Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Bait - William Vance writing as George Cassidy

I’ve seen William Vance’s by-line on a number of Western novels over the years, but as far as I recall I’ve never read any of them. I had no idea that he also wrote soft-core books under the pseudonym George Cassiday until Black Gat Books reprinted one of them entitled BAIT, originally published by Beacon Books in 1962 with a fine cover by Jack Faragasso, who is still with us, by the way, and active on Facebook.

The title refers to beautiful, seventeen-year-old Melody Frane, who lives a hardscrabble existence as a migrant farm worker. The only family she has is a drunken mother, and Melody has to take care of her, as well. She’s working at a cantaloupe farm in Arizona when she meets Kenney Ward, a pilot who works for Harry Ransome, the ruthless tycoon who owns not only the farm but also radio stations, hotels, electronics plants, and other enterprises. Melody and Kenney are attracted to each other, but before a real romance can develop between them, she falls under the sway of Ransome, who beds her, takes her under his wing, and sends her to Los Angeles so she can be educated at a school for aspiring starlets and models run by a beautiful former silent movie star. Ransome claims he wants to hire Melody as his secretary, but in reality he plans to pimp her out to various important businessmen he wants to blackmail.

Although there are crimes in this book, it’s not a crime novel. BAIT is more of a domestic drama as every man Melody encounters, as well as some of the women, try to seduce her. The thread of her developing relationship with Kenney runs all the way through, and anybody who’s read very many of these soft-core books can make a pretty good guess how things are going to turn out.

That predictability in plotting and resolution doesn’t really detract from the appeal of BAIT. It’s a well-written book with some excellent scenes and a pace that never lets up for very long. The sex scenes are frequent but not very graphic, as if Vance wasn’t all that comfortable writing them and got more enjoyment out of developing the characters, the most well-rounded of which is Melody. (No pun intended, honest.) Harry Ransome is also a thoroughly despicable villain. I raced through BAIT and really enjoyed it. I’m not going to drop everything and search for the other “George Cassidy” books Vance wrote, but I am going to check my shelves and see if I have any of his Westerns. The paperback edition of BAIT can be pre-ordered on Amazon, and I’m sure there’ll be an e-book edition as well once it’s published.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

25 Years of WesternPulps

On April 23, 1999, I posted the first message on the WesternPulps email group, which I created that day on a platform called OneList. A couple of years before that, while attending a mystery convention in Dallas called Cluefest, I heard Bill Crider and Steve Brewer talking about something called Rara-Avis. That was my introduction to the concept of email groups, and shortly after that, I subscribed to Rara-Avis.

Eventually, I got the idea that there ought to be a group devoted to the Western pulps, and so I started one. That first message seems to have been lost in the group's migration from platform to platform over the years, but here's a quote from the second one:

Now that the list is growing a little, we need to get some posts on it. I recently read two Western pulp novels, both of them Jim Hatfield stories from TEXAS RANGERS: "Renegade Roundup" from the July 1937 issue, and "Terror Stalks the Border" from the September 1937 issue. Both are supposedly by A. Leslie Scott, writing under the Jackson Cole house-name. "TSTB" is definitely by Scott, who has such a distinctive style. Most of the time, "RR" reads like Scott, too, but there are a few passages that sound like someone else's work, perhaps an editor's. Or perhaps Scott rewrote another author's story that failed to pass muster. At any rate, they're both good stories and very enjoyable.

Now, a question, or actually a request. In reading Western pulp stories, please be on the lookout for an author who uses the word "Coltmen" instead of "gunmen". Whoever this author is, he wrote at least a couple of Hatfield stories ("Gun Harvest" and "Brand of the Lawless"), but I've never been able to identify him. His use of "Coltmen" is probably his most distinctive stylistic feature; I've never encountered it anywhere else except in the two stories mentioned above.

This list is wide open for discussion of anything related to Western pulps, including current Western novels that have pulp elements or influences. I'm a Western writer myself, and I know that many of my books have been influenced by my pulp reading.

In case you're wondering, the "Coltmen" author mentioned above was soon identified by my friend Jim Griffin as J. Edward Leithead, and I've read many of his stories since then and adopted several of his catchphrases as my own, an example of that pulp influence in my writing that I mentioned. Over the years, many, many such questions about authors have been answered on the list.

In its early years, the group was pretty busy, hitting its high in messages with 705 in February 2002. But this was just as interest in blogs was rising, and the activity tailed off. Then a few more years went by and Facebook and other social media took up even more of people's time and interest. WesternPulps became a fairly low-traffic group averaging less than a hundred messages per month, although there are still flurries where a topic engages the members' interest and the messages flow faster again for a while.

Early in the group's history, a reader named Kent Johnson joined and really added a lot of energy to the proceedings with many questions and comments, and he also uploaded a wealth of lists and other information to the group's files section. Sadly, Kent passed away after a few short years. Other early contributors who brought a great deal to the list were Todd Mason and Juri Nummelin, both of whom were also members of Rara-Avis, and the above-mentioned Jim Griffin, Western author and friend of long-standing. And they still contribute to the list, making them the longest active members other than myself.

OneList, the group's original platform, was taken over by E-Groups, which was in turn acquired by YahooGroups, which was WesternPulps' home for many years. Back in 2018, seeing that YahooGroups was soon going to be discontinued, I migrated the group to a new platform called, where it continues to this day. (Rara-Avis, which has been around even longer, is currently on as well.) By this point in social media history, email groups are practically pre-historic, of course, but I don't care. When I started WesternPulps 25 years ago, I never gave any thought to how long it would be around. I wouldn't have guessed that it would still exist two and a half decades and almost 30,000 posts later. But I decided several years ago that it will continue as long as I'm able to maintain it and there's a platform for it, even if it gets back to the point where I'm just sending messages to myself, as I was in the beginning. It's been a labor of love for a long time now, and I still love it. If any of you are interested in joining, it won't take up much of your time or clutter your inbox (it's low-traffic, like I said), and you'll have access to the group website with a huge amount of information about Western pulps and Westerns in general in the message archive, the files section, and the photo section. And you might have the answer to the next question somebody posts about a particular author or pulp.

The STAR WESTERN cover at the top of this post isn't a great scan, but it was one of the first, if not the first, image uploaded to the group. Thank you for reminiscing with me today.

Monday, April 22, 2024

Delilah Was Deadly - Carter Brown (Alan G. Yates)

It’s been too long since I read a Carter Brown novel, so I decided to pick up where I left off in Stark House’s reprinting of the original versions of the Al Wheeler novels published in Australia. DELILAH WAS DEADLY is the third book in the series and was never reprinted in the United States until this collection from several years ago.

In this one, Al is still developing into the character known so well to those of us who grew up reading the Signet paperback versions of the novels in the Sixties and Seventies. He still works for the police department of the unnamed city where the story takes place, and he reports to Commissioner (not Sheriff) Lavers. We have Sergeant Podeski giving him a hand instead of Sergeant Polnick. And Al is actually in charge of the Homicide Bureau in this one, having been promoted since the previous book.

Those differences are fairly minor. The case is the same sort that Al has tackled before and will again, many times. The body of a man who works as the social editor for a fashion magazine is found stuffed in a safe in the magazine’s office. He’s been strangled with a girdle. (If you’re wondering why a fashion magazine has a safe on the premises, it’s so that top-secret dress designs can be locked up.) Al decides to investigate the killing himself when one of the detectives assigned to the case is also murdered when he goes to search the victim’s apartment. More killings follow, as Al navigates a complicated plot involving a nightclub owner, a department store tycoon, an eccentric artist, and, of course, numerous beautiful young women, some of whom succumb to Al’s attempts at seduction.

Then, fairly late in the book, author Carter Brown, who was really Alan G. Yates, springs a pretty effective plot twist. The Carter Brown books were nearly always well-plotted, especially considering their length (around 40,000 words, I’m guessing). This one isn’t quite as complex as some but works well. Everything rockets along with lots of snappy banter, plenty of sexy hijinks, and enough action to keep things interesting. The title isn’t really justified until very late in the book and comes off as a bit of an afterthought by the author, but that’s it’s biggest weakness and it’s nothing to quibble about.

I had a fine time reading DELILAH WAS DEADLY and getting reacquainted with Al Wheeler. Luckily, I have plenty more of those Stark House triple volumes on hand, so I plan to get back to the series without much delay this time. These days, short, entertaining books are just what I’m looking for most of the time. If you want to give these a try, they’re available in e-book and trade paperback editions.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Science Fiction Quarterly, February 1955

I don't think I've ever run across an issue of SCIENCE FICTION QUARTERLY. This looks like a pretty good one. I like the dramatic cover by Kelly Freas, and there are some good writers inside: C.M. Kornbluth, Frank Belknap Long, L. Sprague de Camp, and a couple whose names are only vaguely familiar to me, Charles V. De Vet and Winston Marks. I don't own this issue, but if you want to check it out, it's available on the Internet Archive here. There are a lot of other issues of SCIENCE FICTION QUARTERLY posted there as well. I might have time to read some of them if anybody ever comes up with a thirty-hour day.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Texas Rangers, October 1952

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. That’s my copy in the scan, featuring the usual excellent cover by Sam Cherry. That guy must have been tireless. He turned out a ton of pulp and paperback covers, all of them fine work.

The Jim Hatfield novel in this issue of TEXAS RANGERS has been attributed to Joseph Chadwick. It begins with Hatfield receiving a mysterious assignment from not only his regular Ranger boss, Cap’n Bill McDowell, but also from the governor of Texas his own self. In a clandestine meeting at the Capitol in Austin, the governor tells Hatfield to go to Fort Worth, check into a hotel there, and wait for someone to contact him and use the code word “Alamo”. It’s an intriguing opening.

Before you know it, there’s a beautiful girl involved, too, and Hatfield finds himself on a vast ranch in the Texas Panhandle impersonating the grandson of the owner and trying to get to the bottom of a deadly plot against the old-timer.

Having read a number of Chadwick’s non-series stories, I can easily believe that he wrote this Jim Hatfield novel. The story is extremely violent and hardboiled, and Hatfield comes in for a considerable amount of punishment, both physical and emotional. Chadwick always put his protagonists through the wringer, so this fits right in with his work. With a different character, this would have been a terrific novel.

But as a Jim Hatfield novel, it’s terrible. Chadwick’s grasp of the character and the series is fine up to a certain point: there are appearances by Cap’n Bill and Hatfield’s horse Goldy, and he refers to Hatfield as the Lone Wolf fairly often. But again and again, especially in the second half of the story, Chadwick has Hatfield doing things that he just doesn’t do in the stories by most of the other authors who wrote as Jackson Cole. He’s slow on the draw, he gets beaten up too easily, he gets too involved with the girl in the story, and he even talks about maneuvering one of the bad guys into a position where it’ll be easy to kill him. Quite a few years ago, I read another of Chadwick’s Hatfield yarns, “Death Rides the Star Route”, and while I don’t recall the details, I remember being displeased with it, too. I suspect it was for the same reasons. I believe he wrote only one other Hatfield novel, and I have a hunch I won’t be reading it any time soon, if ever.

“Spring Storm” is a short story by the prolific pulpster Giff Cheshire. I haven’t read a great deal by him, but I’ve found his work to be a little inconsistent, with a lot of it on the bland side. This yarn about a cattleman trying to drive off a nester fits that description, despite the fact that there’s some action. One of the supporting characters, an old cowboy, is very well-written and also redeems the story to a certain extent.

“The Sheriff Buys a Ring” is by Julian Hammer, one of only two stories credited to him in the Fictionmags Index. The title makes it sound like a comedy, but it’s actually a fairly hardboiled tale about a secret in a lawman’s past coming back to haunt him. It’s no lost classic, but it’s not bad.

“Double Dick and the Widow Woman” also sounds like a comedy, and it is. The author is Lee Priestly, and it’s the fourth and final story in a short series about old prospector Double Dick Richards, who roams around his with burro and pet cat getting into various scrapes. This one features a young cowboy who trades in his horse for a motorcycle and an attractive widow woman who owns a ranch plagued by rustlers. Hijinks, romantic and otherwise, ensue. This story isn’t particularly funny, although it’s supposed to be, but it’s mildly amusing in places and a lot more readable than some Western pulp humor I’ve encountered.

Not surprisingly, the best story in this issue is by Gordon D. Shirreffs. His novelette “Apache Ambush” is set in New Mexico and Arizona during the Civil War and finds a young Union army lieutenant battling Confederate spies and marauding Apaches. There’s a beautiful young woman to rescue and a massacre of Union troops to prevent. A colorful old-timer who is a civilian scout is on hand to help out, too. Shirreffs keeps things racing along with plenty of gritty action scenes and does his usual excellent job with the southwestern setting. This is a suspenseful, thoroughly entertaining yarn.

Charles A. Stearns wrote mostly science fiction for the pulps and digests in the Fifties, but he turned out a few Western stories as well. “Duel at Sundown” in this issue is a short but well-written story about a young man, the son of a legendary lawman, trying to work up the courage to face his first gunfight. It’s an effective tale with a twist ending that I didn’t see coming.

Finally, “Men of Steel” is a late pulp story from the prolific A. Leslie Scott, writing here as A. Leslie. He had already started writing paperbacks and would concentrate on that for the next two decades. In this one, set on the Texas coast along Matagorda Bay, the hero is Sheriff Neale Ross, who is trying to track down a gang of sheep rustlers believed by the local Mexican herders to be ghosts because they wear Conquistador armor. It’s a similar plot to ones that Scott used many times, but the descriptive writing is vivid and the action scenes are great. It’s a minor but very enjoyable yarn. And it got a new life when Scott rewrote it as the first chapter and a half of his Walt Slade novel BULLETS FOR A RANGER, published by Pyramid Books in 1963. The hero in that version is Texas Ranger Walt Slade, of course, with Sheriff Ross becoming a supporting character. I own that novel but I don’t think I’ve ever read it. Maybe now I should.

I’d say that, judged as a whole, this is a below-average issue of TEXAS RANGERS because the Jim Hatfield novel just doesn’t work very well, and only the stories by Shirreffs and Scott are really outstanding among the backup stories. As always, I’m glad to have read it, but I hope the next issue I pick up off the shelves will be better.

Friday, April 19, 2024

A Rough Edges Rerun: Pushover - Orrie Hitt

(This post originally appeared in a somewhat different form on March 27, 2009.)

PUSHOVER is the story of Danny Fulton, a small-time con man who, along with a couple of partners, specializes in a scam involving community histories and the Federal Writers Project of the WPA (the first time I’ve encountered that particular angle in a novel about grifters). Most of this yarn centers around Danny, who narrates the novel, putting his usual scheme into action in a small city in upstate New York.

Now, PUSHOVER is not without its flaws. There’s not much action, and in fact, not a lot happens in the entire book. The big twist near the end is pretty obvious early on, and the ending itself seems a little forced and doesn’t ring completely true to me.

So, why am I recommending that you read it if you come across a copy? Because Hitt does a remarkable job of capturing the grubby desperation of these people, especially Danny and his two partners, one a young, beautiful blonde who’s separated from her husband, the other an advance man and salesman who misses his wife and family. All of them seem to be teetering on an emotional brink, and so do most of the people they encounter.

But Danny himself is the centerpiece of the book, and he’s one of the most interesting characters I’ve run across in a while. He’s so determined that he’s a heel who cares only about money that even when he does something nice for somebody, which is surprisingly often, he has to rationalize it to himself by coming up with some rotten motive. Then, when he does decide to give up his career as a con man, settle down, and get married, you just know that it’s not going to work out for him. I don’t know if Hitt or his editor at Beacon Books titled this book PUSHOVER, but it’s an ironically apt title. The cover copy makes you think that it’s all the women in Danny’s life who are the pushovers, but the description actually fits him even better.

Of course, as with all the sleaze novels of that era, the cover copy also makes you think this book is a lot spicier than it really is. There’s actually very little sex in it, and most of what there is falls into the “sin, suffer, repent” pattern that’s also common to the genre. There are also quite a few nice lines, some funny, some poignant. Since this is the first novel I’ve read by Orrie Hitt, I can’t speak for the entire body of his work. Sure, he wrote a lot of books for not much money ($250 to $500 was the usual advance . . . which is really not that bad for that time period), but PUSHOVER, at least, is not the work of a hack. Hitt gives his characters enough depth to make them memorable and does so in prose that’s fast-paced and very readable, despite a few unpolished moments. I’ll be reading more of his novels soon.

Now for the other thing that intrigues me about this book: the cover art. It’s nothing special, really, okay but not spectacular, but as soon as I laid eyes on it, I said to myself, “I’ve seen this cover before, but on another book. And the guy had an eyepatch!” That nagged at me ever since the book arrived in the mail. I had a feeling that I had owned a book with the same art, and that it was on one of those early Fifties digest-sized novels published by Star Guidance, Croydon, Original Novels, etc. Long-time paperback collectors know the sort of thing I’m talking about. So a few nights ago, I sat down and started searching for those publishers on ABE and checking out the listings that included cover scans. I never found the one I was looking for, but that jogged my memory enough so that I remembered Uni Books, another digest line that happened to be published by Universal Publishing and Distributing, the same outfit that later published Beacon Books. Then a name popped into my head: Steve Harragan. I seemed to recall that was the name of the author (well, the pseudonym, anyway) as well as the main character. I searched for Harragan’s name, and up popped Uni Books #44, SIN IS A REDHEAD. “That’s it!” I said. I never read it, but I remembered having that book, and I was almost sure it had the same cover art as PUSHOVER, only the guy had an eyepatch.

Well, I mentioned this to my friend Frank Loose, and wouldn’t you know it, he has a copy of SIN IS A REDHEAD and sent me a cover scan. As you can see, it’s the same painting, only the eyepatch is there in the earlier version, just as I thought, and there are a few other modifications in the paperback version, such as the keyhole motif. The artist is George Geygan, a prolific painter of paperback covers. Steve Harragan, by the way, was really a British author named William Macconnachie, or something like that, a little Internet research reveals, and SIN IS A REDHEAD was originally one of those Mushroom Jungle books.

(And if you don’t know what I mean when I use the term Mushroom Jungle, you really need to check out this book by Steve Holland and this web page by John Fraser, which is part of a fascinating and much larger site.)

(I've gone on to read many novels by Orrie Hitt in the fifteen years since this post first appeared, of course, and I've enjoyed every one of them. Some more than others, of course, but I'm not sure Hitt was capable of writing a book that wasn't entertaining. An e-book edition of PUSHOVER is available now, if you want to check it out. A couple of years later I read SIN IN A REDHEAD by Steve Harragan, real name William Maconachie, and reviewed it. Maybe I'll rerun that one next week, although I'm trying to stick to 2009 posts for the most part, figuring fifteen years is long enough ago that there'll be a significant number of new readers for them. I hope.)

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Mansion of Evil - Joseph Millard and George Evans

Having read and enjoyed IT RHYMES WITH LUST, I decided to try this other early graphic novel with a crime plot, MANSION OF EVIL, published by Gold Medal in 1950. It was written by veteran pulp and paperback author Joseph. Millard, who years later as Joe Millard wrote the Man With No Name paperbacks for Award Books, novelizations and original novels based on the Clint Eastwood movies. Those were my introduction to his work. I don’t think the art on MANSION OF EVIL has ever been credited officially to anyone, but the consensus of opinion seems to be that it’s by George Evans.

A newspaperman plays a major part in MANSION OF EVIL, just like in IT RHYMES WITH LUST. In this case, it’s reporter Larry Brennan, who’s engaged to beautiful young Beth Halliday. Beth works at an art gallery that’s about to put on an exhibition of paintings by reclusive artist Maxwell Haimes. When Beth meets Haimes, he kind of goes nuts, thinks her name is Laura, kidnaps her, and takes her to his isolated mansion (which comes complete with sinister housekeeper). It becomes obvious pretty quickly that Haimes isn’t completely insane and has some devious plan in mind that includes murder.

Meanwhile, Larry is convinced that something has happened to Beth and is searching desperately for her despite the fact that nobody else seems to take him seriously. The whole situation, which includes a race against time scenario, reminds me of stories by Cornell Woolrich that I’ve read. It also seems to me that there’s some Bruno Fischer influence at work here, too. Whether or not Millard was familiar with those writers, I don’t know, but in MANSION OF EVIL, he’s crafted a story that has similarities to their work.

The artwork isn’t as good as Matt Baker’s in IT RHYMES WITH LUST, but it gets the job done. So does Millard’s lurid, breathless script, although it sometimes reads like it was adapted from a radio serial. It’s over the top and often driven by coincidences, but I still enjoyed it quite a bit. Scans of the book are available in various places on the Internet, or you can pick up an actual e-book version on Amazon.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Noose for a Lady - Gerald Verner

The murder has already taken place when this British mystery originally published in 1952 opens. Wealthy John Hallam has been poisoned, and his wife Margaret has been tried, convicted, and sentenced to hang for the crime. Her childhood friend, portrait painter/amateur sleuth Simon Gale, returns to England and discovers Margaret's plight when there's only a week left before the execution. Believing his old friend incapable of murder by poisoning, Gale sets out to uncover the actual murderer with the help of his younger brother and Margaret's stepdaughter. A local police detective who's not an idiot, for a change, also lends a hand.

NOOSE FOR A LADY is a top-notch British village mystery yarn with plenty of suspects (the victim was a cad and a bounder and half the people in the village had good reason to want him dead), a dogged detective, sinister lurkers, a second murder, and finally a gathering of the suspects where Simon Gale explains everything and reveals the killer's identity. It's suspenseful, well-plotted, and written in a fast, breezy style that's very entertaining to read. Simon Gale is a good protagonist with a hearty attitude and a fondness for beer and his pipe. There are two more novels about him, and I think there's a good chance I'll read them.

Gerald Verner, who was born John Robert Stuart Pringle, was a prolific author of mysteries and thrillers who wrote quite a few Sexton Blake yarns under the name Donald Stuart. I read one of them not long ago and enjoyed it a great deal, so I sought out something else by him. NOOSE FOR A LADY is considered one of his best novels, so I started there. It was based on a 1950 radio serial Verner wrote for the BBC. The novel is available from Amazon in e-book and paperback editions, and if you're a fan of British mysteries and Golden Age detection, I think it's well worth reading.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Pirate Stories, March 1935

I don't believe I've ever run across a mention of PIRATE STORIES before. It was a short-lived adventure pulp edited and published by Hugo Gernsback of AMAZING STORIES fame. This is the third of six issues. I like the cover by Joseph Sokoli. The idea of airborne pirates preying on ships at sea is an interesting one. The feature story in this issue is by Captain Dingle, an author I've been meaning to read for a long time now but still haven't. Backing it up are yarns by the always dependable J. Allan Dunn, George Allan Moffatt, and an author I'm unfamiliar with, J. Winchcombe-Taylor, who certainly has a distinguished-sounding name. I may have to steal that for a character one of these days.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Dime Western Magazine, January 1946

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. That’s my copy in the scan. My guess as to the cover artist is Robert Stanley, but I’m not certain about that. There are a couple of things about this one I don’t like—the guy’s hands and arms don’t look quite right to me, and neither does his holster—but overall it’s an effective cover.

I’ve said this many times before and probably will again, but Walt Coburn was really inconsistent in his work, especially in the second half of the Forties onwards. But he’s still one of my favorite Western authors because when he’s on his game, he’s really, really good. “Mail-Order Outlaw” in this issue is one of his really, really good stories. The cover calls it a novel, but at 16 pages, even with fairly small print left over from the war years and paper rationing, it’s more of a novelette. Even so, Coburn manages to give this tale of a young cowpuncher who falls in with a gang of bank robbers a bit of an epic feeling. The action is great, the protagonist is very likable, and the villains are despicable. It’s also more tightly plotted than many of Coburn’s stories, which tend to sprawl around and get melodramatic. The sense of authenticity is there as always. No matter how over-the-top Coburn’s plots could get, the characters and settings always ring true. This is a superb story, one of the best by Coburn that I’ve read.

I don’t know much about Michael Oblinger, just that he wrote several dozen stories for various Western pulps. His short story “Hell-on-the-Hoof” starts out with a horse identifying a killer, but that’s just the opening act in a very convoluted tale about an accused murderer hunting down the real culprits. I didn’t think this story was well-written and didn’t care for it.

Since the cover date on pulps was the off-sale date, that means this January 1946 issue of DIME WESTERN was actually on the stands in December 1945. Accordingly, there’s a Christmas story included in the line-up, the novelette “Colt Christmas at Bitter Creek” by Rod Patterson. Last year I read a pulp yarn by Patterson that I enjoyed quite a bit, as well as his novel WHIP HAND, which I found pretty flat and uninspired. Now that I’ve read this story, I’m starting to suspect that Patterson was better at less than novel length. “Colt Christmas at Bitter Creek” is about the showdown between two feuding ranches during a blizzard. It’s well-written, moves right along, and has a nice hardboiled tone. I still want to try more of Patterson’s novels, but I’ll be keeping an eye out for his pulp stories.

Charles Handley is another forgotten pulpster. His story “The Devil’s Sky-Pilot” is a short-short about an outlaw-turned-preacher—or is he? The twist ending in this one is pretty predictable, but it still works and the story is fairly entertaining.

Tom W. Blackburn often wrote stories that weren’t about the usual cowboys, outlaws, lawmen, etc. The protagonist of the novelette “Battle Call For Big-Wheelers” is a partner in a freight company located in a Sierra Nevada mining boomtown. Double-crossed by a man he considered a friend, framed by a rival for murder, Cole Banning finds himself in a mighty deep hole and Blackburn just keeps piling more trouble on his head until I honestly wondered how in the world Banning was going to get out of this mess. But he does, and although the resolution might have been just a tad too quick and convenient, this is still a really good story with interesting characters, strong writing, and plenty of action. Blackburn’s work is nearly always good and this one is no exception.

John Richard Young wrote a couple of dozen Western and adventure stories for various pulps in the Forties and Fifties. His story in this issue, “Law of the Blizzard-Born” is an animal yarn about an old hunter stalking a wolf. This type of story with little or no dialogue and some, if not most, of the story written from the point of view of the animal is one that I just have trouble reading. I wound up skimming this one and didn’t like it.

The novelette that wraps up this issue, “The Phantom Hangman of Yellow Jacket”, is another mining camp story. Somewhat unusual for a Western pulp, it’s also a murder mystery as a ruthless vigilante known as The Citizen is killing people in the camp for no apparent reason. The son of a mine owner who is one of the victims returns from San Francisco, where he’s been something of a wastrel, to grow up and get to the bottom of things. As it turns out, this story isn’t a particularly strong mystery, but it does have a good protagonist and some nice action as it moves along at a fast pace. The author, Harry F. Olmsted, is one of my favorites. Olmsted was known to farm out some of his work, much like Ed Earl Repp, so there’s no way of knowing if some other author had a hand in this one. The story reads like the other Olmsted stories I’ve read, but that may be because even on the ghosted stuff, he did a lot of editing and revising. Regardless of the details, which we’ll likely never know, this is a solid, entertaining yarn.

Overall, this issue of DIME WESTERN MAGAZINE is quite a mixed bag. There are a couple of stories I didn’t like, but the others range from good to excellent and include one of the best Walt Coburn stories I’ve read. So I’d say that if you have a copy on your shelves, it’s well worth reading.

Friday, April 12, 2024

A Rough Edges Rerun: The Phantom Spy - Max Brand (Frederick Faust)

Instead of one of the Westerns for which Max Brand (Frederick Faust) is most famous, I’m writing about one of Faust’s espionage novels. 
THE PHANTOM SPY is set in Europe in the mid-Thirties, the era during which it was written. This isn’t a Ruritanian, Graustarkian, comic opera Europe, either. It’s the real thing, with the grim threat of Hitler’s growing power in Germany looming over everything. In Faust’s novel, however, Hitler isn’t even the real menace. The true villains are an international cabal of warmongers who think that Hitler isn’t moving fast enough and want him to go ahead and invade France right away. To further that end, they’ve managed to steal the plans for the Maginot Line and intend to present them to Hitler so that Germany can attack France’s defensive fortifications at their weakest points. (In reality, the Maginot Line didn’t pose much of an obstacle to the Germans a few years later, but Faust had no way of knowing that.) The British Secret Service sets out to steal the plans back before Hitler gets his hands on them, and the agent entrusted with the job is Lady Cecil de Waters, a British noblewoman who has offered her services as a “talented amateur” in the espionage game. (Yes, Emma Peel without John Steed is exactly what I mean.)

Giving Lady Cecil a hand is a would-be suitor of hers, wisecracking millionaire American playboy Willie Gloster, as well as a mysterious phantom spy known only as Monsieur Jacquelin who turns up when he’s most needed. Faust keeps the action moving along briskly as the characters take turns stealing the plans back and forth from each other, and in the process Willie and Lady Cecil uncover the plotters pulling the strings behind the scenes. Sometimes in his Westerns, Faust can get a little flowery and long-winded in his prose, but not here. This one cooks along in a breezy, hardboiled fashion with double- and triple-crosses, characters pretending to be other characters, fistfights and shootouts, and only occasional pauses for reflection. There aren’t many real twists to the plot – really, if you don’t figure out the true identity of the Phantom Spy early on, like when the character first appears, I’ll be surprised – but that doesn’t matter much because Faust is having so much fun, and so is the reader.

THE PHANTOM SPY first appeared as a serial in the pulp ARGOSY in 1937, under the title “War For Sale”. It was reprinted in hardback by Dodd, Mead in 1973 and then in paperback by Pocket Books in 1975, when Pocket reprinted a number of Faust’s non-Western novels. Both of those editions are available pretty inexpensively on-line. As much as I enjoy Faust’s Westerns, I’d really like to see more of his non-Westerns reprinted, especially some of the pulp serials that have never been published in book form. I believe he wrote a Revolutionary War novel that’s never been reprinted, and I’d love to read that one. There are several pirate novels, too, as well as numerous mysteries and contemporary adventures. If you’ve only read Faust’s Westerns, or if you’ve never read his work at all, give THE PHANTOM SPY a try. I really enjoyed it.

(This post originally appeared in a somewhat different form on April 3, 2009. Since then, a number of Faust's non-Western novels have been reprinted, and I really need to get around to reading them.)

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

It Rhymes With Lust - Arnold Drake, Leslie Waller, and Matt Baker

Last week after I reviewed Arnold Drake’s novel THE STEEL NOOSE, a friend reminded me that Drake also co-authored what is considered by some the first graphic novel, IT RHYMES WITH LUST, published in 1950 as a digest-sized paperback by the comic book publisher Archer St. John. Drake co-wrote the script with Leslie Waller under the pseudonym Drake Waller. The black-and-white art is by Matt Baker (pencils) and Ray Osrin (inks). This book has been reprinted in both paperback and e-book editions, so I picked up a copy of the e-book to check it out.

IT RHYMES WITH LUST is set in Copper City, somewhere in a Western state. If you want to figure it’s loosely based on Butte, Montana, that works for me. Buck Masson is the kingpin who runs everything in Copper City from the criminal underworld to the mines. But when Buck dies, control of his empire falls to his beautiful, cunning, and ruthless wife Rust (whose name rhymes with lust, get it?) who brings in an old flame of hers, newspaperman Hal Weber, to edit the local paper that supposedly is opposed to the Masson criminal empire. Weber is supposed to be a crusading journalist who’s out to reform things, but he’s really just a tool for Rust to use to undermine Marcus Jeffers, her late husband’s second-in-command who now figures he’s going to take over. Weber wants to play things straight, especially after he meets and falls for Audrey Masson, old Buck’s beautiful blond daughter by his first wife. But can Weber escape from Rust’s clutches?

This lurid, hardboiled crime/melodrama is very reminiscent of the type of yarn Gold Medal published all through the Fifties, only IT RHYMES WITH LUST was published just as the Gold Medal line was getting started. The main influence on Drake and Waller’s script was probably the noir movies of the late Forties. It works very well in graphic novel format. The script has the rat-a-tat-tat pace you’d expect. The art is easy to follow and very effective.

I talked about Drake in the last post about him. Leslie Waller wasn’t nearly as prolific, but he wrote some well-regarded thrillers under his own name as well as some popular movie novelizations. Matt Baker was a well-known comic book artist in the Forties and Fifties. Ray Osrin worked as an artist and inker in comic books and later became an editorial cartoonist. All of them do excellent work in IT RHYMES WITH LUST.

Archer St. John followed this publication with another mystery graphic novel, THE CASE OF THE WINKING BUDDHA, written by Manning Lee Stokes with art by Charles Raab. This one seems to be a lot harder to find than IT RHYMES WITH LUST. Neither sold well, and that was the end of the experiment as far as St. John was concerned. Since IT RHYMES WITH LUST is readily available, I don’t hesitate to recommend it to fans of hardboiled crime fiction. I really enjoyed it.

Monday, April 08, 2024

The Ghost Riders - Philip Ketchum

Young rancher Johnny Lang returns to his hometown in New Mexico after serving five years in prison. He was guilty of the robbery he committed, but there were extenuating circumstances. Johnny was railroaded behind bars anyway by his enemy, local cattle baron Ben Mohegan. In most traditional Western novels, Johnny would want to settle the score with Mohegan, but not in Philip Ketchum’s THE GHOST RIDERS, published as half of an Ace Double with William Heuman’s HARDCASE HALLORAN in 1963. Johnny doesn’t plan to stay long; he just wants to pay a visit to the old home place and then light out for Oregon. No more trouble, he vows.

Yeah, you know that’s not going to last long.

Johnny winds up in a shooting scrape and has to head for the hills to hide out from a posse. While he’s doing that, an old friend shows up looking for him, and that leads to Johnny getting involved in a beautiful stranger’s vengeance quest, as she has a grudge against Mohegan, too. Not only that, the smaller ranchers in the area are tired of Mohegan riding roughshod over them and have decided to fight back against him, and of course they figure Johnny will jump at the chance to lead them. Nope, after being in prison, Johnny just wants peace. If only people would stop shooting at him . . .

Veteran pulpster and paperbacker Philip Ketchum knew how to spin a fast-moving, hardboiled Western yarn, that’s for sure. THE GHOST RIDERS races along with plenty of action and interesting, well-developed characters. For somebody who doesn’t want trouble, Johnny Lang sure finds plenty of it, and everything comes to a climax that’s particularly satisfying to me, although I can’t say why without venturing too far into spoiler territory. Like nearly all the Ace Double Westerns I’ve read, this is a solid, enjoyable novel, and if you’re a fan of traditional Westerns, THE GHOST RIDERS is well worth reading.

Sunday, April 07, 2024

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Mystery, May 1940

Rudolph Belarski provides the eye-catching cover for this issue of THRILLING MYSTERY, and spinning the yarns inside are Robert Bloch, G.T. Fleming-Roberts, Carl Jacobi, Stewart Sterling, Arthur K. Barnes, house-name Will Garth, and lesser-known pulpsters Russell Stanton and David Bernard. With covers and titles like that, it's no wonder the Weird Menace pulps sold so well for a while.

Saturday, April 06, 2024

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Street & Smith's Western Story Magazine, April 15, 1939

This issue of the iconic Western pulp WESTERN STORY sports a particularly striking cover by Norman Saunders. And it's an all-star issue as far as the authors represented in its pages, too: T.T. Flynn, Harry F. Olmsted, Ray Nafziger, Cliff Farrell, Tom Roan, Tom Curry, and Frank Richardson Pierce. Man, that's a strong line-up! The Flynn story is "Death Marks Time in Trampas", which was the title story in a collection published by Five Star in 1998 that was my introduction to his work. I've read a bunch of his novels and stories since then and enjoyed them all.

Friday, April 05, 2024

A Rough Edges Rerun: Strictly For Cash - James Hadley Chase (Rene Raymond)

(This post originally appeared in a somewhat different form on March 20, 2009.)

If James Hadley Chase (who was actually an Englishman named Rene Raymond) is remembered for anything these days, it’s probably either his notorious, highly successful first novel, NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH, or the charges of plagiarism leveled at one of his early novels, BLONDE’S REQUIEM, which some people thought borrowed a little too generously from Raymond Chandler’s FAREWELL, MY LOVELY. One of the people who thought so was Chandler himself, which led to an apology from Chase. (I didn't know at the time of the original post that Chase also ran into plagiarism accusations regarding NO ORCHIDS FOR MISS BLANDISH and William Faulkner's SANCTUARY. Much has been written about this online if you'd care to look it up.) Despite that embarrassment, Chase went on to a long, prolific career as an author of mysteries, thrillers, and noirish crime yarns.

I read a few books by Chase nearly thirty years ago and don’t remember much about them. A recent conversation with one of the readers of this blog prompted me to try another one, and since I’d recently picked up a copy of STRICTLY FOR CASH at Half Price Books, that’s the one I read. Originally published in England by Robert Hale in 1951, it’s one of numerous Chase titles reprinted in the U.S. by Pocket Books during the Seventies. It’s the story of down-on-his-luck boxer Johnny Farrar (is there any other kind of boxer in books like this?), who’s hitchhiking through Florida when he gets mixed up with a crooked fight promoter (is there any other kind?) and a beautiful but quite possibly dangerous dame (is there any other . . . never mind, you get the idea). So far there’s nothing here you haven’t seen a thousand times before, even though it’s reasonably well-written and enjoyable.

But then Chase pulls a switch and starts playing with time in a way you don’t often see in yarns like this. Ultimately, you may know where he’s going with his story, but you can’t be sure how he’s going to get there, and some of the actual twists are fairly unexpected, too. Like every noir protagonist, Johnny thinks he’s doing the right thing, or at least the only thing he can, but the mess he’s in keeps getting worse and worse until everything comes together in an operatic, almost surreal climax. Along the way, the action scenes are very well-done, and there are some nice lines that made me laugh out loud, like “She had a figure that would make a mountain goat lose its foothold.”

Another charge leveled against Chase is that his books, although set in America, don’t sound American. Well, that’s true in this case, sometimes distractingly so. I’m as much of a supporter of pure texts as the next person, but really, in a book set in America, and published by an American publisher (as these Pocket Books reprints were), a character shouldn’t be pumping petrol and putting something in the boot of the car. It wouldn’t have been too hard for an editor to change those references, and it would have improved the book because sometimes they were so jarring that they knocked me right out of the story.

That said, I enjoyed STRICTLY FOR CASH quite a bit. Chase’s style really keeps the reader turning the pages most of the time. I have several more of his books on hand, and I have no doubt that I’ll read them. And it won’t take me another thirty years, either. (I've actually read several more Chase novels since the time of the original post, and I think there's a very good chance I'll read more in the future.)

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

Swords & Sorceries: Tales of Heroic Fantasy, Volume 1 - David A. Riley, ed.

I’ve been reading quite a bit of sword and sorcery fiction in recent months, and I’m still in the mood for it. So after finishing the new anthology NEITHER BEG NOR YIELD, I moved on to SWORDS & SORCERIES: TALES OF HEROIC FANTASY, VOLUME 1, which came out several years ago. Edited by David A. Riley and published by Parallel Universe Publications, it features eight stories, some by authors I’m familiar with and some by authors I’m encountering for the first time. The cover and interior illustrations are by Jim Pitts.

The book leads off with “The Mirror of Torjan Súl” by Steve Lines, a British writer and musician whose work I haven’t read before. It’s the story of an apprentice wizard sent by his necromancer master to an abandoned city in the desert to recover a mystical artifact of great power. Naturally, that abandoned city isn’t really abandoned at all. It’s full of dangerous creatures out for the protagonist’s blood, and he has to battle through them only to come face to face with an even worse menace as he tries to carry out his mission. To me, this story reads as if it were influenced quite a bit by the work of Clark Ashton Smith. I’ve read and enjoyed a few of Smith’s stories, but I’m far from being any sort of expert on his work. “The Mirror of Torjan Súl” reminds me of it, anyway. And I found it to be a pretty enjoyable yarn, too, with plenty of action and a satisfying ending.

I’ve read several stories by Steve Dilks and enjoyed every one of them. His novella “The Horror From the Stars” is another tale of Bohun, the black warrior from Damzullah I first encountered in NEITHER BEG NOR YIELD. This story takes place before that one in Bohun’s adventurous life, but that didn’t affect my enjoyment of it. Bohun’s search for his missing wife takes him to a sinister city in the desert, after he survives a deadly sandstorm, and what he finds there is even worse. Lots of bloody, eldritch action with an indomitable protagonist, told in a colorful style that races along. This is sword and sorcery in the classic mode and very well done.

I was aware of Susan Murrie Macdonald’s Western stories but didn’t know she also writes fantasy. Her short story in this volume, “Trolls Are Different”, is a very well-written, entertaining yarn about how a hearthwitch and a troll shaman deal with a threat to the land where they live. It’s light on the world-building but has plenty for the reader to understand what’s going on, and the characters are all likable. This is only borderline sword and sorcery—there’s a little sorcery (on-screen, so to speak) and a battle (off-screen)—but it’s a very enjoyable story no matter what you call it.

At first glance, “Chain of Command” by Geoff Hart is a gender-swapped Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser yarn, as female warriors Freya (big, good with a sword) and Mouse (little, quick, also good with a sword) are hired to accompany a couple of sorcerers to a lost city in a dangerous desert created by wizardry, on a quest to recover a mystical artifact. Geoff Hart, another writer new to me, readily acknowledges the Fritz Leiber influence in this yarn and spins his tale with such enthusiasm and skill that I had no trouble accepting Freya and Mouse as good characters and protagonists in their own right. This is another one in the classic sword and sorcery style, and a very good one, too.

Like “Trolls Are Different”, Gerri Leen’s story “Disruption of Destiny” doesn’t appear to be traditional sword and sorcery at first glance. It’s about a woman who’s a seer and sorcerer and her ability to take someone’s destiny and give it to someone else through a magical rite. In this story, that’s a soldier who’s fated to die in battle. So it technically fits the definition, although there’s no real action in the story. It is, however, superbly written, poignant, and very moving and satisfying. I know I’m burying the lede here, as they say, but this is a wonderful story. I’d never heard of Gerri Leen, but I’ll be on the lookout for her work.

Eric Ian Steele is another writer new to me. His story “The City of Silence” is about a former king who renounced his throne due to a terrible tragedy and now roams the land in silence as an adventurer. His only companion is the wizard who was his chief councilor. The two of them come to what seems at first to be an abandoned city. There are people living there, but they soon discover the population is under the heel of a supernatural menace. This is another terrific story with a couple of great protagonists, and I hope to find more by Steele.

This volume wraps up with two stories that didn’t really connect with me. “Red” by Chadwick Ginther is about a female warrior searching for her brother, who has been kidnapped for nefarious purposes by a sinister cult. “The Reconstructed God” by Adrian Cole (whose story in NEITHER BEG NOR YIELD I liked a lot) is about a magical familiar that has lost its master. Both are well-written with interesting characters, and I can’t tell you why they just didn’t resonate with me. It’s always possible that I just wasn’t in the right mood for them.

Overall, I found this volume to be really good, and if you’re a sword and sorcery fan, I think there’s a good chance you’d enjoy it quite a bit, too. I’m definitely planning to read others in the series. This one is available in paperback and e-book editions on Amazon.

Monday, April 01, 2024

The Steel Noose - Arnold Drake

I’ve been aware of Arnold Drake’s work as a comic book writer for a long, long time, having been a fan of one of his best-known creations, the Doom Patrol, ever since those stories began appearing in DC’s MY GREATEST ADVENTURE comic more than half a century ago. In the Seventies, I was also a regular reader of his GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY series for Marvel. But I had no idea he was also a novelist until Black Gat Books reprinted THE STEEL NOOSE, originally published by Ace Books in 1954. It’s an Ace that I just never came across over the years.

THE STEEL NOOSE is narrated by fast-talking, wise-cracking New York gossip columnist Boyd McGee, who moves in a world of cabbies, tycoons, gamblers, chorus girls, gangsters, and cops. An item he includes in his column inadvertently gets him mixed up in multiple murders and the hunt for half a million dollars in blackmail loot. Boyd gets beaten up more than once but dishes out some punishment, too. And of course, there are also several beautiful women involved in the convoluted plot.

Drake could have played this pretty straight, and in some stretches he does, but for a lot of the novel, the genuinely funny banter dished out by Boyd as he navigates this labyrinth of crime puts me in mind of something else. It’s like reading the novelization of a Bob Hope movie that was never made. Boyd McGree isn’t exactly cowardly like the characters Hope usually played, but every quip he made, I heard it in Hope’s voice. To a Bob Hope fan like me, reading THE STEEL NOOSE was a hugely entertaining experience. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Drake had Hope in mind while he was writing this. And it’s fitting, at least to me, that a decade later, Drake was writing DC’s THE ADVENTURES OF BOB HOPE comic book, which I read occasionally in those days, although not as much as I should have because I tended not to pick up anything except superhero, Western, and war comics. I’m sure I missed some good stuff.

As far as I know, THE STEEL NOOSE is Arnold Drake’s only novel. That’s kind of a shame because it’s really good and he might have given us more like it. On the other hand, if he’d been a successful novelist, we might never have had the Doom Patrol and the Guardians of the Galaxy. I’m not sure I’d make that trade, but I’m very glad Black Gat Books decided to reprint this one. You can pre-order it on Amazon, and I give it a high recommendation.