Sunday, March 31, 2024

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Five-Novels Monthly, May 1935

Hey, lady, look out for that skull with the glowing eyes! I don't know who painted this cover, but it sure caught my eye when I was scrolling through the Fictionmags Index. FIVE-NOVELS MONTHLY didn't actually publish five novels in each issue; the stories are all novellas or novelettes in a variety of genres. But plenty of good authors and fine fiction appeared in its pages. In this issue there are stories by one of my favorite authors, L.P. Holmes, along with John Murray Reynolds (who wrote the first Ki-Gor novel), L. Ron Hubbard, Reg Dinsmore (don't know him), and Edmond Du Perrier (not familiar with him, either). Hubbard was a regular in this pulp and I don't believe much has been reprinted from it except for his stories. I'll bet there are plenty of good ones there that would be worth reading.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: West, September 1951

Ouch! That definitely looks painful. This appears to me to be a Sam Cherry cover, although it hasn't been attributed to him as far as I know. And it's a very effective one. The lead story in this issue is a novella by the dependable Joseph Chadwick, backed up with stories by Edward Parrish Ware (a reprint from the May 1937 issue of POPULAR WESTERN), Harold F. Cruickshank, and lesser-known writers Frank Watson, Garold Hartsock, and house-name Tex Mumford. I don't own this issue, but it looks like a good one.

Friday, March 29, 2024

Men's Adventure Quarterly #10: The Vietnam Issue -- Robert Deis and Bill Cunningham, eds.

The tenth issue of MEN’S ADVENTURE QUARTERLY is out, this time around focusing on the best stories and artwork from the men’s adventure magazines dealing with the Vietnam war. Those of you who have been following MAQ from the beginning know that it’s one of the best publications out there, and this new issue more than maintains that very high standard. You’d expect nothing less from editors Robert Deis and Bill Cunningham, ably assisted on this issue by Paul Bishop and Rob Morris.

As before, the stories reprinted in this issue are split between true tales (or mostly true) and those that are entirely or almost entirely fictional. For me, the high point of the non-fiction pieces is “MIG Bait” by the prolific MAM writer and military historian Robert F. Dorr, from the February 1968 issue of MAN’S MAGAZINE. It was my pleasure and honor to get to know Bob Dorr a little before he passed away several years ago, and I’ve become a big fan of his work. His story about the first supersonic dogfight in the air over Vietnam is exciting and well-written. I also enjoyed the profile of Barry Sadler by Garth Roberts that appeared in the October 1966 issue of MAN’S WORLD. I remember quite well when Sadler’s song “The Ballad of the Green Berets” was a huge hit and played on the radio all the time. That article also mentions author Robin Moore and his bestselling novel THE GREEN BERETS, which I remember buying off the spinner rack at Lester’s Pharmacy when it was brand-new, so that just adds to the nostalgic appeal of that piece for me. Also in the non-fiction realm, but fiction-related, Paul Bishop contributes a terrific article about the various series of paperback novels centering around the war in Vietnam.

As for the fiction, one of my favorites is “Saigon Nymph Who Led the Green Berets to the Cong’s Terror Headquarters” (MALE, August 1966) by Mario Cleri, who, as all of you already know, was really Mario Puzo, the author of THE GODFATHER and numerous other novels. Puzo was a prolific contributor to the MAMs as both a writer and an editor. I think this story is the first thing I’ve read by him other than THE GODFATHER, all those years ago, and it’s an excellent yarn about a colonel in Army Intelligence going after the VC terrorists responsible for his younger brother’s death.

The other top fictional tale for me is “Saga of Mad Mike Kovacs and His Battling Lepers of Vietnam”, from the January 1967 issue of MALE, by Glenn Infield. This is the first thing I’ve read by Infield, and it’s great, every bit as over-the-top as you might imagine from the title. Fast-paced and very well-written, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Rob Morris contributes informative introductions to both this story and to Robert F. Dorr’s “MIG Pilot”.

On the visual front, this issue is as beautifully produced as all the other issues of MAQ, featuring dozens of covers and interior illustrations along with two lengthy galleries, one spotlighting many of the Vietnam-related covers on which the legendary Steve Holland appeared, and the other featuring Raquel Welch accompanying Bob Hope to Vietnam on one of his famous USO tours. Back in those days I never missed the TV specials drawn from footage of those UFO shows, and I remember quite well the one on which Raquel appeared. It was nice revisiting those days.

So this is another great job all around, and I give a big old recommendation to the Vietnam Issue of MEN’S ADVENTURE QUARTERLY. It’s available in two different formats on Amazon: a full-color paperback edition and a black-and-whitepaperback edition, or you can buy the full-color edition directly from editor and publisher Robert Deis on eBay.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Rustlers Three - Buck Billings

When the law makes things too hot in Montana for notorious rustler Wild Will Wilson, he drifts down to the West Texas cowtown of El Centro and forces his way into a rustling ring masterminded by railroad superintendent T.K. “Track” Zuter. (This isn’t a spoiler; Zuter’s villainy is revealed right away.) Wilson proves his bona fides by wide-looping some cattle from the nearby Diamond A Ranch, owned by Jim Blair. Then Wilson comes up with an even more audacious scheme to swipe some cattle right of the very railroad cars in which they’re being shipped. Along the way, he also romances Marjorie Blair, the beautiful daughter of Jim Blair.

Then, halfway through this book, the author pulls off a nice plot twist in which it turns out hardly anything is what it appeared to be. This development would be even more effective if the dust jacket copy hadn’t given it away, but even so, it works well and plunges the reader into a rather dizzying array of complications, double-crosses, and hidden identities.

RUSTLERS THREE was published in hardback by Arcadia House in 1943 under the name Buck Billings. As far as I know, it was never reprinted, at least not under that title and by-line. Buck Billings is a pseudonym that’s been connected to prolific pulpsters Claude Rister and A. Leslie Scott, but there’s no definitive list of who wrote what. A friend of mine and I have been trying to figure that out, but it’s a daunting task involving a lot of guesswork and speculation. For example, there’s a long novella entitled “Rustlers Three” that was published in the November 1939 issue of the pulp magazine WEST under the house-name Sam Brant. This could well be the source of the Arcadia House novel. I haven’t been able to lay my hands on a copy of that issue or find a scan of it in order to compare. Neither Rister nor Scott have been known to write under the Sam Brant name, but in the world of pulp magazine house-names, almost anything is possible.

The best I can do as far as authorship of RUSTLERS THREE goes is to make an educated guess. Most of this novel reads like it was written by A. Leslie Scott, who had a fairly distinctive style. But some of it doesn’t read like Scott. He had a habit of taking one of his pulp novels, rewriting it, and adding material from a short story in order to make the yarn long enough for book publication. Something like that happens in RUSTLERS THREE, but I have to wonder if someone else (maybe Scott’s wife Lily, who wrote for the love pulps) did the actual combining and rewriting to produce the Arcadia House version of the novel. That’s some of the pure speculation I mentioned above. The one thing I can say with relative certainty is that the book wasn’t written by Claude Rister. I’m no expert on his work, but it seems very different in style to me.

But to get to the most important question, is RUSTLERS THREE any good? Well, yeah, it is. It’s a fast-moving tale with a likable protagonist and some good action scenes. It could have used a little more action, to be honest, but what’s there is exciting and well-written. I raced through this book and had a good time reading it. If you’re a fan of traditional Westerns from the Thirties and Forties, it’s worth reading if you come across a copy, which, admittedly, is likely to be pretty uncommon these days.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Sexton Blake: The Green Jester - Donald Stuart

“The Green Jester”, a Sexton Blake novella by Donald Stuart, appeared originally in UNION JACK #1379, March 22, 1930, and was reprinted in the collection SEXTON BLAKE WINS, which is where I read it. It’s a very entertaining yarn in which a mysterious killer sends warning limericks to his intended victims on cards that bear a drawing of a sinister jester dressed in green. Not surprisingly, it doesn’t take long for the press to dub this unknown murderer The Green Jester. The great detective Sexton Blake and his friend Inspector Coutts are soon on the case as well, trying to discover a connection between the seemingly unrelated victims. They’re almost in time to prevent one of the murders, arriving at the country estate of a retired doctor who has received one of the grim warnings, but The Green Jester has beaten them to the punch and has left behind more grisly handiwork. The chase isn’t over, though, as Blake continues trying to untangle this deadly scheme.

This is one of those proverbial ripping yarns, as Stuart keeps the story moving along at a fast pace with storms, midnight chases, and plenty of action. In his introductory comments, Jack Adrian, the editor of SEXTON BLAKE WINS, mentions that Donald Stuart was heavily influenced by the work of Edgar Wallace. Now, I’m very, very far from an expert on Wallace, having read exactly one of his novels, but even so, “The Green Jester” sounds like a Wallace title to me, so I’m sure Adrian is right. That just makes me want to read even more by Stuart, and Wallace, because I sure enjoyed this one.

In the spirit of full disclosure, this is also one of the rare occasions where I was ahead of Blake on figuring out who The Green Jester was, although there was one angle I didn’t have nailed down. Still, I felt pretty good about my deductions.

The cover image above is from Mark Hodder’s invaluable website Blakiana. If you’re a Sexton Blake fan and haven’t visited there, you should check it out right away.

I’ve enjoyed every story so far in SEXTON BLAKE WINS. It’s a fine collection.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy, December 2, 1939

I'm pretty sure I've read this issue of ARGOSY, but it was at least twenty years ago, probably longer, and I don't recall anything about it except the nice Rudolph Belarski cover and that I really enjoyed Frank Richardson Pierce's timber novella. Pierce was just about the best at that kind of yarn. Also in this issue are stories by Jim Kjelgaard, Carl Rathjen, Alexander Key, and Robert W. Cochran, plus serial installments by Robert Carse, Johnston McCulley, and Jonathan Stagge (actually the same guys who wrote mysteries under the pseudonyms Patrick Quentin and Q. Patrick, at least part of the time; who wrote what under those names is pretty complicated). ARGOSY always had great covers and great writers. If it just weren't for all those blasted serials . . .   

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Spicy Western Stories, September 1939

The cover of this issue of SPICY WESTERN STORIES is credited to Delos Palmer in the Fictionmags Index, and I don't doubt that's right, but Allan Anderson must have seen this cover at some point and been impressed by it. At first glance, I sure took it for Anderson's work. This issue includes stories by some Spicy stalwarts: E. Hoffmann Price, James P. Olsen (writing as James A. Lawson), Edwin Truett Long (writing as Luke Terry), and Laurence Donovan (twice, once as himself and once as Phil Strange). There's also a story by house-name Ken Cooper, and two by little-known authors Hart Williams (his only credit in the FMI) and Alf Foote (only two stories listed in the FMI). My hunch is that those last two were pseudonyms, but really, who knows? Not me, that's for sure. This issue doesn't appear to be on-line, so if you don't own a copy (I don't), you'll have to be content with looking at the cover. But at least it's a good cover.

UPDATE: I've discovered belatedly that I've posted this cover before, several years ago. I've been posting pulp covers on the weekends for well over a decade now, so I suppose it's inevitable that a rerun creeps in by accident now and then. As I said above, though, it's a good cover, so I'm going to leave it here. Anyway, this post has a little more information in it than the original one did.

Friday, March 22, 2024

A Rough Edges Rerun: Barb Wire - Walt Coburn

(This post appeared in a somewhat different form on May 20, 2008.)

Walt Coburn has to be one of the most inconsistent Western writers I’ve ever encountered. STIRRUP HIGH, his fictionalized memoir of growing up on one of the largest cattle ranches in Montana during the early 20th Century, is one of the best books of its type that I’ve read. Many of his hundreds of stories published in the Western pulps are excellent. But at the same time, many of his stories are terrible, mostly from the late Forties on, when he began having more of a problem with alcohol. And his novels, to me, are seldom as good as his shorter works, because the longer length provides more of an opportunity for his weaknesses to surface.

BARB WIRE, one of Coburn’s early novels, is a mess. Highly entertaining in places, but still a mess. The plot is a simple one: A villain from back east encourages farmers to move into ranching country, knowing this will provoke a cattlemen vs. nesters range war, after which, when both sides are wiped out, the bad guy can move in and take over. Certainly that plot wasn’t as old in 1931, when the book came out, as it is now, but it had whiskers even then.

BARB WIRE is set in the 20th Century, complete with telephones and cars, and that allows Coburn to indulge in one of his favorite themes, the passing of the Old West and the end of ranch life as the old-timers knew it. The other dominant theme in his work is the resurfacing of complications that have tragic origins in the past. Coburn can give Ross Macdonald a run for his money when it comes to this element of his plots.

And ultimately that causes most of the problems in BARB WIRE, because Coburn crams dozens of characters into the story, all of them with at least one melodramatic connection with the other characters. You’ve got your nominal hero, rancher’s son Buck Rawlins, who’s in love with Colleen Driscoll, the daughter of Bob Driscoll, the former partner but current enemy of Dave Rawlins, Buck’s father, who were both friends with Uncle Hank Mayberry, the local banker whose son-in-law is in cahoots with the Evil Easterner. Buck thinks that Colleen is in love with Bill Murdock, whose father Angus Murdock is hated by the cattlemen because he raises sheep (you knew there had to be some sheepherders in here somewhere) and is blamed for a murder and a prairie fire really caused by, you guessed it, the henchmen of the Evil Easterner. Then you’ve got the Nighthawk, a dashing and good-hearted outlaw who used to be a cowboy but now robs trains because he hates the railroad because he blames it for the deaths of his father and brother, and of course the Nighthawk is also friends with Buck Rawlins and is opposed to the schemes of the Evil Easterner. Not to forget the psychotic gunslinger who has a hook in place of his left hand, a despised son who wants to be a preacher, and an old enemy who was thought to be dead but is really still alive and working for, who else, the Evil Easterner.

I’m sure you get the idea by now. There’s just too blasted much going on in this book, and while Coburn keeps his various plot threads under control well enough so that the reader never gets lost, after a while it’s exhausting keeping track of things. Coburn’s tendency to every so often drag in some new characters from out of left field complicates matters even more.

Despite all of that, however – or maybe because of it – the book does have an epic feel, and it’s packed full of very stirring and well-written individual scenes, too, with a lot of operatic, over-the-top action. A real sense of authenticity comes through, as well. The plot may be a little unbelievable, but the details of ranching life in Montana come across as completely realistic. All of it wraps up with a poignant and very effective ending. So if you come across a copy of BARB WIRE and decide to read it, I certainly wouldn’t advise you not to. Chances are you’ll be entertained. Just be prepared for a certain amount of goofiness as well.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Hell Strip - Lee Richards (Lee E. Wells)

Art by Lu Kimmel

The year is 1851, and Texas Ranger Dave Fleming is gripped by gold fever. He resigns from the Rangers and heads for Panama, intending to make his way to California and find his fortune in the goldfields. Unfortunately, through a series of misadventures, Dave winds up stranded in that tropical hellhole and goes to work for Marie Hooper, a beautiful redheaded American who owns the biggest saloon, gambling den, and bordello in Panama City. He also makes a bad enemy in Krim Paletz, the owner of a freight line who may well be the mastermind behind the outlaw gang terrorizing the whole country.

Then another former Ranger arrives in Panama, an old friend of Dave’s named Ran Runnels. Runnels, a deadly gunfighter and manhunter, has been recruited by representatives of the American, British, and French governments to bring law and order to Panama, no matter what it takes. He immediately gets Dave to sign on as his second-in-command, and they set out to track down the leaders of Panama’s criminal underworld.

HELL STRIP is a terrific book, a fast-moving blend of Western, historical, and hardboiled crime in an unusual setting. The actual author behind the Lee Richards pseudonym is the old pulpster and paperbacker Lee E. Wells. I read one of Wells’ Rio Kid pulp novels some years ago and thought it was okay, but I wasn’t impressed enough to seek out any more of his novels. Clearly, based on this Gold Medal paperback from 1955, that was a mistake. It could be that Wells just wasn’t all that well-suited to write a pulp series character. That’s been true with other authors I’ve encountered. But he sure spins a great yarn here.

In addition to the intrigue and gunplay and strong, likable protagonist, there’s a well-done romantic triangle, some harrowing scenes in a Panamanian prison, and a vivid rendering of the exotic setting. Wells even gives the reader a slight plot twist late in the book that’s effective even if it’s not really surprising, and the ending is very satisfying. This would have made a great 1950s movie with Clint Walker playing Dave, Audie Murphy as Runnels, Rhonda Fleming as Marie, and maybe John Dehner as the sinister Krim Paletz.

Even though HELL STRIP doesn’t break any new ground other than the Panama setting, Wells did such a good job spinning his yarn that it doesn’t matter. I had a wonderful time reading this book. Somewhat surprisingly, there’s an inexpensive e-book edition of it available on Amazon. If you’re a fan of hardboiled Westerns, I give it a very high recommendation.

Monday, March 18, 2024

The D.C. Man #1: Top Secret Kill - James P. Cody (Peter T. Rohrbach)

I vaguely remember seeing copies of the original editions of the D.C. Man series in used bookstores back in the Seventies, but I never bought or read any of them. I guess they just didn’t stand out enough from the many, many men’s adventure and mystery series being published then. But they resurfaced a few years ago when my friend Tom Simon of the Paperback Warrior website and podcast became interested in them and decided to find out the true identity of the author of those four novels, who was by-lined as James P. Cody. (To digress for a moment, I was asked once by a fan if I was James P. Cody, given my first name and the fact that the protagonist of my first novel is named Cody. I answered honestly that I had nothing to do with those books and hadn’t even read them.)

Well, to sum up what you can read in Simon’s entertaining and informative introduction to these new reprints of the series, “James P. Cody” turned out to be Peter T. Rohrbach, a former Catholic priest from Washington, D.C., who left the priesthood, married and had a daughter, and wrote the four novels in the D.C. Man series as well as numerous works of non-fiction. Simon’s investigation into the author led, in turn, to the series being reprinted by Brash Books, and that led to me reading the first novel, TOP SECRET KILL, fifty years after it was first published.

The D.C. Man is Brian Peterson, former football player and member of Army Intelligence. Having married the daughter of a politician, he becomes a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., only to have his comfortable life shattered by tragedy when his wife and infant daughter are killed in a car crash. After a period of mourning and generally going to seed, Peterson resumes his career as a lobbyist, only he has a sideline now: he's a fixer for anybody who has an embarrassing and/or dangerous problem they need taken care of discreetly. And since he operates in Washington, there’s never a shortage of dangerous jobs for Peterson to take on. This set-up allows him to put his physical toughness and his investigative background to work.

All this is back-story, which Rohrbach takes a while to set up, but he does it painlessly enough that it’s easy to keep reading. Peterson, who narrates the story in first-person, has been a behind-the-scenes troubleshooter for a while when TOP SECRET KILL opens. After a brief sequence to set the stage and show us Peterson in action, he’s hired by a senator to investigate a leak in a committee dealing with military expenditures. This serves as a fairly low-key Macguffin, since the whole thing doesn’t really amount to any sort of earth-shaking threat, but it works well enough to get Peterson involved in some tough-guy stuff and a couple of murders. There’s also a beautiful blonde along the way to liven things up for him.

As you can tell from that description, TOP SECRET KILL is pretty much a private eye yarn in everything but name. As such, it reminds me of a couple of other tough guy series set in Washington, Stephen Marlowe’s Chester Drum novels (and Drum actually is a private eye) and the Steve Bentley novels by E. Howard Hunt writing as Robert Dietrich (Bentley is a two-fisted CPA). Rohrbach wasn’t as polished a writer as Marlowe or Hunt, but he spins this yarn in entertaining fashion and it moves along quite nicely once everything is in place. I enjoyed this one enough that I’m sure I’ll read the other novels in the series, and if you’re a fan of Seventies men’s adventure or hardboiled detective fiction, I certainly recommend getting to know the D.C. Man. This one is available in paperback and e-book editions from Amazon, as are the others in the series.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Planet Stories, March 1943

I like this PLANET STORIES cover by Jerome Rozen, and inside this issue are stories by some excellent writers: Leigh Brackett, Nelson S. Bond, Carl Jacobi, Ross Rocklynne, Ray Cummings, and Milton Lesser (better known these days as Stephen Marlowe). This and a bunch of other PLANET STORIES issues can be read on-line here. Would that I had time to do so!

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Texas Rangers, October 1954

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. That’s my copy in the scan. The art is by Sam Cherry, as usual during this era of TEXAS RANGERS. What’s a little unusual is that it depicts a scene in the issue’s lead novel, which didn’t happen often on the covers of Western pulps. I don’t know if Cherry actually read this issue’s Jim Hatfield novel or the editor or art director told him about the scene, but either way, it’s quite effective.

That lead novel, “The Deepest Grave”, is a good one, too. Texas Ranger Jim Hatfield is sent to the Big Bend area of Texas to investigate the disappearance of a young Ranger assigned to uncover the thieves behind a high-grading scheme at a gold mine. The trail leads Hatfield to the mining boomtown of LaPlata, but only after he’s ambushed and suffers an arm wound, an injury that bothers him for the remainder of this novel, which is also an unusual touch. The story barrels along with almost non-stop action and features some suspenseful scenes in a mine shaft hundreds of feet under the ground. According to the Fictionmags Index, the author of this yarn is Walker A. Tompkins, and while it’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference between the Hatfield novels by Tompkins and the ones penned by Peter Germano, I agree that this one certainly reads like Tompkins’ work. It’s a really solid, enjoyable Jim Hatfield novel.

“Half a Solid Gold Mountain” isn’t exactly a comedy, but the first-person narration has a bit of a lighthearted touch about it that works pretty well. This tale of the dangerous encounter between a prospector and a gang of Mexican bandits along the border is by Frank Scott York. I don’t know anything about the author except that he wrote about three dozen Western and detective yarns for the pulps during the mid-Fifties. This one isn’t a lost gem, but it’s enjoyable.

I don’t know anything about H.G. Ashburn, either, except that he published about a dozen stories in various Western pulps during a short career in the mid-Fifties. His story “The Last Attack” in this issue is the first of those yarns. It’s a good story about a fast gun with a bad ticker and an unusual resolution to a gunfight. I liked it.

I’ve mentioned many times that I don’t care for the Jim Hatfield novels that Roe Richmond wrote under the Jackson Cole house-name. But in recent years, I’ve come to enjoy his stand-alone Western stories under his own name. His novelette in this issue, “Pretty Devil”, is really good. Two former Confederate officers, Sid Conister and Rip Razee, left homeless and broke by the war and Reconstruction, head west to Arizona Territory so Conister can claim part-ownership in a ranch, an interest he inherited from his late wife. When they get there, they find themselves immersed in troubles right out of a Southern Gothic: lurid secrets, hidden crimes, rampaging emotions. Richmond packs enough back-story and plot into this one that it could have been a full-length novel. And actually, it might have been better at that length with more room to develop the complicated story. As is, it’s still great fun to read, and I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more stories by Richmond.

“Fight or Drift” by Giles A. Lutz is a short story about a fiddle-playing drifter with a secret. Lutz was a consistently good writer and this excellent yarn manages to be both gritty and heartwarming.

I’ve also made a number of negative comments about the work of Ben Frank. I generally find his humorous Westerns, including his long-running Doc Swap series, rather unfunny. Even so, I always give his stories a try, and in “Not the Marrying Kind”, his contribution to this issue, he proves that he can write a lightweight but fairly straightforward Western yarn. It's the tale of a young rancher who has to contend not only with a pretty blonde who has her sights set on marrying him but also an escaped outlaw who blames our protagonist for him being captured and sent to prison in the first place. It’s cleverly plotted with Frank planting some stuff early in the story that pays off later and may well be the best thing I’ve read by Ben Frank.

Overall, this is an outstanding issue of TEXAS RANGERS with not a bad story in the bunch and a good Sam Cherry cover, to boot. If you have a copy on your shelves, it’s well worth reading.

Friday, March 15, 2024

A Rough Edges Rerun: Murder on the Side - Day Keene

(This post originally appeared in a somewhat different form on January 23, 2009. I failed to mention in it that the cover is by the great Barye Phillips.)

At the beginning of this novel, Larry Hanson is bored. He’s bored with his job because, while he’s trained to be an engineer and works at an engineering firm, he’s stuck in a desk job instead of being out building bridges and dams. He’s bored in his marriage to a cold, uncaring wife. He’s approaching middle age and fears that life has passed him by. So when his wife is out of town caring for her sick mother and his beautiful young secretary calls him in the middle of the night because she thinks she’s just accidentally killed her old boyfriend who just got out of prison, Larry thinks that maybe he’ll finally have a little excitement in his life.

And since this is a Gold Medal novel, you know that Larry’s about to get a whole lot more excitement than he bargained for.

It’ll come as no surprise to anybody who’s read more than a few of these books that Larry soon finds himself up to his neck in trouble, of the multiple murder, on the run from the cops, illicit sex, missing money, and deadly secrets variety. Like a lot of Gold Medal protagonists, Larry’s kind of a heel and not too bright, at least at first. The plot stretches credulity almost to the breaking point a few times, but Day Keene is such a skillful author and keeps things moving so fast that the reader doesn’t really care. I didn’t, anyway.

Chances are you’ll see most of the twists and turns coming in this one, but I’ve discovered that reading a Gold Medal novel is a lot like taking a Sunday afternoon drive: the pleasure isn’t so much in where you’re going, but rather in how you get there. I’m not sure that MURDER ON THE SIDE is a book you’d hand to somebody who’s never read a Gold Medal and say, “This is what they’re like.” You’d probably need a Charles Williams or Harry Whittington or Gil Brewer novel for that. To me Day Keene’s work never quite reaches the same level of sweaty intensity that you find in a book by those other authors. It’s still incredibly entertaining and just flat-out fun to read. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Neither Beg Nor Yield - Jason M. Waltz, ed. (Part 5)

This is the fifth and final batch of reviews of stories from NEITHER BEG NOR YIELD, the new sword and sorcery anthology from Rogue Blades Entertainment and editor Jason M. Waltz. The previous installments of this series can be found here, here, here, and here.

In most anthologies, collections, pulps, or any bunch of stories that I read, there’s usually at least one that I bounce off of, which is not to say that they’re bad stories, just ones that don’t appeal to me personally. This has finally happened in this anthology with “The Last Vandals on Earth” by Steven Erikson. This tale of a small group of Vandals being pursued by and battling enemies in Africa is written in an elaborate, highly distinctive style that just doesn’t resonate with me. I suspect some of you would really like it, so don’t go by me. But I didn’t care for it.

“The Barbarian’s Lawyer” by Lawrence A. Weinstein is just the opposite. It introduces two excellent characters, the barbarian called Blazgorn and Cynric Magsen, the lawyer who defends him before the High Arbiter when Blazgorn is accused of stealing treasures from the mansion of one of the city’s most powerful nobles. Doing humor in a sword and sorcery tale is a tricky proposition, but Weinstein manages quite well, prompting a number of smiles and one out-loud laugh from me while I was reading the story. But at the same time, he also gives us some very effective action. This is a wonderful story, and I’d love to see more of these two characters.

Last year, the first novel in Howard Andrew Jones’ Hanuvar series, LORD OF A SHATTERED LAND, was one of the best books I read. I have the second book, THE CITY OF MARBLE AND BLOOD, but haven’t read it yet. I was very glad to see Jones and Hanuvar in this volume, as well. For those who haven’t yet made his acquaintance, Hanuvar is sort of an alternate world version of Hannibal (although that’s really too simplistic a description). His goal is to locate the survivors from his conquered country, Volanus, who have been scattered all over a world ruled by the Dervan Empire (think Rome) and get them to a safe sanctuary. In “Reflection From a Tarnished Mirror”, he runs up against an unusual threat to his quest, and as usual, Jones spins a well-written, compelling yarn. I’m not sure where in Hanuvar’s saga this story takes place, exactly, but it’s a strong reminder that I need to get around to reading that second book.

Finally, we have “Maiden Flight” by Adrian Cole. This is the first adventure of Ulric Wulfsen, a Viking raider who has a strange and dangerous encounter on a corpse-littered battlefield that leads to an epic confrontation and a poignant, very effective ending. I’ve been aware of Adrian Cole’s fiction for decades but have never read anything by him as far as I recall. This is a very good story and a near-perfect way to wrap up the anthology.

Looking back, I have some definite favorites among the stories in this volume. The top rank, for me, consists of the tales by Steve Dilks, Chuck Dixon, Keith J. Taylor, David C. Smith, Eadwine Brown, Jeff Stewart, Lawrence A. Weinstein, and Howard Andrew Jones. Four out of those eight authors are ones I’d never read before, and that’s one of the great appeals of a book like this, introducing the reader to new authors, or at least, authors they’ve never read before. I’ll definitely be looking for more work by several of these gentlemen.

In the meantime, if you’re a fan of sword and sorcery, I give my highest recommendation to NEITHER BEG NOR YIELD. Even though it’s relatively early, I have no doubt that it’ll be on my Top Ten list at the end of the year.

Monday, March 11, 2024

The Savage Sword of Conan #1

There’s a lot of nostalgia involved with me reading a new issue of THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN. I remember quite well buying issues of the original magazine of that title back in the Seventies at Lester’s Pharmacy, walking across the highway to my house, and reading great stories by Roy Thomas, John Buscema, and Alfredo Alcala, as well as articles about Robert E. Howard and his work by Fred Blosser, who I’m privileged to call a friend all these years later. I read SSOC for many years after that.

So when I heard that Titan Comics was bringing back THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN, I knew I’d have to give it a try. This time, however, I read the digital version, something I never would have dreamed possible fifty years ago when I read the original magazine. It looks excellent as an e-book, too.

There are several variant covers for this first issue of the revived magazine. The one that came up when I opened it is the primary one, I think. It was painted by Joe Jusko, and it’s superb. I really like it.

After a foreword by Roy Thomas (and I’m always glad to read anything Roy has to say), the Conan story, which takes up most of the book, is “The Dragon Horde”, written by John Arcudi with art by Max Von Fafner. Arcudi’s name is familiar to me, although I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by him. Von Fafner is brand-new to me. But I enjoyed both of their contributions here. Arcudi’s script, which finds Conan serving as a mercenary general in the army of a Hyrkanian prince trying to overthrow his brother, is violent and fast-paced with a few effective twists and turns. Von Fafner’s art, while it doesn’t appeal to me as much as Rob de la Torre’s in Titan’s color Conan comic, is suitably gritty and his storytelling is solid for the most part. I did have to look at a few panels a second time to make sure what was happening. Overall, “The Dragon Horde” is an entertaining yarn and definitely reminiscent of the original SSOC.

“Sacrifice in the Sand” is a short prose story about Conan by Jim Zub, the scripter of the above-mentioned color comic. It’s good for what it is, but the length keeps it from developing any more than the most basic plot. It’s certainly well-written and entertaining enough that I’d be interested in reading more Conan prose stories by Zub.

The highlight of the issue is “Master of the Hunt”, part 1 of a serialized Solomon Kane story written and drawn by Patrick Zircher. This tale of a monster breaking through the barrier between worlds and terrorizing a remote area of Wales is a terrific yarn. Zircher captures Solomon Kane very well both visually and in his lean, fast-paced script. I’m really looking forward to the next part of this story.

So I’m very pleased to see that THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN is back, and I think everyone involved in this issue did themselves proud.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Adventures, May 1937

Okay, did our stalwart hero have that six-gun with him in the diving suit, or was it waiting for him when he climbed back aboard the boat? We don't know, but either way, this is a fine cover by Rudolph Belarski. This issue of THRILLING ADVENTURES features stories by some good authors including Tom Curry, Oscar Schisgall, Carl Jacobi, and William Merriam Rouse. In a field where ADVENTURE, ARGOSY, SHORT STORIES, and BLUE BOOK were the top of the line, THRILLING ADVENTURES occupied a lower rank, but it always had vivid, action-packed covers and dependably entertaining writers.

Saturday, March 09, 2024

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Thrilling Western, July 1952

This is a pulp I own and read recently. That’s my copy in the scan. The cover is credited on the Fictionmag Index to Sam Cherry, and after looking at the faces, I do believe it’s Cherry’s work, but it’s also kind of an atypical cover for him.

It's also a little unusual that the lead novella in this issue, featured on the cover, is a story by an author who had never appeared in the pulps before. In fact, “Blood on the Lode” is one of only two stories credited to James D. Pinkham in the FMI. A novelette by him appeared in MAX BRAND’S WESTERN MAGAZINE in 1953. I wondered briefly if the name was a pseudonym for a better-known Western writer, but I decided that probably wasn’t the case. Pinkham’s style is distinct enough that I don’t recall encountering it under any other name.

And it’s a maddeningly frustrating style, too. The story is one that hasn’t been done to death in Western pulp fiction and is reasonably accurate historically, too. In 1853, a pair of California Rangers are sent to a mining boomtown to clean up the lawlessness there. The heroes, Luke Corbin and the Alamo Kid, are Texans who rode with the Rangers there while Texas was a republic, and they’ve followed their old commander, Captain Harry Love, to California. So far, so good. Corbin and the Kid are fine protagonists. In their new job, they’re up against a crooked judge and a gambler/saloon owner who’s the mastermind of a gang of claim jumpers. Or is he? His beautiful, redheaded partner in the saloon is known as the Flame and has some secrets of her own. This is good stuff, and it’s done well in stretches with some great action scenes.

But then everything lurches to a halt as Pinkham spends several columns of dense prose summing up his character’s activities. Corbin wanders around talking endlessly to various characters, and Pinkham doesn’t even give us interesting dialogue, just dry recaps of what’s being discussed. Then we’re off again on another well-done ambush or shootout, but the previous scene has robbed the story almost completely of any momentum. He keeps up this pattern all the way through the story.

Despite those flaws, there’s enough to like in “Blood on the Lode” that I wish Pinkham had written more. He could have been a promising author.

I’ve never cared for Ben Frank’s work, although the readers must have because his Doc Swap series of humorous stories ran for a long time in TEXAS RANGERS. His story in this issue of THRILLING WESTERN is a stand-alone, “The Lucky Horseshoe Case”, in which a couple of cowpokes try to become private detectives. I told myself to give it a fair chance, but it’s just awful and I only made it through a couple of pages.

The “Man’s Business” referred to in Gile A. Lutz’s story of the same name is a gunfight between two ranchers over a waterhole. However, things don’t turn out as you might expect. This is a pretty minor story, but Lutz was a solid pro and makes it readable and entertaining.

“There’s Trouble in Hardpan” is the third Swap and Whopper story by Syl McDowell that I’ve read recently. This is another humorous series that I never liked, but for some unfathomable reason, I’ve started enjoying them. Tastes change, I guess. This novelette finds the two drifting protagonists running across an orchard in the middle of the desert and clashing with a cantankerous veterinarian. As always, it’s lightweight stuff, but it moves right along and is mildly amusing.

Steuart Emery wrote a lot of excellent cavalry stories for various Western pulps, most of them appearing in TEXAS RANGERS. But there’s one in this issue of THRILLING WESTERN called “Phantom Sabers”, and it’s the usual top-notch job from Emery. It features a clash between a bookish young lieutenant and an overbearing captain and winds up with a very clever twist when a patrol is surrounded and on the verge of being wiped out by Apaches. As far as I know, Emery never wrote any Western novels, which is a shame.

This issue wraps up with “Chalk Butte Conflict”, a novelette by Ben T. Young in which a Texas cowboy wins a Wyoming ranch in a poker game. He’s too fiddle-footed to settle down, so when he arrives in Wyoming, he plans to sell the spread as quickly as he can and move on. The foreman who works for the local cattle baron rubs him the wrong way, though, and the cattle baron has a beautiful daughter (what cattle baron doesn’t?), so our protagonist decides to stick around for a spell and trouble inevitably erupts. I don’t recall if I’ve ever read anything else by Young, who wrote around a hundred stories, mostly Westerns, during the Forties and early Fifties, but this is a very good story, told in an appealing breezy style, with a likable protagonist and plenty of action. It ends this issue on a high note.

So this issue of THRILLING WESTERN is a mixed bag with no truly outstanding stories but a couple of very good ones, several that are entertaining, and only one clear miss, as far as I’m concerned. It’s about as middle-of-the-road as you can find for a Western pulp, but I enjoyed reading it.

Friday, March 08, 2024

Where Is Bianca? - Ellery Queen (Talmage Powell)

I wouldn’t be surprised if every one of you reading this knows that cousins Frederic Danny and Manfred B. Lee created the pseudonym and the character Ellery Queen. And most, if not all, of you are also aware that during the Sixties, Dannay and Lee contracted with several ghostwriters to turn out a number of novels published under the Ellery Queen name, mostly stand-alones but including a couple of series, one of them six books published by Popular Library featuring one-eyed New York City police detective Captain Tim Corrigan.

I owned all six of those paperbacks at one time or another, but I know you won’t be surprised to hear that I never got around to reading any of them. However, on a whim, I recently picked up the e-book edition of the first novel in the series, WHERE IS BIANCA?, and figured it was time I finally read a Tim Corrigan novel.

The eyepatch-wearing Corrigan lost his left eye while serving in the Korean War, then worked with the OSS, and then became a cop despite the patch not being regulation. His old army buddy Chuck Baer is a private detective in New York, and rather than being at odds with each other, as many fictional cops and private eyes are, they frequently work so closely together on cases that Baer almost might as well be a cop himself.

In WHERE IS BIANCA?, the body of a young woman is found in the sewers and is in such bad shape that identifying her is a challenge. Baer has been hired to locate wealthy Bianca Lessard, who owns a number of theaters around the country, including several in New York. She had a fight with her husband and walked out of their swanky apartment. When she never came back, her worried husband hired Baer to locate her. The corpse in the sewer is wearing a distinctive ring that belonged to Bianca Lessard, but then Corrigan and Baer turn up two more missing women who might be the victim, and that starts them on a hunt through a circle of Broadway actors, producers, and playwrights, all of whom seem to have shady pasts and/or secrets they want to keep hidden. It’s a classic setup for a murder mystery in which the identity of the victim is just as much a puzzle as that of the killer.

The ghostwriter behind the EQ byline on this novel is Talmage Powell, a well-regarded hardboiled mystery author under his own name. Years ago I read and enjoyed some of his novels featuring Florida private eye Ed Rivers. I’ve always found him to be a dependable author, but I thought WHERE IS BIANCA? was a bit of a disappointment. The plot is solid, but the characterization is pretty flat. We don’t really get to know much about anybody except Tim Corrigan, and to be honest, he’s just not that likable or interesting. The book is lacking in humor, and Powell tells the story in bland, “Just the facts, ma’am” prose that falls flat as well. It’s certainly not terrible—it read quickly and I was never tempted to not finish it—but I was expecting more.

The next two books in the series were ghosted by Richard Deming, who I generally consider a better writer than Powell although they’re certainly similar, so I’ll give them a try as well. If nothing else, the books are short and punchy and often that’s just what I want.

One more note: I don’t know who did the cover artwork on the Popular Library edition from 1966, which you can see at the top of this post, but when I looked at it I immediately thought of Nick Fury and Countess Valentina Allega de Fontaine. I don’t have any way of knowing if Jim Steranko ever saw the Tim Corrigan paperbacks, but that cover sure reminds me of Nick and Val hanging around Fury’s apartment in NICK FURY, AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D. #1, the classic story “Who Is Scorpio?” that appeared in 1968, two years after WHERE IS BIANCA? I’d like to think that paperback influenced one of my all-time favorite comic book stories, but who knows?

Wednesday, March 06, 2024

Neither Beg Nor Yield - Jason M. Waltz, ed. (Part 4)

We’ve reached the fourth post in this series of reviews of the stories in NEITHER BEG NOR YIELD, the great new anthology of sword and sorcery stories from Rogue Blades Entertainment. The previous posts can be found here, here, and here.

Eadwine Brown is a new author to me, and his story “Vengeance, With Wind and Tide” features a new character he’s introducing, a female pirate named Azirah. She and her crew set out to find an island with a mysterious tower located on it, that tower being the stronghold of the sorcerer who is responsible for the deaths of another crew of pirates. Azirah wants vengeance on this sorcerer, as well as whatever treasure she and her followers can find. This is just a superb story, written in a style reminiscent of Robert E. Howard, with plenty of action, a strong protagonist, and a vividly realized setting. As I was reading, I thought, “You know, Brown could have sold this to WEIRD TALES in the Thirties.” That’s pretty high praise.

“Isekai Sengokumonogatari” is by one of the big names in the genre, Glen Cook. Like C.L. Werner’s story earlier in the book, this one is set in an alternate version of feudal Japan, complete with spider demons. Also like Werner’s story, I was predisposed not to be too fond of it, but Cook won me over just like Werner did and I enjoyed this tale of a young warrior who picked the losing side in a war. Hired to accompany a mysterious and somewhat sinister old man and three noble orphans on a journey to deliver the children to relatives, our hero Shinzutoro encounters considerable trouble and learns some things about himself and others, prevailing over all the dangers to his charges. It’s a fine story, as you’d expect from an old pro like Cook.

Jeff Stewart is another writer new to me, and his story “Bona Na Croin” is the first to feature Fergus Mac Ronan, a mercenary and adventurer in medieval Ireland. A violent encounter results in Fergus becoming a soldier for one of the local kings, and that plunges him into a war that culminates with the summoning of an ancient evil entity. This story has a bit of a GAME OF THRONES feeling to it with its betrayals, unexpected murders, and fiery sorcery. And it’s an absolutely terrific yarn. Fergus is a fine protagonist, the action scenes are very well done, and Stewart does a top-notch job capturing the grittiness of the setting. I really liked this one.

According to editor Jason Waltz, Steve Goble has been writing stories about the warrior Calthus for a long time, but both author and character are new to me. In “Virgins For Khuul”, Goble quickly gives us Calthus’s back-story: a mighty warrior once known as the Slaughter Lord, killed in battle many years ago, resurrected by wizards to meet a new threat, now a wanderer. When he comes across a plan by evil priests to sacrifice three hundred virgins to the vicious god Khuul, he teams up with an old enemy to put a stop to it. This leads to some apocalyptic action in Khuul’s stronghold inside a mountain. Colorful, fast-moving, and packed with action, “Virgins For Khuul” ends on an offbeat note that’s very intriguing, and I’m left feeling like I ought to hunt up Goble’s earlier stories about the character.

This is another strong group of stories and I’m looking forward to wrapping up my reading of NEITHER BEG NOR YIELD in the near future.  

Monday, March 04, 2024

Now Available: Kingfisher #3: Tourist Trap - James Reasoner and Livia J. Washburn

The search for one of the world’s most wanted fugitives, a swindler who is rumored to have stashed away close to a billion dollars in ill-gotten gains, leads brother and sister private investigators Callista and Joseph Kingfisher to a fabulous, luxurious resort in Mexico. But deep in the jungles of the Yucatan, they discover another secret hidden away, a secret that may mean death for both Kingfishers!

TOURIST TRAP is another lightning-paced, colorful adventure from bestselling authors James Reasoner and Livia J. Washburn featuring plenty of thrills, humor, and excitement, with suspense and plot twists that will leave readers breathless.

Working on these books with Livia has been great fun, and I think this is my favorite so far. It's available on Amazon in e-book and print editions and as an e-book on Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books, and Smashwords.

Sunday, March 03, 2024

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: New Detective Magazine, February 1951

Despite the name of this pulp, the February 1951 issue of NEW DETECTIVE MAGAZINE is almost all reprint. There are two new things about it: the logo (which must not have been popular, because three issues later they went back to the original logo) and a novella by "Daniel Winters", actually a house-name and the author of this one is unknown. The reprints are by Norbert Davis (a Doan and Carstairs story), Leigh Brackett, Joel Townsley Rogers, C. William Harrison, H.H. Matteson, and John D. Fitzgerald, all from various 1940s issues of DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY and FLYNN'S DETECTIVE FICTION. Most issues of NEW DETECTIVE from this era included a reprint or two, but this one is top-heavy with them. On the other hand, if you haven't read a story, it's new to you and doesn't matter if it's a reprint, does it? And I'll bet these were all pretty good stories. I don't own a copy, but if you want to check it out, the whole issue is available on the Internet Archive. By the way, I don't know who did the cover on this issue, but the guy in the background looks a little like Humphrey Bogart, and the blonde definitely reminds me of Marlene Dietrich.

Saturday, March 02, 2024

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Supernovel Magazine, May 1933

I came across the listing for this pulp in the Fictionmags Index and was surprised to find a Western pulp I'd never even heard of. The explanation for that may be that this is the only issue of WESTERN SUPERNOVEL MAGAZINE. The next issue, the title was changed to COMPLETE WESTERN BOOK MAGAZINE, which I had heard of. This lone issue under the original title sports a cover by Joseph Cragin, an artist I'm not familiar with, and features a novella by Dane Coolidge, who is supposed to be a pretty good Western writer. I haven't read any of his work yet, and I need to get around to that. Also in this issue are a couple of reprints by Stephen Payne and Clee Woods, both of which appeared originally in the pulp WESTERN RANGERS a few years earlier, and another original novella by Edgar L. Cooper. COMPLETE WESTERN BOOK MAGAZINE probably is a better title, but I kind of like WESTERN SUPERNOVEL MAGAZINE.

Friday, March 01, 2024

Bêlit: Shipwrecked - V. Castro

BÊLIT: SHIPWRECKED is the latest entry in the series of Robert E. Howard pastiches published as e-books by Titan Books. Not surprisingly, it’s a prequel to Howard’s story “Queen on the Black Coast” and takes place before Conan meets the pirate Bêlit and becomes part of her crew sailing on the ship Tigress. In SHIPWRECKED, Bêlit is already a fierce, well-known pirate, but not even she can turn aside a terrible storm that damages her ship and casts it, her, and her crew ashore on what appears at first to be a rather idyllic island.

But of course, dangers lurk in the jungles and behind the waterfalls of this scenic location, and not everyone will get off the island alive.

I’d never heard of the author of this story, who’s credited as V. Castro, but according to the note at the end, she’s written several well-regarded horror novels. SHIPWRECKED has some strong horror overtones as well. The writing is good all the way through this story, and Bêlit is a strong protagonist, but for some reason this tale never really connected with me. Bêlit is a little too unsympathetic for my taste. I kept reminding myself that she’s a pirate; she’s not necessarily supposed to be sympathetic. But it didn’t quite work, and neither did the somewhat graphic sex, which seemed out of place in a Howard pastiche. Howard’s stories sometimes had plenty of sex implied in them, but when you were writing for the pulp market, most such things had to be implied and there was a limit to what you could put on the page. I realize this isn’t the pulp era anymore, but my approach to pastiches is that they should be written as if you writing for the same markets as the original author. Does that make sense?

But as always, that’s just me. Despite my complaints, I found SHIPWRECKED to be entertaining for the most part and I’m glad Titan is doing this series even though some of the stories don’t quite hit the mark for me.