Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: The Phantom Detective, January 1941

Never trust a guy in a suit of armor, that's my motto. You don't hear much about the Phantom Detective anymore, but I've always liked this series ever since I started reading the Corinth paperback reprints 50 years ago. Generally good covers and some fine yarns by various authors. This particular story is by Laurence Donovan.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: West, January 1953

I'm not really an art guy, but I like the composition on this cover. I have no idea who did the art. Inside are some good authors, including Gordon D. Shirreffs, Ray Townsend, and Ross Rocklynne. I think of Rocklynne as a science fiction writer and didn't know he had done any Westerns. Turns out he wrote a few over the years.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Forgotten Books: Lair of the Beast - John Peter Drummond

“Lair of the Beast”, from the Spring 1941 issue of JUNGLE STORIES, may be the best Ki-Gor novel I’ve read so far. It seems to be the work of yet another author who’s new to the series, although the style does remind me a bit of “Ki-Gor—and the Paradise That Time Forgot”. [Minor spoilers ahead.] In this one, Helene is taken captive by a gang of slavers who operate out of an ancient Moorish castle in the middle of the jungle. Ki-Gor, badly wounded in a battle with a vicious baboon, willingly becomes a prisoner because that’s the only way he can get to Helene. Then he has to recuperate, find a way for both of them to escape, and come up with a plan to destroy the evil slavers.

It won’t come as a surprise to anybody that he does so, but along the way the author comes up with some nice twists and dangers and a good supporting character in a somewhat shady Indian doctor who has thrown in with the slavers but isn’t as evil as they are. And he does redeem himself to a certain extent.

Whoever the author behind the John Peter Drummond house-name is for this story, he puts words together well and keeps this yarn moving along at a satisfying pace. The bloody, harrowing battle at the end is well-done, but again, it might not be exactly what the reader expects. A few things keep “Lair of the Beast” from being the top-notch pulp adventure tale it might have been. There’s no sign, not even a mention, of Ki-Gor’s sidekicks Tembu George and N’Geeso, and I’ve grown fond of both of them. The plot is a little thin, and the story tends to be bland in places, especially in the first half. A little more blood and thunder might have helped, although to be fair, there’s plenty of that later on. At one point, Ki-Gor does something really dumb. But he’s very clever later on. This sort of inconsistency is another reason I think this may have been a new author just getting his feet wet in the series.

All that said, I enjoyed “Lair of the Beast” quite a bit. It lacks the over-the-top goofiness of the earliest Ki-Gor novels but is a considerable improvement over the few right before it. I expect to continue enjoying this series for a good long time.

Monday, November 13, 2017

52 Weeks * 52 Western Novels - Scott Harris and Paul Bishop, eds.

52 WEEKS • 52 WESTERN NOVELS is the first in a new series edited by my friends Scott Harris and Paul Bishop spotlighting some of the best in Western entertainment, starting with books both old and new and followed by volumes on Western movies and TV shows. It’s a great beginning to a very worthwhile project.

Written by a variety of Western authors and readers, including me, the entries in this book range from H.A. DeRosso’s bleak Western noir .44 to Will Murray’s classic history of the Western pulps, WORDSLINGERS. Each essay discusses a particular book and its author, along personal connections, behind-the-scenes facts, and movie adaptations for the books that were turned into films. It’s a fascinating approach that traces the traditional Western from its beginnings with THE VIRGINIAN and RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE to THE LEGEND OF CALEB YORK by Max Allan Collins and Mickey Spillane, published in 2015. Anyone who hasn’t read Westerns before could read one a week, using this volume as a guide, and get a good sense of just what a wide range the genre really has. Plus there are plenty of really nice cover illustrations.

For what it’s worth, I’ve read 30 of the 52 books covered here, and I don’t doubt that I’ll read many of the others in the future. Quite a few of them are already on my shelves, just waiting for me to find the time. Whether you’re a Western fan or not, 52 WEEKS • 52 WESTERN NOVELS get the highest recommendation from me.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Smashing Detective Stories, December 1951

What a great cover on this issue of SMASHING DETECTIVE STORIES. A mummy-bandaged guy with a Luger and a sexy nurse . . . I'd be buying that as fast as I could slap down a quarter on the newsstand counter, assuming I had a quarter, of course. Inside are stories by a couple of guys better known for their Westerns, Roe Richmond and T.W. Ford, plus Robert Turner, E. Hoffmann Price, and Thomas Thursday.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Six-Gun Western, March 1946

SIX-GUN WESTERN was one of the Speed pulps, the slightly toned-down successor to the Spicy pulps. This is the first issue, and along with that nice cover, it has stories by Thomas Thompson, William Heuman, Joseph Chadwick, and old-time pulpster Victor Rousseau writing as Lew Merrill. That's a pretty good line-up of authors. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

Forgotten Books: The Guns of MacCameron - William Hopson

THE GUNS OF MacCAMERON starts off as a vengeance quest book. Former Confederate cavalry officer Tyler MacCameron has been roaming the West for eight years, hunting down and killing the men responsible for burning his plantation and murdering his wife and infant son after the war. He’s caught up and dealt with all but two members of the gang when he rides into the small Wyoming settlement where both of his targets have started new, apparently respectable lives.

From that point, however, the book doesn’t play out as you might expect, as it becomes a range war yarn instead, involving cattlemen and sheepherders. In this case, however, the two sides aren’t enemies. The big cattle and sheep ranchers team up to try to eliminate all the smaller outfits, and I’m sure you can guess which side MacCameron winds up on.

William Hopson started out in the Western pulps and went on to a long and successful career writing Western novels for hardback and paperback publishers. He wrote a few mysteries, as well, but I’ve never read any of them. I’ve read quite a few of his Westerns, though, and found his work to be inconsistent but mostly good, bordering on excellent, although he was capable of turning out a stinker now and then, especially in his later years.

THE GUNS OF MacCAMERON, published in hardback by Avalon in 1969 and reprinted in paperback by Macfadden-Bartell in 1971 (the edition I read) is one of Hopson’s good novels. The hero and the main villain are pretty one-dimensional, but all the other characters are a nice blend of good and bad qualities, and some of them turn out different than you might think they would. Hopson had an odd, even awkward style in places, but he was very good at action scenes and there are plenty in this book. There’s a great battle between a man and a grizzly bear that’s not as one-sided as it sounds. All in all, the book moves along nicely and comes to a satisfying conclusion.

THE GUNS OF MacCAMERON isn’t a great Western novel, by any means, but it is a good solid piece of entertainment for fans of the genre. If you like Westerns and come across a copy, it’s well worth reading. That’s true of most of William Hopson’s books.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Amazing Stories, January 1944

I ask you, even if you were a robot, wouldn't you be mad if a guy was shooting you in the chest with a ray gun? This cover is by Robert Fuqua, and I can't help but like it. Inside this issue of AMAZING STORIES are three yarns by William P. McGivern, the cover story under his own name plus one each as by P.F. Costello and Gerald Vance. Other authors include Ross Rocklynne, Ed Earl Repp, and Berkley Livingston. This sort of stuff may not be held in high regard these days, but I like it.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ace-High Magazine, October 1939

There's the stalwart cowboy in the red shirt and the gun-totin' redhead, but where's the old geezer? Maybe they're on their way to rescue him, provided, of course, they get away from the rannies shooting at them. Even though it wasn't officially part of the title, you can tell from the "Western Stories" emblazoned on the cover that by this time ACE-HIGH MAGAZINE was completely a Western pulp, despite having begun life as a general adventure fiction magazine. And an excellent Western pulp it is, too, with this issue featuring stories by Harry F. Olmsted, Cliff Farrell, Thomas Mount writing as Stone Cody, Art Lawson, and Kenneth A. Fowler. One of the lesser known authors--in fact, his story in this issue is the only one in the Fictionmags Index (the source of this scan)--is Dade Bartell. Now, I know absolutely nothing about Dade Bartell. Could be a pseudonym, could be a house-name, could be a real guy. But the name sounds like the main gunslinging henchman for the criminal mastermind behind all the rustling and land-grabbing. I may have to borrow that one of these days.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Forgotten Books: Bells of Doom - Maxwell Grant (Walter B. Gibson)

I was in the mood to read a Shadow novel, so I picked up a reprint I have of “Bells of Doom”, the 74th entry in the long-running series, which was originally published in the March 15, 1935 issue of THE SHADOW. That’s a great pulpish title and promises lots of sinister goings-on.

This one starts on an ocean liner bound for New York from England. One of the passengers is Lamont Cranston. Who, as we all know, is really The Shadow . . . only The Shadow isn’t actually Cranston . . . No, that’s too complicated a story. Those of you who already know it, fine. Those who don’t, it’s not really important in the context of this novel. Let’s just say that Cranston sits in on a poker game with three other travelers, one of whom is a rich guy who’s gotten hold of a rajah’s valuable jewels and is afraid that crooks are after them. Well, of course they are, and when everybody is back in New York, the other two players in the poker game, young wastrel Milton Claverly and smooth crook Hatch Rosling, conspire to steal the jewels.

Wait a minute, you say. This is a jewel theft book? What about the bells? We’re getting to them, because after The Shadow foils the robbery, Milton Claverly (who has covered up his part in it) travels to the small town of Torburg, where he inherits his father’s estate, which includes a mansion, a creepy crypt, an equally creepy bell tower (there are the bells!), and four enemies who swindled Milton’s dad out of a fortune. Before you know it, those four swindlers are being knocked off one by one, and every time one of them is killed, bells peal out from the tower, which is locked up tight and no one can get in to ring them. So this novel is sort of a locked bell tower mystery.

The Shadow is around, and so is his agent Harry Vincent, and everybody seems to have a hidden agenda, and the murders continue, and honestly, the whole thing is a little on the bland side until a dizzying bunch of double-crosses and hidden identities and plotlines that appeared to be long since abandoned, and while I figured out some of it and had a hunch who the hidden mastermind was, author Walter B. Gibson had me fooled on some things. It all wraps up with a nice shoot-out in that crypt.

Gibson’s Shadow novels are notorious for their padding, and that seems a bit more obvious than usual in this one. But hey, the guy was writing two mystery novels a month, so I’m willing to cut him some slack on that. “Bells of Doom” also could have used a little more action (some of The Shadow’s epic gun battles with hordes of mobsters in other stories are great). This isn’t in the top rank of Shadow novels . . . but you know what, I got a lot of enjoyment out of it anyway. I’ve been reading The Shadow for more than 40 years, ever since Bantam started reprinting them in the Sixties, and then when I was in college I was a big fan of the Jove reprints with covers by Jim Steranko. So the series has quite a bit of nostalgic appeal for me, and there are some nice creepy scenes in this yarn. Probably not the one to start with if you’ve never read a Shadow novel, but I liked it.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Weird Tales, November 1941

This cover by Hannes Bok seems appropriate for a few days before Halloween. I like the 1940s issues of WEIRD TALES. Great lineup of authors in this one: Edmond Hamilton, Manly Wade Wellman, Henry Kuttner, August Derleth, Frank Gruber, Clifford Ball, Robert H. Leitfred . . . These guys wrote some fine weird fiction.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Fifteen Range Romances, December 1953

There probably aren't too many Halloween-themed Western pulp covers, but here's one from a short-lived Western romance pulp, courtesy of David Lee Smith. Although we have the cover to look at, not much is known about the contents of this issue since neither David nor I actually own a copy. The two authors listed on the cover were both highly prolific Western pulpsters. Arthur Lawson also wrote as Art Lawson and was an editor as well as a writer. Tom Mount was Thomas Ernest Mount, better known under his pseudonyms Stone Cody, Kent Thorn, and Oliver King.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Forgotten Books: Thirst of the Living Dead - Arthur Leo Zagat

I thought it would be appropriate to read a Weird Menace yarn for the Friday closest to Halloween, because what genre better exemplifies the spirit of dressing up and saying “Boo!” than Weird Menace? The novella “Thirst of the Living Dead” appeared in the November 1934 issue of the pulp TERROR TALES and was written by one of my favorite Weird Menace authors, Arthur Leo Zagat.

This one is set on an island in a sinister lake in upstate New York supposedly cursed by the Iroquois Indians. Naturally, there’s a creepy old mansion on the island rented by a small group of people for a vacation. (Because what better vacation spot could there be than a creepy old mansion on an island in a haunted lake . . . well, never mind.) Before the story opens, three of those vacationers, Anton Walder, his wife Sonia, and Myrtle Dean, the wife of Anton’s best friend Ralph Dean and mother of two-year-old Bobby, go canoeing on the lake on a stormy night. All of them vanish and are presumed drowned. Eventually Sonia’s body is found, but not Anton or Myrtle. So as the story begins, our protagonist Ralph is a grieving young widower, and the fact that another wild storm is raging in the night outside the mansion doesn’t help his mood.

Then there’s a knock on the door (yep) and supposedly dead Myrtle is there, although Ralph quickly realizes that she has returned from the lake’s depths as a vampire. Anton, also a vampire, shows up, too, and there’s a sinister Indian running around shooting arrows at people, and the housekeeper is murdered, and little Bobby is kidnapped, and Ralph gets knocked out several times and finds secret passages in the creepy old mansion and fights vampires and a wildcat and the Indian, and lightning flashes and thunder crashes and Zagat never pauses to take a breath in page after page of overheated prose.

And I loved every bit of it. 20,000 words in one big, entertaining gulp. It ends about the way you’d expect it to, with a pretty complicated plot packed into all the running around, and Zagat brings it all to a very satisfying conclusion. You can find this story on-line, along with quite a few of Zagat’s other Weird Menace yarns, and if you enjoy the genre, I highly recommend that you sample his work.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Now Available: Best of the West

Grab a cup of coffee and settle down into your easy chair to ride the range with some of the most exciting tales of the Old West you’ll find anywhere! This collection is called BEST OF THE WEST for a very good reason—IT IS!

These fourteen stories will have you standing beside lawmen and outlaws as the bullets fly, saddling up some of the best horseflesh to be found West of the Mississippi, and wagering your livelihood on the turn of a card. Tales that include savvy swindles, gunfights, loves lost (and found!), the making of an outlaw and the secret protection of a president will draw you in and hang on tight.

This anthology is bustin’ with acclaimed Western authors such as James Reasoner, Livia J. Washburn, Jackson Lowry, Kit Prate, Charlie Steel, Richard Prosch, Big Jim Williams, Cheryl Pierson, J.L. Guin, Clay More, and David Amendola.

What are you waitin’ for, pardner? You’re burnin’ daylight! Happy trails!

(I think my contribution to this anthology, "The Way to Cheyenne", is my favorite of all the short stories I've written, and it's been out of print for years. This is a really good collection of Western yarns from some top authors. I'd urge all of you to check it out.)

Overlooked TV Movies: Evil Roy Slade (1972)

We haven’t had a chance to watch many movies lately, but we did see EVIL ROY SLADE, a made-for-TV movie from 1972 that somehow we never saw back then, or any time since. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a big fan of Western comedies (except for BLAZING SADDLES; I know a lot of Western writers hate that movie, but I love it). However, EVIL ROY SLADE isn’t bad and had me laughing several times.

The title character was the only survivor of a wagon train massacre when he was an infant and grew up on his own in the wilderness to become the meanest outlaw in the West. Now, you might ask how anybody ever knew his name, since he was the only survivor and wandered off from the wagon train, but if questions of logic like that bother you, this probably isn’t the movie for you. Anyway, Evil Roy Slade, played in John Astin in a good, scenery-chewing performance, becomes the mortal enemy of railroad tycoon Mickey Rooney, who sends his inept nephew (Henry Gibson) and rhinestone-studded, singing marshal Bing Bell (Dick Shawn) after him. Meanwhile, Roy meets a beautiful young woman (Pamela Austin, indeed one of the great beauties of late Sixties/early Seventies TV and movies) and tries to reform, even going so far as to move to Boston with her and visit a psychologist played by Dom DeLuise. Unfortunately, Roy’s reformation doesn’t take, and he winds up in the West again, following his evil outlaw ways.

Now, I know what you’re asking yourself after seeing the names of the actors in this movie: Were Tim Conway and Paul Lynde out of town the week they shot this? It really is full of the TV comedy of the era, right down to being written by Jerry Belson and Garry Marshall (Penny Marshall has a bit part as a bank teller, and John Ritter and Pat Morita show up briefly, too) and directed by Jerry Paris. I happen to enjoy TV comedy from that era, so I liked a lot of the goofy, deadpan humor of EVIL ROY SLADE. Evidently the movie has something of a cult following, and I wouldn’t go that far in my admiration of it, but I did enjoy it for the most part. I found Dick Shawn’s performance to be sort of grating but liked the rest of the cast. The movie looks good and has a few decent stunts. EVIL ROY SLADE is no BLAZING SADDLES, but it’s worth watching.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: North-West Romances, Fall 1941

That's another action-packed Norman Saunders cover on this issue of NORTH-WEST ROMANCES. Some good story titles, too. I'm especially fond of "The Gun-Vulture of Caribou Lode". No telling who wrote it, since John Starr was a Fiction House house-name. The other authors in this issue include long-time pulpster Victor Rousseau, "Northern" specialist Dan O'Rourke, A. deHerries Smith, Sewell Peaslee Wright, and a few others I've never heard of.


I don't post much about my writing on here anymore, but I thought I might mention that on Friday I turned in my 355th novel. I have part of the next one done already (I put it aside to work on the one I just turned in), so I hope to finish it up in another two or three weeks and then get another one done by the end of the year. I've already slowed down some from my peak production and suspect that trend will continue, but I'd like to keep plugging away at it long enough to get to 400 novels.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Wild West Stories & Complete Novel Magazine, June 1931

Thanks to David Lee Smith for the excellent cover scan from this issue of a pulp with a long-winded title but pretty good contents, from the looks of the authors. Gladwell Richardson's novel takes up most of the issue, but there are also stories by top-notch Western pulpsters Allan R. Bosworth and Cliff Farrell, plus a few others. That's one tough-looking hombre on this cover. I don't reckon I'd want to be the fella swappin' lead with him.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Forgotten Books: The Slave Runner - Gordon MacCreagh

Gordon MacCreagh is an author whose name I’ve seen on many pulps, but I’ve never read his work until now, at least not that I remember. He wrote a lengthy series about an American named King adventuring in Africa. The natives refer to him as “Kingi Bwana”, and he’s rumored to be a shady character, little better than an outlaw, a slave runner, and a smuggler. Of course, in Africa as anywhere else, things are not always as they seem.

The first Kingi Bwana story is “The Slave Runner”, from the April 1, 1930 issue of the iconic pulp ADVENTURE. MacCreagh takes the unusual tack of opening this debut adventure with rumors of his protagonist’s death. Supposedly, King’s charmed life has run out, and he’s been killed by a lion. I don’t imagine many, if any, readers actually believed that, even in the more innocent era of 1930.

MacCreagh spends quite a bit of time on two British officials in Kenya, a pompous deputy commissioner and a young, earnest consul. It’s the latter who first encounters King, the former who captures the American and accuses him of slave running because King is always in the same vicinity as a notorious Arab/Spanish slave trader. The deputy commissioner is convinced the two men are partners in the illicit enterprise.

MacCreagh’s style is a little old-fashioned, as you’d expect, but his prose reads very smoothly and is packed with details about Africa and its geography, politics, wildlife, social customs, and the attitudes of its people. He manages to do this without infodumps, so the pace of this first story moves along very nicely. There’s a long, suspenseful scene where King is penned up in a lion trap, only to have an actual lion come along and try to get to him. King’s escape from both the trap and the lion make for some good reading.

My only real complaint about this 25,000 word novella is that all the climactic action takes place off-screen, making the ending considerably less dramatic and more low-key than it could have been. King is a very good character, though, and Deputy Commissioner Sanford makes for an effective foil, reminding me of Inspector Teal in Leslie Charteris’s Saint yarns.

All the Kingi Bwana stories have been reprinted by Altus Press. I have all four volumes and will be working my way through them. Based on “The Slave Runner”, this is a good pulp adventure series, and I look forward to reading the rest of the yarns.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Spicy-Adventure Stories, December 1935

Here's a pretty good example of why the Spicy pulps were sometimes sold under the counter. Of course, I would have just bought it for the stories, which in this issue are by Robert Leslie Bellem (one under his name and one as by Jerome Severs Perry), Edwin Truett Long (one as by Cary Moran and the cover story as by Clint Morgan), Victor Rousseau (writing as Lew Merrill), Ken Cooper, Arthur Humbolt, Arthur Wallace, and William B. Rainey. The sexy redhead on the cover wouldn't have had anything to do with me buying the magazine. That's my story . . . Seriously, though, I do enjoy the fiction in the Spicy pulps. They're formulaic, sure, but they're still fast-moving, plot-driven yarns with plenty of action and a little humor. Just the thing I'm looking for, sometimes.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Blue Ribbon Western, February 1946

Nice atmospheric cover on this issue of BLUE RIBBON WESTERN. That looks like the work of H.W. Scott to me, but I'm not sure I'm right. Inside are stories by Archie Joscelyn, who I've found to be a pretty reliably entertaining Western author under that name as well as his pseudonyms Al Cody and Lynn Westland; Lee Floren, one of his yarns featuring Buck McKee, which are generally some of Floren's best work; and Joe Austell Small, a fairly prolific author of Western pulp yarns but best remembered as the long-time editor and publisher of the magazines TRUE WEST and FRONTIER TIMES.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Forgotten Books: Never Say No to a Killer - Clifton Adams

I’ve read quite a few Western novels by Clifton Adams and enjoyed them all. NEVER SAY NO TO A KILLER is the first of his handful of crime novels that I’ve read, and it’s no surprise that I think it’s very good, too. Originally published under the pseudonym Jonathan Gant as half of an Ace Double, it’s being reprinted by Stark House Press as part of the excellent Black Gat Books line. I’m getting lazy (and short on time), so here’s the publisher’s description:

When Roy Surratt busts out of jail, he only has two things going for him: faith that his former cellmate, John Venci, will keep his promise to help him stay clear of the cops, and the supreme confidence in his own intelligence. After all, Roy knows he's got what it takes to succeed. And no one had better get in his way. So it comes as some surprise that the person who meets him after his breakout isn't Venci, but Venci's wife, Dorris. He didn't figure on having to deal with a woman. But he soon finds out that Venci is dead, that Dorris is sitting on a sweet blackmail scheme, and that he can have this town in his back pocket if he can just stay cool enough to take Venci's place. But Roy doesn't figure on Pat Kelso, girlfriend of his first mark. He has no idea how quickly the best laid plans can unravel.

What really made this book work for me is the pace. Adams was a real master at plotting his books so that one event flows naturally into another, and even though NEVER SAY NO TO A KILLER isn’t non-stop action, there’s always something happening to drive the narrative forward. Even when the protagonist stops now and then to ponder about philosophy, there’s always the sense that more trouble is lurking. This is a skillfully written book with a very effective air of impending doom. The narrator may be fooling himself, but he’s not fooling us.

It’s hard to go wrong with a Western by Clifton Adams, and clearly that extends to his crime novels as well. I think I have all of them, and I need to read another one soon. I give this one a high recommendation.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Now Available: Blaze! Spanish Gold - Ben Boulden

The only thing Kate and J.D. Blaze had in mind when they rode into the settlement of Unity, Utah, was celebrating their wedding anniversary. But then J.D. is forced to kill a corrupt deputy in order to save a woman’s life, and suddenly the Old West’s only husband-and-wife gunfighters are plunged into a deadly mystery involving a sinister albino, missing men, and a lost treasure in Spanish gold.

It’s action all the way as critically acclaimed author Ben Boulden returns with another exciting installment in today’s top Adult Western series!

Also, Ben's first Blaze! novel, RED ROCK RAMPAGE, is currently on sale for a limited time, so you can pick up a copy of the ebook edition for only 99 cents.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Tales, September 1939

Nice cover on this issue of DETECTIVE TALES. I think it might be by Tom Lovell, but that's just a guess on my part. No guess about the great group of authors inside, though: Norbert Davis, Cleve F. Adams, Philip Ketchum, Stewart Sterling, William R. Cox, Emile C. Tepperman, Ray Cummings, and Wyatt Blassingame. That's a bunch of top-notch talent.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: .44 Western Magazine, September 1946

I like the cover on this issue of .44 WESTERN, one of the long-running Western pulps from Popular Publications, and feel like I should know who the artist is, but I don't. He did a good job of conveying sheer desperation on the part of both men, though. Good covers make me want to write a story incorporating the scene, and this one certainly does. Inside the issue, there are stories by Wayne D. Overholser, Lee Floren, Ralph Yergen, M. Howard Lane, and several lesser known pulpsters.

Update: That cover is by Robert Stanley. I knew it looked familiar. As many paperback covers as I've seen by Stanley, I should have recognized his work!

Friday, October 06, 2017

Forgotten Books: The Hell-Born Clan - Phil Richards

Pursued by Sheriff Terry Reynolds, who is both the girl he loves and his most relentless enemy, noble outlaw Kid Calvert is shot and wounded by Terry while he and Dandy McLain, another member of Calvert’s Horde, are being pursued by a posse. Embittered by this, the Kid decides that if he’s going to be harried and hunted as an owlhoot, even though he only breaks the law to help people who need it, then he might as well start acting like a real owlhoot. But before he can do this . . .

The Kid finds an abandoned baby! Terry is framed as a crooked sheriff and is threatened by a lynch mob! A gang of rustlers led by the notorious bandido known as Brazito shoot up the town! A hunchbacked saloon swamper becomes a kill-crazy gunslinger! Herds of stolen cattle disappear into thin air!

Yes, it’s another crazed, breathless, over-the-top adventure of Kid Calvert and Calvert’s Horde from Phil Richards. “The Hell-Born Clan” is the longest and last and best of these breakneck yarns. It appeared in the August 1935 issue of WESTERN ACES, after a four-month gap in the series since the previous story “Senorita Death”. If you’re expecting some resolution since this is the final story, you won’t get it, but you will get an incredible amount of action as guns blaze and horses gallop almost constantly. Somehow in the midst of all that, Richards manages to put together a fairly coherent and complicated mystery plot. Sure, quite a bit of it depends on coincidence, and you’ll probably see the big twist at the end coming, but as far as I’m concerned, he makes it all work.

Over and above that, what runs all the way through this series is the doomed, epic love story between Kid Calvert and Terry Reynolds, the likes of which I haven’t encountered in any other Western pulp—and I’ve read a bunch of them. All the hard ridin’ and shootin’ is just window dressing for this tragic romance. That’s what sets the Kid Calvert stories apart, and what makes the collection of them from Altus Press one of the best books I’ve read this year.

At this late date, we’ll never know whether Richards was aware the series was coming to an end, or if he assumed that the Kid would ride again. But I’m really sorry there are no more of these to read. I hope the Kid and Terry finally found some peace and happiness together . . . but I think it’s more likely they died side by side, with guns blazing as they battled against evil-doers.

Monday, October 02, 2017

The Long Count - J.M. Gulvin

THE LONG COUNT is a fine new thriller by J.M. Gulvin, set in Texas during the Sixties. Texas Ranger John Quarrie, who carries a pair of Ruger Blackhawk revolvers and whose godfather was legendary Ranger Frank Hamer, is called in to investigate two cases: the apparent suicide of an elderly World War II veteran and a series of brutal murders carried out by a spree killer working his way across northeast Texas. I don’t think it’s giving away too much to say that eventually Quarrie’s investigation uncovers some surprising links between those cases. Gulvin’s plot has plenty of twists and turns along the way, though.

Quarrie is a very likable protagonist, the single father of a ten-year-old son who also winds up playing a part in the plot. He’s just flashy enough to be interesting and is also a smart, determined investigator. There’s a good sense of time and place (although as someone who grew up in Texas during the Sixties, I don’t think Gulvin quite nails it all the time) and plenty of good dialogue. Gulvin has a distinctive style that took me some getting used to, but he’s also a top-notch storyteller who kept me turning the pages. THE LONG COUNT is the first of a new series that reminded me at times of Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire books. Well worth checking out.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Wonder Stories, September 1930

It's a good thing giant spiders are afraid of flashlights (a well-known scientific fact), or else the girl on Frank R. Paul's cover for this issue of WONDER STORIES would be in a lot of trouble. There are several writers I've heard of in this issue: Nat Schachner and Arthur Leo Zagat, Captain S.P. Meek, and R.F. Starzl, and others who are unknown to me: Frank J. Bridge, Lowell Howard Morrow, and Edsel Newton. I haven't read a lot of science fiction from this era, and the stories I have read tend to be by authors who went on to have long careers, such as Jack Williamson, Edmond Hamilton, Murray Leinster, and Ray Cummings. I'd like to read more of the pre-Golden Age stuff. As usual, too many books, not enough time . . .

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Story, January 3, 1942

Another fine H.W. Scott cover on this issue of WESTERN STORY, and look at that line-up of authors inside: William Colt MacDonald, L.L. Foreman, Philip Ketchum, H.A. DeRosso, Glenn Wichman, and Seth Ranger, who was really Frank Richardson Pierce. Great Western reading week after week.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Forgotten Books: The Harpers of Titan - Edmond Hamilton

Simon Wright, the Living Brain, takes center stage in "The Harpers of Titan", a Captain Future adventure from the September 1950 issue of STARTLING STORIES. In order to keep a bloody rebellion from sweeping across one of Earth's colony worlds, Simon has to give up his brain-in-a-box existence and allow his brain to be transplanted into the body of a slain political leader from that world. The would-be rebels have a terrible secret weapon that if unleashed will not only wipe out the Earth colonists but possibly all life on the planet.

This story lacks the cosmic sweep of the other stories I've read so far in CAPTAIN FUTURE, MAN OF TOMORROW, but it's really beautifully written, with a real sense of poetic melancholy. It's not easy to combine a poignant examination of what it means to be human with a slam-bang SF adventure yarn, but Edmond Hamilton (with a possible assist from his wife Leigh Brackett) pulls it off in "The Harpers of Titan". I'm really enjoying these tales and will be sorry to see the book end.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Smashing Detective Stories, June 1953

Another of the Columbia pulps edited by Robert W. Lowndes, and as usual, he's managed to get some good authors to mix in with others you've never heard of, and neither have I. In this issue of SMASHING DETECTIVE STORIES, you've got Carroll John Daly with a Race William yarn, the prolific Western pulpster who also wrote mysteries Donald Bayne Hobart, and Hunt Collins, author of the cover story, who was really Evan Hunter. Maybe not great stuff, but I'll bet it was fun. The cover scan is from the Fictionmags Index.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Exciting Western, September 1952

This is a pulp I own and read recently. The scan is from my copy. EXCITING WESTERN is one of the Thrilling Group, and I tend to like those pulps.

Wilbur S. Peacock was a fairly prolific pulpster, writing dozens of mysteries, Westerns, science fiction, sports yarns, and jungle adventures for a variety of pulps during a career that lasted from the late Thirties on into the Fifties. He’s probably best remembered, though, as an editor at Fiction House on such titles as PLANET STORIES and JUNGLE STORIES. His novella “Riders of Rebel Range” in the September 1952 issue of EXCITING WESTERN is the first fiction by him that I’ve read, as far as I recall. It’s an excellent story, too, about a group of masked vigilantes in Texas battling carpetbaggers during Reconstruction. However, there’s a hidden mastermind using the vigilantes for his own nefarious purposes, and it’s up to the local sheriff to uncover the real plot . . . assuming, that is, that the lawman isn’t the actual bad guy himself.

Peacock really packs a lot into this novella. In addition to the main plot concerning the vigilantes, we get overlapping romantic triangles, sibling rivalry, bushwhacking, brutal fistfights, and an apocalyptic ending that threatens to destroy the whole town. The mystery angle is handled well enough that I really wasn’t sure what was going to happen or who would turn out to be the hidden mastermind. I enjoyed this one quite a bit. If Peacock had written any novels, I’d be on the lookout for them, but it appears he only published in the pulps. I’ll certainly watch for his name in the future.

Unfortunately, the next story, “Wine, Women, and—Who Cares?” by Al Storm, is an example of how difficult it is to write a comedy Western that works, at least as far as I’m concerned. Humor is highly subjective, of course. But this tale of gold miners with colorful names like Shammy and Zinger-Dip, doing colorful things, just never amused or interested me. I did not find it a “Rib-Tickler” as the cover claims.

Max Kesler is another author whose name I’ve seen in many pulps but have never read until now. His novelette “A Doctor Kills a Wolf” is a timber camp story, not a favorite theme of mine but one that can be okay if done well. The protagonist, a disgraced doctor, lands in the middle of a timber war and not surprisingly winds up being forced to use the medical skills he has tried to give up, as well brawling and shooting his way through to victory. This yarn has a nice hardboiled tone but suffers from the fact that the villain is pretty much a cipher and barely appears in the story. It’s hard to have a good hero without an effective bad guy. Kesler writes well enough that I would certainly read more by him, though.

I think “The Half-Mule Sodbuster” is the second story I’ve read by Seven Anderton. It’s a well-written cattlemen vs. sodbusters story, only in this case there’s only one sodbuster, a stubborn man who doesn’t carry a gun but is determined to homestead a farm even though everyone else in the valley wants to run him out . . . except maybe the beautiful daughter of one of the cattle baron. There’s some humor, some action, and even some surprisingly sexy stuff (for the time period) in this story, but I thought the ending could have packed a little more punch.

I don’t care much for stories about animals (we had a discussion about this on the WesternPulps group recently), but “Underdog” by Harold F. Cruickshank isn’t bad. The animals don’t talk, and the terrier of the title isn’t the viewpoint character. As a dog vs. bear story, it’s okay.

I’ve read some truly terrible Western paperbacks by Lee Floren, but he had a long, successful career so there must have been plenty of readers who enjoyed his work. I’ll admit, there are some nice moments in his novelette “This Trail to Bullets”. The protagonist is a two-fisted, gun-totin’ undercover bank examiner, not exactly the sort of character you find in Western pulp yarns that often, and I like that. Floren’s style is a little rough, but it has an effective hardboiled tone in places. I enjoyed this one enough I might give some of his novels a try again. Sometimes I warm up to an author as time goes by.

This issue wraps up with “Bad Medicine”, a short story by an author I’d never heard of, Tom Hopefield. He appears to have published half a dozen stories, all in the early Fifties. This one concerns rock climbing and a bully’s comeuppance, and while it’s nothing special, it’s pleasant enough.

Overall, this is a good but not great issue of EXCITING WESTERN. Wilbur S. Peacock’s story is the best and will have me keeping an eye out for his work. Seven Anderton continues to be a solid author, and Lee Floren’s story was better than I expected. The others were all good enough to keep me reading. I didn’t skip any of the stories, although I did just skim through the columns and features. I do think that by the early Fifties, the Western pulps had suffered from the fact that most of the best authors were concentrating on novels, both hardback and paperback.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Forgotten Books: The Wench is Wicked - Carter Brown (Alan G. Yates)

I started reading Carter Brown books when I was in high school, and I hate to think of how many decades ago that was. I’m still reading them all these years later, and thankfully, I’m not the only one. There are enough Carter Brown fans out there for Stark House to reprint the first three novels featuring Lieutenant Al Wheeler in a very handsome trade paperback collection. It just so happens that Al Wheeler was the narrator/protagonist of the very first Carter Brown novel I read, ’way back when (I think it was THE UNORTHODOX CORPSE, but I’m not 100% sure of that), so I was very happy to have the chance to read THE WENCH IS WICKED, the book that introduced the character.

This novel was first published in 1955 by Horwitz Publications in Australia and has never been reprinted in the United States until now. Al Wheeler isn’t quite the same character in this one that we know and love from the Signet editions that would appear on every paperback spinner rack in America a few years later, usually with great covers by Robert McGinnis. For one thing, Al doesn’t work for Sheriff Lavers, although there is a character named Lavers in this book who’s a politician. Maybe he gets elected sheriff at some point in the series. Instead Al is a detective lieutenant on the police force of an unnamed California city not far from Los Angeles. In later books this locale is known as Pine City. Nor does he drive an Austin Healy sports car, but he does rent an MG for part of the book. There’s no sign of his dimwitted sidekick Sergeant Polnick.

But the wisecracking, the chasing of beautiful dames, the hardboiled attitude, and the deceptively keen mind that can solve multiple murders, those are all in place in this first adventure, which involves a murdered playwright whose body is found at the bottom of a gravel pit. The playwright is involved with a movie crew from Hollywood that’s shooting a Western in the area, so the suspects include a couple of gorgeous actresses, a leading man who’s prone to violence, an unsavory character actor, a director who may or may not be a drug addict, and a cameraman rumored to have an unhealthy interest in underage girls. So Al has plenty to sort through, including two more murders, before a suspenseful showdown with the killer in that same gravel pit.

Alan G. Yates, the author behind the Carter Brown pseudonym, was an Englishman who lived in Australia, and his early books, although set in America, contain the occasional bit of description or dialogue that doesn’t ring true. As a result, when Signet began reprinting the books, they hired an American mystery writer to go over the manuscripts and revise them slightly. This practice lasted for only a few books, however, as Yates got to be very good at sounding American. Since THE WENCH IS WICKED was never reprinted over here, there are a few examples of things that aren’t quite right, such as Al’s car having a bonnet rather than a hood. Things like that don’t bother me at all; in fact, they kind of add to the book’s charm.

Many of the Carter Brown books have pretty intricate plots, while others are fairly thin. This one is in the middle, complex enough to maintain the reader’s interest all the way through but not terribly difficult to figure out. The main appeal of these books for me has always been the fast-paced, breezy style and the likable protagonists. THE WENCH IS WICKED delivers quite well on those scores. It’s just great fun to read, and I give it and the Stark House collection that includes it a very high recommendation.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Now Available for Pre-Order: Blaze! Spanish Gold - Ben Boulden

The only thing Kate and J.D. Blaze had in mind when they rode into the settlement of Unity, Utah, was celebrating their wedding anniversary. But then J.D. is forced to kill a corrupt deputy in order to save a woman’s life, and suddenly the Old West’s only husband-and-wife gunfighters are plunged into a deadly mystery involving a sinister albino, missing men, and a lost treasure in Spanish gold.

It’s action all the way as critically acclaimed author Ben Boulden returns with another exciting installment in today’s top Adult Western series!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Forgotten Books: The Empire of Doom - John Peter Drummond

I continue to be stubborn and read the Ki-Gor stories in order, which brings us to "The Empire of Doom" in the Winter 1940 issue of JUNGLE STORIES. I'm convinced that the same author who wrote the previous installment, "Ki-Gor—and the Paradise That Time Forgot" turned out this one as well. The style is the same, and Ki-Gor and his beautiful redhead American wife Helene still live on the same fortress-like island in the middle of a river and hang around with their Pygmy buddy N'Geeso and Marmo the elephant.

Ki-Gor's other main sidekick, Tembu George (really former railroad porter George Spelvin, who's now the chief of the Masai), shows up as well, and it's a welcome return. George is a great character: smart, brave, funny, loyal to his friends, and just an all around great guy. He has as much or more to do with saving the day than Ki-Gor does in this one.

Unfortunately, there's not a lot of plot. Ki-Gor, Helene, and George get involved in the power struggle between the ruler of a neighboring kingdom and his ambitious nephew. That's about it. There are a couple of decent battles, one early and one late, and not much in between to amount to anything. The writing is okay for the most part, there's just not enough story.

So far the tone of this series has varied from goofy super-science to Nazi-fighing action/adventure to the more mundane fare of the last few stories. I like all three protagonists, though, and that's been enough to keep me going. Better stories will be coming along soon.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Overlooked Movies: The Reivers (1969)

I saw THE REIVERS when it was new, or almost new, anyway, since I remember watching it at the Corral Drive-In, which meant it was in its second run and had already played at what we called the “inside shows”. Anyway, I watched it again recently for the first time since then and was curious to see how it was going to hold up.

The answer is, pretty darned good. This is a coming-of-age yarn, set in  Mississippi and Memphis in 1905 and based on the final novel by William Faulkner. In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve never read the novel (or much of anything else by Faulkner, for that matter), so I don’t know how faithful the movie is to it. The protagonist and narrator (in voice-over, from the prospective of a much older man, voiced by Burgess Meredith) is 11-year-old Lucius McCaslin, played by Mitch Vogel, who does a good job in a part that surely would have been played a few years earlier by Ronnie Howard; Vogel bears a distinct resemblance to Howard. Lucius comes from the most prominent family in the small town where he lives, and the patriarch of that family, played by the fine character actor Will Geer, buys the first automobile the area has ever seen.

The car proves to be too great a temptation for the family’s high-spirited handyman and caretaker, Boon Hogganbeck, played by Steve McQueen. While everybody in the family is out of town except for Lucius, Boon takes the car and convinces Lucius to go along with him to Memphis, where they’ll have four days of adventuring. Lucius’s mixed-race cousin, played by Rupert Crosse, invites himself along.

Naturally, a lot happens in that four days. Boon and Lucius stay at a whorehouse where Boon’s girlfriend is one of the soiled doves (Sharon Farrell). Comedy, violence, racism, corruption, and horse racing ensue. Although there are certainly some dark undercurrents, the movie maintains a fairly light tone all the way through, and it could almost be a warm-hearted family comedy/drama except for some language and nudity. It manages to be pretty warm-hearted anyway.

THE REIVERS is very much of its time, the sort of movie that wouldn’t be made today, or at least not in the same way. There’s a lot in it that wouldn’t pass muster with today’s more sensitive, politically correct audiences. But I thoroughly enjoyed it and am glad I watched it again after nearly 50 years.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Dime Detective, September 1935

Some days Norman Saunders is my favorite pulp cover artist; some days it's Walter Baumhofer. Today is a Baumhofer day. That's a really striking, evocative cover, and the authors inside this issue ain't bad, either: Carroll John Daly (with a Race Williams story), Erle Stanley Gardner, Norvell Page (a Ken Carter story), and Cornell Woolrich. As I've said many times before, just another day at the newsstand during the pulp era.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Novels and Short Stories, November 1949

WESTERN NOVELS AND SHORT STORIES was never considered one of the top Western pulps, but there were stories by good authors to be found there, plus the occasional good cover like this one. H.A. DeRosso has a story in this issue, as does veteran pulpster Paul Chadwick, writing as John Callahan. What little I've read by R.S. Lerch has been pretty good, and while I've never read anything by John Latham that I recall, he published several novels as Ace Doubles, so he must have been an entertaining writer.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Forgotten Books: Four Frightened Women - George Harmon Coxe (Graphic Novel Version)

I’m a longtime fan of George Harmon Coxe’s mystery novels—they were on the shelves of all the public libraries around here when I was growing up—but I wouldn’t have even been aware of this graphic novel adaptation of his 1939 novel FOUR FRIGHTENED WOMEN if not for my buddy Scott Cupp, who graciously passed along his copy to me.

Originally published by Dell in 1950, this is a reprint from 2010 with an introduction by publisher Greg Theakston. The story features Coxe’s most famous character, Boston crime photographer Kent Murdock, and actually comes off a little like a classic British country house mystery. Murdock comes to the estate of radio comedian Ted Bernard to take pictures of him and his ex-wife, glamorous actress Irene Alexander. Of course, there are a whole lot of other people on hand—Bernard’s adopted son, his ex-wife’s agent, a Broadway actress, a chorus girl, his drunk, washed-up jokewriter, his niece and her fiance, a sinister piano player, a private detective (Jack Fenner, the protagonist in several other of Coxe’s novels), and probably some others I’m forgetting. With that many suspects—I mean guests—on hand, you just know there’s going to be a murder sooner rather than later. And when there is, the killer tries to frame Murdock for it.

This is pure hardboiled pulp. Everybody smokes and drinks constantly, and the wisecracks and tough guy patter are always flying. I loved it. This is the kind of stuff I grew up on, and I never get tired of it.

As Greg Theakston points out in his introduction, nobody knows who wrote the script or did the art for this adaptation. The art is simple but effective, and the script keeps the complicated plot understandable, which was probably much easier in the original novel version. (I’ve never read the book, by the way, and I doubt if I ever will, since I know who the killer is now.) The cover art is by the always good Robert Stanley, who did a bunch of paperback covers, including some of the Mike Shayne novels. This sure puts me in the mood to read some more of Coxe’s novels. I might just do that.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Star Detective Magazine, November 1938

That looks a little like a Norman Saunders cover to me, but it's not listed on his website, so I guess it's some artist whose work is similar. Whoever painted it, I like it. This pulp doesn't appear to have lasted very long, but this issue, at least, has some good authors in it: Cleve F. Adams, Edward Ronns (who was really the great paperbacker Edward S. Aarons), Norman A. Daniels (another prolific pulp and paperback author), Cyril Plunkett, and a couple of house-names.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Thrilling Ranch Stories, July 1947

This issue of THRILLING RANCH STORIES sports the usual good cover by the apparently tireless Sam Cherry (honestly, when did the man sleep and eat?), and inside there are stories by some top names in Western fiction: L.P. Holmes, Allan R. Bosworth, Joseph Chadwick, Louis L'Amour, Nels Leroy Jorgensen, Hascal Giles, and Joe Archibald. Okay, maybe not all of them are that well-known today, but they were all good solid pulpsters.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Forgotten Books: Color Him Dead - Charles Runyon

I don’t think Charles Runyon was ever considered one of the top-tier Gold Medal authors, but his books have plenty of admirers, including the late Ed Gorman, whose interview with Runyon can be found here. I don’t recall ever reading anything by him until now. COLOR HIM DEAD is one of Runyon’s early novels, published by Gold Medal in 1963. In a neat bit of plotting, it begins where a lot of other noir novels end: with the protagonist in prison, convicted of a murder he didn’t commit, the real killer being the woman he fell for before the book ever begins. Drew Simmons had an affair with the beautiful younger wife of an older, rich man who wound up dead, and Simmons went away for the murder.

But when he gets a chance to escape, he crashes out and tracks down the woman to get his revenge on her. The trail leads to a small island in the West Indies, where Simmons’ former lover is now married to a wealthy, brutal planter who owns just about everything and everybody on the island. And in another nice twist, there’s a good reason Simmons can’t just kill her and be done with it. Instead he winds up involved with the domestic drama playing out there, as well as some dangerous political intrigue.

It’s a great set-up, Runyon’s prose is very vivid, and all the characters are interesting. My only complaints are that the pace is pretty leisurely and the big finish maybe not slam-bang enough for my taste. But COLOR HIM DEAD is still a pretty compelling yarn and well worth reading. A tip of the hat to Fred Blosser for this one.

Now, as an aside, that bare-breasted native girl cover would never be deemed politically correct enough to publish these days. The art is generally credited to Robert McGinnis. In some ways it looks like his work to me, and in others it doesn’t. But I’m about as far from an art expert as you’ll ever find, so don’t go by me. There’s also some underage sex in the book, treated as no big deal, which might also render it unpublishable today, and plenty of racial content, although the only real racists in the book are villains. Just a heads-up for those of you who like to be aware of such things.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Modern Adventuress, July 1937

The things you run across while browsing through the Fictionmags Index. I never heard of the pulp MODERN ADVENTURESS, and I'm not too surprised since Robert Leslie Bellem is the only author in this issue I've heard of . . . but that's not a bad cover, and Bellem is always worth reading, and some of the other stories could be good, you never know . . . so if I ever ran across this issue of MODERN ADVENTURESS, I might just read it.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: New Western, April 1950

I'll resist the temptation to make a cliffhanger joke here. This looks like the usual fine issue of NEW WESTERN, with stories by L.L. Foreman, Giff Cheshire, George C. Appell, Rod Patterson, W. Edmunds Claussen, Max Kesler, and Robert L. Trimnell. With the exception of Foreman and Cheshire, those aren't big names, but the other guys were pretty solid pulpsters for the most part.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Forgotten Books: The Last Notch - Arnold Hano

Arnold Hano is best known for his sports non-fiction and for being the editor at Lion Books during the Fifties who nurtured the careers of Jim Thompson, Richard Matheson, and many other top-notch noir and crime novelists. But he also wrote a number of dark, suspenseful Western novels under a couple of different pseudonyms. Stark House Press is reprinting one of them, THE LAST NOTCH, originally published as by Matthew Gant, as part of its Black Gat Books line.

THE LAST NOTCH is based on some historical background that occurred in New Mexico Territory during the 1870s, Governor Lew Wallace’s attempt to offer amnesty to Billy the Kid and other gunmen and outlaws in the territory, in order to prevent another outbreak of bloody violence like the one that took place during the Lincoln County War.

Hano fictionalizes this considerably, changing the names while keeping the personalities and events fairly accurate, then dropping his protagonist, Ben Slattery, down in the middle of them. Slattery is a fast gun and a hired killer, but he’s tired of that life and wants the governor’s amnesty. He wants to be able to quit worrying about the Kid, who’s eager to have a showdown with him and find out which one of them is truly faster on the draw. Before Slattery can escape from his past, though, he has to do one last job, make one last kill, for the biggest price he’s ever gotten.

All you have to hear is “one last job”, and you know things aren’t going to go well for Slattery. Sure enough, they don’t, in as neat a twist as you’ll find in a Western novel. How bad things can get, and whether or not Slattery survives, you’ll have to read the book to find out.

THE LAST NOTCH is really a superbly written novel, vivid in its setting and its characters. There’s not a lot of action; guns go off, but this is about as far from a powder-burning shoot-’em-up as you can get. It’s very suspenseful and fast-paced despite that, with some great confrontations between Slattery and the Kid (who’s obviously Billy, although not called that). This novel reminded me of the work of H.A. DeRosso, who Hano edited at Lion Books, and Lewis B. Patten with its bleak outlook on the Old West. Highly recommended.