Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Introducing the Toff - John Creasey

I read quite a few mysteries by John Creasey when I was a kid because all the libraries had them, but only a few about the Hon. Richard Rollison, the gentleman adventurer known as the Toff. They always seemed a little tame to me. I preferred Creasey’s books about the Baron and Inspector Roger West. But I recently read the first book in the Toff series, INTRODUCING THE TOFF, first published in 1938 and expanded from a novella that previously appeared in THE THRILLER in 1933. There’s nothing tame in this yarn about the Toff’s battle against an international drug smuggling ring known as the Black Circle, which includes a sinister Egyptian and an American gangster.

This book is good old-fashioned British blood and thunder, full of gunfights, fistfights, car chases, and explosions. It’s reminiscent of Sax Rohmer, Edgar Wallace, and very much of Leslie Charteris’s The Saint, a character also introduced in THE THRILLER. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I’m told it’s not really representative of the series as a whole. I have a few more Toff novels on my shelves and may read them if I can get around to them. This one is available as an e-book on Kindle Unlimited, and I recommend it if you want a fast-moving, action-packed yarn with a likable hero.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Coming Soon: New Mexico Trackdown - James Reasoner

Beautiful, redheaded Iris Tillman is on the run. A Pinkerton operative working undercover, she has uncovered evidence linking a sinister saloon owner to a deadly plot that will change the course of history. Fleeing from the killers working for this man, Iris boards a stagecoach that will take her north across New Mexico Territory on a desperate journey to deliver that evidence to her superiors.

Former Deputy U.S. Marshal Sam Sawyer is being pursued, too, but in Sam’s case, it’s the demons of his violent past that threaten to catch up to him. But he may be the only chance for a brave young woman to save her life and stop a criminal conspiracy that will ruin the entire territory.

NEW MEXICO TRACKDOWN is the latest action-packed Western novel from bestselling author James Reasoner. It’s a tale full of adventure, plot twists, and intriguing characters that’s sure to entertain readers of traditional Westerns.

(This book will be out next week, but it's available for pre-order on Amazon now.)

Monday, November 27, 2023

Wild is the Woman - Laura Hale (Lorenz Heller)

Stark House has reprinted a number of novels by Lorenz Heller, and they have a new double volume coming out that contains two of Heller’s novels originally published under the pseudonym Laura Hale. These are hardboiled romance novels, I guess you’d call them. I just read WILD IS THE WOMAN, published in 1951 as a Rainbow Book, one of those stapled, digest-sized lines of racy novels that were popular for a while in the early Fifties. This tale of a young woman becoming a burlesque dancer so she can get revenge on the crooked politician responsible for sending her brother to prison for a crime he didn’t commit is just terrific. It races along like a backstage musical combined with a gritty crime yarn. I had a great time reading it and give it a high recommendation. I’m looking forward to reading the other book in this double volume, which is available for pre-order on Amazon, and sampling more of Heller’s work.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Famous Fantastic Mysteries, December 1943

It's hard to go wrong with a brawny, bare-chested hero and a good-looking girl in a skimpy leopard-skin outfit. Throw in an angry panther and you've got something, pal. Although if I had been the art director at Popular Publications, I might've told Lawrence Sterne Stevens (the artist) to make the girl's outfit a little skimpier. Got to catch the attention of those potential buyers at the newsstand, you know. Anyway, FAMOUS FANTASTIC MYSTERIES was mostly a reprint pulp, and this issue features classic stories from William Hope Hodgson, Robert W. Chambers, and J. Leslie Mitchell. I'll admit, I'm not familiar with Mitchell's work, but this story sounds fairly intriguing. FFM published a few original stories, as well, and there's one in this issue by a young Ray Bradbury. A bunch of issues, including this one, are available online if you want to check them out. 

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ranch Romances, Second July Number, 1955

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. That’s my copy in the scan. I don’t know the artist. I’ve said before that RANCH ROMANCES was a good Western pulp during the Fifties, and this issue is no exception. It leads off with “Stampede Valley”, a novella by J.L. Bouma, a prolific author of Western pulp stories and novels. Bouma used very traditional plots but handled them well. This one has a powerful rancher trying to crowd out the smaller outfits in the valley. The protagonist is a young cowboy who works for the cattle baron but comes to realize he’s on the wrong side. This is a well-written, enjoyable tale that seems a little rushed at the end, its only real drawback.

Bill Burchardt’s stories and novels are often set in Indian Territory. “The Deputy’s Daughter” finds one of Judge Parker’s deputy marshals using his own daughter as bait to catch an owlhoot. It’s not a terrible story, but the writing never really caught my interest and there’s not much of a payoff. I’ve enjoyed other Burchardt stories more in the past.

The novelette “Renegade’s Girl” finds two lawmen transporting a convicted killer by train over a snowy Montana landscape to the town here he’ll be hanged. The outlaw’s victim was the twin brother of one of the lawmen. This is an excellent set-up, and since the author is Walker A. Tompkins, one of my favorites, it’s no surprise that this is a taut, suspenseful yarn. Tompkins is always good, and he’s at the top of his game in this one.

There are three more short stories in this issue. “Sinner Man” by Talmage Powell is about a traveling preacher, his beautiful daughter, and a vengeance-seeking gunfighter. “Woman for a Hoeman” is a terrible title for a cattlemen-vs.-sodbusters story by Ed La Vanway. “To Brand a Maverick” is a rare Western by Milton Lesser/Stephen Marlowe under his Adam Chase pseudonym that’s about the son of an outlaw deciding whether to go straight or follow in his father’s footsteps. All are well-written, and all have rather limp endings that really dilute their effectiveness. But they’re all readable.

There are also some assorted features and short fact articles I didn’t read, as usual, as well as the third of four serial installments of THE VENGEANCE RIDERS, a novel by Joseph Chadwick under his pseudonym Jack Barton. I didn’t read the serial, either, but I have the Popular Library edition of the novel and I might get around to reading it one of these days. Chadwick is usually good. And this is a good issue of RANCH ROMANCES based on the stories by Tompkins and Bouma, even though the rest of the fiction is pretty forgettable. It also has some nice interior art by Everett Raymond Kinstler.

UPDATE: Here's the paperback edition of THE VENGEANCE RIDERS.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Crypt-City of the Deathless One - Henry Kuttner

Henry Kuttner is one of my favorite science fiction writers. I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel or story by him that didn’t entertain me. CRYPT-CITY OF THE DEATHLESS ONE is no exception. This novella was published originally in the Winter 1943 issue of the pulp magazine PLANET STORIES (with a cover by the great George Gross) and is available now as a stand-alone e-book, which is how I read it, and as a trade paperback. Set on Ganymede, it’s the story of a drunken, tragedy-haunted Earthman who signs on as the guide for an expedition to a lost city in the middle of an unexplored wilderness. The goal is to discover the power source used by an ancient, vanished civilization, as well as finding the cure for a plague that’s ravaging Earth. Science, of course, has long since rendered the setting pure fantasy, but who cares? The story races along, the characters are interesting, and things come to a surprisingly powerful, satisfying conclusion. I really enjoyed it. Kuttner never disappoints.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to those of you who celebrate it. I hope it's a good day for all of you. I read this book many, many years ago and don't recall that it actually has anything to do with Thanksgiving, but hey, the title fits, doesn't it?

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

The Shadowed Circle #6 - Steve Donoso, ed.

The sixth issue of THE SHADOWED CIRCLE arrived at just the right time. I was in need of some sure-fire entertainment, and this themed issue devoted to the character Myra Reldon and The Shadow’s adventures in various Chinatowns really hit the spot. A great front cover by Joe Booth and a great back cover by Ron Wilber and Steve Novak bookend fine articles by Will Murray, Anthony Tollin, Tim King, Malcolm Deeley, Arthur Penteado, Darby Kern, Robert Kroll, and TSC founder and editor Steve Donoso. I’ve already paid my subscription for the next three issues, and you can, too, as well as buy back issues, at the journal’s website here. The new issue is available on Amazon as well. THE SHADOWED CIRCLE is informative, beautifully done, and great fun to read for a long-time Shadow fan like me. Highest recommendation!

Monday, November 20, 2023

Lysander - F. van Wyck Mason

LYSANDER is a historical adventure novel by F. van Wyck Mason published as a paperback original by Pocket Books in 1957 with a cover by James Meese. That's my copy in the scan. Mason was an old pulpster, of course, and this novel is an expansion of his serial “Lysander of Chios” serialized in ARGOSY in June and July of 1935. Set in the ancient world, it’s the story of how Lysander, the young king of the conquered island nation of Chios, sets out with a small band of allies to wage a guerrilla war against the Persian Empire. Daring exploits, tragedy, and romance ensue until Lysander and his friends find themselves part of Alexander the Great’s army and Lysander is able to fulfill the vow of vengeance he took. Mason packs plenty of history into his tale, which results in it being a little dry and slow in places. Mason the pulp yarn-spinner was great; Mason the mainstream historical novelist isn’t quite as much to my taste. But his books are still worth reading and this one is no exception. There are plenty of great battle scenes and Lysander is a likable protagonist. Not having read the pulp version, I suspect it’s better, but this is still a good book.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Dime Mystery Magazine, January 1945

This issue of DIME MYSTERY MAGAZINE came long after its heyday as a Weird Menace pulp, but judging by the line-up of authors inside, it was still a pretty darned good detective pulp: Fredric Brown, Day Keene, William R. Cox, Robert Turner, Cyril Plunkett, Larry Sternig, and a couple I'm not familiar with, Steve Herrick and Ken Lewis. That's a pretty good cover by Gloria Stoll, too. Cox's story features his series character Tom Kincaid. He expanded some of these stories into full-length novels, but I don't know if this was one of them.

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Trails, May 1941

That's a great, action-packed cover by Norman Saunders on this issue of WESTERN TRAILS. Dean Owen is probably the best-remembered of the authors inside. Other pulpsters on hand in this issue are Cliff Walters, Jay Karth, Art Kercheval, Jack Sterrett, Duane Yarnell (who went on to write a couple of good hardboiled novels for Gold Medal in the Fifties), and one I haven't heard of, P.H. Branford. I'm sure it was an entertaining issue.

Friday, November 17, 2023

Sexton Blake: The House of the Hanging Sword - Gwyn Evans

It had been a while since I read a Sexton Blake yarn. I realized that while I’d read stories from early in Blake’s history and also late entries from the so-called New Era, I’d never read anything from what’s considered the Golden Age for the character, the Twenties and Thirties. So I picked up a collection called SEXTON BLAKE WINS, which reprints six novellas and three short stories from that period. The first novella is “The House of the Hanging Sword”, from the February 10, 1934 issue of DETECTIVE WEEKLY, and is by Gwyn Evans, one of the most popular Blake authors. A series of mysterious, apparently unrelated disappearances draws Blake into a dangerous case that involves an isolated house in the English countryside, robed and cowled villains, and plenty of blood and thunder. Great fun that gallops right along.

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Batman & Superman in World's Finest: The Silver Age, Volume One - Edmond Hamilton, Bill Finger, et al.

When I was a kid I was a sporadic reader of the Superman and Batman team-ups in WORLD’S FINEST. I only had so much money to spend on comic books. Now there’s lots of stuff I never read back in the day that I can catch up on. For the past couple of months, I’ve been reading BATMAN & SUPERMAN IN WORLD’S FINEST: THE SILVER AGE, VOLUME ONE, which reprints the first meeting of Superman and Batman from SUPERMAN #76 in 1952 and then the regular Superman/Batman series from WORLD’S FINEST #71-94, from 1954 to 1958 . . . which was before I could read, so I couldn’t have read them anyway. Most of the stories were written by Edmond Hamilton. Several are by Bill Finger, the co-creator of Batman. The art is mostly by Dick Sprang, the regular Bat-artist in the Fifties. A few stories were drawn by the great Curt Swan, the iconic Superman artist as far as I’m concerned. It’s an entertaining volume, especially the story where Luthor and The Joker team up.

But . . . these short (12 pages), gimmicky, stand-alone stories don’t have much impact. The villains are mostly petty crooks with stupid schemes, and there’s never any real sense of danger for our heroes. I can understand why, after a steady diet of stories like this, the stuff that Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko came up with over at Marvel just a few years later was like a punch in the gut to the comics readers of the time. The difference is really stark (no pun intended). Despite that, I enjoyed this collection and already have the second one on my Kindle. For long-time comics fans, it’s worth reading. Available in paperback and e-book editions.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Hardcase Halloran - William Heuman

A solid hardboiled Ace Double Western from one of the most reliable authors in the genre. Gun-for-hire Thorpe Halloran sets out on a personal mission for a change, the search for the corrupt army officer responsible for the theft of a large payroll and the murder of sixteen soldiers, including Thorpe’s younger brother. Heuman mixes in a bit of a range war plot and a romantic triangle in this vengeance quest yarn and does a good job of bringing everything to a satisfactory climax with a nice shootout in a ghost town. A few bits get a little repetitive, which keeps this from landing in the top rank of Heuman’s work, but it’s still very entertaining and well worth reading. His books and stories usually have good opening lines and this one is no exception:  The way Thorpe Halloran had it figured out, a man was going to die this night. I kind of had to keep turning the pages after that.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Men's Adventure Quarterly #9: Croc Attack! - Robert Deis and Bill Cunningham, eds.

Editors Robert Deis and Bill Cunningham deliver another winner in CROC ATTACK!, the ninth issue of MEN’S ADVENTURE QUARTERLY, the beautifully illustrated journal that reprints the best of the Men’s Adventure Magazines from the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies. Authors included in this collection of stories about humans battling with crocodiles and alligators are paperbacker Robert Edmond Alter (one of my favorites), pulpster Brian O’Brien, and MAM veteran Leon Lazarus, along with a number of pseudonyms concealing unknown authors. And plenty of wonderful artwork, of course. A gorgeous package and great fun to read, as always. Highly recommended, available in paperback and e-book editions at Amazon.

Monday, November 13, 2023

Flesh Fix - William Kane (Ben Haas)

Political corruption, blackmail, bribery, and multiple murders all figure in the plot of FLESH FIX, a crime novel masquerading as sleaze as so many of those softcore books are. Ben Haas’s writing is smooth and fast, as always, and kept me flipping the pages in this tale of a formerly honest reporter trying to regain his self-respect after being roped into a crooked politician’s inner circle. And to be fair, there actually is quite a bit of sex in this novel, and it’s fairly graphic for 1964. It’s a good yarn and I enjoyed it.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Blog Update

A series of real-life issues, some unforeseen and some we knew were coming, has kept me from posting here in recent days. I considered leaving the blog up but closing it down as far as new posts. However, I don't want to do that. If I can keep it going until next summer, that'll be 20 years, and that's a good run. (The WesternPulps email group will turn 25 next spring, and I intend to continue with it, too.)

So I've written some short reviews of the books I've read lately and will schedule those for this week. Going forward, that's probably how I'll proceed, depending on the time and energy I have. No, I'm not sick, and I don't mean for it to sound that way, just swamped with sad, annoying, time-consuming developments, much like just about everybody else in the world. With luck, the pulp posts will resume next weekend. I'm still writing novels and have enough work lined up to last through next year, so the pages will continue to flow.

In the meantime . . .

Monday, November 06, 2023

Now Available: 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.

We're excited about this series and have had a lot of fun working on it so far. It's available from Amazon in e-book and trade paperback editions, as well as at Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books, Scribd, and Smashwords. The second book should be out after the first of the year and the third one sometime next spring. If you like fast-paced private detective yarns, you'll enjoy them.

Sunday, November 05, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Short Stories, December 10, 1934

When he was still a practicing attorney in California, Erle Stanley Gardner often had Chinese immigrants as clients and was very sympathetic to them and the injustices some of them suffered. I'm surprised he didn't write more stories set in Chinatown. "The Black Egg" in this issue of SHORT STORIES appears to be one of them, judging from the cover. I don't own this issue, it doesn't appear to be on-line anywhere, and I don't believe the story has ever been reprinted, so I don't know anything else about it. But since it's by Erle Stanley Gardner, I'm willing to bet it's good. (I wish more of Gardner's pulp stories would be reprinted, by the way.) There are some other excellent authors in this issue, including Donald Barr Chidsey, J. Allan Dunn, Harry Sinclair Drago, and Clifford Knight. And the usual red sun in the cover by Frederick Witten is huge this time around.

Saturday, November 04, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Double Action Western, September 1952

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. The hat brim and the sketchiness of the background have me convinced that this cover is the work of A. Leslie Ross. He must have been knocking out these pulp covers pretty quickly, but I don’t care, I still like them. I think this one is quite effective.

The first story in this issue is “No White Sheep”, a novella by Burt Thomas. That title is a little odd, but it refers to a family of outlaws—a grizzled old owlhoot and his four or five sons (I lost track). The youngest son decides to give up the life of crime after a deputy is killed right in front of him during a robbery, so he runs away and establishes a new identity and a respectable life for himself in a small town. There’s even a girl he falls for . . . But then his past comes back to haunt him, as you knew all along it would. This is a fairly standard plot, but Thomas does an excellent job with it. The story is well-written, has some good action, and a few nice poignant moments as well. Burt Thomas wrote about three dozen stories published in various Western pulps from the late Forties to the mid-Fifties, but that seems to be the extent of his work. I couldn’t find any record that he ever published a novel. I suspected at first that the name might be a pseudonym for Lee Floren, who also wrote at Lee Thomas, but this story doesn’t read like Floren’s work to me. It could be that Burt Thomas was just a reasonably talented writer who never published much and is now forgotten.

The short story “Black Shemwell” is about a man who takes up the mantle of a gunfighter even though he’s not suited to it in order to avenge the death of his brother. Like the other story by Ben Smith that I read recently, this one is well-written and engaging, with a fairly traditional plot that still manages to be a little offbeat. I don’t know if Smith will ever be a favorite of mine, but I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read by him so far.

J.J. Mathews published more than 100 Western, detective, and sports stories from 1950 to 1960, all of them in Columbia pulps edited by Robert W. Lowndes. That makes me suspect very strongly that the name is a house pseudonym, and so does another fact I’ll get to momentarily. The long novella under the Mathews name in this issue is a real oddity. The protagonist of this story is Ace Champion, “wandering town-tamer”, as the author puts it. The tale opens with action, as Ace comes across a rancher’s daughter (a beautiful blonde, of course) being pursued by three gunmen. He steps in and rescues the girl, of course, and we’re off on another save-the-ranch-from-rustlers yarn. The villain of the piece is the notorious Mexican bandit leader Don Pesco . . . or is it? There’s some sort of connection between our hero Ace and the mysterious bandido. A love/hate relationship quickly develops between Ace and the blonde as he sticks around to help her and her father out of their dilemma, but a neighboring rancher is the third side of that romantic triangle.

This is a very schizophrenic story and leads me to wonder if there were two authors involved. The action is fast and furious and for the most part pretty well done. Ace and Judy nearly get caught in a stampede. Ace is captured by the bad guy, buried up to his neck, and left for the sun and the buzzards to finish off. Ace is ambushed numerous times and wounded more than once (said wounds being forgotten almost right away). But despite the very traditional plot and the hero’s eyeroll-inducing name, the writing is actually pretty good for the most part and the story moves along at a nice pace.

But then there are the scenes that are just terrible, and those are because everybody suddenly lapses into almost incomprehensible pseudo-cowboy dialect. I’m used to what I call “yuh mangy varmint” dialect, I’ve been guilty of it myself, but whoever wrote this story takes it to another level. The word “ter” substitutes for both “the” and “to”. “Yer” is both “you” and “your”. Then there are the things that make me think the author must have been British, like when the hero tells his horse “Away with you now, old fellow.” But it’s not always like that. Some of the dialogue reads normally.

I was curious enough to hunt up a couple of on-line scans of other Western pulps that have J.J. Mathews stories in them, and there’s no sign of such odd stuff in them. That’s the other thing I mentioned that makes me think it’s a house-name. I’m sure the truth is buried in the mists of time, but it’s the sort of thing I like to ponder. At any rate, for all its weirdness, “Through Ticket to Boothill” is kind of an enjoyable story. Whoever wrote it, there was some talent involved. Unpolished, maybe, but still there.

Lon Williams is best remembered for his long series of Weird Western pulp stories starring Deputy Lee Winters, but he wrote quite a few stand-alone yarns, too, such as “Stranger at the Gates”, which wraps up this issue. It’s about a couple of corrupt deputies whose crooked schemes run afoul of an unexpected visitor in town. It’s a short, unmemorable story.

So this is a very mixed issue, with one really good story by Burt Thomas, one good story by Ben Smith, one weird but somehow entertaining story by J.J. Mathews, and one weak story by Lon Williams. If you have this issue of DOUBLE ACTION WESTERN on your shelves, the first three stories are worth reading.

Friday, November 03, 2023

Punk & Other Stories - Cleve F. Adams

I’ve read several of Cleve F. Adams’ novels over the years and really enjoyed them. I’m not sure why I haven’t read more by him. Just another case of too many books, not enough time, I guess. But I hadn’t read any of Adams’ pulp stories as far as I recall, so the recent publication of PUNK & OTHER STORIES, a collection of four hardboiled detective yarns by Adams, was something I grabbed immediately.

The title novelette was published originally in the March 19, 1938 issue of DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY. “Punk” is how the narrator/protagonist Jerry Cassidy thinks of himself, and it’s an opinion shared by several other characters in the story. Jerry grew up with a couple of friends, Ed Harmon and Slats McKenna, but when they reached adulthood they went very separate ways. Harmon is now Big Ed Harmon, one of the top gangsters in Los Angeles, while Slats is now Lieutenant McKenna, a police detective. And Jerry? Jerry is a low-level criminal, a flunky who works for Big Ed even though he’d like to get into something more respectable like radio work, something he was trained for during a stint in the Navy. Jerry’s married to a floozy named Cora who hates him because he’s not successful. In his younger years he was in love with a beautiful dame named Frances, but she wound up marrying Jerry’s boss Big Ed. Jerry knows he’ll never escape from this shady life because Big Ed knows he killed a guy, a case of self-defense but a jury will never believe it from a punk like him. Then everything busts wide open for Jerry when a crooked politician is murdered and the love of his life has to go on the run and appeals to him for help.

As you can tell, Adams packs a lot of back-story in this novelette, but it’s never obtrusive and the information comes out naturally instead of interfering with the headlong pace of the action. And I do mean headlong. Breakneck, even. Man, this story moves. And with its bang-bang-bang pace, its touches of humor, and the distinctive, likable narration by its protagonist, it’s just terrific, the sort of pure, top-notch entertainment I needed right now.

“Default With Doom”, from the April 1937 issue of TEN DETECTIVE ACES, is the only appearance of hardboiled Los Angeles private eye Mike Shane, and since the first Michael Shayne novel DIVIDEND ON DEATH came out two years later, it really makes me wonder if Davis Dresser happened to read this story and the name stuck in his head. We’ll never know, of course, but I don’t think we can rule it out. For our purposes here, what’s important is whether the story is any good, and it really is. This one is in third person, and the style is as terse and tough as can be as Shane investigates the murder of a newspaper columnist. His former girlfriend is the columnist’s secretary and is one of the suspects in the killing, so of course Shane has to find the real killer in order to clear her name. Once again the action is almost non-stop, and Adams manages to work a little actual detection in along with the shootouts, fistfights, and car crashes. As with “Punk”, I just had a great time reading this one.

Adams makes use of another one-shot private detective, Nicolas Flagg, in “Frame for a Lady” from the October 1938 issue of POPULAR DETECTIVE. Flagg is a former mobster who got out of the rackets and became a PI. He gets involved in this case when the beautiful daughter of his former partner in crime says that her father wants to see him. Unfortunately, when they get to the big guy’s apartment, he’s been murdered—and the dame, who has always been in love with Flagg since she was a little girl, is one of the primary suspects. Anyway, when a man’s partner—or his former partner, in this case—is killed, he’s expected to do something about it, or something like that, so Flagg sets out to find the killer. This is another whirlwind of action and plot twists and great dialogue.

Adams’ unscrupulous private eye Connor O’Melveny appears in three stories, and “Forty Pains”, from the July 1941 issue of DIME DETECTIVE MAGAZINE, is the middle yarn in that trio. It opens at the Santa Anita racetrack, where O’Melveny and his beautiful former secretary turned partner in the agency, Desiree Dugan, are following a married couple bent on divorce. Although neither husband nor wife are aware of it, they have both hired the O’Melveny agency to follow the other and gather evidence. Desiree doesn’t know about this, either, but O’Melveny does and has no qualms about playing both sides against each other. Then a handsome lad the wife in the case rendezvouses with at the racetrack turns up dead, and off we gallop again. This one is a bit more of a screwball comedy than the other stories in this collection, although they’re humorous at times, too. And “Forty Pains” has its share of hardboiled action, as well. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Connor O’Melveny is an odd but engaging character, and his banter with his partner Desiree Dugan is excellent.

I knew I was a fan of Cleve F. Adams’ work, but this book made me even more of one. I had a great time reading it and rank it as one of the best books I’ve read this year and some of the best hardboiled private eye fiction I’ve read in quite some time. I hope there’ll be more collections of Adams’ pulp stories in the future. For now, I give this one a very high recommendation. You can get it on Amazon in paperback and e-book editions.

Thursday, November 02, 2023

The City of the Black Flame - Steve Dilks

It’s back to sword and sorcery I go with “The City of the Black Flame”, the second novella in Steve Dilks’ GUNTHAR—WARRIOR OF THE LOST WORLD. In this one, Gunthar and two companions—a pirate who has a grudge against him and a female warrior—are hired to cross a desert and an inland sea and then penetrate an untamed jungle to a lost city where the secret of eternal life can be found. Along the way they pick up an ally, a mutant “reptiloid”, evidently part man and part snake and a further indication that these Gunthar stories are set on a post-apocalyptic Earth, long after some sort of nuclear war or disaster.

But as in the previous story, “Priestess of the Fire-Gods”, Dilks never allows his world-building and back-story to interfere with the headlong pace of the action. Gunthar and his companions face all sorts of dangers in the ruined city, which is a little reminiscent of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Opar, and everything builds up to a pretty explosive climax. (The lost city is built next to a volcano, if that gives you any ideas.)

Gunthar is just a really likable protagonist, young and a little inexperienced but plenty tough. Dilks gives us a little more of his background in this story. The supporting cast is excellent all around, the villain is suitably despicable, and there are even a few poignant moments to go along with the slam-bang action. Dilks’ writing style is a blend of Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Lin Carter, Gardner Fox, and John Jakes (the Brak stories). Reading these first two Gunthar stories has given me a real sense of nostalgia. This is sword and sorcery in the classic mold and done very well. It's available on Amazon in paperback and e-book editions.