Monday, January 29, 2024

Sexton Blake: The Man I Killed - Rex Hardinge

Continuing to read my way through the anthology SEXTON BLAKE WINS, the next story is the novella “The Man I Killed” by Rex Hardinge. That’s a familiar name to Blake fans, but it’s the first thing I’ve read by Hardinge and I really liked it.

Originally published in the July 8, 1933 issue of DETECTIVE WEEKLY, “The Man I Killed” is the first Blake story I’ve encountered that’s written in first person. It’s certainly the first one I’ve read from the point of view of the killer! So this is, of necessity, an inverted mystery where the reader knows the identity of the murderer all along, and the appeal lies in watching how Sexton Blake figures it out.

But after Hardinge shows us how sports journalist Matt King murders a wealthy toymaker named Brandt and then sets up an alibi using his old friend Sexton Blake himself, the story takes some unexpected twists. In fact, considerably more is going on than Hardinge reveals to us at first. As the story races on with several excellent action scenes and plenty of suspense, more and more layers of the plot are peeled away until the final outcome was satisfyingly different from what I thought it might be.

A couple of minor quibbles: At one point, a character impersonates Sexton Blake with a degree of success that’s much too great to be believed. And some of the late twists, while effective, come from pretty far out in left field. However, without them the story’s impact would be lessened, and hey, miraculous disguises are accepted plot devices in popular fiction, right?

Neither of those things keep “The Man I Killed” from being the best story I’ve read so far in this anthology, as well as one of the best Sexton Blake stories I’ve read, period. I’ll definitely read more by Hardinge.

Note: The scan above is from Mark Hodder's invaluable website Blakiana. If you're a Sexton Blake fan and haven't checked it out, you need to immediately. But be prepared to be immersed there for hours because it's compulsive reading.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Mystery, Fall 1944

I don’t own a copy of this pulp, but I recently read the e-book version of it published by Radio Archives. I don’t know who painted the cover. Rudolph Belarski did a lot of covers for THRILLING MYSTERY during this era, but I don’t know Belarski’s work well enough to say one way or the other. THRILLING MYSTERY was long past its Weird Menace days by 1944, but this cover looks like it could have graced a Weird Menace pulp.

Instead, by this time THRILLING MYSTERY was more of a regular detective pulp. The lead novella in this issue, “Monarchs of Murder” by C.K.M. Scanlon, is interesting to me for a couple of reasons. The protagonist is Rex Parker, ace crime reporter for the New York Comet, who is also known as an amateur sleuth. It just so happens that Rex Parker was also the star of the lead novels in the pulp THE MASKED DETECTIVE, which ran from Fall 1940 through Spring 1943 for a total of twelve quarterly issues. Parker was also known as the Masked Detective in those stories, a secret identity known only to his girlfriend, fellow reporter Winnie Bligh, and his police contact, Detective Sergeant Gleason. Years ago, I read several of those Masked Detective stories that were reprinted by Tom Johnson’s Fading Shadows imprint and enjoyed all of them. I’m convinced “Monarchs of Murder” was written as a Masked Detective story, got orphaned when that pulp was canceled, and was rewritten to remove all the references to Rex Parker’s alter ego, which leads to one particularly goofy scene in which Parker dons a pair of goggles to conceal his identity, when he normally would have been wearing his mask in the original series.

The second thing I find interesting about “Monarchs of Murder” is that its authorship has been attributed to my old editor and mentor Sam Merwin Jr., who wrote at least three of the Masked Detective stories in that magazine’s run. (The main author was Norman Daniels, who wrote at least five of the original novels and probably created the character. The others were split up among Merwin, Robert Sidney Bowen, Laurence Donovan, and G.T. Fleming-Roberts.) Merwin was a consistently good writer, although he’s probably best remembered these days for his stints as the editor of various science fiction and mystery magazines. “Monarchs of Murder” finds Rex Parker battling a gang of Fifth Columnist saboteurs targeting the oil and gas industry, but the more Parker investigates, the more it appears something else may be going on. There’s plenty of action as Parker and Winnie are captured by the bad guys several different times and have to escape almost certain death. The plot moves along nicely, the clues are planted in a fair manner, and overall, this is an entertaining and satisfying wartime mystery yarn.

Next up is a novelette by an author I’ve long admired, Robert Bloch. At first glance, “Death is a Vampire” seems like it could have appeared in a Weird Menace pulp. The narrator/protagonist is a reporter, Dave Kirby, and the plot revolves around a spooky-looking house, a sinister guy with a vaguely European name (Igor Petroff), some art treasures, a beautiful blonde, a lawyer and a doctor who may be up to no good, and a supposed vampire running around killing people. But by the time the narrator makes a reference to the movie The Cat and the Canary, it’s pretty obvious that this is a prose version of a Bob Hope movie, with the wisecracking, somewhat cowardly reporter being written by Bloch with Hope in mind. It’s also a very entertaining story, a minor entry in Bloch’s career but a heck of a lot of fun. It was reprinted in the anthology TOUGH GUYS & DANGEROUS DAMES, used copies of which can be found pretty easily and inexpensively.

I think of Donald Bayne Hobart as a Western pulpster, but he wrote a lot of detective fiction, too, including nearly two dozen stories featuring private eye Mugs Kelly that ran in various Thrilling Group detective pulps. “Murder After Lunch” is a Mugs Kelly short story published in this issue, and it’s about first-person narrator Mugs returning to his office after lunch one day to find a dead guy sitting in his chair. Moments later, another guy appears to accuse him of the murder. The cops arrive, Mugs explains (in a pretty bland fashion) who really killed the victim, the end. This story went down easily enough due to Hobart’s veteran storytelling skills, but it sure wasn’t very filling.

“The Killer Was Careful” is a short-short by a forgotten pulpster named John X. Brown, who did only a few detective and air-war stories. It’s about a mild-mannered accountant who uncharacteristically murders a client and steals a bundle of cash and then has to worry about being caught. It’s the kind of twist ending “biter bit” story that would be popular in ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE a couple of decades later. I’m not a big fan of those unless they’re really well-done, and this one is just okay.

The issue wraps up with “The Spell of Death”, narrated by insurance investigator Dick Ames, who is on the trail of an embezzler when murder literally falls in his lap. It’s not a bad yarn, with what should have been an obvious clue to the murderer’s identity, but I overlooked it anyway. The author is A. Boyd Correll, a forgotten pulpster who wrote a couple of dozen detective stories for various pulps.

I enjoyed this issue. The stories by Merwin and Bloch are the stand-outs, with the others being okay but forgettable, but overall, it’s a nice, easy, entertaining read, just the sort of thing I need sometimes.

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Street & Smith's Western Story Magazine, December 16, 1933

I don't own this issue. The scan is from the Fictionmags Index. I don't know who painted this WESTERN STORY cover, but it's very evocative and I like it. It looks like there might be a little bit of a signature in the bottom right but not enough to make out. There's a strong line-up of authors inside: Max Brand (with part of a Silvertip serial; I'm sure it was published as a novel with a different title, but I don't know which one), Francis Thayer Hobson as Peter Field (with the final part of the serialization of OUTLAWS THREE, the first Powder Valley novel; it was published in hardback by William Morrow in January 1934, and I didn't know it had been serialized previously; another note of interest is that Hobson's wife, Laura Z. Hobson, was an uncredited collaborator on this novel, as well as the next one in the series, GRINGO GUNS), the great W.C. Tuttle, WESTERN STORY regular contributor Robert Ormond Case, and forgotten pulpsters Joseph F. Hook, Carlos St. Clair (really Carolyn St. Clair King), and Stanley Hofflund. Appears to be an issue well worth reading.

Friday, January 26, 2024

The Green Lama: The Case of the Crimson Hand - Richard Foster (Kendall Foster Crossen)

The subject of the Green Lama came up in the comments of last weekend’s post about a science fiction pulp containing a story by Kendall Foster Crossen, who wrote the Green Lama series under the pseudonym Richard Foster. That reminded me that several years ago, I started reading the first Green Lama story but set it aside pretty quickly since it just wasn’t connecting with me. I’ve been meaning to give it another try because I know that often in those cases, the fault lies more with the mood I’m in, rather than the story itself. Since the subject came up, and since I own all three Altus Press volumes reprinting the entire series, I figured now was as good a time as any.

The first volume kicks off with the usual informative and entertaining introduction by Will Murray, which in this case explains how Crossen, who was editing DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY at the time, was asked by his bosses at Munsey to create a new series character for DOUBLE DETECTIVE, a pulp that wasn’t doing particularly well. Crossen came up with the Green Lama, inspired partially by The Shadow and partially by a couple of recent books about Eastern mysticism.

The Green Lama is actually wealthy Jethro Dumont, who isn’t the usual bored socialite or playboy who turns to fighting crime. He’s kind of an egghead, actually, who has made extensive studies of medicine, science, and Eastern philosophies and religions. On a trip to Tibet, he converts to Buddhism and becomes a monk, but no sooner has he returned to the United States than he witnesses a gangland killing in which several innocents are slain. Realizing that the police aren’t going to do anything about this, he decides to fight crime himself, using his own natural skills and the tricks he’s learned in the Far East. He doesn’t kill, but he electrifies himself by drinking radioactive salts dissolved in water, so that he can shock crooks with a mere touch, paralyzing them or knocking them out, making them blind or mute, all depending on where he presses his finger.

Yep, you read that right, he turns himself temporarily radioactive, lurks around in the shadows, and chants his catchphrase, “Om! Ma-ni pad-me hum!” Crossen, who footnotes the stories extensively, translates that at one point, but I don’t remember what it really means and I’m too lazy to look it up. It sounds cool and probably strikes fear into the hearts of criminals, that’s all I know.

The first Green Lama novella (pretty close to actual novel length, in fact) appears in the April 1940 issue of DOUBLE DETECTIVE. Crossen entitled it ”The Case of the Crimson Hand”, but it was retitled “The Green Lama” when it appeared in the pulp. The Altus Press reprint restores the original title. The Crimson Hand is a gang leader who wears a mask and a crimson glove on one hand. He steals a new weapon from the doctor who invented it, a radioactive gas that produces a knock-out ray powerful enough to put an entire city to sleep when enough of the gas capsules are spread around. The Crimson Hand and his gang set off on a crime spree, looting Cleveland and announcing that they’re going to take over the entire country, or maybe even . . . the whole world!

Not if the Green Lama has anything to say about it, bub. Aided by reformed gangster Gary Brown, the Lama gets on the trail of the gang, fails to prevent them from looting Cleveland and kidnapping the inventor of the gas/ray, along with a beautiful blonde, but eventually tracks them to their hideout. The Green Lama may not kill anybody, but that doesn’t mean this story is lacking in action. In fact, it’s a veritable slaughter as the bad guys wipe out everybody who gets in their way. A couple of times, it looks like the Green Lama himself has met his doom, but we know better, don’t we?

Eventually, the Green Lama breaks up the gang and captures the Crimson Hand, who turns out to be exactly who you figured he was all along. He has one other helper along the way, a mysterious woman known only as Magga, who feeds him information and turns up in disguise to take an active hand in the adventure when needed.

This first story and the character of the Green Lama himself are so goofy, so over the top, even by pulp standards, that I have to believe Crossen had his tongue firmly in his cheek when he wrote it. I wonder if he expected the series to become as popular as it did, continuing for three years and fourteen novellas that spawned a comic book version, a radio show, and even talk about a TV series in the early days of television that never came about. I had no trouble reading “The Case of the Crimson Hand” this time and enjoyed it quite a bit. The action scenes are good, the pace really rockets along, and the Green Lama may be a little silly, but he’s an interesting character. I intend to read more about him. Whether I’ll ever get all the way through the series, who knows, but if you’re a pulp fan, the Green Lama is worth checking out. The first collection is available in paperback and e-book editions on Amazon.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Dirty Tricks - Jamie Mason

Jamie Mason’s highly entertaining new Western series continues with DIRTY TRICKS, the second adventure of trickshot artist, card sharp, and undercover Pinkerton operative Jack Tricke. The year is 1858, and the Pinkertons are working for the United States government, keeping an eye on things in Arizona Territory. There’s plenty to keep an eye on, too, what with building tension between pro- and anti-slavery factions, rampaging Apaches, and a rogue Mexican general who might just try to turn the territory into his own little empire.

Tricke travels with the Hamlin & Crowe Medicine Show, a motley but colorful collection of eccentric characters led by Doc Hamlin, who is also an undercover Pinkerton operative. Before this adventure is over, all of them will be involved in foiling a scheme that could well affect the entire country, not just Arizona Territory.

Mason keeps the action moving along at a satisfying pace, and the long, climactic battle involving a train is great. (Most of you probably have realized by now that I have a fondness for train scenes.) Jack Tricke isn’t necessarily the most likable protagonist you’ll ever encounter—he’s definitely a rogue—but his character is evolving as he continues his assignment for the Pinkertons. In fact, the way the plot and all the characters are developing, I think it would be a good idea to read this series in order. Luckily, that’s very easy to do. The first book is available on Amazon here, and this second one is here. If you’re a Western fan and haven’t checked out this series yet, I think it’s well worth reading.

Monday, January 22, 2024

The Slaves of Cthulhu - Tony Richards

I was in the mood for something completely different from what I usually read, and I figured a novel that, from its description, sounded like a collaboration between F. Scott Fitzgerald and H.P. Lovecraft ought to do the trick.

As a matter of fact, the narrator of THE SLAVES OF CTHULHU mentions Fitzgerald and a couple of his novels, and Lovecraft makes an amusing cameo appearance as a character when the narrator pays a visit to Providence, Rhode Island.

THE SLAVES OF CTHULHU is set in the summer and fall of 1923. The narrator/protagonist is Jay Sinclair, heir to the Sinclair diamond fortune, who is tired of being a wealthy young playboy and wants to do something worthwhile with his life. So he decides to become a novelist (there’s the Fitzgerald connection) and rents an isolated house on a lonely island off the coast to have a place to write undisturbed. Only, as you might guess, he winds up being disturbed. Boy, does he.

Nearby is the sinister-looking mansion of notorious libertine and poetess Anastasia Gorsting, who dropped out of public view several years earlier. Anastasia has an occasional party at which the dull, reclusive, and odd-looking inhabitants of the local village gather and carry on in crazed fashion. Strange lights also emanate from Anastasia’s mansion, and Jay hears indecipherable shouts coming from these gatherings. An old friend of Jay’s comes to visit him and seemingly falls under Anastasia’s spell. Jay also meets Anastasia’s beautiful but strange daughter.

Look, I’m no Lovecraft expert, as I’ve mentioned many times in the past, but it seems pretty obvious what’s going on here. And for the most part, it is. However, author Tony Richards does spring a nice twist about three-fourths of the way through the book that I didn’t see coming. It worked well for me, and do did the book overall, although I do have a few quibbles.

The first of those is that some of the words and phrases Richards uses just seem too modern for a tale set in 1923. There aren’t very many of these, but when they cropped up, they knocked me out of the story for a moment. There’s also a continuity glitch where a character has one eye, then two, then one again. That’s a pretty minor deal, too, and it’s a mistake I’ve made myself, but again, it disrupted the flow of things.

My obsessive carping aside, I really enjoyed THE SLAVES OF CTHULHU. Richards keeps things moving along at a very nice pace, the writing does a fine job of capturing the Jazz Age feel (with those minor exceptions mentioned above), and Jay Sinclair is a likable protagonist who at least tries to battle against overwhelming odds. No, this isn’t quite the Gatsby vs. Cthulhu mash-up I thought it might be, but that’s probably a good thing. If you’re in the mood for an entertaining horror yarn, I can certainly recommend this one. It’s available in e-book and trade paperback editions on Amazon. I intend to read more by Tony Richards.

Now, somebody needs to write THE ELDER GODS ALSO RISE. Jake Barnes vs. Cthulhu in Paris. The running of the shoggoths in Pamplona. I can see it now . . .

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Space Stories, December 1952

I've never seen an Earle Bergey cover I didn't like. This is a nice one on this issue of SPACE STORIES, the least successful (five issues) of the SF pulps from the Thrilling Group. Inside are stories by Jack Vance, Kendall Foster Crossen, William Morrison (Joseph Samachson, the guy who created the Martian Manhunter for DC Comics), and little known writers Robert Zacks and Phyllis Sterling Smith. If you want to read this issue, you can find the whole thing here. The other four issues of SPACE STORIES' short run can be found on the Internet Archive, too.

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Thrilling Western, March 1951

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. The cover art is probably by Sam Cherry, although I’m not a hundred percent convinced of that. It’s a nice cover, no matter who painted it. That’s my copy in the scan.

For more than a decade, the stories about Texas Ranger Walt Slade were one of the regular series in THRILLING WESTERN. A. Leslie Scott, under the pseudonym Bradford Scott, wrote more than 70 yarns about Slade, who was also known as El Halcon (The Hawk) and was reputed to be an outlaw, although he was actually an undercover Texas Ranger. “Trail From Yesterday”, the Slade novelette in this issue, is the final pulp story in the series, although as most if not all of you know, a few years later Scott began a series of paperback original novels featuring the character that ran for even longer.

This is an excellent tale for Slade to go out on, as far as his pulp run. Most of the time, these stories find Slade chasing outlaws in the rangelands of West Texas or the brush country of South Texas. “Trail From Yesterday” begins in Dallas (a far different place in the 1880s from what it is today) and the trail of a famous Texas owlhoot was believed to be dead leads Slade to the treacherous swamplands of East Texas, with its dangers of snakes, gators, and quicksand. The plot involves smuggling, gun-running, and a fortune in black opals. Scott packs almost enough material for a novel into this novelette, and he keeps the pace racing along with his usual vivid descriptions and several terrific shootouts. Slade also has a great sidekick in this one, Little Mose Wagner, a black former cowboy who’s too stove up to ride the range anymore, but he functions as Slade’s guide and assistant during this adventure in the swamp. This is great stuff, one of the best Walt Slade pulp yarns I’ve read. Scott was at the top of his game here.

The name Dabney Otis Collins is familiar to me from many Western pulp TOCs, but I don’t recall if I’ve ever read anything by him until now. His short story in this issue, “The Third Outlaw”, is about a fateful encounter between a lone cowboy and a gang of bank robbers on the run from the law as a blizzard is closing in. It’s a very suspenseful, surprisingly hardboiled tale, and I liked it a lot. I’m going to have to keep my eyes open for more by Collins.

The last time I read a Swap and Whopper story by Syl McDowell, I surprised myself by kind of liking it. The S&W story in this issue, “The Roaming Riders”, is pretty entertaining, too. It’s the usual goofy mix of wild circumstances, this time including a runaway pair of pants with all the duo’s money in it, a housing development in the desert of Southern California (this series is a modern-day Western), and an escaped elephant that’s supposed to be in a jungle movie. McDowell pulls it all together and makes it work fairly well. I got a few smiles out of this one. No outright chuckles that I can remember, but the series is growing on me.

Jim O’Mara was a pseudonym of Vernon Fluharty, who also wrote Westerns under the name Michael Carder. He was never all that prolific but he had a steady career producing well-written Westerns. His short story in this issue, “Collateral”, is a cattlemen vs. sodbusters yarn, written from the point of view of a former cowboy turned farmer. It’s a rather bleak yarn, but it has some nice action and a dark but still somewhat hopeful ending. I liked it quite a bit.

The same can’t be said of “Crop o’ Calamity” by Roger Dee (pseudonym of Roger D. Aycock), an author probably best remembered for his science fiction. This is another humorous Western about a couple of characters named Nosy Nolan and Doc Durgin, and it has something to do with escapees from a wild animal show. I don’t know for sure because it’s written in present tense (a style I don’t care for) and is dialect-heavy, and I just didn’t care for it at all, leading me to give up after a few pages. I may be warming up to Swap and Whopper after all these years, but not this one.

Much, much better is “Who’ll Ride With Me”, from the always dependable Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson. This novelette is a reprint from the August 1947 issue of THE RIO KID WESTERN. It’s a cavalry vs. the Apaches yarn set in Arizona Territory, and as usual when Wheeler-Nicholson is writing about the military, there’s a real ring of authenticity to it. Some great action, although the ending isn’t quite as dramatic as it could have been. This story is also a good example of how the late Jon Tuska was wrong when he claimed that pulp editors wouldn’t allow romances between white and Hispanic characters. There’s a nicely handled romantic angle between the white cavalry lieutenant who’s the protagonist and the beautiful daughter of a Mexican rancher, and it’s written the same as any other romance in a Western pulp.

Harold F. Cruickshank wrote a lot of air war stories early in his pulp career and then became a prolific Western pulpster. I’ve never cared for his Pioneer Folk series that ran in RANGE RIDERS WESTERN. He has a stand-alone short story, “Prodigal Gun Thunder”, in this issue. It’s about a young man framed for being a horse thief who returns home from a stretch in prison to get to the bottom of things and settle the score. It’s a definite improvement over the other Western stories by Cruickshank that I’ve read, but there’s still something about his writing that just doesn’t resonate with me.

Harvey Ivison is a brand-new name to me. He wrote only a few stories for the pulps. His story “Thataway” is about a fugitive from the law who isn’t exactly what he appears to be. On the run from a posse, he shows up at a ranch where there’s a badly injured man, and unexpected things happen. This story is written with a very nice hardboiled tone that includes a few traces of dry humor. I really liked it and will have to be on the lookout for more stories by Harvey Ivison.

This issue concludes with a condensed novel, SCORPION by Will James. Is there a difference between a condensed novel and an abridged novel? I don’t know, but I feel like there should be. In a condensed novel, you take out words here and lines there, right? Whereas in an abridged novel, you take out entire scenes or sections. I have no idea which approach was taken in producing the version of SCORPION printed here. I remember reading James’s horse novel SMOKY when I was a kid, but that’s all I could tell you about it. SCORPION is a horse novel, too, and while I wanted to like it, page after page of horse-breaking narrative with no dialogue or actual plot did me in. I didn’t read this one, either. I just don’t have the time or patience I once did.

So the March 1951 issue of THRILLING WESTERN turns out to be a really mixed bag. The Walt Slade story by Scott is superb. The stories by Collins, O’Mara, Wheeler-Nicholson, and Ivison are all very good to excellent. The Swap and Whopper yarn by McDowell is okay, the Cruickshank story is readable but forgettable, and I didn’t finish the other two. As always, some of you might enjoy the stories I didn’t, so if you have this issue on your shelves, it’s worth taking down and sampling its contents.

Friday, January 19, 2024

D'Artagnan - H. Bedford-Jones

I’ve been a fan of the Three Musketeers for a long time, ever since I bought the Whitman edition of the novel when I was a kid and read it. I read the Classics Illustrated comic book version, too, and over the years I’ve watched and enjoyed most of the movie versions. I really liked the BBC TV series from a few years back and that’s how I see the characters in my head now.

So when I was in the mood to read a swashbuckler recently, I picked up D'ARTAGNAN, a pastiche sequel to the original, written by one of my favorite authors, H. Bedford-Jones. It was published originally as a three-part serial in the pulp ADVENTURE in September and October of 1928 and reprinted several years ago by Altus Press.

Set approximately a year after the events in THE THREE MUSKETEERS, this novel is supposedly, according to Bedford-Jones, expanded from an unpublished manuscript by Alexandre Dumas. ADVENTURE plays that up on the cover of the issue containing the first installment of the serial. However, according to the Fictionmags Index, the only material by Dumas is a one-page excerpt from an article that has nothing to do with the book itself. No matter. D’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis are back, protecting Queen Anne of France from the schemes of the evil Cardinal Richelieu, although D’Artagnan does most of the heavy lifting in this book, befitting the title. Aramis is wounded and barely shows up. Athos and Porthos are busy with other things for most of the first half, although they play major roles in the second half of the book.

The plot, which involves various rings used for identification, missing documents and letters, wild coincidence after wild coincidence, ambushes, swordfights, disguises, and a mysterious child, is almost impossible to summarize. All the political intrigue is so complicated that I’m still not sure I understood everything that was going on. But again, no matter. D’Artagnan and his friends gallop hither and yon and save the day. That’s all that’s really important.

Bedford-Jones’ prose is a little more flowery than usual, which I suppose is understandable since he was writing a Dumas pastiche, and the plot, as I mentioned, is downright murky. But the action scenes, and there are a lot of them, are great. The final climactic battle, in which D’Artagnan, Athos, and Porthos face overwhelming odds in a French tavern, is just terrific, the sort of thing that would have had me bouncing up and down in my chair in suspense and excitement if I’d read this when I was a kid.

The good stuff far outweighs the weaker bits in D’ARTAGNAN. I had a great time reading it. If you’re a Three Musketeers fan like me or just enjoy a good swashbuckler, you should definitely give it a try. It’s available in paperback and e-book editions on Amazon.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

The Trailer Park Girls - Glenn Canary

Like many of the soft-core novels of the mid-Sixties, THE TRAILER PARK GIRLS is very much a crime novel in disguise. Three young army veterans who met while in the service, Burton Stone, Jack Cannon, and Al Leeds, move in together in a trailer and decide, for various reasons, that they’re going to rob a department store in nearby Cleveland. But then they meet three young women who also live in the same trailer park, Sally Talent, Marianne Nirvell, and Fran Novak. Of course, each of the guys falls for one of the girls, and that winds up greatly complicating their holdup plan. Will they be able to carry out the robbery, or will love derail their criminal scheme?

Author Glenn Canary gives us a fairly simple plot in THE TRAILER PARK GIRLS, although there are a few twists and turns along the way. The first half of the book consists mostly of Canary filling in the backgrounds of his six main characters. He does an excellent job of it, too, but the book picks up steam as the robbery comes closer and closer. The last 40 or 50 pages of this novel are really suspenseful. I was going to put it aside and go to bed, but I couldn’t. Had to keep turning the pages to find out what was going to happen.

THE TRAILER PARK GIRLS was published originally in 1963 by Monarch Books, ostensibly a step up from Beacon, Nightstand, etc., even though the sort of books they all published was very similar. Glenn Canary had written two novels for Monarch before this one, and later, in the Seventies, he wrote two suspense novels for Pinnacle Books, plus some short stories for various mystery and men’s magazines during the Sixties. Not a prolific career, but based on THE TRAILER PARK GIRLS, he was a pretty darned good writer. I enjoyed it quite a bit. Black Gat Books has reprinted it in paperback and e-book editions, and if you like a good slice of life/crime novel, you definitely need to give this one a try. Recommended.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Movies I've Missed (Until Now): Law of the Lawless (1964)

I enjoyed that Audie Murphy movie enough last week that when Grit TV ran a Dale Robertson movie I hadn’t seen on Saturday night, I watched it, too. Adding to the appeal is that LAW OF THE LAWLESS (1964) was written by the old pulpster and paperbacker Steve Fisher, whose work I’ve always found to be entertaining and interesting.

Robertson plays a former gunfighter who’s become a circuit-riding judge. He arrives in a town in Kansas to conduct the murder trial of the local big shot’s son, who killed a man in a saloon shootout. Complicating matters is that this is Robertson’s former hometown, and the man on trial is an old friend of his. The defendant’s wealthy father, played by Barton MacLane, wants to get his son acquitted of the charge, of course, but he also has another agenda that prompts him to bring in hired gun Bruce Cabot, whose character just happens to have killed Robertson’s father years earlier. This script rivals a Walt Coburn yarn for angst-filled backstory!

Elsewhere in the top-notch cast, William Bendix plays the local sheriff, who is also the prosecutor and the pastor of the local church. Yvonne De Carlo is a saloon girl, Kent Taylor is the defense attorney, John Agar plays the defendant, and Lon Chaney Jr. is a hulking henchman. Don “Red” Barry shows up briefly, also as a henchman. Jody McCrea, fresh from his role as Deadhead in the beach movies, plays Agar’s victim in the shootout.

There’s a little action along the way, but for the most part, LAW OF THE LAWLESS is a pretty talky film. There’s a long courtroom scene reminiscent of Perry Mason. The ending is a bit of a twist, but while I can see what Fisher was trying to do, it was also a bit of a letdown to me and I’m not sure it really worked. The movie is solid entertainment up to that point, however.

This was the first Western produced by A.C. Lyles, who turned out a string of such medium-budget films featuring veteran actors. When I was a kid, those Lyles-produced Westerns were a staple at the drive-in theater a quarter of a mile up the road from where I grew up, especially on Merchant’s Night during the summers. Merchant’s Night was usually on Tuesday, and you could get in free with tickets given out by local businesses when you bought something. The first half of the double bill was usually an older Elvis picture or a beach movie, and the second half was usually a Western, often one produced by Lyles. Most weeks I walked to the theater and watched the movies from the benches down front, by the playground. This was before Daylight Savings Time was a thing in Texas, so the movies would start around 8:30 in the evening and were over around 12:30, at which time I would walk home. It seems crazy now that a 12-year-old would do such a thing and nobody ever thought twice about it, but it really was a different time back then. A better time in many ways. But there’s no going back, is there, and at this point, I’m not sure I’d want to. I’ll revisit that era in my mind, though, any time.

Monday, January 15, 2024

The Horse - James Ciccone

James Ciccone is the author of two critically acclaimed Western novels, A GOOD DAY TO DIE and STAGECOACH JUSTICE. His latest book, THE HORSE, is quite a departure from his previous books. Set mostly in Saratoga, New York, in 1863, it’s a historical/psychological thriller/horror novella centered around the world of horse racing.

The protagonist/narrator of this story is a horse trainer named Alexander Whitfield Holmes, who enters into a partnership with wealthy Charles Ogden Tripps to buy and train a filly named Lizzie W for the racing game. Things go bad between the partners, which leads to a horrific murder. The rest of the novella concerns the aftereffects of that crime as they spread out like ripples in the lives of several characters. It’s not a mystery—the reader knows right away what’s going to happen and who is responsible—but what we don’t know is how the various angles of the tragedy are going to unfold.

This story is deliberately old-fashioned in its prose—Ciccone does a superb job of capturing the texture and pace of 19th Century fiction—but harrowingly modern in its depiction of evil and the depths to which human beings can sink. It’s definitely not an easy book to read, although it becomes more so after the killing takes place. But it’s also very much worth reading because it’s one of the most compelling portraits I’ve encountered of a character who is both sympathetic and despicable at the same time. Because of the graphic violence, THE HORSE probably isn’t for everyone, but I found myself unable to put it down and give it a high recommendation. It's available in paperback and e-book editions.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Fast Action Detective and Mystery Stories, January 1957

As you can see right on the cover (which is by the always excellent Norman Saunders, by the way), FAST ACTION DETECTIVE AND MYSTERY STORIES was a retitling of SMASHING DETECTIVE STORIES, making it one of the last detective pulps. Other than Richard Deming and Thomas Thursday, all the authors in this issue are unknown to me: Harlan Clay (I take that back, I've seen this name in Columbia Western pulps), Francis C. Battle, Saul Anthony, Peter Norcross, and Marc Miller. Although I'm sure the Deming story is good, the Saunders cover may well be the best thing about this issue.

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ranch Romances, August 1967

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. I’m pretty sure that the art in the inset is by Robert Stanley. I don’t have any idea who did the rest of the cover. That’s my copy in the scan.

Or is it a pulp? It’s slightly smaller than regular pulp dimensions, and the page edges are trimmed. And it was published long after the pulp era is considered to be over. However, it’s definitely not a digest, and it’s proudly part of an unbroken publication stretching back to 1924 (“43rd Year of Publication”, it says on the title page), so I’m calling it a pulp.
And as I’ve mentioned numerous times in the past, RANCH ROMANCES is the only pulp I remember seeing on the newsstands when I was a kid. Everything else was gone by then. But it’s entirely possible I laid eyes on this very issue on the magazine rack in Stephenville Drugs, where we always stopped on our way through Stephenville, Texas, so I could check out the comic book and paperback spinner racks. But I wouldn’t have even considered buying it because, you know, it had ROMANCES in the title and I was 14 years old. (I bought the first two paperback reprints of THE SPIDER, the ones by R.T.M. Scott that came bound together, at least one Mac hardboiled mystery novel by Thomas B. Dewey, and my first ever copy of PLAYBOY at Stephenville Drugs, along with other things I don’t remember, I’m sure.)

Okay, to get out of the weeds of nostalgia and move on to the August 1967 issue of RANCH ROMANCES . . . this is the first of the later, semi-pulp issues I’ve read. By the time the magazine’s run ended in 1971, it was all-reprint, but there are only a couple of older stories in this issue and the rest are new. It leads off with the short story “Wolf At His Heels” by A.E. Schraff, which is about a young outlaw being pursued by a dogged lawman not out of a sense of justice but on a mission of personal vengeance. It’s a well-written story with a satisfying ending. I’d never heard of A.E. Schraff before, but according to the Fictionmags Index, the A.E. stands for Anne Elaine. She wrote more than a dozen stories for RANCH ROMANCES, ZANE GREY WESTERN MAGAZINE, and FAR WEST during the Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties, then did a handful of mystery yarns for ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE in the Eighties. That’s all I know about her, but based on this story, she was a pretty good writer.

And sure enough, a little research tells me this from Goodreads: “Anne Elaine Schraff grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. She received both her bachelor's and master's degrees from California State University at Northridge and taught high school for ten years.

Anne paid her way through college by writing short stories for magazines. Since college she has written hundreds of stories and over eighty books including historical fiction, biographies, science books, and her favorite, fictional books for young people. She is published as both Anne Schraff and Anne E. Schraff.

Her background, which she describes as "multicultural, lower middle-class neighborhood, including African Americans, Mexican Americans, Arab Americans, and Filipino Americans," is her greatest inspiration when writing.”

Lee Martin has been used as a pseudonym by several different writers, but the Lee Martin who wrote the short story “Live Bait” in this issue was actually Margery Lee Martin, author of several dozen Western and mystery stories in the Sixties. “Live Bait” is sort of the opposite of “Wolf At His Heels” because in this story, a lawman is the target of some outlaw brothers who want to kill him, and they’re willing to use another brother’s widow to trap their quarry. This is another solid yarn with a satisfying, if predictable, ending.

Mona Jennings has only one credit in the Fictionmags Index, her short story “Indian Girl” in this issue. Mostly domestic drama with a little action at the end, this tale is about a young rancher who finds an Indian girl with her leg caught in an animal trap and takes her home to care for her injury. He has a younger brother and sister, all of them made orphans by an Indian attack several years earlier. Emotional turmoil ensues. Another well-written tale, although the ending is a little too unresolved for my taste.

Giff Cheshire was an old pro, of course. His novelette “Dry Summer” in this issue is a reprint from the 2nd July, 1956 number of RANCH ROMANCES. It’s the story of a young cowboy caught in the middle of a clash between a big rancher and a group of smaller ranchers over water rights. The plot is very traditional, but the story is well-written for the most part. I’ve read enough by Giff Cheshire now to know that I usually find his work a little on the bland side, and that’s true of this yarn.

W.J. Reynolds was another prolific Western pulpster, authoring approximately 120 stories between the mid-Forties and the early Seventies, most of them appearing in various Western pulps, but he also sold Western stories to some of the lower-rung men’s magazines such as ADAM and KNIGHT. I’ve read several stories by him and enjoyed them all. In “Bloody Butte”, his yarn in this issue, an army scout rescues a girl from a gang of marauders and scalphunters, and then they have to escape the gang’s pursuit, eventually forting up at the butte of the title.

In 1967, when this issue reprinted Elmer Kelton’s novella “Die by the Gun” (original appearance in the 2nd January Number, 1954 issue of RANCH ROMANCES), Kelton was a well-regarded author of traditional Western stories and novels, but he was still several years away from the elevated literary reputation he would begin to enjoy later in his career. One of the lines he often used when speaking to groups was “Louis L’Amour’s heroes are seven feet tall and invincible. Mine are five-foot-seven and nervous.” I don’t know if Dolph Noble, the protagonist of this tale, qualifies as nervous, but he certainly has his share of angst to deal with. He’s the sheriff of a West Texas county and has a wild younger brother who wants to be either a lawman or an owlhoot and isn’t all that particular about which. He’s in love with the wife of an outlaw whose gang has been plaguing the area. The townspeople believe he hasn’t been able to corral the gang because he’s holding back on account of his feelings for the woman. His ambitious but flawed former deputy wants to take his job away in the next election. So Dolph has plenty of trouble on his plate, and Kelton keeps twisting the screws to make it worse for him. Not surprisingly, this is easily the best story in the issue, with solid writing and excellent characterization.

This is the first of the Sixties issues of RANCH ROMANCES that I’ve read, and overall it’s very good. Cheshire’s story is the weakest in the bunch, and it’s not bad, just not as good as the others. I think the tone isn’t as hardboiled as the Fifties issues I’ve read, and the romance elements are played up a little more, but there’s still good action in every story. It came out in the summer between eighth and ninth grade for me. As I mentioned above, I wouldn’t have bought it at the time . . . but if I had, I would have enjoyed it. It’s well worth reading if you have a copy on your shelves.

Friday, January 12, 2024

Under Sexton Blake's Orders - John Hunter

“Under Sexton Blake’s Orders” is a novelette by prolific British author John Hunter that first appeared in the 1942 edition of SEXTON BLAKE ANNUAL. It was reprinted in the anthology SEXTON BLAKE WINS, which is where I read it. After enjoying but being slightly disappointed in the anthology’s previous entry by G.H. Teed, I was looking forward to seeing what Hunter would do with Sexton Blake.

This story features a character created by Hunter and used only in his stories, as far as I know. Two-fisted sea captain James Dack is a bit of a shady character, sometimes on the side of the law, sometimes not. In this yarn, he finds himself mixed up in something that’s too nefarious even for his somewhat flexible morals, involving a high-ranking Nazi prisoner who has been captured and brought to England for interrogation. Unfortunately, he’s escaped and is trying to get out of the country. Luckily, Sexton Blake is also on the case, and he and Captain Dack (who have clashed in the past) have to team up as wary allies to foil the scheme.

For the most part, Hunter keeps things perking along nicely in this tale, and there’s some excellent battle action at sea. The story seemed a bit rushed at times, leading me to think this plot might have worked better as a novella, but “Under Sexton Blake’s Orders” is an entertaining yarn. As far as I recall, it’s the first thing I’ve read by John Hunter. I’m going to have to try one of his full-length Sexton Blake novels or maybe one of his Westerns.

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Trickshot - Jamie Mason

Having edited several of Jamie Mason’s novels and read a number of others, I’ve become a fan of his work. I’d like to think I had a little influence on his decision to move into the Western genre. His first Western under his own name, TRICKSHOT, came out recently, and it’s a great yarn. Here’s the blurb I gave the book after reading it in manuscript:

Part Maverick, part The Wild Wild West, part Spaghetti Western, and all fun, Trickshot is a hugely entertaining, action-packed new Western series from one of the best writers in the business, Jamie Mason. If you’re a Western fan, you’ll have a great time reading this novel. I certainly did.

Jack Tricke is a gambler and expert marksman during the era just before the outbreak of the Civil War. In trouble with the law, he takes the only way out of going to jail: he agrees to work as an undercover operative for the Pinkerton Detective Agency. His first assignment finds him joining a traveling medicine show in Arizona Territory. As you might expect, that provides a colorful bunch of characters to serve as both allies and adversaries for Tricke.

Mason keeps the pace galloping along in very entertaining fashion, and he does a great job with the setting. Jack Tricke is a roguish but likable protagonist, and this novel sets up an ongoing storyline that will carry him to the brink of the Civil War and probably beyond. I really enjoyed TRICKSHOT and look forward to seeing what happens next. This one is available in an e-book edition from Amazon and gets a high recommendation from me.

Tuesday, January 09, 2024

Movies I've Missed (Until Now): Gunpoint (1966)

Looking around for something to watch on TV the other night, I noticed that Grit was showing an Audie Murphy Western I didn’t remember ever seeing. Audie was one of my dad’s favorite movie cowboys, along with Randolph Scott and Rod Cameron, and I watched many of those movies with him. Watching an Audie Murphy Western these days feels a little like my dad is visiting me for a while.

So, naturally, I watched GUNPOINT, from 1966, one of Audie’s last few movies before his untimely death in 1969. It starts with something else that held considerable nostalgia value for me: a train robbery filmed on the Durango-to-Silverton narrow gauge line in Colorado, which we rode on during a family vacation in the early Sixties. I recognized it right away. Audie, as the local sheriff, suspects the train will be held up by a gang of outlaws led by the vicious Drago (Morgan Woodward, who else?), but his efforts to foil the robbery are thwarted by his treacherous deputy who’s actually in with the gang. The deputy is played by Denver Pyle, a rare occasion of him playing a bad guy, but he handles the role well.

Through a rather convoluted setup, the outlaws wind up kidnapping a saloon songbird as well (Joan Staley), whose fiancée is gambler/gunman Warren Stevens. Before you know it, Audie and Stevens have teamed up with some other townspeople to form a posse and go after the outlaws. It's a long chase with plenty of action as the posse gets whittled down until finally there are only a couple left to settle things with the bad guys.

I have to admit, there’s not much in this movie that I didn’t feel like I had written dozens of times in dozens of my books, which made for a definite sense of déjà vu. But I enjoyed GUNPOINT quite a bit anyway. The cast is comfortingly familiar. In addition to those already mentioned, it includes Roy Barcroft as the town doctor and Edgar Buchanan and Royal Dano as a couple of half-loco mustangers. There’s a spectacular scene with the train early on and then good stunt work all the way through. The photography and scenery are nice. There are a few lapses of logic in the script by Mary and Willard Willingham, but veteran director Earl Bellamy keeps things moving along briskly enough that they’re not too much of a distraction.

GUNPOINT isn’t as good as most of the movies Audie made earlier in his career. It’s just an average Western. But sometimes that’s all you need, and I had a good time watching it. I think my dad would have, too.

Monday, January 08, 2024

Now Available: Kingfisher P.I. #2: Dark Ride - James Reasoner and Livia J. Washburn

Hired to find out who’s been threatening a Texas state senator’s granddaughter, the two triplet sleuths Callista and Joseph Kingfisher find themselves in more trouble than they bargained for as Callie goes undercover at a therapeutic riding center and becomes involved in a dangerous conspiracy with roots on the other side of the world.

Between international criminals who want them dead, an enigmatic former Special Forces operator who can’t be trusted, federal agents who would like to make the Kingfishers disappear in some black site prison, and the shadowy menace who started the whole thing, Callie and Joseph will have their work cut out just trying to survive this case!

KINGFISHER P.I.: DARK RIDE is the second in a new series of thrilling mystery novels from New York Times bestselling author James Reasoner and the creator of the popular Fresh Baked Mystery series Livia J. Washburn. Mount up for these exciting and entertaining tales from two of today’s best storytellers!

(The second novel in the Kingfisher P.I. series is now available on Amazon in trade paperback and e-book editions. You can also find e-book editions on Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books, and Smashwords. These books are a little different from anything Livia and I have done before, and considering how many books we've written, that's not easy! But I'm having a great time working on them and I hope the readers enjoy them.)

Sunday, January 07, 2024

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Wonder Stories, June 1953

I usually think of Walter Popp as a paperback cover artist, but he did some pulp covers, too, including this one for THRILLING WONDER STORIES. Inside are stories by Murray Leinster, Chad Oliver (always nice to see a pulp with a story in it by someone I've actually met), Kris Neville, Wallace West, John Christopher, and a couple of lesser-known authors, R.J. McGregor and J.W. Groves. If you'd like to read this issue, it's available on the Luminist League website here.

Saturday, January 06, 2024

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Real Western, June 1942

I don't know who painted the cover on this issue of REAL WESTERN, but I like it. Very dramatic. There's a nice group of writers inside, too: E.B. Mann, who takes up most of the pages with a novel-length story (I wonder if it was ever reprinted under another title), Wilbur S. Peacock, Anson Hard, Brett Austin (who was really Lee Floren), and house-name Cliff Campbell.

Friday, January 05, 2024

The Irish Beauty Contract - Philip Atlee (James Atlee Phillips)

THE IRISH BEAUTY CONTRACT is the fifth novel in Philip Atlee’s Joe Gall series of espionage adventures, or the sixth if you count PAGODA, an unofficial part of the series that’s the actual debut of the Gall character. I’ve read all the previous novels, and with the exception of PAGODA, the plots don’t make much sense, but the books are all very well-written.

I’m happy to report that THE IRISH BEAUTY CONTRACT actually does make sense for the most part and gives us a coherent narrative that, thankfully, continues to be very well-written. Joe Gall, who lives on an isolated, mountaintop estate in Arkansas when he’s not working on a contract basis for the U.S. government as an intelligence agent, is in New Granada (a fictional but real-sounding country in South America) pretending to be a military attaché at the local U.S. embassy while he secretly keeps track of a suspicious character from the States who may have ties to communist rebels in the country. He’s also carrying on an affair with the beautiful wife of an Irish lord.

Then violent things start to happen. Shootouts, knife fights, double crosses, secret identities, and an encounter with a jungle emperor lead Gall to a lost city high in the Andes where a final mystery awaits. (And, I might add, the solution to that final mystery is pretty hokey, even for 1966 when this book was first published.) The action flows reasonably well and Joe Gall is a sympathetic if not really all that likable narrator/protagonist.

Philip Atlee was really Fort Worth’s own James Atlee Phillips, whose first novel THE INHERITORS was something of a scandal when it was published in the early Forties because of its unflattering portrait of Fort Worth high society at the time. I’ve never read it, and I ought to. He wrote a few other novels under his real name, but he’s remembered primarily for the Joe Gall books, which were pretty successful paperback from Gold Medal in the Sixties and Seventies. They’re still available as e-books, which is how I read THE IRISH BEAUTY CONTRACT even though I own the paperback. I have the whole series in paperback, by the way, although they’re not easy to get to at the moment. So if I read more of them, which I probably will based on my enjoyment of this one, I’ll probably stick with the e-books. Although as all of you almost surely know, it’s hard to beat the smell and feel of an old paperback . . .

Wednesday, January 03, 2024

Jimgrim and Allah's Peace - Talbot Mundy (William Lancaster Gribbon)

Back in the Sixties when Avon published paperback editions of several of Talbot Mundy’s Jimgrim novels, they made the books seem like a cross between Robert E. Howard (“Talbot Mundy’s exotic world of fantastic adventure” enthused the cover copy) and Doc Savage (“Jimgrim and his amazing crew”). So naturally, I grabbed them off the paperback racks and read them. They weren’t exactly what those covers promised, being leisurely paced stories mostly about political and religious strife in the Middle and Far East. But the characters were interesting, especially James Schuyler Grim, an American working for British Intelligence, and the occasional action scenes were well-done. I enjoyed them enough that I’ve wanted to read the entire Jimgrim series sometime, and at my age, if I’m ever going to, I’d better get started.

So I read the first novel in the series, JIMGRIM AND ALLAH’S PEACE, which is actually a fix-up of two connected novellas, “The Adventure at El-Kerak”, originally published in the November 10, 1921 issue of the pulp ADVENTURE and “Under the Dome of the Rock” from the December 10, 1921 issue of ADVENTURE. The narrator is an unnamed American journalist in Jerusalem, which is under the control of the British at the moment, with the army enforcing an uneasy peace between Jews and Arabs. The ongoing conflict between Zionists and Palestinians is uncannily similar to the unfortunate things going on in the Middle East today. Even a little creepy, to be honest, and commenting on the similarity of current events to stories from a 102-year-old pulp is as far as I intend to delve into politics on this blog.

The narrator’s friendship with Jimgrim draws him into involvement with two separate but related plots by radical groups to destabilize things even more and start a war that will engulf the whole Middle East in blood and flame. So the stakes are really high as Jimgrim and his allies seek to foil these plots before they can come to fruition.

Unfortunately, except for a couple of excellent action scenes at the end of each source novella, foiling the plots consists of sitting around and talking, walking around Jerusalem and talking, and a lot of skulking. These stories are very well-written with superb settings and well-drawn characters, but they take “leisurely paced” to a whole new level. When Mundy wants to bring the blood and thunder, he’s perfectly capable of doing so, but he should have done more of it in JIMGRIM AND ALLAH’S PEACE.

That said, I enjoyed this novel enough to continue reading the series, but I sure hope the other installments have a little bit more action in them.

Monday, January 01, 2024

Happy New Year!

By now I know not to say I hope this year is better than the last, but maybe . . . just maybe . . .