderful book, perfect for dipping in and out of, although to be honest, I was so engrossed I went through most of it pretty quickly. It’s the sort of book where as I read it, I kept saying to myself “I have that one!” or “I read that one when I was a kid!” or “Oh, I have to find a copy of that one and read it!” I have a hunch most of you know exactly what I mean and would really enjoy A MYSTERY, CRIME & NOIR NOTEBOOK. It’s available on Amazon now. I give it a very high recommendation. It’s really a lot of fun.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

The Diehards - Dudley Dean (Dudley Dean McGaughey)

Brett Mackey, foreman of one of the largest ranches in the Big Bend, returns home after a cattle drive to find the area on the brink of a range war. Brett’s boss, cattle baron Port Riordan, had his eye on a neighboring spread whose owner had died. But a big eastern syndicate swooped in and bought the ranch out from under Riordan, then put ruthless Vance Bushard in charge of it. Bushard wants to take over Riordan’s ranch as well. To make matters even worse, Bushard also has his eye on the beautiful blonde Brett Mackey intends to marry. Put all these things together, and it’s bound to lead to shootin’.

Or not. Dudley Dean McGaughey, author of THE DIEHARDS, takes a very standard plot and puts a slightly different spin on it, delving deeper into the characterization of the people involved in it and less on the inevitable action. Make no mistake about it, that action is good, including several very brutal fistfights and a fair amount of gunplay. But this novel also features a lot of angst and brooding, which is okay if done well and McGaughey does a good job with it.

However, that focus on character slows down the story’s pace, and the other problem with THE DIEHARDS is related to that. This book has the most unlikable bunch of characters I’ve come across recently. Almost everybody in it is rotten in one way or another. Brett Mackey, the protagonist, is probably the most decent character, and even he comes across as stupid and gullible. The girl he’s in love with is incredibly annoying, and more than once, I wanted to grab Brett, shake him, and tell him to get on his horse and ride away while he had the chance. Some of the characters do become a little more sympathetic in the course of the book, but overall, it’s really, really bleak, which keeps me from putting it in the upper rank of McGaughey’s work.

McGaughey wrote Westerns as Dean Owen (his most common pseudonym), Dudley Dean, and Bret Sanders. He wrote crime novels as Owen Dudley and Hodge Evens and sleaze as Dean McCoy. Generally, I’ve found him to be one of the most dependable of the hardboiled Western writers of the Forties and Fifties. And THE DIEHARDS isn’t a total misfire. The action is excellent, as always, and the Big Bend setting is really good. If you’re a fan of McGaughey’s work, it’s worth reading. But if you’ve never read any of his books before, I sure wouldn’t start with this one.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Complete Northwest Magazine, July 1938

It seems like it's been a while since I posted a Mountie cover, so here's one I like by one of my favorite pulp and paperback cover artists, A. Leslie Ross. Since this cover features a Mountie, Ross couldn't give him a hat with an enormous brim, as he usually does on Western covers, but I like it anyway. Quite a bit to like inside this issue, too, as it features two stories by Harry Sinclair Drago, one under his name and one as by Will Ermine, as well as yarns by Murray Leinster, Charles H. Snow, C.V. Tench, and Zachary Strong (probably E.B. Mann). That's a good lineup.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: The Rio Kid Western, September 1951

I was reading quite a few pulps earlier this year, but I got covered up with other things and sidetracked from them for a while. I plan to read more of them between now and the end of the year, and the September 1951 issue of THE RIO KID WESTERN is a good place to start. That’s my battered, stained, spine-rolled copy in the scan. I’ll put a better scan from the Fictionmags Index at the bottom of the post, but I like to show you the actual copy I read whenever I can. I’m pretty sure the cover art is by George Rozen.

The Rio Kid has long been one of my favorite Western pulp series. For those of you unfamiliar with the character, the Rio Kid is Bob Pryor, a stalwart young Texan from the border country (hence his nickname). Pryor fought for the Union during the Civil War and rose to the rank of captain as a cavalry officer serving under General George Armstrong Custer. Returning to Texas after the war, he found that his parents have been killed by bandits. After avenging them, he sets off on a life of drifting and adventuring, accompanied by a sidekick he picks up in the course of the first novel, the dashing young Mexican Celestino Mireles. The gimmick of the series is that Pryor and Celestino always find themselves involved with historical characters and settings in adventures that, if they didn’t happen, could have—and should have. The series was created by veteran pulpster Tom Curry, written by Curry and numerous others, and ran for 76 issues from December 1939 to May 1953. Quite a few of the novels were reprinted in paperback during the Sixties and Seventies by Popular Library and Curtis Books.

The Rio Kid novel in this particular issue was written by D.B. Newton, who authored a few of these pulp character novels but is better remembered for his non-series Western pulp stories and a long career turning out hardback and paperback Western novels under his own name and the pseudonyms Dwight Bennett and Clement Hardin. He was a fine writer, a little more thoughtful and restrained than some of the pulpsters, but he could still bring the fast-paced action when he needed to. His last work was creating the Western series STAGECOACH STATION, packaged by Book Creations Inc. and published by Bantam under the house-name Hank Mitchum, and writing a number of the early novels in that series. As one of the various Hank Mitchums myself, I’ve always been pleased that I got to work on a series created by D.B. Newton.

But to get to “Scorpions of Silverado” at last, it’s set in the silver mining boomtown of Leadville, Colorado. Bob Pryor and Celestino Mireles are sent for by Dave Cook, the real-life founder of the Rocky Mountain Detective Agency, who has been hired to uncover the leader of a criminal gang wreaking havoc in the town. Pryor and Celestino do so, of course (the mastermind’s identity is no secret to the reader, having been revealed early on), but not before some shootouts, fistfights, a battle in an abandoned mine, and an attempted lynching. H.A.W. Tabor, Leadville’s leading citizen, is another historical figure who plays an important part in the story, although the bad guys are all fictional. It’s fast-moving fun, pretty lightweight but very entertaining. Also, while some modern readers might be offended by Celestino’s thick accent and his sidekick status, he’s really the dominant figure in this novel, doing most of the detective work and figuring out what’s really going on. I’ve always liked Celestino. He’s much more than the comedy relief some might take him for.

Next up is “Snake Charmer”, a short story by Robert J. Hogan. Best remembered for the G-8 series and other air war yarns, Hogan wrote a lot of Westerns, too, and was good at them. This story about a mining company payroll robbery and an old-timer who used to travel with a carnival is an entertaining story with some nice twists.

Clay Randall, author of the novelette “Make a Bigger Boot Hill” in this issue, was really Clifton Adams, one of the best of the hardboiled Western writers of the Forties, Fifties, and Sixties. This tale about a Texas Ranger pursuing the outlaws responsible for his wife’s death and catching up to them in a squalid bordertown is one of the few misfires by him that I’ve read. The writing is good and the characters are interesting, but the plot is pretty thin and somehow the story just never really engaged me.

The novelette “Kill-Crazy Trail” is by Reeve Walker, a Thrilling Group house name known to have been used by Walker A. Tompkins, Tom Curry, Charles N. Heckelmann, and Chuck Martin. Other authors probably used it as well. Having read the story under that name in this issue, I don’t know who wrote it, but I’m fairly confident it wasn’t any of the authors previously associated with the name unless possibly Heckelmann. It doesn’t read at all like the work of Tompkins, Curry, or Martin. However, this tale of a young rancher forced by circumstances and his own bad judgment to turn outlaw is a good one. Despite the bloodthirsty title, it’s actually a rather mild, heartwarming yarn with good characterization. I liked it quite a bit.

The issue wraps up with “Old Pete”, a short story by one of my favorite Western authors, A. Leslie Scott, writing here under his A. Leslie pseudonym. The title character is a roadrunner who plays a vital part in the showdown between a young lawman and a gang of bank robbers. The story doesn’t have much of the flowery description that’s a hallmark of Scott’s prose, but it does have some nice action and humor. He could spin a yarn, that’s for sure.

Overall, this is a solid issue of THE RIO KID WESTERN. None of the stories are great, but they’re all good. The Clifton Adams story is the weakest of the bunch (there’s a sentence I’ve never written before and possibly never will again), and it’s certainly not terrible, just not quite to my taste. Other readers might like it the best because Adams has a really nice hardboiled style. If you have this issue on your shelves, it’s well worth reading.

Friday, October 13, 2023

The Grave's in the Meadow - Manning Lee Stokes

Our narrator Dick Ludwell is a small-time reporter in Lake City (obviously based on Chicago but not Chicago, as that city is mentioned as well). Dick is an ambitious guy without an abundance of scruples, so he doesn’t see anything wrong with slipping a little info to the city’s mobsters now and then. But then one night he witnesses a hit on a boxer who refused to take a dive, and he knows his underworld connections won’t help him a bit. He’s marked for death, and he has to get out of town and hide out in a hurry.

The place he chooses for sanctuary is an abandoned farm that belonged to the late brother of Dick’s editor, who is also his best friend from childhood. Once he gets out in that rural environment, Dick encounters a variety of colorful characters, some of whom are not what they appear to be and all of whom have hidden agendas of their own.

Now, you’d think that would be enough for a book by itself, wouldn’t you? But Manning Lee Stokes, the author of THE GRAVE’S IN THE MEADOW, has other things in mind. It’s like he started writing this novel with the intention of springing a major plot twist every twenty or thirty pages. One of those twists about the middle of the book is so shocking that it had me turning back a page and going, “Wait . . . what?” And he keeps that up all the way to the end in this tale of murder, blackmail, bank robbery, and double-cross after double-cross. And the most amazing thing is that he makes all of it work. Everything hangs together, and the whole crazy yarn is spun in such smooth prose that I gulped it down in big chunks. THE GRAVE’S IN THE MEADOW is truly a page-turner, all the way to the satisfying ending.

I’ve seen books like this referred to as “one damn thing after another”, and that’s a pretty good description. In our house, when we’re watching some movie or TV show and there’s a wild, over-the-top, almost ludicrous plot twist, we always say, “Sure, why not?” Well, THE GRAVE’S IN THE MEADOW is a “Sure, why not?” book. But as I said, Stokes makes it work, and ultimately, that’s all that counts.

Stokes had a decent career in the Forties and Fifties writing mysteries, Westerns, and soft-core sleaze novels under his own name and as Kermit Welles, Kirk Westley, and Ford Worth. THE GRAVE’S IN THE MEADOW was published in hardcover in 1959 by Arcadia House and reprinted in paperback in 1961 by Dell. Arcadia House was primarily a library publisher, and because of that there’s no sex or bad language in this novel, but it manages to be pretty sordid anyway. A few years after it was published, Stokes went to work for book packager Lyle Kenyon Engel and became one of Engel’s regular writers, turning out books in a number of different house-name series, including Nick Carter, Killmaster; John Eagle, Expeditor; the Aquanauts; and Richard Blade. I read all of Stokes’ Nick Carter books back in high school and enjoyed them, although at the time I had no idea he was the actual author, of course. He passed away in 1976.

I’d read so many good reviews of THE GRAVE’S IN THE MEADOW that I really thought it would be difficult for the book to live up to its reputation. But this is one of those rare cases where it actually does. This is a great suspense novel, one of the best books I’ve read this year, and would be a fine candidate for a reprint edition.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Repost and RIP: The Sleazy Side of the Street - Guest Blog by Brian Ritt

I just saw on Facebook that Brian Ritt has passed away. This comes as a real surprise. I knew Brian had been battling health problems for years, but we'd been in touch in recent months and I knew he was planning to return to teaching and had publishing plans as well, perhaps for a new edition of his great reference book PAPERBACK CONFIDENTIAL and maybe even finishing a crime novel of his own he'd been working on for a while. He was a friendly, enthusiastic guy who wrote several guest posts for this blog, including the one linked to below. I've always thought that it played a major part in the revival of interest in the work of Orrie Hitt. Rest in peace, Brian. 

Rough Edges: The Sleazy Side of the Street - Guest Blog by Brian Ritt: (Thanks to Brian Ritt for a fine examination of the life and work of Orrie Hitt.)

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Coming Soon: Kingfisher P.I. -- James Reasoner and Livia J. Washburn

Callista Kingfisher is a former mixed martial arts fighter and one of the top stunt performers in Hollywood. But when an accident on a movie set leaves her badly injured, she goes home to Corpus Christi, Texas, to recuperate.

Callie’s triplet brother Joseph is a top private investigator, and when he lands the job of tracking down a fugitive who has disappeared into the thick Piney Woods of East Texas, Callie decides she’ll give her brother a hand with the case. Both Kingfishers are plunged into the middle of a deadly feud between rival crime families, and Callie quickly discovers that the real thing is even more dangerous than making action movies.

New York Times bestseller James Reasoner and critically acclaimed mystery author Livia J. Washburn team up for KINGFISHER P.I., the first in a new series of exciting, action-packed mystery novels that will leave you breathless with their suspense, adventure, and humor.

(This is the first book in a brand-new series that Livia and I have had a great time writing. It'll be out next month, and the e-book edition is available for pre-order on Amazon now. There'll be a trade paperback later on. I hope some of you will check it out and enjoy it.)

Conan: Caravan of the Damned

CARAVAN OF THE DAMNED is the second Conan novel by veteran author Chuck Dixon, based solely on the stories by Robert E. Howard that appeared in the pulp WEIRD TALES. I’m not going to get into the convoluted legal and copyright issues surrounding the character. Those are for somebody else to figure it out. My interest is in whether or not this is a good Conan yarn, and the answer (with a minor reservation or two) is a resounding yes.

This tale takes place during the time of Conan’s life when he’s leading a band of desert bandits and raiders. They attack a caravan and discover that its camels are carrying not only a small fortune in gold and gems but also a beautiful young woman, one of the daughters of Turan’s King Yildiz, who is promised in marriage to the son of a neighboring king. The girl and her escort were supposed to rendezvous with a party sent out by her future father-in-law.

Of course, Conan realizes he now has a hostage who may be worth a considerable amount of ransom, but only if he can get away from the rest of the girl’s escort, which was trailing behind the caravan. And so the chase is on through the desert. Not surprisingly, it will wind up in some strange and dangerous places.

Dixon does a lot of things right in this novel. It’s relatively short, which means the prose is stripped down and fast-paced, as it would have been if the story had been done as a three-part serial for WEIRD TALES. The characterization is good throughout, from Conan’s allies and enemies to the young hostage everybody is after. The desert setting is superb. There’s plenty of action, and it’s handled well for the most part. I like the cover and the interior illustrations, too. (More books, especially adventure novels, need interior illustrations.)

That brings us to those minor reservations mentioned above. The opening chapter of his novel is extremely violent, more Piccadilly Cowboys than WEIRD TALES, and some of Conan’s actions, even though they’re not out of character, are presented in a pretty brutal fashion. This isn’t a major complaint, just something I noticed, and at least Conan doesn’t come across as mean and petty, as he did in one of the other pastiches I read recently.

My other quibble is that I would have liked to know more about the supernatural menace that crops up late in the book. A lot of back-story would have bogged down the flow of this yarn, and I don’t want that, but a few more lines about the danger facing Conan and his companions might have worked well.

Overall, though, I had a really good time reading CARAVAN OF THE DAMNED. Clearly, Dixon has a very good grasp of the character and can write Howardian action scenes with the best of them. Both of his Conan novels so far have been great fun and get a high recommendation from me as long as you’re not opposed to the idea of pastiches. You can get a trade paperback/e-book combo directly from the publisher.

It’s funny, I went for a long time without reading any Robert E. Howard pastiches, and now suddenly it seems like I’m reading a bunch of them, both comics and prose. I’m enjoying them, too, and I look forward to seeing what turns up next.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

The Shadowed Circle Compendium Kickstarter is Live

The Kickstarter campaign for THE SHADOWED CIRCLE COMPENDIUM is now live. As the campaign page describes it:

Our passion project Kickstarter Campaign is for The Shadowed Circle Compendium: a Large-Format, B&W, 8.5" x 11" volume, of at least 120 pages (more if we hit our 1st Stretch Goal), available in both hardcover, paperback, and high-res digital format. The book will feature some of the finest pulp, comic book, and radio episode articles, as well as art, from the first two years of The Shadowed Circle journal: the preeminent non-fiction publication about Walter B. Gibson's master sleuth, The Shadow. 

The Compendium will also include 25 to 30 pages of Newly Written Articles Appearing Exclusively in this volume. The Introduction to the book will be written by Batman Film Producer, and Shadow Comic Author, Michael Uslan and the Foreword will be written by Shadow Historian and Pulp Author, Will Murray.

I've really enjoyed reading THE SHADOWED CIRCLE and look forward to this collection of some of the best material from it, plus all-new articles that I'm sure will be excellent, as well. I've already backed it, and if you're a fan of The Shadow, I don't hesitate to give it a high recommendation.

Monday, October 09, 2023

Somewhere They Die - L.P. Holmes

SOMEWHERE THEY DIE is a range war novel. Veteran gun-for-hire Riley Haslam is part of a rough crew brought in to help rancher Syl Overdeck battle his arch-rival, cattleman Hugh Racklyn. Haslam and his companions are jumped by Racklyn’s men as soon as they get off the train. A beautiful young woman named Janet Wilkerson, the daughter of one of Racklyn’s friends, helps Haslam get away from the men who are trying to kill him. But it’s not long before Haslam realizes he’s waltzed into a bad deal and doesn’t want to fight for either of the men who are battling for control of a crucial pass through the mountains. Another opportunity comes along that offers Haslam a chance to put his violent past behind him, but to grab it, he’ll have to be surrounded by enemies who want to kill him first . . .

As you can tell by that description, SOMEWHERE THEY DIE, published in hardback by Little, Brown in 1955, reprinted in paperback by Bantam in 1956 and Popular Library in 1976 (the edition I read, with a nice wraparound cover), is a very traditional Western novel when it comes to the plot. But since the author is L.P. Holmes, you can also count on it being very well written. I’m not sure any author has been better than Holmes when it comes to taking a standard plot and elevating it to something else with superb writing and excellent characterization. Holmes at his best—and this novel won the Spur Award for Best Western Novel from Western Writers of America—gives you the characterization of Ernest Haycox and the setting and action of Louis L’Amour. For my money, he’s better than both of them, and I like Haycox and L’Amour.

This particular novel has not one but three despicable villains, a romance angle that’s low-key but very effective, a top-notch supporting cast, some poignant moments (yeah, you knew all along that character wasn’t going to make it, but the death is still a gut punch to the reader), some brutal fistfights, and a very sympathetic protagonist in Riley Haslam. My only quibble is that a couple of plot angles are never really resolved, and they could have been without much trouble.

Overall, SOMEWHERE THEY DIE may be the best L.P. Holmes novel I’ve read so far. I’m glad I still have a bunch by him to read. Highly recommended.

Sunday, October 08, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Startling Stories, May 1949

I'm not sure who painted the cover for this issue of STARTLING STORIES. I immediately think of Earle Bergey when it comes to that pulp, but somehow this doesn't quite seem like Bergey's work to me. I'm sure one of you out there reading this knows, though. Inside this issue is a fantastic group of writers: Arthur C. Clarke, John D. MacDonald, Sam Merwin Jr., Charles Harness, Willy Ley, Eando Binder (Earl and Otto Binder, with an Anton York story that's a reprint from the August 1937 issue of THRILLING WONDER STORIES), and Rene LaFayette, who was really L. Ron Hubbard, of course. That's a pretty potent bunch, and as it happens, this entire issue can be found online here, if you want to check it out for yourself. 

Saturday, October 07, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Popular Western, September 1938

This fellow has a definite Buck Jones look about him. Maybe it's the hat. Is that an A. Leslie Ross cover? I don't know. Might be. But I do know that there are some good writers in this issue of POPULAR WESTERN, including Johnston McCulley, Gunnison Steele (Bennie Gardner), Tom Gunn (Syl McDowell, with a Painted Post yarn), Wayne D. Overholser, Larry Harris, and Russell A. Bankson. Looks like an issue worth reading.

Friday, October 06, 2023

The Avengers: War Across Time - Paul Levitz and Alan Davis

One day in September 1964, I woke up too sick to go to school. I was in sixth grade, although that’s not really relevant to this post. But I started feeling better as the day went on, so by that afternoon when my mother announced that she was going to the drugstore, I asked if I could come along.

Well, of course, you know how she reacted. She glared at me and said, “If you were too sick to go to school, you’re too sick to go to the drugstore.” I explained that I was getting over whatever was bothering me and just wanted to get out for a little while. I didn’t mention what I actually wanted, which was to check the comic book and paperback spinner racks at Tompkins’ Pharmacy because I hadn’t been there in a while.

I talked her into it—I could be very persuasive where reading matter was concerned—and during our trip to the drugstore that afternoon I bought several comic books, one of which was THE AVENGERS #8 featuring the debut of a villain who would prove to be iconic, Kang the Conqueror. How do I know I picked up that particular comic on that particular day? I can’t explain it other than to say that I have a trick brain for some things, and knowing where and when I bought a certain book or comic book is one of those tricks.

Now, the point of all this reminiscing is that I recently read a collection of a new mini-series from Marvel Comics (the first thing I've read from Marvel in ages) called THE AVENGERS: WAR ACROSS TIME, which is set in the classic Marvel era (or as I call it, my childhood) and is a direct sequel to THE AVENGERS #11 and features Kang the Conqueror as the villain. It was written by Paul Levitz, his first script for Marvel after literal decades as a writer/editor for DC, and drawn by Alan Davis, one of the latter-day comics artists whose work I like quite a bit.

Levitz’s script hits all the right beats from that era: the Avengers battle their former member The Hulk, they encounter the menacing Lava Men (who first appeared in THE AVENGERS #5, bought by me off the spinner rack in Trammell’s Pak-a-Bag Grocery—there’s that trick brain again), and a king of the dwarves steals Thor’s hammer, which he can do because he helped forge it, causing Thor to turn back into Dr. Don Blake. Kang is behind all this, and in the course of their struggle against him, the Avengers see bizarre visions of their future, most of which will turn out to be true.

This is just great fun for an old comics codger like me. Thor spouts mock-Shakespearean dialogue. Captain America, who hasn’t been an Avenger for long after being thawed out from the ice, is brave and stalwart. The Wasp spends most of her time in flirtatious banter but is courageous and capable when she needs to be. Iron Man and Giant Man alternate between being science nerds and walloping bad guys. To be honest, Alan Davis’s artwork isn’t quite as good as I’ve seen it in the past, but it’s still worlds better than most of what you’ll find in modern comics, and he can draw a story so that you know what’s going on, again something that’s lacking in a lot of comics these days.

So, is THE AVENGERS: WAR ACROSS TIME as good as vintage Lee/Kirby? No, but I never expected it to be. For one thing, I’m not eleven years old anymore. The best modern comics can do is remind me of that time, not recreate it. But this one certainly does remind me of those days, and I had a fine time reading it. If you have good memories of that era, too, I give it a high recommendation. You can find it in trade paperback and digital forms on Amazon.

And hey, any excuse to wallow in nostalgia, right?

Wednesday, October 04, 2023

Passion Web - William Kane (Ben Haas)

Years ago I owned a copy of this book, but I never got around to reading it before it was lost in the Fire of ’08. At that time, I had no idea who William Kane was, although I figured it was a pseudonym. I just bought all the Pillar/Ember/Nightstand/etc. books that I came across, especially if they were a reasonable price. I believe I paid a buck for that copy.

Time passed, and I never replaced that lost copy of PASSION WEB. Then I found out that none other than the great Western and adventure novelist Ben Haas wrote most of those William Kane books, including PASSION WEB. I’ve been on the lookout for an affordable copy ever since and came across one recently. I read it within a few days of getting it. Not going to miss out this time!

The cover by Robert Bonfils makes this look like a Western, and it sort of is a contemporary (1964) Western, set mostly on a dude ranch in West Texas and in the nearby small town. The protagonist is Lois Frost, a beautiful, ambitious young secretary at an oil company who has been promised a promotion to an executive job if she can weasel some vital information out of geologist Kirk Parsons, who works for a rival oil company. Lois is willing to do the job no matter what it takes, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. The dude ranch where Lois stays while pursuing her goal is owned by beautiful Tess Welch, who struggles not only to keep the ranch going but to control her burgeoning feelings for Lois. The neighboring ranch is owned by champion bronc rider Clint Sandifer, who has a violent streak, a fondness for whips, and a hankering for beautiful young Maria Galindez, who’s married to one of Clint’s ranch hands.

Most of the book is taken up by Haas’s skillful mixing and matching of those characters, plus a mystery of sorts over the location of a fabulously valuable pool of oil, before everything comes to a head at a rodeo. (Where else?) His smooth prose is a joy to read, as always, and keeps things moving along at such a fast pace that I raced through the book and enjoyed it quite a bit. There are a lot of sex scenes and they’re fairly graphic, but they’re well-written and actually have to do with the plot most of the time. Not only that, but there are several scenes of unexpected violence that would be right at home in one of Haas’s adventure novels, and his descriptions of the West Texas landscape are excellent. He’s just one of those writers whose work really resonates with me, no matter what the genre.

So I’m glad I finally got my hands on another copy of PASSION WEB. I really had a good time reading it. I found another William Kane book that wasn’t too pricey for my taste and ordered it. I figure I’ll enjoy it, too.

Tuesday, October 03, 2023

Now Available: 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 Western novel is available now on Amazon. Here's a brief excerpt from the book:

His breath caught in his throat as he saw the animals covering the plains on either side of the creek, and he felt a surge of excitement. He had found the herd!

Compared to some of the massive herds he had seen in Kansas, this was a small one. His experienced eyes scanned the scene and set the number somewhere between thirty-five hundred and five thousand. But the herd would furnish a good kill, especially for this time and this place.

As he sat his horse and looked down across the valley at the grazing animals, he almost felt sorry for them. They had been driven down here by the gun, and now they were running out of room. The herds would continue to drift south, but Trace doubted that many of them would ever reach Mexico, not that they would be safe even if they did.

When the buffalo were gone, that would be the end of them, the end of a lot of things.

More books coming soon!

Monday, October 02, 2023

Atomic Werewolves and Man-Eating Plants: When Men's Adventure Magazines Got Weird - Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle, eds.

The men’s adventure magazines of the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies certainly published a wide variety of material, and while it wasn’t as common as some other genres, you could sometimes find tales of science fiction, fantasy, and horror in them. ATOMIC WEREWOLVES AND MAN-EATING PLANTS: WHEN MEN’S ADVENTURE MAGAZINES GOT WEIRD, the latest volume from the Men’s Adventure Library edited by Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle, collects some of the best of those offbeat stories, with the usual great cover and interior illustrations to go with them. With some of these, their MAM appearances were reprints from other magazines such as WEIRD TALES and GALAXY, but some were written specifically for the men’s adventure market.

My favorite story is one that wasn’t a reprint when it was published in a men's adventure magazine. “The Man Who Couldn’t Die” by Gardner F. Fox appeared originally in the August 1961 issue of ADVENTURE, the iconic pulp-turned-MAM. Fox, of course, is a legendary name in comic book history and also wrote scores of well-received paperbacks in various genres. This science fiction story is about a sociopathic criminal whose brain is transplanted into a robot body so he can go on a space voyage outside the solar system in search of habitable planets. Of course, what he decides to do instead is to become the greatest criminal overlord the solar system has ever seen. But then, as you might expect, things don’t turn out exactly as he plans . . . This is an excellent, fast-moving yarn with a nice twist at the end. I really had fun reading it.

Another well-known SF author, Theodore Sturgeon, contributes “The Blonde With the Mysterious Body”, from the April 1962 issue of MEN. This one appeared originally as “The Other Celia” in the March 1957 issue of the science fiction digest GALAXY. It’s a wryly humorous, genuinely creepy tale about voyeurism.

“The Hunted” by Rick Rubin, from the October 1961 ADVENTURE, is a top-notch story about humans on the run from robots bent on hunting them down. The twist ending is a little predictable, but Rubin, whoever he was, does a really good job of creating suspense and keeping things moving at a brisk pace.

In horror fiction, you don’t get much more well-known than H.P. Lovecraft, who is represented here with his story “The Rats in the Walls”, reprinted from its January 1959 appearance in SENSATION. The story appeared first in WEIRD TALES in 1924. Another horror tale that appeared first in WEIRD TALES (in 1940) is Manly Wade Wellman’s “Song of the Slaves” from the April 1959 issue of CAVALIER. As you’d expect from a Wellman story, it’s very well-written, and even though you’ll probably see the ending coming, it’s still really effective and downright chilling.

Elsewhere in this volume, you get stories about vampire bats, vampire tarantulas, giant lizards, man-eating trees (by Robert Moore Williams, the veteran SF and Western pulpster), devil worshippers, virgin sacrifices, crazed chicken choppers (a truly weird but good story), mad doctors, evil Nazis (but I repeat myself), and a really good Korean War/Civil War story that reminded me of the great Haunted Tank comic book series. Add some fine essays and introductions by Mike Chomko, Stefan Dziemianowicz, and editors Deis and Doyle, and you’ve got one of the best volumes so far in the Men’s Adventure Library. I had a wonderful time reading ATOMIC WEREWOLVES AND MAN-EATING PLANTS, and I give it a very high recommendation. It’s available in hardback (with a bonus story) and paperback editions.