Sunday, December 31, 2023

The Wrap Up

I think we all know there was no shortage of terrible things happening this year, but why dwell on the negative? I’m going to try to look at a few positive things.

First and foremost, I’m still here, and Livia, Shayna, and Joanna are still putting up with me. This day and age, that’s something to feel good about.

A few days ago, I celebrated the 47th anniversary of my first fiction sale. Most writing careers don’t last that long, so I’m very happy to still be turning out the pages, even though there are fewer of them than there used to be. I also think I’m still writing with a fair degree of competence. I have a legitimate shot at being in this crazy business for half a century, and that seems pretty good to me.

I also read a lot of good books. Here are my ten favorites for the year, alphabetical by author:

THE ART OF RON LESSER, VOLUME 1: DEADLY DAMES AND SEXY SIRENS, Robert Deis, Bill Cunningham, and J. Kingston Pierce, eds.
SPILL THE JACKPOT, A.A. Fair (Erle Stanley Gardner)

There were plenty of other excellent books I could have included. It was difficult narrowing the list down to ten. If you check the posts for each month you’ll find lots of other good reading that I recommend.

I plan to write about the same amount in 2024 but I hope there’ll be a few more books with my name on them. We’ll see. And I certainly intend to keep reading as much as I can, although my attention span isn’t what it once was and that makes it a challenge to get through longer books. So I don’t really foresee a lot changing, which actually makes me a little nervous because life has a habit of throwing curveballs at all of us. As always, we’ll have to wait and see what happens, but I wish all of you out there the very best for the New Year.

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Far East Adventure Stories, September 1931

That's a very effective, evocative cover by Don Hewitt on this issue of FAR EAST ADVENTURE STORIES. I certainly would have picked that one up off the newsstand back in 1931, and the authors inside probably would have prompted me to slap down a couple of dimes if I had them: H. Bedford-Jones (with part of a John Solomon story), two stories by Hugh B. Cave (one under his pseudonym Geoffrey Vace), a yarn by Bob du Soe, and stories by forgotten pulpsters Chester L. Saxby, Sgt. Herbert E. Smith, A.L. De Burgh, and T.S. Southwick. De Burgh has only two credits in the FMI, Southwick only one, and that always makes me suspect the names are pseudonyms for better known authors, but who knows? All I know is that this looks like a very enjoyable pulp, and it's the final one of the year in this series. But I'll be back next week in a new year, if all goes according to plan. 

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Saturday Morning Bonus Pulp: Speed Western Stories, October 1945

I'm thinking the cover on this issue of SPEED WESTERN STORIES is by H.W. Scott, but as always, I could be wrong about that. It's a nice dramatic scene no matter who painted it. Inside are stories by three Trojan Publishing Corporation stalwarts: Laurence Donovan, Edwin Truett Long (as Luke Terry), and Victor Rousseau (as Lew Merrill). The other authors are three little-known but apparently real pulpsters, Felix Flammonde, Frank D. Compagnon, and Frederick W. Bales. Long died July 13, 1945, so this must have been one of his last stories. He's buried in Fort Worth and I've thought about going to see if I could find his grave. It might be nice to have a picture of me standing by the final resting place of such a prolific pulp author. But so far I haven't gotten around to it.

Friday, December 29, 2023

Spicy Zeppelin Stories - Will Murray

SPICY ZEPPELIN STORIES is a pulp reprint of a pulp that never existed. As author Will Murray explains in his introduction, the concept began as a joke in the early days of Odyssey Publications, one of the first of the pulp reprinters back in the Eighties. Under a variety of pseudonyms, some of them anagrams of his real name, Murray set out to write stories in various pulp genres, basing his style in them on actual pulp authors, but adding in the spicy elements common to the genre (most often, beautiful young women losing some or all of their clothes by accident). The stories remained in his files for years but were finally gathered together and published by Tattered Pages Press. Now, in a real full circle move, Odyssey Publications has just brought out a new edition, using the never-before-seen original cover by Mike Symes and art from the Tattered Pages Press edition by Bobb Cotter.

That background is fun for pulp fans, but here’s where it gets really interesting: this book may have had its origins in a joke, but that doesn’t mean Murray failed to take writing the stories seriously. It may have been early in his career when he produced these yarns, but his storytelling ability was already there, along with a keen grasp of pulp history and what makes such stories work.

The collection leads off with “Gondola Girl”, a novella featuring tycoon King “Steel” Chane, whose efforts to establish an airship line are being sabotaged. The battle between Chane and his rival leads to a South Seas island where an important secret is waiting to be discovered. Murray’s inspiration in this story is Lester Dent, and as he continued to do for decades afterward, he does a great job of capturing the breakneck pace of Dent’s work.

“Gasbag Buckaroo” (great title) finds a stalwart young cowboy trying to solve the mystery of who’s rustling cattle from the ranch belong to the young woman he loves. “Hydrogen Horror” is a World War I spy yarn with a lot of flying action. In “Zeps of the Void”, two-fisted adventurer Solar Smith fights space pirates. G-Man Jeff Holt tries to discover who murdered all the passengers on a train speeding through the Kentucky hills in “Rail Lair”. No pulp collection would be complete without a Weird Menace story, and “Catwalk Creeper” fills the bill in this volume with a tale of passengers on a trans-Atlantic zeppelin flight turned to stone by a mysterious killer. The book wraps up with “Chane”, another appearance by King “Steel” Chane, the hero of “Gondola Girl”. This enigmatic tale brings up more questions than it answers.

While Murray’s writing may not be as polished in these stories than it is later on, the sense of fun and enthusiasm in them is highly infectious. I had a great time reading them. His command of the various genres is top-notch and all the stories race along, taking the reader with them on a thrilling ride. I really enjoyed SPICY ZEPPELIN STORIES. It’s available in paperback and hardcover editions, and I give it a high recommendation for all pulp fans.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

The Annual December 27 Post

Regular readers of this blog know that today marks the anniversary of my first fiction sale, back on December 27, 1976. 47 years ago today, a number that makes me shake my head in disbelief. I’m sure that back in 1976 I hoped I would still be writing and selling almost half a century later, but I’m equally certain that I wouldn’t have bet money on it.

But here we are, and if you want to read the background of that first sale, you can find it in my original post on the subject from 2004. I noticed when looking up that post that there are comments from Todd Mason and Juri Nummelin, who are still good friends and regular commenters here all these years later. I’m thankful for that continuity.

I’m thankful as well for everyone who’s contributed to me being able to stay in this business for so long, including all the fine editors and writers I’ve worked with over the years, as well as all the readers who have ever sat down and cracked open one of my books. And of course I couldn’t have done any of it without Livia, Shayna, and Joanna. My thanks and love to all of you. I’m at the point where I’m genuinely curious to see how long I can keep this up.

By the way, that isn't the exact model of typewriter I used in those early days, but I typed thousands of pages on one very much like it.

Monday, December 25, 2023

Merry Christmas!

I don't have an abundance of the Christmas spirit this year, but I sincerely wish all of you a Merry Christmas and I hope the day goes well for you.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy All-Story Weekly, December 25, 1926

This is the Christmas issue of ARGOSY ALL-STORY WEEKLY from 1926. The cover is by Raymond Thayer, an artist whose work I don't know. Most of the author names inside are unfamiliar as well. There are a few obvious Christmas stories: "The Town That Believed in Santa Claus" by A.T. Locke, "A Grown-Up Christmas" by Richard F. Merrifield, and "The Holly King" by F. St. Mars, plus a couple of Christmas poems. There are also stories by Fred MacIsaac, Frank Richardson Pierce, and C.C. Waddell, best remembered today for collaborating with Carroll John Daly on the novel TWO-GUN GERTA. I doubt if I would have gone out of my way to read this one, had I seen it on the newsstand in 1926, but I'm sure there were plenty of people who did since ARGOSY, in all its various incarnations, was a very successful magazine for a long time.

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: December 23, 1922

101 years ago, this was the Christmas issue of Street & Smith's WESTERN STORY MAGAZINE, when it wasn't as venerable and iconic a pulp as it came to be over the next couple of decades. But it was already the home of a great deal of fine Western fiction. There are several obvious Christmas stories in this one: "Peg Leg's Christmas Party" by F.R. Buckley, "'Merry Christmas'" by Frank Richardson Pierce, and "The Yuletide Trail" by A.M. Chisholm. Plus some stories with titles that might or might not be indicative of holiday subject matter: "The Glacier Cache" by Courtney Ryley Cooper, "The Bladed Barrier" by Joseph B. Ames, and "The Power of Prayer" by John Frederick, actually Frederick Faust his own self. There's another story by Courtney Ryley Cooper, "Bears and Bystanders", which doesn't sound the least bit Christmasy, and one called "The White Chink" by obscure pulpster Lupe Loya. I have no idea who did the art for this cover.

I was somewhat intrigued by Courtney Ryley Cooper because I'd never heard of him. I found this information about him online:

Courtney Ryley Cooper (1886-1940) was an American writer, journalist, circus performer, publicist, and noted crime novelist. Born in Kansas City, he joined the circus at age 16 where he worked first as a clown, eventually working his way up to general manager. After a brief stint as a journalist and as a marine, Cooper turned to writing screenplays, westerns, and crime novels in the 1920s and 1930s. He achieved moderate success with his crime novels, even earning the admiration of F.B.I. director J. Edgar Hoover, who called him "the best informed man on crime in the U.S." Cooper committed suicide by hanging in a New York hotel room in 1940; persistent rumors suggested his death was actually murder, but no suspects were ever found. Cooper was reportedly investigating German activity in Mexico just prior to his death.

Sounds almost like a pulp character himself. There's a free e-book of one of his Westerns on Amazon. I grabbed it and may even get around to reading it one of these days. We'll see.

Friday, December 22, 2023

Lovers Don't Sleep - Laura Hale (Lorenz Heller)

Young, beautiful blonde Suzy Carr is head over heels in love with lawyer Harry Sloan, so in love that she doesn’t see how sleazy he is. Harry has a lucrative racket going, setting up quickie divorces when both parties want out of the marriage. Suzy makes a perfect foil for this shady scheme, letting Harry use her as “evidence” of adultery, courtesy of pictures taken by photographer Joe McBride, who’s actually a decent guy despite the racket he’s in. Then Harry’s actual mistress, wickedly beautiful femme fatale Camilla, cooks up a plan that involves getting rid of her unwanted husband, and it’s nothing as simple as a plain old divorce . . .

LOVERS DON’T SLEEP is another hardboiled romance novel by Lorenz Heller writing as Laura Hale, first published by Falcon Books in 1951 as part of the Exotic Novels line and recently reprinted with WILD IS THE WOMAN in a double volume by Stark House. I really enjoyed WILD IS THE WOMAN and LOVERS DON’T SLEEP is equally as good. The story races along at a very enjoyable pace, and Heller does a great job with the characters. Suzy isn’t all that bright, but she’s a very sympathetic protagonist, and Joe is a big, likable lug who’s clearly in love with her and wants to get both of them out of the mess in which they find themselves. Harry and Camilla are both suitably despicable. Heller orchestrates the twists and turns of their various relationships with great skill and the storytelling talent that keeps the reader flipping the pages.

Both novels in this double volume took me by surprise because I hadn’t really cared for the Lorenz Heller novels I’d tried in the past. Clearly, the fault in that lies with me, because based on WILD IS THE WOMAN and LOVERS DON’T SLEEP, he was a top-notch writer, a little reminiscent of Orrie Hitt but oriented more toward crime fiction. I give this double volume a high recommendation. It’s available in e-book and trade paperback editions on Amazon.

Monday, December 18, 2023

Sexton Blake: The Treasure of Tortoise Island - G.H. Teed

The novella “The Treasure of Tortoise Island” by G.H. Teed first appeared in the January 17, 1925 issue of UNION JACK and was reprinted in the collection SEXTON BLAKE WINS, where I read it. I found the UNION JACK image online. In this one, Blake is asked by the beautiful Lady Richmond to help her husband, who is suffering from some mysterious disease he picked up in the East Indies. Teed implies that some years past, Blake had a romantic interest in the lady, presumably before she was married, but he doesn’t provide any details, at least not in this story.

As it turns out, the only person who can help Lord Richmond is Dr. Huxton Rymer, the brilliant physician who abandoned medicine for a life of crime, becoming one of Sexton Blake’s archenemies in the process. Blake and Rymer agree to a truce, and Rymer goes off with Lord Richmond to the West Indies, where he can find the spices and herbs he needs to effect a cure. But Rymer can’t long ignore his criminal nature and soon teams up with Marie Galante, the beautiful octaroon who commands Kingston, Jamaica’s criminal underworld, on a new scheme involving his patient . . . which, of course, puts him at odds with Sexton Blake once more.

I may annoy, or even anger, some readers here, but I found this story to be something of a disappointment. The basic setup is all right, but Teed never does much with it, and with the exception of an early shootout and a big battle that wraps things up, there’s no action and a lot of the story’s events take place off-screen so that most of the time Teed seems to be summarizing things, rather than spinning an exciting yarn. Even that big battle at the end comes to a rather limp conclusion. This is the first story by Teed that I’ve read, and having seen him acclaimed as one of the best Sexton Blake writers, I’m left scratching my head. Is this just not one of his better entries, or am I missing something? That’s always possible with me.

I have a number of other Blake stories by Teed and certainly will read more by him. There are some nice bits in this one, just not enough of them, and I’m curious to see if I like some of this other yarns better.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Fiction Weekly, January 13, 1940

I've mentioned before that the first actual pulp I ever owned was an issue of DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY, so I've always had a soft spot for that magazine despite reading very little from it. This issue from 1940 sports a good cover by Emmett Watson and a very solid line-up of authors including Cleve F. Adams with two stories, a novelette and an installment from a Rex McBride serial called "Homicide: Honolulu Bound". If this serial was published as a novel under some other title, maybe one of you out there can provide that information. Also on hand are Brett Halliday (Davis Dresser) with an installment in the Mike Shayne serial "Death Rides a Winner" (if I've read this, I don't remember it), Hugh B. Cave, John St. John (who was really Richard Sale) and a forgotten pulpster named John Randolph Phillips. Like ARGOSY, DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY is a frustrating pulp for people who just want to read the stories because of all the serials, but there's no doubt that a lot of great yarns were published in its pages.

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Half a Million Words and Counting

I used to tell people that if I was writing half a million words a year, I'd feel like I was retired. What that cocky comment failed to take into account was that my productivity could erode to the point where it takes twice as long to get anything done. So today I hit the half-million word mark for the year, but I don't feel retired. I just feel tired.

But at the same time, I tell myself, hey, half a million words isn't bad. I'm still turning out books and they're not terrible (I hope). So I guess I'll keep at it for a while yet. Still have stories to tell.

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Thrilling Western, September 1951

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. That’s my copy in the scan. The cover art is by George Rozen, who has become one of my favorite Western pulp cover artists even though he’s probably best remembered for his covers on various issues of THE SHADOW.

I don’t know anything about Alexander Wallace except that he produced about three dozen stories for various pulps, mostly from Fiction House, between 1946 and 1954. His novelette “The White Peril” in this issue has an Indian as its protagonist, a young Crow chief called Blue Star, who has to battle a white gunrunner with plans to arm the Sioux, who are bitter enemies to the Crow. I don’t recall reading anything else by Wallace, but maybe I should because the writing in this one is very good. The story moves along well and I enjoyed it.

“Water Power” is a more humorous story than the others I’ve read by Ed La Vanway. It’s about a water witcher using a divining rod to head off a war between a cattle baron and some sodbusters. It’s pretty lightweight but okay reading.

Joseph Chadwick has become one of my favorite hardboiled Western authors. His novelette “Home to Boot Hill” features a first-person narrator, sort of unusual for Westerns of this era, a former Texas Ranger who fears he’s gone gun-shy. But he returns home to New Mexico anyway to help his old flame (who is now married) fight off attempts by the local cattle baron (yeah, another of those pesky cattle barons) to force her off her ranch. Nice gritty action and an offbeat protagonist make this one work all the way around. I liked it a lot.

Next up is the novelette “The Saddle Pards at Buzzard Butte”, an entry in a series I usually skip, Swap and Whopper by Syl MacDowell. These are slapstick comedy Westerns starring a couple of hapless saddle tramps, Swap Bootle and Whopper Whaley. (Think sort of Abbott and Costello in the contemporary West, but not quite.) I decided I was going to read this one and stick with it to the end, no matter what. And I did. It’s a bizarre concoction featuring a guitar, road construction, and a baseball game. To my surprise, I actually smiled a couple of times. MacDowell was a good writer. His more traditional Westerns are usually pretty entertaining. Although it’s not saying much, this is my favorite Swap and Whopper story so far. Will that make me go back and dig out all the ones I’ve skipped in the past? Not likely. But if I come across another one, I’ll at least give it a try.

C. William Harrison is a consistently good writer, so it’s no surprise that his short story “Granger—Draw or Die!” is an enjoyable yarn. It’s about a cowboy who gives up that life to become a farmer and his inevitable clash with the cattleman who’s his former employer. Well done, with some good characters and action.

I’m pretty sure I read H. Bedford-Jones’s novelette “Dead Man’s Boots” in the November 1936 issue of THRILLING WESTERN in which it first appeared. It’s reprinted in this issue, and since it’s been more than 20 years since I read it the first time, I tackled it again. It’s a fine story (I’m not sure Bedford-Jones was capable of writing anything else) about a gun-swift drifter riding away from trouble in the border country and right into more trouble involving a double-cross partnership between a crooked saloon owner and a cattle baron. (Lots of cattle barons in this issue.) While the plot is suitably twisty and there’s plenty of action, I’ve always felt that while Bedford-Jones’s traditional Westerns are good, they’re not quite as strong as his historical and straight adventure yarns. “Dead Man’s Boots” is a prime example of that. There’s nothing wrong with it except that it reads like the sort of story that dozens of other Western pulpsters could have written just as well. Maybe that’s holding HB-J to a higher standard than I should, I don’t know, but that’s the way this story struck me.

I always enjoy Ray Gaulden’s work, too. His short story in this issue, “Boom Town Trouble-Shooter” is a mining story involving a boom town (no surprise there, considering the title) and yet another crooked saloon owner. Gaulden packs quite a bit of plot and action into a story of less than 10 pages and does a good job of it.

Ernest Haycox’s short story “Skirmish at Dry Fork” is a reprint from the July 25, 1942 issue of the slick magazine COLLIER’S. But it’s right at home in THRILLING WESTERN, as well. It’s about a group of cavalry troopers who visit a town for a celebration on payday and their inevitable clash with a bunch of cowboys leading to a saloon brawl. Then a young soldier falls for one of the soiled doves who works in the saloon, leading to more trouble. Since this is an Ernest Haycox story, you know it’s well-written, and while Haycox’s work sometimes leaves me a little cold, I really liked this one. Some nice action and very good characters and a few poignant touches make it work really well.

“Six-Gun Specter” is a short story bylined Johanas L. Bouma, rather than the more common J.L. Bouma. It’s a tale about a young man with two outlaw brothers who’s trying to escape his family’s shady past. A stagecoach robbery and a beautiful young woman prove to be turning points for him. This is a pretty good story marred by a very rushed ending.

Robert Ferguson is the author of “Medicine”, a short story about an Apache attack on an isolated ranch in Arizona. Ferguson published only a handful of stories. This is the only one I’ve read, and I didn’t like it at all. Didn’t care for the writing, didn’t like the characters, and almost didn’t finish it. That happens sometimes. Might’ve just been me.

Overall, I’d say this is an above-average issue of THRILLING WESTERN, based on the good cover by George Rozen, the stories by Ernest Haycox, Joseph Chadwick, and Alexander Wallace, and the offbeat elements in some of the other stories. And I even kind of enjoyed the Swap and Whopper yarn! Maybe I will check out some of the others in the series.

Friday, December 15, 2023

The Melting Man - Victor Canning

Victor Canning is one of those authors whose name I’ve seen around for decades but have never read until now. THE MELTING MAN, the fourth and final book in Canning’s series about British private detective Rex Carver, was published in hardcover in England in 1968, in hardcover from William Morrow in 1969, and later had paperback reprints from Curtis Books and Charter Books. It’s still available as an e-book on Amazon, and that’s the edition I read.

Narrator/protagonist Carver is a PI mostly in the classic mode, a guy who likes to drink, likes beautiful women, is quick with some snappy banter, and can be as tough as he needs to be. That’s pretty tough in this case, which finds him hired by an Irish millionaire to recover a missing car. The client’s stepdaughter disappeared for several days while driving the car, and although she turned up, she claims to have amnesia and has no idea where the car is. Carver immediately suspects there’s more to this case than a missing car, and he’s right, of course. Nothing is what it seems, a number of dangerous individuals also want to find the car, and the whole thing is wrapped in an international conspiracy with the fate of nations at stake.

THE MELTING MAN is well-plotted and very well-written, but it takes its own sweet time building up any momentum. The pace picks up considerably in the second half of the book, although Carver still spends a lot of time driving around Europe. (Most of the book takes place in France and Italy.) But it does build up to a very suspenseful climax and a satisfying ending. Canning can write, he’s just a little more deliberate about it than most of the authors I read.

I wound up liking this book, but it’s kind of a toss-up whether I liked it enough to read more by Victor Canning. Time will tell, I suppose.

Monday, December 11, 2023

Bad Luck and Trouble - Lee Child

A number of years ago, I read the first book in the Jack Reacher series, KILLING FLOOR. I thought the opening was great and the rest of the book was okay, although the entire plot is driven by a coincidence that I found to be unbelievable. I enjoyed the book enough that I started several of the others in the series over the years, but every time I’d read a few chapters and say, “Nah.” None of them grabbed me enough to keep me reading.

Then a while back we watched the TV series REACHER (which happens to be based on KILLING FLOOR, by the way) and thought it was great, one of the best things we’ve watched in recent years. Alan Ritchson is perfectly cast as Reacher. So I thought, well, I ought to try one of the books again. I have e-book editions of several of them, bought when they were on sale. The second season of the TV series is based on the novel BAD LUCK AND TROUBLE, and I happened to have that one, so I figured why not.

As it turned out, I did finish this one. I raced through it, in fact, and enjoyed it for the most part. Maybe visualizing Ritchson as Reacher had something to do with that. He’s a great character, and Ritchson does a fantastic job in the role. The storyline involves some of the members of Reacher’s old army unit being murdered, so he gets together the survivors and they set out to discover what’s going on and get revenge for their friends.

Author Lee Child keeps things moving along at a very nice pace, and the dialogue is good, but the farther I read, the more I felt like there wasn’t really much going on. This book is almost 400 pages long, but it seemed like there was enough plot for about half that length. But Reacher’s a great character, so I kept turning the digital pages. The ending is satisfying up to a point but then turns into a huge letdown. If I’m going to read 400 pages, I want a slam-bang, even over-the-top climax that’s going to make me mentally stand up and cheer. That’s nowhere to be found in BAD LUCK AND TROUBLE.

(To digress for a moment, I ran into the exact same problem in the only one of the Tom Clancy continuation novels I’ve read. 600 pages, well-written, an interesting plot, lots of good scenes . . . and then the plot point that drives the entire book is disposed of literally in half a page. Half a page in which the only action occurs off-screen. That happened to be a physical book I was reading, and for one of the few times in my life, I was tempted to throw a book across the room. I didn’t, though.)

Anyway, to get back to Child and Reacher, I found enough to like in BAD LUCK AND TROUBLE that I want to read more in the series, and I found enough to dislike that I’m a little leery of continuing. I'm sure I'll try another one, but I’ll let a little time pass first.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Adventure, November 1943

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. The cover is by Maurice Bower, an artist I’m not familiar with who did quite a few covers for ADVENTURE during this period. It’s an okay cover, not one of my favorites by any means, but it promises excitement inside and that’s what it was supposed to do.

The first thing I noticed about this issue is that it has a story by Georges Surdez in it. Surdez is always good. But when I opened it up, the story by him is actually the first installment of a two-part serial set in World War II. Boo! I don’t own the issue with the second part, and it doesn’t appear to be online, so I wound up skipping this one. I also skipped the final installment of “The Fleet in the Forest”, a five-part historical serial about the War of 1812 by Carl D. Lane. It was published as a novel. Maybe I’ll read it one of these days, as I find the War of 1812 interesting.

The next thing I noticed is that there are three non-Western short stories by authors best remembered for their Westerns. “Collision Hazard” by L.L. Foreman is one of several stories in this issue set during World War II. It’s a tale of naval action centered around a tugboat, not the usual vessel you’d think of in a story like this. But it’s an excellent yarn, very tense and well-written. Foreman was one of the best Western pulpsters and he demonstrates his skill here, too. “Message to Manakas” is by Hal G. Evarts Jr. (son of the early Western novelist Hal G. Evarts Sr.) and is another World War II yarn about a soldier of Greek descent being infiltrated into Crete to deliver a message to the leader of the Greek underground. It’s well-written but maybe not quite as exciting as it should have been. “Break-Through” by Robert E. Mahaffey, one of the regulars in various Popular Publications Western pulps, is a short-short about a couple of GIs driving a truck in North Africa. It has a twist ending that I didn’t see coming, and that makes it effective.

“Gray Is For Apple” is another short story set during the war, a nice little yarn about an Australian soldier in the New Guinea campaign who’s a fantastic marksman despite a handicap he has to overcome. The author, Christian Folkard, was an Australian journalist and war correspondent who published only three stories in the pulps, in 1943 and ’44. This is the first of that trio, and it’s a good one.

The novelette “One Little Slip” is a Northern by H.S.M. Kemp, who wrote plenty of them for various pulps. It’s a cleverly plotted tale in which a Mountie solves a murder. I liked it quite a bit.

The other novelette in this issue is “Red Justice” by William Du Bois. It’s part of a series about an army officer named Captain John Carter (Really? That’s the name you want to use?) who battles the Seminole Indians during the 1830s. There’s a lot of back-story from the other entries in the series, I didn’t care for the protagonist, and the writing never resonated with me. I read it, but I didn’t care for it.

There’s also an article by Hugh B. Cave about PT boats that’s actually an excerpt from his non-fiction book on the subject LONG WERE THE NIGHTS. Cave’s work is always worth reading, and I’ve been interested in PT boats ever since being a fan of McHALE’S NAVY in its original run 60 years ago, so I read and enjoyed this article even though I usually skip the non-fiction content in fiction magazines.

So this issue of ADVENTURE is a really mixed bag. None of the stories are outstanding, but the ones by Foreman, Evarts, Mahaffey, Folkard, and Kemp are all okay, entertaining yarns without being all that special. Don’t rush to your shelves for this one, but if it’s handy you might find it worth reading.

One more note: in the back of this issue and others of the era is a column called “Lost Trails”, where readers can write in, in hopes of reconnecting with friends or relatives they’ve lost track of. Most of these notes are fairly bland, if vaguely poignant, but one in this issue caught my eye: “Louis Sixt, probably known as Bob Six, last heard of Gananoque, Ont., and Vancouver, B.C. Age about 26, height 4’ 10”, weight 135 lbs., gray eyes, back-brushed straight brown hair. Scrapper, gambler, seafaring man. Anyone having knowledge of his whereabouts please write his brother Paul Sixt c/o Adventure.” What a great description! And now I want to write a series of pulp yarns about a scrappy little guy named Bob Six knocking around and having adventures all over the world. I’ll probably never do it, of course, but it’s fun to think about. Just out of curiosity, I tried to look up Louis Sixt and his brother Paul, but I couldn’t find out anything about them. Maybe one of their descendants will read this and email me one of these days. Stranger things have happened, as the saying goes.

Saturday, December 09, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Dime Western Magazine, February 1939

I don't own this one, but that's a heck of a cover and I'd read it if I had a copy. I don't know who did the art. Tom Lovell, maybe? But there's no doubt the line-up of authors is great: Walt Coburn, Harry F. Olmsted (three times, twice as himself and once with a Tensleep Maxon story as by Bart Cassidy), Ray Nafziger, Cliff Farrell, Robert E. Mahaffey, and Lloyd Eric Reeve. That's an All-Star bunch of Western pulpsters. And yet, it's just another issue of DIME WESTERN. What an era that was.

Friday, December 08, 2023

Whip Hand -- Rod Patterson

I read a Western pulp story not long ago by Rod Patterson and enjoyed it enough that I wanted to read more by him. His first novel is WHIP HAND, published by Lion Books in 1954 and expanded from the novella of the same title published by RANCH ROMANCES in the Second October Number, 1953. I don’t know who did the cover on the first paperback edition, but the novel was reprinted in 1957 with a cover by Mort Kunstler, and that’s the edition I read, pictured at the top of this post.

This is a save-the-ranch yarn, as Cole Brazee, forced to flee from Wyoming with a murder charge hanging over his head (the killing was actually self-defense, of course), comes home to seek justice and vengeance when his father is gunned down. This puts him in the crosshairs of his old enemy, cattle baron Doane Williams, who marries Cole’s old sweetheart just as Cole gets back in town. Many ambushes, shootouts, and brutal fistfights ensue as Cole tries to get to the bottom of the troubles in the area. Oh, and there’s a romantic triangle, too.

Patterson springs an effective plot twist late in the book, but for the most part WHIP HAND makes use of a very traditional plot, the sort of thing you’ve read many times before if you’re a long-time Western fan like me. Plenty of other writers, such as L.P. Holmes and William Heuman, do the same thing. Unfortunately, Patterson wasn’t as good a writer as Holmes and Heuman were, so this novel sort of just plods along despite the occasional nice line or bit of business, so it never really engaged my interest.

Patterson wrote a handful of other novels, all of them published as halves of Ace Double Westerns, and I own several of them. I might give one of them a try someday, or I might not. Your mileage certainly might vary, but I wasn’t very impressed by WHIP HAND. That’s a really nice cover by Mort Kunstler on the second edition, though.

Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Violet Rising #1 - Tony Petry, Rodney Jean-Etienne, Ihuoma Nnabuchi, Tuyi Ekes

I admit I don’t keep up with modern comics very well, but from what I’ve seen I have no interest in what the big companies are doing these days. But there are still good comic books being produced, you just have to know where to look for them. VIOLET RISING #1, from Alp Comics and Tony Petry, is the first issue of what looks like will be an excellent series in the classic superhero style.

Homicide detective Toya Robinson is haunted by the unsolved murders of several family members including her father and her husband. She’s raising her young son with some help from her mother. Then her twin brother, who’s a championship boxer, is kidnapped, and hard on the heels of that, Toya’s son James disappears, as well. This leads her to some family secrets that change everything, as she discovers the mysterious project that her scientist parents were working on . . .

The script by creator Tony Petry and Rodney Jean-Etienne is top-notch, packed with action and a few humorous touches and plenty of drama. The artwork by Ihuoma Nnabuchi and Tuyi Ekes does a good job of storytelling with some really effective perspectives on the action. This is a solid production all the way around and made me eager to read the second issue, which I hope will be coming along soon.

You can buy a digital edition of VIOLET RISING #1 here. Print copies are also available by contacting Petry at petry(underscore)tony(at)yahoo(dot)com or on X (formerly Twitter) @TonyPetry3. It’s good stuff whether you’re a new comics fan or an old-timer like me.


Tuesday, December 05, 2023

Fatman (2020)

We haven't watched many movies lately, but we saw this one which I'd only vaguely heard of. FATMAN is a perfect example of how to play a movie with a goofy, over-the-top premise: absolutely straight. I'm not sure this movie about a badass Santa Claus (Mel Gibson) being stalked by a ruthless hitman (Walton Goggins) would have worked any other way. It could have descended into silliness very easily, but instead, it was funny and has excellent action scenes. I really enjoyed this one, and if you're in the mood for an offbeat Christmas movie . . . well, you don't get much more offbeat than FATMAN.

Monday, December 04, 2023

Now Available: 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 came out today and is now available at Amazon. If you're a fan of traditional action Western novels, I think you'll enjoy it.

The Lowestoft Chronicle, Issue 56 Now Available

In Paris, an imprudent menu selection withers a tourist’s hopes of escaping the oppressive heat, and a married couple waylay their wedding anniversary celebrations while stuck on a grounded flight en route to the French capital. In Latin America, an expat battling sickness goes on a backcountry trek in search of the man who hijacked her cell phone, and miscommunication over money has unhappy consequences for the team leader on a promising archaeological dig in Oman.

We proudly present the work of James Gallant, David Havird, Mark Jacobs, Julie Allyn Johnson, Susanna Kittredge, George Moore, Tim Morris, Daniel Robinson, Brian Sacca, Diana Senechal, Stuart Watson, and Chila Woychik.

(The Lowestoft Chronicle is the only literary magazine I read. The level of the writing is always superb, the variety in the content means there's always something of interest, and the artwork, an example of which is above, is excellent. I recommend it highly, and you can read the new issue online here.)

Sunday, December 03, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Top-Notch, November 1936

I don't know who did the cover for this issue of TOP-NOTCH, but it's eye-catching, that's for sure. And there are some good writers inside this issue, including Philip Ketchum, Richard Sale, Nat Schachner, and George Armin Shaftel. Despite having seen Schachner's name for decades now, I don't think I've ever read anything by him. I have e-books of some of his science fiction stories. I suppose I ought to read them one of these days.

Saturday, December 02, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Texas Rangers, March 1946

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. That’s my battered, scribbled-on copy in the scan. When I see a math problem written on a cover or in a book, I can’t help but wonder about the person who wrote it and what they were trying to figure out. I like that vague connection with previous owners/readers of the book or pulp. At any rate, I think the cover art is by George Rozen. It sure looks like other Thrilling Group Western covers attributed to him.

The Jim Hatfield novel in this issue, “The Empire Trail”, is by A. Leslie Scott writing under the house name Jackson Cole. There’s no question this is Scott’s work, as the story revolves around plot elements he used over and over: smugglers bringing contraband over the border from Mexico in pack mule trains; owlhoots under the command of a mysterious mastermind trying to stop the railroad expanding into a new area; an underground stronghold from which Hatfield has to escape; Hatfield working undercover and not revealing that he’s a Ranger; and multiple suspects for the true identity of the outlaw boss.

So if you’ve read other Hatfield novels by Scott and liked them, you ought to like this one, because even though the plot is familiar, he’s really at the top of his game as far as the writing goes. I love Scott’s work because of the vivid (some might say florid) descriptive scenes and the over-the-top action scenes. “The Empire Trail” is full of both. The pace races along, and for once I was truly uncertain for a while who the villain would turn out to be. Usually, I can pick him out as soon as he appears. This is top-notch Scott and Hatfield, the kind of pulp Western yarn I’ve been reading and enjoying for close to 60 years, and I had a great time with it.

The Hatfield novel is long enough that there are only two short stories in this issue, “Doc Swap’s Fiddle Talk” by Ben Frank and “Things Happen in Threes” by Barry Scobee (the only pulp writer with a mountain named after him; you can look it up). I’m not a fan of the Doc Swap series, but I read this one, which features Doc Swap’s dangerous encounter with a bank robber, and it’s okay. The Scobee story is about a superstitious rancher and a drought, and it never engaged my interest at all. Reading these sure made me miss the days when Lee Bond’s Long Sam Littlejohn stories were the regular back-up series in TEXAS RANGERS.

So if you have this issue, you can safely skip the short stories, but you definitely should pull it down from the shelf and read “The Empire Trail”. It’s one of the best Jim Hatfield novels I’ve read in a while.

Friday, December 01, 2023

Solomon Kane: The Hound of God - Jonathan Maberry

SOLOMON KANE: THE HOUND OF GOD by Jonathan Maberry is the latest e-book in the Heroic Legends series of stories based on characters created by Robert E. Howard. As it begins, the Puritan adventurer/avenger Solomon Kane is traveling through Germany when he finds the remains of a whole village of farmers slaughtered by a band of brigands. If the tracks the villains left can be believed, they’re being led by a werewolf! Kane sets out to track down the monster and his henchmen, of course . . . but things don’t work out exactly the way he expects. The plot twist that Maberry springs is a good one, very effective even if it’s not entirely unexpected. The writing is good for the most part, and Solomon Kane rings true to Howard’s character. Maberry does something at the end that’s a fairly common technique, but it happens to be one that I don’t care for. Despite that, I enjoyed the story overall and would be happy to read more Solomon Kane stories by Maberry.