ROBBERS ROOST, the first of three novels I wrote in the Powell's Army series, is free today for the Kindle. This is a good series about a team of three investigators for the Army in the Old West. If you haven't given it a try yet, this is the perfect chance.
Speaking of Weird Menace pulps, which I was a couple of days ago, here's one with a striking cover and a fine line-up of authors: Hugh B. Cave, Wyatt Blassingame, Carl Jacobi, and G.T. Fleming-Roberts. This issue must have caused a shudder or two among its readers . . . although I'm not sure how many of those readers, even in the Thirties, found these stories all that genuinely scary.
Here's another short-lived Western pulp, but I'm not sure why it wasn't more successful. That's a pretty good cover, and the line-up of authors -- Walt Coburn, Harry F. Olmsted, Cliff Farrell, and John G. Pearsol, among others -- is certainly sturdy enough to carry a magazine. Maybe the word "Pioneer" just wasn't action-packed enough. With yarn-spinners like that in its pages, though, I certainly would have picked it up if I'd had an extra dime in my pocket.
I've mentioned the Weird Menace pulps a couple of times recently, and that prompted me to pull this book down from my shelves and read it. Originally published by FAX Collector's Editions in 1975, a reprint edition is still available from Wildside Press. Jones does a great job of covering the history of this fascinating sub-genre, starting with Popular Publications changing the direction of DIME MYSTERY from traditional mystery reprints to original Weird Menace yarns. Leo Margulies, editorial director of Ned Pines' Thrilling Group of pulps, gets a chapter to himself for his creation of THRILLING MYSTERY, which provided direct competition to Popular and DIME MYSTERY. From there Jones explores all the other publishers in the field and also provides a great deal of information and critical analysis about the writers who were featured in the Weird Menace magazines. I learned several things I'd never run across before, including the fact that four prolific pulp authors - Hugh B. Cave, Arthur Leo Zagat, Wyatt Blassingame, and John H. Knox - lived in a tiny fishing village in Florida at the same time. Million-words-a-year man Arthur J. Burks gets a whole chapter to himself. Being a writer, I love this kind of stuff. I'm always interested in learning about how other writers lived and worked. Jones talks a great deal about the different themes used in the Weird Menace pulps and how the best writers learned to get around the formulas dictated by the editors and craft many excellent, unusual stories. After a run of about seven years in the 1930s and early 40s, the Weird Menace pulps faded away, a development that Jones writes about as well. His respect and affection for the genre shows through and makes THE SHUDDER PULPS a fine piece of pulp history. If you're interested in such things, you need to check it out. I had a great time reading it. One interesting side-note: in his acknowledgments at the front of the book, first published 37 years ago, remember, Jones thanks none other than Walker Martin, one of the leading pulp fans in the world and frequent commenter on this blog. I got a kick out of that, too.
U.S. Marshal Cash Laramie is sent out to locate a shipment of stolen guns in the Vedauwoo area of Wyoming where the rocky terrain is treacherous and enshrouded in mystical beauty. In his quest, Cash goes up against an amoral opportunist looking to stir up discord in the region by selling the weapons to a group of Native Americans.
I just read this one and thoroughly enjoyed it, which comes as no surprise since Wayne Dundee is one of the most reliable authors around. As usual, he supplies nice twists in the plot, well-drawn characters, and plenty of action. That's a nice cover, too. Highly recommended.
Just typing that post title makes me feel a little like Karnak the Magnificent, except that I don't have a punchline for it. Sim-sallah-bim! Oh, by the way, nostalgia ahead, so consider yourself warned. I mentioned the other day that I went down to Brownwood last week for a family get-together. Here's one of the pictures from that gathering. That's my brother Harold to my left, my sister Norma to my right, my cousin Robert on Harold's other side, and my cousins Pam, Lafreda, and Frances. Sitting in front is my uncle, Fred Reasoner. Fred is the only one of my uncles still living. My aunts have all passed away. While we were eating, Fred told several stories about his service in World War II. He was in the army and drove in truck convoys over the Burma Road from Burma to China, which is some of the most rugged terrain in the world. It's kind of amazing to me that a young man can be sitting at home in Zephyr, Texas, and a few months later be on the other side of the world driving a truck over a road with a cliff on one side and a drop of hundreds of feet on the other, so close that you can't even see the ground when you look out the window. There's a reason they're called the Greatest Generation. By the way, if you ever find yourself in Brownwood, stop at the Section Hand Steakhouse to eat lunch. Great chicken-fried steak. Going to and from Brownwood, I drove through the town of Comanche, which means I passed within a block of the place where John Wesley Hardin shot and killed Brown County deputy sheriff Charley Webb. Although accounts vary, I suspect that Webb was there to ambush Hardin, and while you couldn't exactly call the killing self-defense, in this case at least I don't think Hardin was quite as bad as he's sometimes painted. Right there on the corner of the square the old hanging tree still stands, where a mob lynched Hardin's brother Joe and his cousins Bud and Tom Dixson. The square in Comanche is also where a Rexall drugstore was located in the 1960s, and it was in that drugstore that I bought the issue of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. digest magazine containing the novella "The Pillars of Salt Affair", which was written by Bill Pronzini under the Robert Hart Davis house-name. Although Pronzini has written much better and much more important novels and stories since then, this U.N.C.L.E. yarn remains my favorite of his work, because I still remember sitting in an old brown armchair in my aunt's house in Blanket and racing through it as fast as I could turn the pages, totally enthralled by the adventure. I've never reread it. I'm not sure I want to. Why take a chance on spoiling such a wonderful memory? One of my great hopes as a writer is that someday something will spark a memory in one of my readers and make them think, "Oh, yeah, I remember reading that book by Reasoner. What a good time that was!" Such were some of my thoughts driving those Central Texas highways last week.
Tickets are still available for the PWA Shamus Banquet in
Cleveland during Bouchercon. The event is Friday night, Oct. 5. Tickets are $60
for dinner, a cruise, and awards. Email Bob Randisi at RRandisi@sbcglobal.net for tickets and
Mel Gibson may be pretty much persona non grata in Hollywood these days, but he still manages to get movies made somehow, and while GET THE GRINGO, which Gibson produced, co-wrote, and stars in, appears to have gone straight to DVD, it's actually a pretty good action film. I'd never even heard of it when Livia brought it home from Redbox, so it was overlooked as far as I'm concerned.
Gibson plays an American criminal who escapes over the border into Mexico with several million dollars in stolen loot. Unfortunately, he escapes by crashing his car through the border fence and is immediately captured by Mexican police, who take the money for themselves and make sure Gibson's character disappears into the Mexican judicial system. He winds up in a huge prison in Tijuana where the inmates' families live with them, creating a sort of enclosed community. Corruption and violence run rampant, of course. Gibson befriends a ten-year-old boy whose late father was one of the inmates and who is being kept there, along with his mother, by the criminal kingpin who actually runs the prison.
The plot takes a lot of twists and turns along the way, and several things that are mentioned in passing wind up paying off much later, which is a technique I really like. As you might expect, GET THE GRINGO is a very gritty film, with lots of bloody violence and a ton of cussing, but it all works in context and builds up to an effective ending. It's a good movie, one you might have easily overlooked, too, and is worth watching.
Several new books came in this week, starting with REDHEADS
DIE QUICKLY, the first collection of Gil Brewer's short fiction, edited by
David Rachels and published by the University Press of Florida. All the stories
in this book come from assorted detective pulps and digests published during
the 1950s. It took me a while to become a Brewer fan, probably because I didn't
really like the first novel of his that I read (WILD!), but his work has won me
over. He was one of the great noir novelists of his era. (Actually, come to
think of it, the first Gil Brewer novel I read was one of his IT TAKES A THIEF
novelizations in the Sixties, but that doesn't really count because I didn't
have any idea then who Gil Brewer was, just a name on a book, and I was crazy
for anything and everything in the secret agent/espionage vein.)
Now for some pulp reprints, starting with three from Black
Dog Books. BRING 'EM BACK DEAD collects the first three novels from the
long-running Dan Fowler series, which were originally published in G-MEN. These
are by George Fielding Eliot, the creator of the series. I've read quite a few
Dan Fowler novels and enjoyed all of them, but I don't think I've read any of
these three. The introduction in this volume is by best-selling thriller writer
Matt Hilton. DUSTY AYRES – INVASION OF THE BLACK LIGHTNING likewise reprints
the first three novels in a series, although Dusty Ayres and His Battle Birds
didn't last nearly as long as Dan Fowler. I read the first novel in this series
many, many years ago in the Corinth Regency paperback reprint, but I have no
memory of it except that I liked it. The author is prolific pulpster and boys'
books author Robert Sidney Bowen, and the intro in this one is by publisher Tom
Roberts. IN THE NAME OF HONOR by Albert Payson Terhune is a historical
adventure novel originally published in THE ARGOSY in 1908. Terhune is best
known for his dog stories, but he got his start in historical fiction.
Moving on, we have four volumes from Altus Press. BETTER
THAN BULLETS is Volume 1 in The Complete Adventures of Thibaut Corday and the
Foreign Legion by Theodore Roscoe, who was one of the best writers in the
pulps. The Thibaut Corday series, which appeared in ARGOSY, is top-notch
adventure fiction all the way. This volume reprints the first six stories from
the series, and I look forward to getting the others. I've read scattered
Corday stories, but now I can read the whole saga from the start. Altus Press
has also started a series called TERROR TRIOS, with introductions by John
Pelan, each of which reprints three novellas from the Weird Menace pulps by a
specific author. The three volumes so far are DEVILS OF THE DARK by Hugh B.
Cave, DEATH UNDERGROUND by Wyatt Blassingame, and SPAWN OF THE FLAMES by Wayne
Rogers (whose real name was Archibald Bittner). I love Weird Menace stories
when I'm in the right mood for them, and these look like dandies. Anyway, you
can never go wrong with Hugh B. Cave, a fine writer and a real gentleman with
whom I traded a number of emails during the last few years of his life.
As if that wasn't enough, last week I paid a visit to a used
bookstore where I'd never been, J&E Recycled Reading in Brownwood (I was
down there for a family get-together). It's a good store overall, but it has an
excellent Western section. Not many vintage paperbacks, but a lot of Eighties
series books that just don't show up much around Fort Worth anymore. I bought
too many to list, but some highlights are a couple of Ernest Haycox books (one
novel and a collection of two novellas from SHORT STORIES), some Sundance
novels by Peter McCurtin, a couple of Lassiters by Jack Slade (also, in this
case, Peter McCurtin), and some Gordon D. Shirreffs. To top it off, a good
friend sent me a stack of Westerns by William Hopson, a writer whose style could
be a little odd but whose books are generally very good. And of the ones my
friend sent, I'd read only one, so it's a real treasure trove for me.
Now my only problem is finding the time to read some of
these great books! If I start blogging a little less, you'll know I'm up to my
ears in fiction . . .
Livia and I have had a lot of trouble with our websites lately. The ones we'd been using just up and disappeared, and the domain registry company wouldn't respond to emails. Livia had to start over, design new sites, and register them with a different company. But now www.jamesreasoner.com and www.liviajwashburn.com work again, and I think she did a great job on the new sites. Check 'em out!
My introduction to the Nick Carter character was the Killmaster secret agent series that debuted in the Sixties (the first of those novels I ever read was HANOI, for what it's worth), but somewhere along the same time I became aware that the character originated as a detective in dime novels in the 1880s. I read reprints of some of those stories later on and thought they were okay, although I preferred the Killmaster version. What I didn't realize until years later was that there was also a Nick Carter pulp during the Thirties, with the character functioning as a hardboiled detective. It ran for about three years, with each issue featuring a lead novel published under the by-line Nick Carter, an oddity shared by all three versions of the character. Richard Wormser is generally acknowledged as the author of the Nick Carter pulp stories, although I don't know if that's ever been confirmed. Other authors may have contributed to the series, too. I've never read any of the Nick Carter pulp stories. This one, "The War-Makers", sounds more like a G-Man yarn to me. One of the back-up short stories in this issue is by Theodore Tinsley, who wrote some excellent Shadow novels in relief of Walter B. Gibson. Maybe I'll hunt up a Nick Carter pulp one of these days. I'd be curious to read one.
WILD WEST STORIES AND COMPLETE NOVEL MAGAZINE was never one of the leading Western pulps, as far as I know, and this is probably the most famous issue of its run. There are only two stories in it, one of them an entry in the Flash Steele series by Lawrence A. Keating, a dependable and fairly prolific pulp author who never cracked the top ranks. It's the second story that earned this issue some notoriety: "One Hopped-up Cowboy" by Charles H. Snow, which features as its hero The Marijuana Kid. I've never read this story so I don't really know much about it, but just going by that title and the character's name, it's one of the more oddball stories ever published in the Western pulps. Maybe somebody will reprint it one of these days. Correction: I was 'way off in last Saturday's post about THE PECOS KID WESTERN. There were five issues, not four, and the final story is in the issue pictured. There isn't a phantom Pecos Kid story in another pulp after all, although such things did happen when a magazine was cancelled without much, or any, warning.
becoming acquainted with author Charles Boeckman through this blog and the
WesternPulps and Pulpmags Yahoo groups, I've been wanting to read some of his
work, so I started with HONKY-TONK GIRL, a rare digest novel from 1953 that's
found new life in e-book and trade paperback editions from Wildside Press.
addition to being a writer, Boeckman is also a well-known jazz musician, and
jazz plays a big part in this novel. The protagonist is bandleader and
trumpeter Johnny Nickles, whose combo is playing at a club in an unnamed West
Coast city that I took to be San Diego. The group has been dogged by tragedy:
their arranger has died recently of a heart attack, and as the novel opens
their piano player has just been shot to death. The only witness is a beautiful
blond singer who develops amnesia due to the shock of seeing the murder. The
killer wants her dead anyway, of course, and Johnny not only wants to see his
friend's murderer caught but also falls in love with the blonde, making a
collision between him and the killer inevitable. There's also a beautiful hooker
with a secret, a crooked sheriff, the local crime boss whose daughter may have
been there when the murder took place, and numerous other characters who
frequent Honky Tonk Street.
is a really fine hardboiled crime novel with several murders, some close calls
for Johnny, and a nice twisty plot. But what really makes it special is the
writing. Boeckman captures the seedy glamour of dimly-lit nightclubs filled
with smoke, whiskey fumes, and cool jazz about as well as anyone I've read.
Music is a character in this novel, and a somewhat sinister one, too, in the
form of the Ghost Album, a set of records on which Johnny and his band perform
in the style of famous musicians who are dead and gone. Ever since then bad
luck has followed the band, leading Johnny to wonder if they're cursed. Using
this backdrop, Boeckman achieves a high level of suspense throughout the book.
GIRL really should have been made into a movie directed by Edgar G. Ulmer and
starring Tom Neal. That's the kind of yarn it is. I enjoyed this novel a lot
and give it a high recommendation. I'm looking forward to reading more of
Charles Boeckman's work.
Mike Eriksson has put up several new posts on his blog about his Western publishing projects. You can find them here, here, and here. Below are scans from some of his publications. He's talking about translating the novels into English, which I think is a great idea. GUNSLINGER features both books back to back, Ace Double style.
For all you Ben Haas fans out there -- and I know there are a lot of you -- you need to head on over to Lynn Munroe's website right away. He's posted several new pages about Haas, starting with a fine biographical essay and including checklists of all of Haas's books under various pseudonyms, several of which are new to me. Not content to stop there, though, Lynn has also unraveled the history and authorship of the Lassiter series, to which Haas contributed one book. "Who wrote the Lassiters?" is a question that's been dogging me for years, and Lynn has done a spectacular job of uncovering a great deal of information. This is great stuff, and the Haas fans among you should check it out immediately.
THE LOST FUTURE is one of those dreaded SyFy Channel movies. We don't have cable, but I see one of them on DVD now and then, like this one. Perhaps surprisingly, it's a pretty good little film. I'd never heard of it and put it on our Netflix queue only because Sean Bean is in it, and watching the first season of GAME OF THRONES earlier this summer made me a Sean Bean fan. (Speaking of GAME OF THRONES, I really liked the first season, although I didn't blog about it. I've wanted to read those books since they started coming out, but have you seen how long they are? I don't have the patience for that. So I'll settle for the TV show, which I thought was great and also thought was a perfect metaphor for the American political system, but that's neither here nor there, and I'm digressing even more than usual.)
Back to THE LOST FUTURE. This is your basic post-apocalyptic cavemen versus mutant zombies action yarn, with lots of running around, shooting arrows, and hacking with swords and axes. Sean Bean's role is actually fairly small. He plays a grizzled frontiersman who's part of a brotherhood devoted to protecting the scattered tribes of humans from the mutants. Along with two guys and a girl from one of the tribes (all of whom are 'way too clean, well-fed, and good-looking to be living in such primitive conditions, by the way), he sets out to recover the stolen cure for the disease that turns people into zombies. Since an ancient copy of THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN plays a small part in the plot, there's a nice bit where they wind up traveling down a great river on a raft, only to wind up in what appears to be the war-ravaged ruins of Manhattan.
The special effects are okay but nothing special, the acting likewise except for Bean, who lends the proceedings some much-needed gravitas, and the story moves along at a nice clip. THE LOST FUTURE is hardly a great film, but I thought it was an entertaining hour and a half.
Three new print books came in this week, all of them review copies. BULLETS AND LIES by Robert J. Randisi is the first book in Bob's new Western series about detective Talbot Roper. This is a spin-off from the Gunsmith series but is being published under the Randisi name instead of the J.R. Roberts pseudonym, and the books are traditional Westerns, not Adult Westerns. I'm really looking forward to reading this one. From Stark House comes the latest A.S. Fleischman double volume, which includes the previously unpublished mystery novel THE SUN WORSHIPPERS and Fleischman's only non-juvenile Western, YELLOWLEG, on which the Sam Peckinpah film THE DEADLY COMPANIONS was based. I have the DVD of THE DEADLY COMPANIONS around here somewhere, but I've never watched it. I may remedy that after I've read the book. Also from Greg Shepard but under a new imprint, Shepardson Books, is CALIFORNIA CORNERSTONE, a collection of newspaper columns about historical events in California that were written by Greg's dad Bill Shepard. I'm a history buff from 'way back, so I'm looking forward to this one as well.
I also picked up a few used books this week. The first one, SECRET SEA by Robb White, I bought simply because I couldn't resist that great cover. It's a young adult adventure novel from 1947. I recall reading other books by Robb White that I enjoyed when I was a kid. I suspect that this one will hold up for me. And if it doesn't, that's still a great cover.
Then we have PERFECT PIGEON, a 1962 Gold Medal caper novel from the old pulpster and paperbacker Richard Wormser. I don't recall ever seeing this book before or reading anything about it, but everything I've ever read by Wormser was entertaining. And it's a Gold Medal.
Finally, THE POWER OF BLACKNESS by Jack Williamson, a science fiction adventure novel that appears to have been a fix-up job combining novelettes from F&SF, GALAXY, and AMAZING. Fix-up or not, it's a science fiction novel by Jack Williamson that I didn't have, so no way was I leaving it in the store.
On the e-book front, I have two new ones to report, both reprints by veteran pulpster Charles Boeckman writing as Charles Beckman, Jr.: a noir crime novel called HONKY-TONK GIRL and a Western, SAGE BRUSH AND SIX-GUNS. They sound like my kind of books, and I'm looking forward to reading them.
With an action-packed cover like that, authors like Emile Tepperman and William R. Cox, and story titles like "Manhattan Corpse-Peddler" and "G-X and the Gorilla Girl", you can bet I'd be reading this issue right now if I owned a copy of it. Tepperman's story is from his excellent Suicide Squad series.
Debuting in July 1950, THE PECOS KID WESTERN was the last pulp magazine created to feature a full-length novel in each issue about the title character, although not the last one published. Several other "hero" Western pulps started before it and outlasted it. THE PECOS KID WESTERN ran for only four issues, of which this is the last. Dan Cushman wrote all four novels in the series. There was a fifth Pecos Kid story published in another Western pulp after the Kid's own magazine was cancelled, but I don't recall which one. All five novels (which were closer to novella length, actually) have been reprinted in hardback and paperback about ten years ago. I've read the first two or three, but not this one, I'm pretty sure. This issue also features a novelette by Harry F. Olmsted, and it's hard to go wrong with that. I'm not sure THE PECOS KID WESTERN ever had much of a chance -- the pulps were already starting to die when it was launched -- but it was a decent magazine while it lasted.
The Carter Brown books aren't held in very high esteem, but it occurred to me the other day that I've been reading and enjoying them for close to fifty years now. That has to say something about either them or me, take your pick.
THE DANCE OF DEATH was published in 1964 and features Lt. Al Wheeler, a sheriff's department investigator in California who was the most popular series character for Alan G. Yates, the author who created the Carter Brown pseudonym and wrote most of the books under that name, if not all. (Rumors have floated around for years that some of the books were ghosted, one possibly by Robert Silverberg, but I don't know if that's ever been confirmed.) Like all of Yates's first-person narrators, Wheeler is prone to wisecracks and has a very healthy libido.
In this case, he's summoned to a rich man's isolated mountain hideaway where a suicide has taken place, but it doesn't take Wheeler long to determine that the alleged suicide is really murder. On hand are several members of a ballet company rehearsing for a new show, and the victim is one of the male dancers. There's also a mysterious prowler lurking around, and that, along with the isolated location, allows Yates to work some spooky stuff into the plot. He liked to throw some apparently supernatural elements into his books, although everything had a reasonable explanation in the end, of course, once whichever detective was in that book had solved the case.
The plot twists in this one seem painfully obvious, but Yates manages to work in some nice reverses in the late going. As always, the writing is fast-paced and breezy, Wheeler is a likable character, and there are several beautiful babes on hand. Everything wraps up in a dandy shootout and a few last wisecracks. THE DANCE OF DEATH is hardly a classic of mystery fiction, but I found it an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.
The Fight Card series just keeps rolling along in spectacular fashion. The latest entry is BLUFF CITY BRAWLER, by Heath Lowrance writing under the house-name Jack Tunney. It's the story of boxer Tom Riley, who gets in trouble with the mob in Detroit and is forced to run for his life, winding up in Memphis. Tom settles in to his new life there, makes friends, meets a nice girl he falls for . . . but you just know that old trouble from Detroit is going to catch up to him sooner or later. Since Heath Lowrance is one of my favorite newer authors (he's not brand-new with two novels, several novellas, and a bunch of short stories out there, all of them fine work), I expected a rousing good yarn and BLUFF CITY BRAWLER doesn't disappoint. Lowrance captures the 1950s era quite well. I especially liked the mention of Jo Stafford, a long-time favorite of mine. And the action hardly ever lets up, as well, with a number of gritty, well-done fight scenes. I read this one in a single evening, which is extremely rare for me these days. If you're a fight fan or just a fan of top-notch hardboiled fiction, BLUFF CITY BRAWLER gets a high recommendation from me. Speaking of Jo Stafford, why not close with the iconic song Heath mentions in the story:
(I know you've heard about this already. So go buy some books!) From Tom Roberts: Over the holiday weekend I went into the BDB storage facility—namely the basement of our home—to find standing water. Storms from the hurricane effect.
For anyone that reads, collects or appreciates books, further description is pointless.
The water damaged not only parts of the home, but a portion of BDB stock as well as personal effects and some of the book collection.
While the water has now been removed the cleanup and salvaging goes on while the drying out continues.
In an attempt to aid in the financial recovery from our disaster, the following new releases are now marked down with flood sale prices.
From Vintage Pulps to Hitchcock, jump aboard for a fascinating ride as you flip through the pages of 24 tales of Suspense, Suspicion, and Shockers, by none other than Charles Boeckman. Writing as Charles Beckman, Jr., starting in 1945, he whipped out stories that mislead, conceal, and surprise, with characters so real they jump off the page. His stories have such raw emotional appeal that some will make you cringe, some will make you shudder, some will grip you with their suspense, but all will make you feel. You'll meet gritty characters to love and hate, dames to put on a pedestal and some you'd like to choke, loyal friends and scoundrels, loveable dimwits and cunning backstabbers, deadly rattlesnakes, dangerous situations, and plots that keep you turning the page. In his stories with a musical background, you'll feel the beat of the music taken from the pages of Boeckman's own life experiences as a horn man. If you like vintage pulp detective, crime, and suspense stories, this is the right book for you. If you like Alfred Hitchcock suspense and surprise endings, this is the right book for you. If you just plain like to read, this is also the right book for you. What's not to like about such stories? They are so much fun! Editorial comments: "We need more stories like yours that have a strong emotional tone." ~Mike Tilden, legendary editor at Popular Publications UNIQUE ANTHOLOGY. THIS IS THE ONLY COLLECTION OF CHARLES BOECKMAN STORIES UNDER ONE COVER.
All e-books this week, one of which includes a new story by me. We might as well start off with it. BEAT TO A PULP: SUPERHERO is exactly what it sounds like: a collection of superhero stories by some of the best young writers in the business and one old codger (that would be me). My story is called "Drums" and is set during the Revolutionary War, not exactly the usual setting for a superhero yarn. But I had a great time writing it and wouldn't mind revisiting the characters if I ever get a chance. COMMANDO: OPERATION ARROWHEAD is a World War II adventure by Jack Badelaire, a prequel of sorts to his fine debut novel KILLER INSTINCTS. Also by Badelaire is NANOK AND THE TOWER OF SORROWS, a sword-and-sorcery tale. That's another of my favorite genres. BLOOD ON BLOOD is a new hardboiled crime novel by Frank Zafiro and my buddy Jim Wilsky. Review coming soon, I hope. And speaking of blood, I also picked up the first three issues of BLOOD & TACOS, dedicated to pastiches and reviews of Seventies men's adventure novels. These look like great fun. Links to everything mentioned in this post can be found below.
Now that's a seriously weird cover. Catches your eye, though, doesn't it? The only author in this issue that I'm familiar with is Lew Merrill, who was really Victor Rousseau, a writer whose career goes 'way, 'way back into the early days of the pulps, but he was still prolific during the Forties, especially in the Spicies. I sort of wish I had this issue just so I could find out what that cover is about.
THE GOLDEN WEST is another Western pulp I'd never heard of, let alone seen. This is a pretty good cover. It appears to have been primarily a reprint magazine, and the line-up of authors is a strong one: Clarence E. Mulford, Charles Alden Seltzer, William MacLeod Raine, and James Oliver Curwood were all big-name pulpsters who had much success with novels and movie adaptations, too. Looks like a magazine worth reading.
This is the first book in a four-book series about a gambler, gunman, and former detective named Clayburn (no first name given in this book, though he's occasionally referred to as Clay). We don't find out many details about Clayburn's background except that he used to work as a private detective for an agency headed by a Colonel Remsburg. The colonel and his agency seem modeled on Allan Pinkerton and the Pinkerton Agency, but Albert doesn't go overboard with it.
The plot is a combination of the standard revenge/save the ranch scenarios. One of Clayburn's old friends is murdered by outlaw Ross Slater. Clayburn digs up the fact that Slater's brother is cattleman John Thompson, who is trying to take over the ranch owned by Ruby McClintock and her two no-account brothers. Clayburn throws in with Ruby and plans to make life so difficult for Thompson that Thompson will summon Slater to help him, thus giving Clayburn his chance for revenge.
Though the plot is traditional, Albert makes this book fresh and entertaining with his lean, fast-paced style and his characterization of Clayburn, who veers back and forth between hero and anti-hero. Clayburn is not the fastest gun or the best brawler, but he is determined and thinks well on his feet. He's not above using people to get what he wants, either. He emerges as more sympathetic than unsympathetic, but there are enough rough edges about him to make him at least a little non-traditional. Overall, a very enjoyable book, and I plan to read the other three novels in the series, which are THREE RODE NORTH, LAST TRAIN TO BANNOCK, and THE MAN IN BLACK.
My friend Matt Mayo has started re-issuing some of his early books under his own Gritty Press imprint, and in the case of WINTERS' WAR that name is certainly appropriate. This is a indeed a gritty book, a fine hardboiled revenge Western.
After a prologue reminiscent of Edgar Rice Burroughs in which the author supposedly finds the manuscript that tells this tale in an old trunk on an abandoned ranch in Wyoming, Mayo launches into the story of pioneer cattleman Niall Winters and his wife Jenna. Several years earlier, Niall was forced to fight a range war to keep an interloper from stealing his land, a conflict that people in the area sometimes refer to as Winters' War. That's not the only war Niall has to fight, though, as a spree of murder and kidnapping that has its roots in the earlier troubles breaks out. Complicating things even more is that fact that the first snowstorm of the season is roaring down on Wyoming, and it promises to be an unusually bad one.
Mayo's smooth prose keeps things moving along at a fast pace, and the plot twists and turns in a series of well-written action scenes so that the reader can never be sure who will survive and who won't. The sympathetic characters are appropriately likable and the villains suitably despicable.
WINTERS' WAR is a fine traditional Western that's well worth reading, and I'm glad it's available again in both e-book and trade paperback editions. If you're a Western fan, you need to check it out.
I've been trading emails recently with Swedish author, photographer, and publisher Michael Eriksson, who is the only publisher currently bringing out Westerns in Sweden. His series "Tornado Blaze" is featured in the magazine he publishes, RETROFUTURE, and he has a Western comic book, "Montana Blue", coming up as well. He has two blogs: Cult Portal, about books, music, TV, and movies, and Trinkelbonker, with much of the same sort of material but covering his publishing enterprises as well. Both have a lot of interesting stuff on them.
At one time the Scandinavian market for Westerns was very strong. It was one of the most popular genres in that part of the world during the Sixties, Seventies, Eighties, and on into the Nineties, when it started to decline. Now it's all but disappeared, and Mike deserves a lot of credit for keeping it alive. I don't read Swedish, unfortunately, or I'd be reading Tornado Blaze. I'll certainly be keeping up with his blogs. (That's model Ellinor Nordbakk as the character Tornado Blaze.)
City of Heretics is a crime novel about an aging con named Crowe, just out of prison and back in Memphis, ready for some payback against the criminals who got him sent up.
Before Crowe can enjoy his revenge he has to track down a brutal murderer cutting a swath through the city—ultimately leading Crowe to confront a bizarre secret society of serial killers masquerading as a Christian splinter-group.
In his second novel CITY OF HERETICS, Heath Lowrance spins as fine a hardboiled crime yarn as I've read in a long time. With a complex plot and compelling characters, it's as gritty as the sleet that falls on the streets of Memphis in the winter, and just as slick and dangerous. Lowrance's debut novel THE BASTARD HAND is already a cult classic, and CITY OF HERETICS is even better.
(Yes, I'm getting blog mileage out of the blurb I gave Heath for this book. CITY OF HERETICS is really, really good, though, and if you like hardboiled fiction you need to read it. I think it'll be a strong contender for my best of the year list in a few months.)
I guess you had to be there, or at least be the right age, but I loved this show when I was a kid. Watching clips from it doesn't crack me up now like it did then, but I guess not everything has to age all that well. I'm still glad I watched it fifty years ago.
I picked up a couple of older books this week. I've talked about Sam Merwin Jr. quite a bit on this blog, since he was sort of a mentor to me and published the first stories under my own name when he was the editor at MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE. He gave me my first steady writing work when he asked me to ghost the Shayne novellas under the Brett Halliday name, and ghosting and working under house-names has turned out to be the hallmark of my career. Now, this may or may not be a good thing. It's entirely possible I might have done better to concentrate on work under my name . . . but I haven't had a job other than writing for more than thirty years now and I've managed to publish around fifty novels under my name, so I'll take it.
But I digress. CHAUVINISTO is a science fiction novel set in a 22nd Century ruled by women. It was published by Major Books in 1977, during one of the stretches when Merwin was also the editor of MSMM. It may well be his final novel. Major was a small paperback house in California, an imprint of a company that primarily published porn novels. It wasn't the absolute bottom of the barrel during that era – that would have been Manor Books, the publishers of my first novel – but it was close. Despite that, Major managed to publish some very interesting books: a Western novel supposedly written by actor Rory Calhoun, the first Western novel by Jory Sherman, and first novels by Loren Estleman and Robert E. Vardeman. I have no idea if CHAUVINISTO was a trunk novel of Merwin's or if he wrote the book specifically for Major, which I can see happening, especially if the editor there was one of Merwin's friends. I've enjoyed the other fiction by Merwin that I've read. When I get around to this one I'll let you know how it is.
The other old book I bought is by a familiar author but is an unfamiliar title. THE LIGHTS OF SKARO is by David Dodge, who wrote TO CATCH A THIEF, PLUNDER OF THE SUN, THE LAST MATCH, and a number of other medium-boiled mystery/adventure novels. This one was published in 1954 and is set in Eastern Europe. Again, I've liked what I've read by Dodge, so it seemed worth gambling a dollar, which is what it cost me. (The Merwin book was $2.00.)
Below are links to this week's e-books. THE FURIES is a series of World War II adventures by John Steiner, PROTECTORS is the new benefit anthology in which I have a story, "The Lonely Widow" is Pete Brandvold's new Rogue Lawman short story (reviewed yesterday), and SAVAGE SLAUGHTER is a Western novel by Gary Dobbs writing as Jack Martin (review coming later this week, I hope). Looks like lots of good reading here.
If you haven't made the acquaintance of Gideon Hawk, the Rogue Lawman, Peter Brandvold's new short story "The Lonely Widow" is the perfect opportunity to do so. For less than a buck you get the character's back-story plus a gritty Western action story as Hawk pursues a particularly vicious gang of stagecoach robbers to make sure they get the justice that's coming to them. Nobody in the business writes more vivid action scenes than Brandvold. Gideon Hawk may well be my favorite of his series characters, and this new adventure gets a high recommendation from me.
How about a weird menace pulp? If you're not familiar with that subgenre, they were sort of horror, sort of mystery, and sort of spicy adventure. There were popular for only a few years, but during that time a lot of good authors turned out scores of creepy stories with logical explanations for all the apparently supernatural shenanigans going on. I don't know about you, but with a cover like the one on the September 1941 issue of DIME MYSTERY, if I had a copy I'd be reading it right now. This is actually from the transitional period when DIME MYSTERY was becoming less of a weird menace pulp and more of a detective pulp, but clearly there are still some spooky goings-on in its pages. Hard to beat a magazine featuring Day Keene, Russell Gray (who was really Bruno Fischer), and William R. Cox, stalwart pulpsters all.
Today marks the release of the second Lost Children anthology, PROTECTORS: STORIES TO BENEFIT PROTECT. I'm very proud to have a story in this anthology, and I think it's a pretty good one, too. And what a line-up of authors! I'm looking forward to reading all the other stories. Here's what editor and mastermind Thomas Pluck has to say about the book:
We've rallied a platoon of crime, western, thriller, fantasy, noir, horror and transgressive authors to support PROTECT's important work: lobbying for legislation that protects children from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.
Powerful stories from George Pelecanos, Andrew Vachss, Joe R. Lansdale, Charles de Lint, Ken Bruen, Chet Williamson, James Reasoner, Charlie Stella, Michael A. Black, Wayne Dundee, Roxane Gay, Ray Banks, Tony Black, Les Edgerton and 16 more, with 100% of proceeds going to PROTECT.
PROTECTORS includes a foreword by rock critic Dave Marsh, and fiction by Patti Abbott, Ian Ayris, Ray Banks, Nigel Bird, Michael A. Black, Tony Black, R. Thomas Brown, Ken Bruen, Bill Cameron, Jen Conley, Charles de Lint, Wayne D. Dundee, Chad Eagleton, Les Edgerton, Andrew Fader, Matthew C. Funk, Roxane Gay, Edward A. Grainger, Glenn G. Gray, Jane Hammons, Amber Keller, Joe R. Lansdale, Frank Larnerd, Gary Lovisi, Mike Miner, Zak Mucha, Dan O'Shea, George Pelecanos, Thomas Pluck, Richard Prosch, Keith Rawson, James Reasoner, Todd Robinson, Johnny Shaw, Gerald So, Josh Stallings, Charlie Stella, Andrew Vachss, Steve Weddle, Dave White, and Chet Williamson.
Among PROTECT's victories are the Protect Our Children Act of 2008, which mandated that the Justice Department change course and design a new national nerve center for law enforcement to wage a war on child exploitation, the Hero to Hero program, which employs disabled veterans in the battle against child abuse, and Alicia's Law.
Join the fight, with 41 stories by top writers. Be a Protector!
You can go here for the links to buy the book, including details on how to buy the book directly through the website and ensure the largest possible donation to PROTECT. Check it out!
Even though it's actually been out for a few days now, today marks the official release of WOLF CREEK #1: BLOODY TRAIL, the first novel in the Wolf Creek series from the Western Fictioneers. This is an ambitious project ramrodded by Troy Smith, the first "shared universe" Western series. I contributed to this first volume and Livia will be in one of the later volumes. If you enjoy traditional Westerns with strong characters and lots of action, you definitely need to check this one out.
This is another pulp I own and read recently, the only issue of TRIPLE WESTERN that I've ever read, as far as I recall. I'm not really fond of the cover style with the three little vignettes, which I think are too small to be effective. But that was the standard cover layout on TRIPLE WESTERN and it lasted for more than ten years, so what do I know?
Moving on to the contents . . . I'm very fond of the novella length, as both a reader and a writer. A pulp with three novellas is just my speed. The first one, "Gall and Gunsmoke", is by J.M. Decker, a writer I don't know anything about. He published a few stories in various Western pulps during the Fifties, and that appears to be it. This one is a "save the ranch" story, and the utter predictability of the plot is relieved somewhat by bursts of good writing and some interesting characters.
Here's what really jumped out at me about this story, though. Check out this description of an evil banker: "The man had been handsome in his youth, but that had been long ago, and time had not been kind to him. Hair that had once been luxuriant was now a thin gray fringe, left long and combed across in an attempt to cover the nakedness on top. The loss of teeth had brought the chin upward and inward, and what had been a bold, masculine nose was now a hooked beak pointing downward at the receding chin."
That's right, one of the villains in this story is almost a dead ringer for Montgomery Burns. If I didn't know better, I'd say that Matt Groening, or whoever designed the character, had read "Gall and Gunsmoke". I think the likelihood of that is pretty small, though.
The second novella in the issue, "Boothill Blonde", has the best title. The author, W.J. Reynolds, was quite prolific in the pulps during the Fifties but again seems to have done nothing beyond that. No matter, this is the sort of yarn I really enjoy, a good hardboiled Western with a touch of noir. As back-story, Tom Bolling is framed for murder and stagecoach robbery by the blonde of the title, and although he isn't convicted it costs him his ranch to get free. He catches up to the blonde in Arizona, where she has used her ill-gotten gains to take over most of a town. With the help of a crooked sheriff, a brutal manager, and a hired gunman, she runs things to suit herself, but then Tom shows up, and the inevitable hell breaks loose. Plenty of action in this one, along with a couple of strong female characters, something you didn't always find in the Western pulps.
"The Wildcatter" by Joseph Chadwick is a reprint from the second February 1951 number of RANCH ROMANCES. (Those of you familiar with RANCH ROMANCES know that's how the magazine always referred to its issues.) I'm not really a fan of Chadwick's work, but I'm a sucker for oil field stories, as I've probably mentioned before. This is a fine one, good enough to maybe make me rethink my opinion of Chadwick. The protagonist, Rowdy Jim Kane, would have been a perfect part for John Wayne to play in the late Forties or early Fifties. There's a "save the ranch" element to the plot in this one, too, but with the nice twist of having to bring in a wildcat well in order to do so.
This issue is rounded out by a good short story by Warren Kuhn, "Last Gun, Last Bullet", about a deadly encounter between an old gunfighter and an old bounty hunter, as well as an article about Wyatt Earp and a short poem by the ubiquitous S. Omar Barker. Overall I really enjoyed this pulp and plan to read more issues of TRIPLE WESTERN.