Sunday, June 30, 2024

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Crack Detective Stories, November 1945

This issue of CRACK DETECTIVE STORIES has a nice cover by Irene Endris, one of several female pulp cover artists I know of. Inside are stories by T.W. Ford (probably best remembered as a Western author although he wrote a little bit of everything in the pulps), Talmage Powell, Emil Petaja (best known as a science fiction author), Rex Whitechurch, Marcus Lyons (who was really James Blish, definitely well-known as a science fiction author), and house-names Cliff Campbell and Grant Lane. As usual with a pulp produced on a very small budget by editor Robert W. Lowndes, this is probably better than it has any right to be. I haven't read it, but if you want to check it out, the whole issue can be found here.  

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Rangeland Romances, March 1955

A very late issue of this long-running pulp that debuted in 1937. The cover is by Frank McCarthy, an artist I associate more with paperback covers. The pulp era may have been winding down, but there are new stories in this issue by such long-time pulpsters as Norman Daniels, Arthur Lawson, Theodore J. Roemer, and Kenneth L. Sinclair, as well as a reprint by the prolific Western romance author Isabel Stewart Way. Pretty close to a last gasp (there was only one more issue of RANGELAND ROMANCES after this one) but I'll bet it was fairly entertaining.

Friday, June 28, 2024

Under the Lake - Stuart Woods

Quite a while back, prompted by a recommendation from Bill Crider (I think), I went on a little Stuart Woods binge and read maybe a dozen of his novels over a couple of years. I would read one from time to time after that, but Woods began concentrating most of his efforts on lawyer Stone Barrington, a character I really didn’t care for, so I stopped reading him altogether.

But I remember always intending to get around to one of Woods’ early novels I’d heard quite a bit about, the Southern Gothic/thriller UNDER THE LAKE. The e-book edition of it was on sale recently, so I thought, why not?

The protagonist of this novel, first published in 1987, is journalist/columnist John Howell, who has left the newspaper business after winning the Pulitzer Prize for a true crime book he wrote. Against his better judgment, he takes on the job of ghostwriting the autobiography of an ambitious businessman/politician. To accomplish this task, he holes up in a rustic cabin owned by his brother-in-law on a picturesque lake in the north Georgia mountains.

In what will come as no surprise to most readers, many of the inhabitants of the local area are eccentric and colorful and some of them are vaguely sinister. Odd things begin to happen. Howell has visions and is visited by what seem to be ghosts. He gets hints of hidden secrets and long-ago crimes that center on the lake next to the cabin. Can Howell uncover the truth without endangering his own life and the lives of people he’s come to care about?

UNDER THE LAKE is a very slow burn, but Woods somehow kept me turning the digital pages anyway. I always thought that his prose was often flat and clumsy in places, but he had that indefinable storytelling ability. This one actually seems a little better written than most of the others of his that I’ve read.

Then, after that lengthy build-up, there’s an avalanche of plot twists and revelations in the last 40 or 50 pages. I’ve mentioned before that when Livia and I are watching some movie or TV show that begins to stretch credibility, one of us usually makes the sarcastic comment, “Sure, why not?” UNDER THE LAKE reaches the “Sure, why not?” point in the late going. And yet, I have to admit I enjoyed it quite a bit. It’s different from what I usually read, it’s pretty well-done, and it might be enough to get me to read some of his other early books that I never got around to. We’ll see.

Thursday, June 27, 2024

A Middle of the Night Music Post: Something For Cat - Henry Mancini

I came across this video a few months ago and must have played it a hundred times since then. The animation is cute and appeals to my fondness for the Sixties, but I usually just listen to the music, which really resonates with me. It's from the soundtrack of BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S, and I've seen that movie so I must have heard the song in it, but I don't recall it from that at all. Instead, to me it sounds like it should have been the theme song from an early Sixties private eye TV series, and I can almost see the opening montage in my head as I listen to the music. I was a huge fan of PETER GUNN and 77 SUNSET STRIP and all the others from that era, and this would have fit right in. One of these days I might just write something like that. It would be a pretty limited market, but it sure would be fun.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Hands Beyond the Grave - Henry Treat Sperry

I’ve gotten interested in the obscure pulp author Henry Treat Sperry, probably because when I looked him up on the Fictionmags Index, I noticed something odd. His first published story was “Hands Beyond the Grave” in the September 1934 issue of TERROR TALES, the first issue of that iconic Weird Menace pulp. Sperry’s second story, though, was “Posies for the Widdy” in the First December Number, 1934, of RANCH ROMANCES. Anybody who can go directly from TERROR TALES to RANCH ROMANCES is my kind of writer!

I don’t have that issue of RANCH ROMANCES, but I do have the facsimile reprint edition of that TERROR TALES published by Steeger Books, so I went ahead and read Sperry's story. It starts off as if Sperry was influenced to a certain extent by H.P. Lovecraft. The narrator of the story is a well-to-do young New Englander named Robert Mercer, who awakens one night to find a sinister, amorphous shape lurking at the foot of his bed. There’s lot of “nameless dread”, “unspeakable terror”, and “too horrified to move”. But then, unlike most of Lovecraft’s protagonists, Sperry has his hero bound out of bed, grab an ornamental javelin off the wall, and attack the lurking presence. It doesn’t do much good, of course: the thing vanishes with an explosion that leaves Mercer senseless. He calls a buddy of his, a doctor who’s also a psychical researcher, and with the help of an elderly female medium, they set out to find out what it is that’s haunting Mercer and why.

That early battle is the high point of the action in this story, which goes back to brooding and being scared, as well as a murder and finally an explanation of sorts. Honestly, I thought this yarn cried out for one more twist that never came, but for a debut story, it’s well-written and flows well, even though you wouldn’t exactly call it fast-paced. More action and dialogue than HPL, though.

I haven’t been able to find out much about Henry Treat Sperry. He was born in 1903 and died in 1938 at age 35. He was married and worked as an assistant editor at Popular Publications, helping with several of the pulps to which he sold stories. His writing career lasted only four years, but during that time he published almost 70 stories, most of them Weird Menace but with a scattering of detective and G-Man yarns, a few Western romances, and even an air-war story or two. One of his Western romances was called “Locoed Cowgirl” (RANCH ROMANCES, First February Number, 1938). I’m sure it was innocent enough, but I can’t help but think that would be a good title for a Weird Menace/Western romance crossover about a seemingly demonically possessed cowgirl. I’d read that.

In the meantime, the other stories in the first issue of TERROR TALES look great, and I plan to read them, too. That facsimile reprint is available on Amazon or directly from the Steeger Books website.

Monday, June 24, 2024

The Trail of Death - Peter Henry Morland/Max Brand (Frederick Faust)

“The Trail of Death”, which appeared in the May 21, 1932 issue of STREET & SMITH’S WESTERN STORY MAGAZINE under the pseudonym Peter Henry Morland, is the third and final novella to feature Jim Tyler, the daring gunman and adventurer also known as The Wolf. It’s a good wrap-up to the series with numerous references back to the previous two stories.

After battling Mexican bandits El Tigre and Miguel Cambista separately in the first two stories, in this yarn the two villains team up to seek their vengeance on Jim Tyler. Fate lends them a hand, as one of Tyler’s friends whom he had previously rescued from the clutches of El Tigre, ventures south of the border again because he’s in love with a beautiful señorita. El Tigre and Cambista kidnap him, knowing that when Tyler gets word of his friend’s plight, he will come to their stronghold to try to save him, and then they’ll have Tyler right where they want him!

Of course, things don’t necessarily work out the way the two schemers hope they will. Plenty of action and derring-do ensue as Tyler sets out to foil their evil plan.

It all makes for an exciting, well-written tale that has a satisfying ending. Frederick Faust leaves the door open for more adventures of Jim Tyler, but as far as I know, there weren’t any. All three stories were reprinted under the Max Brand name in the collection DON DIABLO, a puzzling title since there’s absolutely no reference in any of the stories to a character known by that name. The e-book edition of that collection is still available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited, and used copies of the print editions are pretty easy to come by. Also worth noting is that this third story appeared under the title “Greaser Trail” when it was published in WESTERN STORY. Evidently “The Trail of Death” was Faust’s original title for it, and somebody changed it back to that for its reprint appearance.

DON DIABLO is a really solid collection. I’m a little surprised it wasn’t published as a fix-up novel back in the Fifties or Sixties, as so many of Faust’s series of linked novellas were. If you’re a Max Brand fan and haven’t read this one, it’s well worth your time.

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: 12 Adventure Stories, August 1939

Popular Publications had 10 STORY WESTERN and FIFTEEN WESTERN TALES. Ace Magazines Inc. almost split the difference with 12 ADVENTURE STORIES, a short-lived (five issues) pulp that sported excellent covers by Norman Saunders and stories by a horde of house names. The featured author in this issue, Alexis Rossoff, was a real guy who wrote scores of stories for various adventure, detective, sports, and air-war pulps. The only other author in this one who's not known to be a house name is Alonzo Kirby, and since this is his only credit in the Fictionmags Index, he may well be fictional, too. For the record, the other by-lines in this issue are Paul Adams, Eric Lennox, Rexton Archer, Arthur Flint, Cliff Howe, Chester Brant, Leon Dupont, Ronald Flagg, Clint Douglas, and John Gregory. So there's really no way of knowing who wrote these stories. Given that Ace was considered a salvage market, there's a good chance some or even all of them are stories that were rejected by ARGOSY, ADVENTURE, BLUE BOOK, and SHORT STORIES. But that doesn't necessarily make them bad yarns. I've read plenty of good stories in various Ace pulps.

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Lariat Story Magazine, January 1928

Now that is one suspicious-looking hombre. Don't reckon I'd trust him at all. But he gives us an eye-catching cover by H.C. Murphy Jr. There are some fine authors in this issue of LARIAT STORY MAGAZINE, led by Eugene Cunningham with two entries, one a short story and the other an installment of a serial, plus Walt Coburn, S. Omar Barker, and Galen C. Colin. I'm not familiar with Jack Smalley, the author of the cover-featured story, or E.L. Marks, U. Stanley Aultman, and Charles Penvir Gordon, who wrote the other stories in this issue. But Cunningham, Coburn, and Barker are more than enough to make me figure this one would be worth reading if I had a copy. 

Friday, June 21, 2024

Conan: City of the Dead - John C. Hocking

CONAN: CITY OF THE DEAD is a new collection available in both hardback and e-book editions that reprints John C. Hocking's original Conan novel, CONAN AND THE EMERALD LOTUS, and is the first publication of his sequel CONAN AND THE LIVING PLAGUE. More than ten years ago, I read and reviewed the first of those novels, and then a while after that, I was fortunate enough to read an advance copy of the second. I thought I would revisit slightly updated versions of both of these reviews today.

From August 30, 2013: As a long-time reader and fan of Robert E. Howard's work, a former member of REHupa, and somebody who has written introductions for several volumes of Howard stories, you might expect me to be a strict purist, somebody who doesn't like pastiches featuring Howard's characters and doesn't think such things should be written. Ah, but that would be rather hypocritical of me, considering how the majority of my career has been spent writing about other people's characters, including my own Howard pastiche (the El Borak story "Wolves of the Mountain" in CROSS PLAINS UNIVERSE).

So, as with most things, I come down pretty much in the middle on this issue. I have no philosophical objections to pastiches, it's just that most of the ones I've read based on Howard's work aren't very good.

For years, though, I've been meaning to read John C. Hocking's novel CONAN AND THE EMERALD LOTUS, which has a pretty favorable reputation even among Howard's most devoted fans. I believe it was Morgan Holmes who first told me that Hocking's book is the best of the Conan pastiches published by Tor. I should have gotten around to it long before now, especially since the author comments from time to time on this very blog. All I can say is that I'm sorry for my procrastination on several levels, the most important of which is that it kept me from reading an excellent novel until now.

CONAN AND THE EMERALD LOTUS is a rare thing, a fantasy novel with a strongly realistic tone to it. Sure, there's plenty of swordplay and sorcery, but the tale revolves around a powerful, highly addictive drug, the sort of plot element you might find in a hardboiled crime novel. It's been said that Howard merged a hardboiled voice with horror fiction to create sword-and-sorcery, and Hocking understands that even though he doesn't try to imitate Howard's style. He spins this yarn in brisk, action-packed prose with occasional touches of creepiness and dark humor. Conan, aligned with one of the sorcerers warring over the potent powder known as the Emerald Lotus, is the most admirable character in the novel, and we know what a bad-ass he is.

At the same time, Hocking gives us the sort of spectacle you expect to find in epic heroic fantasy, especially in scenes like the description of sorcerer Ethram-Fal's stronghold in the badlands of ancient Stygia. And speaking of badlands, there are hints of the Western here, too, in the battles between Conan and his enemies in rugged terrain that might well be Monument Valley, Utah. All of it leads up to an apocalyptic and very satisfying climax.

As it turns out, CONAN AND THE EMERALD LOTUS is one of the most purely entertaining books I've read all year. Hocking knows his stuff and knows how to tell a fine story.

From August 5, 2019: John C. Hocking is the author of CONAN AND THE EMERALD LOTUS, a novel which is widely regarded as the best of the Conan pastiches published by Tor in the Eighties and Nineties. I finally got around to reading it several years ago and agree that it’s easily the best of those pastiches. 

In CONAN AND THE LIVING PLAGUE, Conan is recruited to be part of a small mercenary force headed to the isolated mountain city of Dulcine, which is rumored to have been wiped out by a mysterious plague. But rumors also say that there’s a fortune waiting to be had in Dulcine’s treasure vaults, and an ambitious prince has his eye on that loot. In order to get his hands on it, he hires not only Conan and several other hard-nosed soldiers but also a sorcerer who had something to do with the plague that wiped out the city. Conan hates and distrusts sorcery, of course, but the magic conjured up by this mage Adrastus is the only thing that can get the treasure seekers safely in and out of their destination.

Well, of course, lots of stuff goes wrong. The plague hasn’t wiped out everybody in Dulcine, but the people who are left have been transformed into crazed, bloodthirsty semblances of their former selves. Even worse, a creepy figure who’s actually the living personification of the plague is wandering around the castle where the treasure is supposed to be. Conan and his companions are in constant danger not only from this living plague but also from treachery within their own ranks. Not all of them will make it out alive . . .

Hocking doesn’t try to slavishly imitate Robert E. Howard’s style, although there are Howardian touches to the prose here and there. Instead, he tells the story in his own voice, with well-drawn characters, a head-long pace, and plenty of epic action scenes. I think this is the best approach to pastiche, producing a novel that’s recognizably a Conan tale, steeped in the background and setting Howard created, but in the author’s own distinctive style. Hocking has given us another fine novel, and I certainly hope it won’t be the last. I really enjoyed CONAN AND THE LIVING PLAGUE and give it a very high recommendation.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Big Shots Die Young (Manville Moon #5) - Richard Deming

“Big Shots Die Young” is the fifth novella featuring Richard Deming’s one-legged private eye Manville Moon. It was published originally in the July 1949 issue of BLACK MASK and featured on the cover by Norman Saunders, although that cover has nothing to do with Deming’s story.

This novella is a direct sequel to the previous entry in the series, “No Pockets in a Shroud” (BLACK MASK, January 1949). And fair warning, it spoils the mystery of that earlier story, too. But since I’d read that one, I had no problem going right along with this yarn, which finds Moon the target of an old enemy who comes back into the unidentified city where these stories take place intending to take over the local gambling setup. Before you know it, Moon has been framed for murder, arrested by the cops, and has to escape and uncover the real killer to clear his name. All while romancing a beautiful woman at the same time, of course.

Manville Moon is a flat-out great protagonist. He’s tough, funny, just vulnerable enough not to be superhuman, and has become one of my favorite first-person narrators over the course of the five stories about him I’ve read so far. Deming’s prose, as always, is so smooth and polished that it glitters.

Where “Big Shots Die Young” doesn’t quite reach the level of the earlier stories is in the plot, which is rather thin and predictable. Anybody who’s read many private eye yarns will know what’s going on right away. The other stories so far in the series had pretty complex plots, but that’s not the case here.

Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy it. I had a really good time reading “Big Shots Die Young”, and I think anybody who has enjoyed the previous stories will like this one, too. Like the others, it’s available as an inexpensive e-book if you don’t happen to own that particular issue of BLACK MASK. And if you haven’t made the acquaintance of Manville Moon yet, I highly recommend that you do.

Monday, June 17, 2024

Rawhide Bound - Peter Henry Morland/Max Brand (Frederick Faust)

I was a little thrown by “Rawhide Bound”, the second Jim Tyler novella which appeared originally in the April 23, 1932 issue of STREET & SMITH’S WESTERN STORY MAGAZINE under the name Peter Henry Morland and then was reprinted in the collection DON DIABLO under the Max Brand name. As you may recall from my review of “Mountain Raiders”, the first novella in the series, Jim Tyler is a drifting gunman/outlaw/adventurer sometimes known as The Wolf. When I started reading “Rawhide Bound”, I expected another epic clash between Tyler and the Mexican bandit called El Tigre.

Instead, Tyler is back north of the border, visiting an old prospector who’s a friend of his. The old-timer has discovered a fabulously valuable gold mine. Then he’s wounded and kidnapped, and Tyler sets off to find and rescue him.

The trail leads Tyler to an abandoned hacienda in a desolate mountain pass that’s been taken over by a gang of outlaws. Because of his encounter with these owlhoots, he winds up being imprisoned and tortured by yet another Mexican bandit.

At first, this doesn’t read like a sequel to “Mountain Raiders”, and Jim Tyler (who is never referred to as The Wolf in this one) could be any of Frederick Faust’s borderline superhuman protagonists. This novella also seems like it was cobbled together out of elements from several different yarns.

However, Faust’s colorful, compelling prose elevates it beyond what it might have been, and eventually, connections with the previous story are revealed. The torture scenes are harrowingly suspenseful, although I thought the ending itself wasn’t all it could have been. Overall, I liked this story, although not as much as the first one, and I’m looking forward to the third and final Jim Tyler tale, which I hope to read soon.

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Famous Fantastic Mysteries, August 1950

FAMOUS FANTASTIC MYSTERIES was a reprint pulp, but it reprinted some great science fiction and fantasy, sometimes obscure, sometimes well-known classics. And it had new, often great covers by some fine artists. This issue contains only two stories, both of them in the classic category: THE TIME MACHINE by H.G. Wells and DONOVAN'S BRAIN by Curt Siodmak. I've read them both, although not in this pulp. The dramatic cover illustrating a scene from THE TIME MACHINE is by one of my favorite cover artists, Norman Saunders.

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Outlaws, December 1929

Walter Baumhofer is one of my favorite pulp cover artists, and I like this whimsical depiction of a harmonica-playing cowboy fending off an empty tomato can hurled at him by some listener, but I'm not sure how appropriate the scene is for a pulp subtitled "A Magazine of Hair-Trigger Hombres". But maybe that description refers to the music critic instead of the fella with the harmonica. I'd expect something more hard-bitten from a magazine called WESTERN OUTLAWS, but hey, owlhoots can enjoy a tune now and then, too. The best-known author in this issue is William Colt MacDonald, one of the big names of the pulp era and all the way through the Sixties, really. Chart Pitt and Thomas Thursday are on hand, too. Other than that, the writers are all unknown to me: Wolf Wilson, Willard E. Hawkins, Albert Wm. Stone, J.R. Johnson, Al H. Martin, R.T. Barkley, L. Simpson Turner, Charles P. Gordon, and Ludwig Stanley Landmichl. I may have heard, vaguely, of one or two of those, but I don't know anything about them. Still, I like the cover, a little odd though it may be, and MacDonald was always worth reading.

Friday, June 14, 2024

A Rough Edges Rerun: Travels With Charley - John Steinbeck

Before Captain America and Billy did it in the movie EASY RIDER, before Green Lantern and Green Arrow did it in the comic books, author John Steinbeck and a ten-year-old poodle named Charley set off in the fall of 1960 in search of America. Appropriately enough, that’s the subtitle of the resulting book, TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY: IN SEARCH OF AMERICA.

When I was a junior in high school, a friend and I went through a pseudo-intellectual phase, as sixteen-year-old boys will sometimes do. We read and discussed Hemingway and Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, and God knows what else. If our parents would have let us get away with it, we probably would have smoked pipes and worn jackets with leather patches on the elbows. It’s a wonder we didn’t choke on our own pretentiousness. But we actually did read some good books and discover some good authors along the way, among them John Steinbeck. Two of Steinbeck’s books stand out in my memory: the novel THE WINTER OF OUR DISCONTENT and the memoir TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY. I liked a lot of his other novels, too, most notably CUP OF GOLD, TORTILLA FLAT, and OF MICE AND MEN. I was less fond of THE GRAPES OF WRATH and EAST OF EDEN, even though those two are probably his most popular novels. It’s been more than forty years since I read TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY, so I decided to see how well it holds up.

I’m happy to report that it holds up very well indeed. Steinbeck writes beautifully about nature and the places he visits and the people he meets. His social and political observations are always interesting, although this time around I did notice an occasional touch of smug superiority about his comments that I didn’t recall from my first reading of the book. It’s not enough to really cause a problem, though.

The best part of TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY is the relationship between Steinbeck and Charley, who becomes as vivid a character as any in the book. When Charley develops medical problems and you don’t know what the outcome will be, there’s genuine suspense. As some of you know, I’m a dog person, and Charley’s a great dog.

It’s nice to know that this is as fine a book as I remember it being. Now, will I go back and reread THE WINTER OF OUR DISCONTENT or some of Steinbeck’s other novels and see if they hold up as well? It could happen.

(News flash: It didn't happen. I don't think I've read anything by Steinbeck in the fifteen years since this post first appeared in a somewhat different form on June 5, 2009. And since then, it's become pretty well accepted that TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY is highly fictionalized, almost more of a novel based on the actual trip Steinbeck and Charley took rather than pure non-fiction. I don't care. It's still a good book, and I still have good memories of those long-ago high school days when I first read it.)

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Drink With the Dead - Jay Flynn

DRINK WITH THE DEAD opens with our protagonist, Konrad Jensen, being questioned by the cops about a murder he’s suspected of committing. He gets beaten up and thrown into the felony tank. Being a long-time reader of hardboiled crime and noir novels from the Fifties, I immediately expected Jensen to break out of jail and spend the rest of the novel trying to find the real killer and clear his name.

As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what we eventually get, but instead of occupying the rest of the book, after that brutal opening author Jay Flynn takes us on an extended flashback in which Konrad Jensen—who’s a federal agent—investigates a moonshine ring in the northern California mountains. This isn’t a spoiler, by the way; Flynn clues the reader in on Jensen’s real identity almost right away. It’s Jensen’s partner who gets killed, giving him a personal stake in the case, and then his own life is on the line as the bad guys close in around him. Oh, and there are two beautiful women mixed up in the investigation, too, of course.

DRINK WITH THE DEAD was published originally in 1959 under the name J.M. Flynn as half of an Ace Double Mystery with a cover by Paul Rader. That cover has been preserved on the recent Black Gat reprint of the novel. Jay Flynn was as much of an intriguing character as any of those in his books, a writer of considerable talent eroded by booze and hard living and a generally screwball approach to life. He’s the subject of a great essay by Bill Pronzini, originally published in MYSTERY SCENE, that can still be read on-line. I’ve read Flynn’s novels off and on for years, and while he was inconsistent to say the least, I don’t think I’ve ever read one that failed to entertain me.

DRINK WITH THE DEAD is certainly one of his better efforts. Setting a moonshining yarn in California instead of Kentucky or Tennessee is a nice offbeat touch. A lot of the book is more G-Man Procedural than hardboiled action, but it’s well-done, and when the action does kick into gear, it really yanks the reader along full-throttle. The ending of this novel is great, with an effective final twist of the tail. If you’ve never read Flynn’s work before, it wouldn’t be a bad place to start. If you’re already a fan, you’ll want to give this one a try. Recommended.

Monday, June 10, 2024

Mountain Raiders - Peter Henry Morland/Max Brand (Frederick Faust)

Max Brand, whose real name was, of course, Frederick Faust, is another author whose work I’ve been reading for 60 years. The first thing I read by him was the novel SINGLE JACK, in a Dodd, Mead hardback checked out from the Fort Worth Public Library bookmobile that came out to our little town every Saturday morning. I loved it and have gone on to read many more of his stories and novels over the decades. (Years later, the Fort Worth Public Library discarded that same exact copy of SINGLE JACK and it wound up in our local library, where I checked it out and read it again. I wasn’t nearly as impressed with the book that time around, but I remained a Max Brand fan.)

Faust wrote three novellas about a gunman/adventurer named Jim Tyler, sometimes known as The Wolf. These were published in the venerable pulp STREET & SMITH’S WESTERN STORY MAGAZINE under the pseudonym Peter Henry Morland in the spring of 1932 and many, many years later collected in a Leisure paperback volume under the Max Brand name called DON DIABLO. That collection is still available in an e-book edition on Amazon, which is where I read the first Jim Tyler novella “Mountain Raiders”, originally published in the April 9, 1932 issue of WESTERN STORY.

This one is set in the mountains of Mexico, where the manager of a group of silver mines owned by an American syndicate hires Tyler to fight off the raids of a notorious bandit known as El Tigre. Tyler rounds up a group of fellow gunfighters and adventurers to deal with El Tigre. This part of the story has a definite Magnificent Seven feeling to it. There’s a huge battle, of course, in which (SPOILER—but not much of one) Tyler and his men emerge triumphant through the use of a clever trick on Tyler’s part. Then, halfway through the story, things abruptly change and Tyler, at the behest of a beautiful señorita, gallivants off to rescue a Mexican revolutionary who’s been unjustly imprisoned.

Despite the fact that “Mountain Raiders” reads more like two short stories crammed together than an actual novella, the writing is excellent, as you’d expect from Faust, with vivid descriptions, top-notch dialogue, and some great action. El Tigre is a fine villain and I’m sure he and The Wolf will clash again. Jim Tyler is an intriguing character, and I’m eager to read more about him, although I’ll probably space out the other two novellas. If you’re a Max Brand fan, though, I think I can already recommend DON DIABLO.

Sunday, June 09, 2024

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Wonder Stories, April 1939

I like the cover by Howard V. Brown on this issue of THRILLING WONDER STORIES, and the lineup of writers inside is very impressive: Henry Kuttner, Alfred Bester, Clifford D. Simak, Eando Binder (probably just Otto at this point), Frank Belknap Long, Ray Cummings, Ward Hawkins, and an author I haven't heard of, Roscoe Clark. If you want to check it out, the entire issue is online here, along with numerous other issues of THRILLING WONDER STORIES. 

Saturday, June 08, 2024

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Texas Rangers, June 1945

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. That’s my copy in the scan. I think the cover may be by George Rozen, but I’m far from sure about that. Sam Cherry was doing most of the covers for TEXAS RANGERS by this point, but that just doesn’t look like Cherry’s work to me.

I’m much more certain about who wrote the Jim Hatfield novel in this issue—but we’ll get to that. “Gun Governor” is set in the Texas Panhandle and concerns the efforts of a gang of carpetbagger politicians and owlhoots to hang on to power as Reconstruction ends and Texans control their own destinies again. Some of those Texans have banded together and planted wheat rather than trying to rebuild the cattle business. The above-mentioned gang of robed and hooded marauders terrorizes them and tries to run them out of business. Enter Texas Ranger Jim Hatfield, sent from Austin to restore law and order and bring the leaders of the gang to justice.

Hatfield starts out by working undercover, as he often does. He manages to infiltrate the gang, but he has to abandon his masquerade to save the life of the leader of the wheat farmers. This leads to an epic cattle in which Hatfield is almost trapped in a burning building, and once his true identity is exposed, it’s all-out war between the Texas Ranger and the carpetbagger gun-wolves as Hatfield battles a scheme that threatens not only the Panhandle but the entire state of Texas.

“Gun Governor” is a well-written, very entertaining yarn with plenty of fast-paced action. The Reconstruction references place it in 1870, which is just one of the reasons I believe it was written by Tom Curry under the Jackson Cole house-name, rather than A. Leslie Scott, to whom it’s attributed in the Fictionmags Index. Curry wrote at least one other Hatfield novel with a Reconstruction background, “The Black Hat Riders” (TEXAS RANGERS, December 1942). Most of Curry’s Hatfield novels seem to take place in the 1870. They don’t all have such specific references as this one, but when they do, that’s the era in which they take place.

Leslie Scott’s Hatfield novels, on the other hand, take place in the 1890s, based on their frequent mentions of the oil business and the spread of railroads across the state. This creates a bit of a time paradox since Hatfield is approximately the same age no matter who the writer is, but evidently the pulp readers didn’t worry about such things and neither do I.

“Gun Governor” bears several other hallmarks of Curry’s work. It has a couple of introductory chapters in which the situation is developed, the villains and their victims are introduced, and so is a proxy hero, in this case wheat farmer Ken Toll, who is a Yankee but befriends the Texans anyway. Hatfield doesn’t show up until the third chapter. The descriptive passages are much shorter and lack Scott’s highly detailed and dramatic (some might say melodramatic) prose. None of Scott’s usual catch-phrases appear. Nobody gets “a surroundin’ of chuck”. While pursuing bad guys, Hatfield never shouts to his horse, “Trail, Goldy, trail!” In the final showdown with the outlaw mastermind (whose identity is never in doubt, by the way), Hatfield’s powerful voice doesn’t ring out “Elevate! In the name of the State of Texas!” Curry’s Hatfield gets down to business in a much more prosaic fashion. Nobody even raises hell and shoves a chunk under the corner!

One final bit of evidence: this novel was reprinted in the Sixties by Popular Library under the title SHOOTOUT TRAIL. Most of the Hatfield novels Popular Library picked to reprint were by Tom Curry. Of course, there were books by other authors in the Popular Library series, including a few by Scott, so that’s not definitive proof, just a little more weight on the side of the conclusions I’ve drawn from the story itself.

All this speculation aside, is “Gun Governor” worth reading? I’d say so without hesitation. The wheat farming angle is a little offbeat, the villains are properly despicable, and Hatfield is his usual stalwart self. I had a very good time reading this yarn.

There are three back-up stories in this issue, which is fairly thin due to wartime paper restrictions. I’m sure it’s a matter of coincidence, but all three have young protagonists.

“Voice From Boothill” by Gunnison Steele is about a young man trying to avenge his brother’s killing. Bennie Gardner, who is best remembered under the Gunnison Steele pseudonym, was a fine Western pulp novelist. His three Jim Hatfield novels under the Jackson Cole name are excellent, some of the best entries in the whole series. But he also wrote a lot of short-short stories like this one, which pack action and interesting plots, usually with some twist, into 1500-2000 words. I picked up on the twist in “Voice From Boothill” before it arrived, but it’s still very effective and I enjoyed the story.

“Salvage of the Box M” is by J.R. Jackson, an author about whom I know nothing except that he published a dozen or so stories in various Western pulps in the Forties. In this story, in order to save his ranch, a young man tries to get a job as a deputy and goes after an outlaw to prove he’s worthy of a badge. This is another well-written, entertaining tale.

“A Pard for Pedro” is by Cliff Walters, a prolific but almost completely forgotten contributor to the Western pulps. It mixes Mexican sheepherders, fly fishing, and murder in an unlikely combination, but it’s well-done and I thorougly enjoyed it.

Overall, this is a really solid issue of TEXAS RANGERS with a top-notch Hatfield novel and good back-up stories. If you have a copy on your shelves and are in the mood for a few hours of good reading, I recommend it. Likewise if you have a copy of the paperback reprint, SHOOTOUT TRAIL, although you won’t get the other stories with it.

Friday, June 07, 2024

A Rough Edges Rerun: Taboo Thrills - Orrie Hitt

“A Novel Book is a Man’s Book!” It says so right on the spine of Orrie Hitt’s TABOO THRILLS. That’s right, we return to the work of Orrie Hitt and it’s a good one.

First, some history. This book was originally published by Novel Books in 1962 under the title WARPED WOMAN. It was reprinted in 1963 as TABOO THRILLS, the edition I read. Then it was also reprinted in 1964 as WILMA’S WANTS. The folks at Novel Books, a Chicago publisher of soft-core porn and crime novels, must have really liked it.

Although the cover and the various titles make it sound like one of Hitt’s lesbian novels, it’s really not. It’s actually a semi-autobiographical yarn narrated by one Chet Long, a prolific author of what he refers to as “realistic” novels, by which, of course, he means the sort of Adults Only, early Sixties soft-core novels that this is. Chet lives in upstate New York (like Orrie Hitt), broke in by writing articles for hunting and outdoors magazines (like Orrie Hitt), and bangs out his books on a manual typewriter sitting at the kitchen table (like Orrie Hitt). The main difference is that while Hitt was a happily married man with a family, Chet Long is single and has a rich girlfriend, along with a number of other women on the side.

There’s not much plot here. Most of the book is concerned with a soap-opera-like romantic triangle involving Chet, Wilma (the rich, repressed girlfriend who hates the books he writes), and Sandy, a beautiful young free-spirited waitress who is much more suited to him. There’s also a peeping tom prowling the small city where they all live. (The peeping tom novel was another of Hitt’s specialties.) The plot just serves as an excuse for a number of lengthy rants against censorship and big government, both of which Hitt seems to have disliked equally.

But in the midst of all that are some wonderful bits about the life of a freelance writer, such as this comment from Sandy:

“I don’t get it,” she said. “I’ve read about writers and it seems crazy to me. You just write this junk and somebody prints it?”

I don’t know, of course, but I suspect that Hitt had a smile on his face when he wrote that paragraph.

Here’s a more serious passage I liked:

They say there’s tension in the advertising business but filling a blank sheet of paper is just as much tension. Your belly crawls when you can’t seem to do what you want to do. You struggle, you sweat – that’s nerves – you do the best you can, which is seldom good enough, and then you go to a bar where nobody gives a damn about what you do. You talk to men on the railroad, a retired lush who’s trying to stretch his Social Security check to the end of the month, some dame who’s got more kids than she needs and is knocked up again. You listen, buy a drink for somebody who can’t afford it – and maybe you take something about one, add it to the tragedy of another, and put it on paper. Or maybe the next day you’ve forgotten, lost in your own world because it is a world that is yours alone, since, as with all men, you are finally alone. Every man is an island, John Donne to the contrary. In the morning you make your coffee, read an out of town paper if it arrives on time, place your cup and saucer into the sink with assorted dirty dishes, and become a machine that spews words for readers you will never meet. You hope it’s a creative machine.

That’s not the most smoothly written passage in the world, but it’s got a passion and intensity to it that lifts this book to something more than sleaze, at least as far as I’m concerned. In another place, in talking about his writing career, Chet says something that reminds me of Robert E. Howard:

. . . people will suffer to accomplish what they want. Or perhaps it isn’t suffering so much as it is to have the guts to aim at a target and not be satisfied until they hit it. To many, mine wasn’t a very large target but it was one that many missed.

Finally, there’s another funny bit where Chet grabs a book off the newsstand at the train station so he’ll have something to read on a trip to New York City. He picks the book because the title intrigues him and doesn’t notice the name of the author, never realizing until he starts to read it that it’s one of his own novels, with his original title changed by the publisher. Given the history of this particular book – three editions in three years with three different titles – that’s a bit of inadvertent humor.

Unlike some of the other Hitt novels I’ve read, the ending of TABOO THRILLS is pretty believable and satisfying. Hitt evidently did some of his best or at least some of his most personal work for Novel Books, and I’m going to be on the lookout for more of those books. If you run across a copy of TABOO THRILLS (or WARPED WOMAN or WILMA’S WANTS), I think it’s well worth picking up and reading.

(This post originally appeared in a somewhat different form on May 22, 2009. I found an image of the cover of WARPED WOMAN, which you can see below, but WILMA'S WANTS seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth. Irwin Shaw's story "Main Currents of American Thought" captures being a freelance writer better than any other piece of fiction I've ever read, but this Orrie Hitt novel comes close to the same level.)

Wednesday, June 05, 2024

Casinos, Motels, Gators: Stories - Ben Boulden

I really like Ben Boulden’s writing. His prose is as terse and tough and hardboiled as any you’ll find these days. He’s just released CASINOS, MOTELS, GATORS, a collection of four stories that originally appeared in various anthologies and an on-line magazine, and I enjoyed it a great deal.

The first three stories feature narrator/protagonist Jimmy Ford, a former FBI agent who messed up his life somehow. The details remain mostly a mystery to the reader, although Boulden alludes to a few things in one of the stories, but it was bad enough that Ford winds up working as a security consultant/troubleshooter/fixer for a shady character who owns a casino in a town on the border between Utah and Nevada. Boulden does a fine job depicting this stark, hardscrabble location, by the way.

In “121”, a casino employee is murdered, and Ford’s investigation leads to a surprising twist. “No Chips, No Bonus” is about a casino robbery that also leads to murder. In “Junkyard”, a casino employee’s granddaughter is kidnapped, and Ford sets out to rescue her. All these stories are well-plotted, fast-paced, and have plenty of gritty action and surprises. Ford is a sympathetic but not really all that likable protagonist. I really hope we haven’t seen the last of him.

I’d previously referred to “121” as a MANHUNT story for the 21st Century. Having reread it and read the other two Jimmy Ford stories, I’d say that not only would the series have worked in MANHUNT, it would have been right at home in the late Seventies/early Eighties issues of MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE. With some adjustment to the trappings, they could have even been BLACK MASK stories in the early Thirties. Boulden’s writing has definite echoes of Paul Cain, Raoul Whitfield, and Frederick Nebel.

The fourth and final story, “Asia Divine”, is a non-series yarn about a prostitute’s murder and the police detective investigating it. This one also has a twist ending and is the most noirish of the four stories in the book. It’s also superbly written, although really bleak, too. Of course, there’s a pretty thick thread of bleakness that runs through all these stories, although Boulden leavens it with a few little rays of hope here and there.

CASINOS, MOTELS, GATORS is one of the best books I’ve read this year. It's available in print and e-book editions from Amazon. If you’re a fan of hardboiled fiction, I give it a very high recommendation. I don’t throw those Cain, Whitfield, and Nebel comparisons around lightly, you know.

Monday, June 03, 2024

Now Available: Doom of the Dark Delta - James Reasoner

Washed ashore on a jungle-choked island in the delta at the mouth of the great Jehannamun River, Jorras Trevayle has survived an attack by pirates only to find himself in a desperate race to rescue a beautiful young woman from the sinister plans of an evil sorcerer and save himself from becoming the prey of a Nloka Maccumba—one of the giant serpents raised by the inhabitants of this bizarre, perilous land.

DOOM OF THE DARK DELTA is the first novella in the Snakehaven series from bestselling author James Reasoner. Part sword and sorcery, part alternate history, and all action and adventure, it’s a thrilling tale that begins a saga of epic scope. And it all begins here in DOOM OF THE DARK DELTA!

(As I've mentioned before, I'm excited about this one. It was great fun to write, and I'll be starting the second novella in the Snakehaven series, THE FEVER COAST, any day now. You can get the e-book edition of this one on Amazon for less than a buck, and if you have Kindle Unlimited, you can read it for free.)

Sunday, June 02, 2024

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: The Lone Eagle, April 1934

Years ago I read quite a few of the lead novels from this World War I air war pulp published by the Thrilling Group when a friend of mine reprinted them in chapbooks. I always enjoyed them quite a bit. It's a good series authored by various writers under the house-name Lieutenant Scott Morgan. The protagonist is pilot/spy John Masters who battles the Germans both in the air and behind the lines. The cover on this issue is by Eugene M. Frandzen, and it's a good one. In addition to the Lone Eagle story, there are back-up yarns by the ubiquitous Arthur J. Burks and an author I'm not familiar with, Seymour G. Pond. A few of the novels are still available in reprint editions, and they're worth seeking out if you're a fan of air war fiction.

Saturday, June 01, 2024

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Rodeo Romances, April 1947

RODEO ROMANCES seems to have been more oriented toward actual romance stories than the other two Western romance pulps published by the Thrilling Group, RANCH ROMANCES and THRILLING RANCH STORIES. Most of the covers are very placid depictions of happy couples. This one, however, features some good ol' bulldoggin' in a painting by Sam Cherry. I've been to quite a few rodeos, and the bulldogging is always exciting, not to mention dangerous for the cowboys competing. The authors in this issue are mostly familiar names: Johnston McCulley, Joe Archibald, Harold F. Cruickshank, Stephen Payne, and Cliff Walters.