Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Now Available: Gospel of the Bullet - Chris Leek

Mitchel McCann may have lost a war, but he never lost his belief. The preacher kept his faith throughout all the blood and the dying; trading his pulpit for a saddle and delivering his sermons with a brace of Walker Colts. McCann still believes in God, but he is no longer sure that God believes in him. Now fate has given him a chance at redemption; the opportunity to save a life instead of taking one. Justice Simpson was only seven years old when she lost father. She has been losing steadily ever since. The Yankee ball that did for Dan Simpson also killed his wife, Rosalee, although it took another nine years to do it. Alone and destitute on the unforgiving streets of Saint Joseph, Missouri, Justice knows that the sooner or later the bullet will find her too. In the winter of 1872 the war is long over, but on the Kansas—Missouri border old wounds are slow to heal and they leave ugly scars. The past is something that neither the preacher nor the girl can escape.

Advance Praise

“Chris Leek’s GOSPEL OF THE BULLET is as tough-minded a Western tale as you’re likely to run across. Dark, violent, yet heartbreakingly poignant, this story of the tragic legacy of war, as well as the unlikely friendship between a gunslinging preacher and an orphaned teenage girl with a troubled past and an uncertain future, will stick with the reader for a long time.” — James Reasoner, author of Dancing with Dead Men and Last Chance Canyon

“Chris Leek’s GOSPEL OF THE BULLET IS a wonderfully satisfying Western novel. Mesmerizes… First-rate.” — Edward A Grainger, author of Adventures of Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles

“GOSPEL OF THE BULLET hooks you from the first volley of rifle fire to its last beautiful irony. Chris Leek’s novella reminds you of the acid-stained Westerns of the 70’s, by way of Charles Portis.” — Gareth Spark, author of Half Past Nothing

“Chris Leek’s GOSPEL OF THE BULLET is a tight, gritty tale about redemption, blood, and friendship between the friendless. Gospel is another winner from One Eye Press, who have had nothing but winners to date.” — Craig McNeely, editor of Dark Corners Magazine

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House

(This post originally appeared in somewhat different form on December 21, 2007)

It’s hard to go wrong with Cary Grant, of course. In this one he plays a Manhattanite born and bred (no one mentions the British accent, naturally), an advertising man who decides to move his wife and two daughters out of the crowded rat race of the city. So he and the always charming Myrna Loy as his wife buy an old house in the Connecticut countryside, only to discover that they’ll be better off tearing it down and building a brand-new house. From there, just about everything that can go wrong does.

Nobody does exasperation better than Cary Grant, and that’s about all he has to do here. This is more of a smile and chuckle movie than a laugh-out-loud movie, but sometimes that sort of gentle humor is exactly what you want. Melvyn Douglas does an okay job as a friend of the family (and narrator), and Lex Barker shows up as a carpenter several years before he became Tarzan. While MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE isn’t in the top rank of Cary Grant comedies like, say, BRINGING UP BABY, I’m glad I saw it and consider it well worth watching.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Action Stories, September 1926

I don't believe I've ever read anything by Kenneth Gilbert, but I love the title of his yarn in this issue of ACTION STORIES: "The Menace of Mastodon Valley". I'd read that right now if I had a copy. The only other authors in this issue I'm familiar with are Victor Rousseau and Frank Richardson Pierce, both consistently entertaining pulpsters. I'll bet all the stories are pretty good, though.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Popular Western, April 1937

That's some grim expression on the cowboy's face, and the girl doesn't look too happy, either. But I'd be happy reading an issue of POPULAR WESTERN with stories by A. Leslie Scott, C. William Harrison, Larry A. Harris, Bruce Douglas, and Tom Gunn (Syl MacDowell).

Friday, September 26, 2014

Now Available for Pre-Order: Wind River (Large Print) - James Reasoner and L.J. Washburn

In a couple of weeks Thorndike will be publishing a large print edition of WIND RIVER, the first book in the Western series that Livia and I wrote back in the Nineties. We just got our author copies, and it's a beautiful book. We have e-book editions of the entire series available, but this is the first print edition since the original paperbacks many years ago, and you can pre-order it now from Amazon.

Forgotten Books: Ride Into Yesterday - Ed Gorman

(This post originally appeared on September 7, 2006, in somewhat different form.)

This is one of Ed Gorman’s earlier Westerns, originally published by Walker in 1992 under the pseudonym Christopher Keegan, then reprinted in paperback by Leisure in 1999 under Gorman’s name.

But even if I had read the original edition without knowing who the author really was, I think I would have suspected that Ed wrote it. It has all the hallmarks of a Gorman Western: lean prose; characters who are wounded physically, spiritually, or both; a small town that harbors deadly secrets; and an air of grim melancholy that’s relieved somewhat by glimmerings of hope.

Gunfighter Stephen Payne – who never really wanted his reputation as a gunman – arrives in the small town of Favor, where his younger brother committed suicide after robbing a stagecoach. But Payne doesn’t believe that his brother really did either of those things. He thinks that his brother was murdered, and he sets out to discover the truth. It doesn’t take long for his investigation to put him in deadly danger, so he knows his suspicions must be correct. This is a fine book all around, with a particularly satisfying ending.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Now Available: Outlaw Ranger - James Reasoner

G.W. Braddock was raised to be a Texas Ranger and never wanted anything else. But when he's stripped of his badge through no fault of his own and a corrupt system turns the vicious killer Tull Coleman loose on the people of the Lone Star State, Braddock has to decide if he's going to follow the law—or carry out the job he was born to do, even if it means becoming an outlaw himself! 

Never before published, OUTLAW RANGER is the first book in an exciting new Western series by best-selling author and legendary storyteller James Reasoner. Based on actual incidents, this action-packed novel is the stirring tale of a little-known era in Old West history. Rough Edges Press is proud to present this compelling saga of a man haunted by the past and fighting to make a place for himself in the violent world of the Texas frontier.

(Not only is the first book in this series now available, I can announce that the second book, HANGMAN'S KNOT, will be out later this year.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Check It Out!: The Westward Tide, Book 2: Trail Revenge - Jack Tyree (Wayne D. Dundee)

Embarked on the Oregon Trail, the Culbertson-Barkley wagon train has already endured danger, hardship, and betrayal from within their own ranks. But driven by dreams of the promising new lives that await them in Oregon, they press on—even knowing that the distance still to be covered will only get harder as their route transitions from the high plains into the mountainous regions. 

Braced for what lies ahead, what the emigrants are unaware of and unprepared for is the menace that is closing on them from behind. Dangerous, determined vengeance-seekers have their sights set on certain members of the Culbertson-Barkley party. But what the vengeance seekers, in turn, are unprepared for is the extent to which other members of the company will go to protect their own. 

When the forces clash, the result is bitter and bloody. The journey toward Oregon will continue, but those who forge on will be forever marked by the violence and startling revelations they have experienced.

(The first book in this new series from Wayne Dundee and Mel Odom is excellent, and I'm sure this one is, too. And if you need to get caught up, that first book is on sale for a limited time for only .99. Highly recommended!)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: Duma

(This post originally appeared on August 26, 2007)

When I was a kid, I was a fan of boy-and-his-animal yarns, like the horse books by Walter Farley, dog books by Jim Kjelgaard, and even, yes, OLD YELLER. The movie DUMA is clearly in that tradition. Set in Africa and based on actual events, it’s the story of young Xan, who adopts an orphaned cheetah cub and raises it. The usual sort of complications that crop up in these stories cause Xan and the now full-grown cheetah, Duma, to find themselves on their own in the wilderness, trying to get back to the area where Duma was born.

Along the way they encounter various dangers from animals and the elements, as well as a mysterious wanderer who may or may not have their best interests at heart. It’s an adventurous tale with a pace that seldom slows down for very long, and I enjoyed it. While the plot was somewhat predictable, I was never sure how things were going to turn out, and that’s always a plus. Also, the movie is beautifully photographed, which is no surprise considering that it was directed by Carroll Ballard, the director of the well-regarded THE BLACK STALLION (speaking of Walter Farley). DUMA is a very likable, family-friendly film and well worth watching.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Termination Protocol - Brian Drake

All CIA agent Scott Steletto had to do was bring captured terrorist Brendan Miller to the U.S. He even had extra security to make sure nothing went wrong. 

But something does go wrong. Another terrorist group, seeing Miller's value to the CIA, snatches him in a blinding fast raid that leaves four agents dead and Steletto wounded. 

The New World Revolutionary Front demands a ransom, and if the CIA doesn't pay, they're going to shoot Miller and ruin any chance the Americans have of extracting information valuable to the War on Terror. 

The NWRF doesn't count on Miller having a few tricks up his sleeve, or Steletto's relentless determination to complete his mission. And when Miller gets away and the two team-up to fight their common enemy, the NWRF faces the wrath of two men who are deadlier together than they are separately.

I've mentioned before that I don't read a lot of current thrillers because I think they're too long. Padded. Bloated, even. But you don't have to worry about that with Brian Drake's THE TERMINATION PROTOCOL, the first novel in his new series about CIA agent Scott Steletto. This is a lightning fast punch to the gut of action/adventure goodness, slightly reminiscent of the Nick Carter series. Scott Steletto is a likable protagonist, there are some nice twists in the plot, and the action scenes are great. I'm looking forward to his next adventure.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: The Masked Detective, Fall 1940

The first issue of a fairly short-lived hero pulp from the Thrilling Group. I know I've read a reprint of the lead novel, but I don't remember a thing about it. Maybe it wasn't even this one. It might have been one of the other Masked Detective yarns. The author behind the C.K.M. Scanlon house-name was the very prolific Norman Daniels, who wrote many of the Phantom Detective novels, among other things, and could always be counted on to produce readable if not particularly memorable stories. He went on to write scores of paperbacks after the pulps went under, and I've also heard that he really wrote all the Gothic novels published under his wife Dorothy's name. Don't know if that's true, but given his speed and versatility, I wouldn't doubt it.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Lariat Story, January 1945

The Fiction House Western pulps nearly always had good covers and good authors inside, and this issue is no exception. The lead story by Frank Bonham, "The Canyon of Maverick Brands", is one that was reprinted in a Leisure paperback collection of his work. Other authors include top-notch pulpsters Barry Cord (Peter Germano) and Chuck Martin. There's also a novelette by Wayne C. Lee, almost forgotten now but once a prolific author of paperback original Westerns. And also a very nice guy, as I know since I spent a couple of hours sitting next to him at a book signing during one of the Western Writers of America conventions. I was next to him because I was signing as "Justin Ladd", the author of the Abilene series from Pocket Books. Seated on my other side was Elmer Kelton, who had a line out the door. Wayne and I didn't have much to do, so we were able to have a long, pleasant conversation. It's a nice memory from that convention.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Forgotten Books: The Crimes of Jordan Wise - Bill Pronzini

(This post originally appeared on August 20, 2007)

I’ve been a fan of Bill Pronzini’s work ever since I read his Man From U.N.C.L.E. novella “The Pillars of Salt Affair” in the MFU digest magazine sometime in the late Sixties. Of course, I didn’t know at the time that Pronzini had written that story. It was published under the house-name Robert Hart Davis, a tribute by publisher Leo Margulies to Bob Davis, an early pulp editor with whom Margulies had worked. Anyway, I was a huge U.N.C.L.E. fan and really enjoyed “The Pillars of Salt Affair”; I remember the ending of it to this day. It was a few years, though, before I discovered that Pronzini wrote it.

By that time I was also reading and enjoying his Nameless Detective series, one of the great private eye series of all time. Over the years I’ve fallen behind on reading the Nameless books, but I’ll catch up on them sooner or later. In the meantime, I’ve just read this stand-alone suspense novel by Pronzini, and THE CRIMES OF JORDAN WISE lives up to the high standard of his other work.

In classic noir style, accountant Jordan Wise meets beautiful-but-only-as-good-as-she-has-to-be Annalise Bonner (even Annalise’s name sounds like something out of a Gold Medal novel), and before you know it Jordan has embarked on a daring plan to steal a lot of money in order to win her over. That he succeeds is almost a given, but you also know that the idyllic life Jordan and Annalise make for themselves in the Virgin Islands isn’t going to last. Things Will Go Wrong. And they certainly do.

What makes THE CRIMES OF JORDAN WISE such a fine novel isn’t the plot, which won’t contain many surprises for regular readers of this sort of book, but rather Pronzini’s writing, which is some of the smoothest you’re liable to encounter. Like Lawrence Block, there’s nothing fancy about Pronzini’s words, no verbal pyrotechnics, just good old-fashioned storytelling that draws the reader farther and farther into the story with well-constructed sentences, concise characterization, and occasional bursts of action. THE CRIMES OF JORDAN WISE gets a high recommendation from me.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Now Available for Pre-Order: Concrete Angel - Patricia Abbott

An atmospheric and eagerly-awaited debut novel from acclaimed crime writer Patricia Abbott, set in Philadelphia in the 1970's about a family torn apart by a mother straight out of "Mommy Dearest", and her children who are at first victims but soon learn they must fight back to survive.

Eve Moran has always wanted “things” and has proven both inventive and tenacious in getting and keeping them. Eve lies, steals, cheats, swindles, and finally commits murder, paying little heed to the cost of her actions on those who love her. Her daughter, Christine, compelled by love, dependency, and circumstance, is caught up in her mother’s deceptions, unwilling to accept the viciousness that runs in her mother's blood. Eve’s powers of seduction are hard to resist for those who come in contact with her toxic allure. It’s only when Christine’s three-year old brother, Ryan begins to prove useful to her mother, and she sees a pattern repeating itself, that Christine finds the courage and means to bring an end to Eve’s tyranny.

An unflinching novel about love, lust and greed that runs deep within our bones, Patricia Abbott cements herself as one of our very best writers of domestic suspense.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: Shoot 'Em Up

(This post originally appeared on April 4, 2009)

Those of you who really wanted to see this movie have probably already watched it. Those of you who haven’t and are undecided . . . well, I have a hunch you’ll either love it or hate it. I don’t think there’ll be much middle ground on this film.

It opens with a nameless stranger (Clive Owen) sitting at a bus stop munching on raw carrots. A frantic pregnant woman about to give birth runs past him with a bad guy in pursuit. Owen, against his better judgment, gets involved, winds up in a shootout with a number of would-be killers who are out to murder the woman and her baby, and rapidly proves himself to be deadlier than any of them. The woman gives birth, promptly gets killed, and Owen is stuck protecting the newborn baby from a horde of assassins led by Paul Giamatti. This leads to an almost non-stop series of very bloody, over-the-top, wildly improbable gunfights and chases. Owen’s character turns out to be just about the best shot in the world, and he can wield a carrot with lethal results, too. I’m not kidding. The Bugs Bunny references are appropriate, because SHOOT ‘EM UP is a live-action cartoon most of the time, albeit a very violent one.

Owen’s character is a cipher for most of the movie, although we eventually do find out his back-story. There’s quite a bit of plot packed in around the gunfire and explosions, so you have to keep up. I don’t know if it all makes sense in the end or not. Things move too fast to worry much about that. Watch this for the sheer audacity of the action sequences and Giamatti’s scenery-chewing performance as the lead villain, as well as Owen’s unflappable cool as he deals out death to, oh, at least two hundred of the bad guys.

Like I said above, you’ll probably either love or hate SHOOT ‘EM UP. I thought it was incredibly entertaining. But I’ll certainly understand if you watch it and say, “Well, this is just stupid.” It probably is. But sometimes I don’t mind that.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Clifton Adams Article

There's an excellent article by Bud Elder on the life and career of Clifton Adams to be found here. My fondness for Adams' work continues to grow with everything that I read by him. Many thanks to Lawrence Block for the link.

The Prisoner of Gun Hill - Owen G. Irons (Paul Lederer)

The plot where the protagonist is captured by bad guys and forced to work in their gold/silver mine is a common one in Western novels. I've used it myself. Paul Lederer, a prolific and top-notch author of Westerns, takes a crack at it in THE PRISONER OF GUN HILL, and it makes for a fine yarn with some unexpected twists in the plot.

Luke Walsh is on the run through the Arizona desert after unintentionally shooting a lawman in Tucson (he was tricked into it by a femme fatale). On the verge of death from thirst and heat, he's "rescued" by a couple of men on their way to a gold mine at Gun Hill. They take Luke with them, and as soon as he recovers a little from his ordeal he's forced to go to work digging a mine shaft in the side of the hill. As if that's not bad enough, it turns out that Gun Hill is where a vicious outlaw gang is getting back together to pull a new job. This threatens not only Luke but also a young woman who's being held captive at the mine. Then the soiled dove who got him in this mess in the first place shows up, along with her murderous outlaw lover.

None of that is particularly surprising, but from there things don't turn out exactly as you'd expect. Lederer has a sure hand with his plot and characters, and his action scenes are well-done, too. He was all over the publishing world in the Seventies and Eighties, writing dozens of house-name Westerns as well as series he created (he wrote most of the Shelter books as Paul Ledd and all of the great Spectros series as Logan Winters), as well as several historical novels under his own name. Then he was out of the business for a while but in recent years has made a strong comeback with stand-alone traditional Western novels, many of them under the pseudonym Owen G. Irons. THE PRISONER OF GUN HILL was published last year under that name by Robert Hale as part of the Black Horse Western series, but an e-book edition under Lederer's own name is available from Open Road Media. It's a very entertaining book, and if you're a Western fan you should check it out, along with Lederer's other novels.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Check It Out!: Wayne D. Overholser Website

There's a new website devoted to Western author Wayne D. Overholser's life and work, which you can find here. Overholser has never been one of my favorite Western authors simply because I haven't read enough of his work yet, but I've enjoyed everything I've read by him and intend to read more. This excellent website has really whetted my appetite to do so. Check it out! (That's a 1957 Dell edition of Overholser's first novel, originally published in hardcover in 1947. The cover art on this edition is by Robert Stanley.)

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Crime Busters, February 1938

I'm not used to seeing photo covers on pulps, but that's what we've got here. And what a line-up of authors: Lester Dent, Theodore Tinsley, Steve Fisher, Norvell Page, Frank Gruber, Laurence Donovan, and a story under the Maxwell Grant house-name that could well have been by one of those guys. Plenty of good reading in this issue, I'm sure.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Now Available: Klaw #3 The Rattler Gang - W.L. Fieldhouse

When the one-handed gunfighter known as Klaw encounters the notorious Rattler Gang, he loses two things precious to him: $10,000 in gold—and the deadly steel hook that replaced his right hand. The vicious, hooded owlhoots have been terrorizing Arizona, but now they have Klaw on their trail, along with a beautiful, vengeance-obsessed blonde. No matter who gets in his way—Apaches, desperadoes, or lawmen—Klaw will go through any or all of them to deliver hot lead justice to the Rattlers! 

But unknown to Klaw, the hunter is also the hunted, as two hired killers working for old enemies have set out to track him down, and fate will bring them all together for an epic showdown in the badlands! 

THE RATTLER GANG is another bloody, action-packed Western adventure from legendary author W.L. Fieldhouse and Rough Edges Press, available as an e-book from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords, and as a trade paperback from Amazon.

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Exciting Western, January 1953

Eye-catching cover by Mel Crair on this issue of EXCITING WESTERN from late in that pulp's run. There are some good authors inside, too: Tom Roan, Frank Richardson Pierce, Hascal Giles, William Hopson, and T.C. McClary. The lead story is by Lee Floren, not one of my favorites, but his Buck McKee and Tortilla Joe stories from this era are usually pretty good.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Forgotten Books: Black Horizon - Robert Masello

I don't remember seeing this horror novel when it came out from Jove in 1989, and Robert Masello's name is only vaguely familiar to me. But BLACK HORIZON turns out to be a pretty entertaining psychological horror yarn.

Jack Logan is a musician who plays in the orchestra for a newly opened Broadway show. It's opening night, in fact, when Jack saves the life of an old man who's been hit by a cab outside the theater. The old man actually dies, but when Jack touches him, he's able to go across to the Other Side and pull him back. This isn't the first time such a thing has happened—Jack saved the life of a friend of his the same way when both of them were kids—and this mysterious ability is probably connected to the fact that while Jack's mother was pregnant with him, she was terribly injured in a car crash and was kept alive by artificial means until he was born.

The incident on opening night brings Jack to the attention of a scientist who's investigating what happens when people die. It won't come as a surprise to anybody who's ever read a horror novel that the scientist turns out to be more than a little crazy. He's able to convince Jack to make more trips to the other side of death and back, which is okay until on one of those trips, something comes back with him...

Two things that work against BLACK HORIZON are its predictability and its slow pace. But Masello writes well enough to keep the reader interested, and Jack is a likable protagonist and you can't help but want to find out what's going to happen to him. And when Masello does finally crank up the action, it's pretty darned good. Everything comes to a satisfying conclusion, and I have to say I enjoyed BLACK HORIZON. The original edition is long out of print, but there's an e-book edition that's available. If you're a fan of psychological horror, it's worth reading.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Zombies From the Pulps!: The Forbidden Trail - Jane Rice

ZOMBIES FROM THE PULPS! comes to a close with "The Forbidden Trail" by Jane Rice, which appeared originally in the April 1941 issue of the legendary pulp UNKNOWN. I'm not sure I've read anything else by Jane Rice, but this is an excellent story and one of my favorites in the anthology.

Unlike any of the other stories that came before it, this tale of an explorer and his wife in Africa is told in a light, breezy, bantering style that seems more appropriate for one of the slicks, rather than a pulp. But then, when they're asked to look into the disappearance of a minor government official on an isolated rubber plantation, things wind up taking a turn that, if anything, is more creepy and gruesome than most of the other stories. Yet despite all the grotesque goings-on and the violent death, Rice still manages to spin her yarn in the same lightweight tone and somehow makes it work beautifully. I've got to seek out more stories by Jane Rice, who also wrote under the name Mary Austin.

This wraps up my survey of ZOMBIES FROM THE PULPS! I've really enjoyed reading a story from it every week or so and might just tackle another anthology in the same manner. Jeffrey Shanks did a great job of editing this one. There's not a bad story in the bunch. All of them are entertaining and some are outstanding. I think this volume is sure to appear on my Top Ten list at the end of the year, and if you haven't picked it up yet, I give it my highest recommendation. I can't help but hope that sooner or later we'll see MORE ZOMBIES FROM THE PULPS!

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: Need For Speed

I barely heard anything about this one when it came out, so I guess that qualifies it as an overlooked movie, overlooked at least by me. It's appropriate that an early scene is set at a drive-in movie theater, because despite being set in the present and based on a video game, in its heart and soul NEED FOR SPEED is a 1950s hot rod movie. You've got a tough but good-hearted protagonist, his colorful crew of sidekicks, a sleazy villain, a bitchin' babe, and a bunch of bitchin' cars, most of which get wrecked before the movie is over. There's an illegal road race the hero has to win to settle a score, but before he can even take part in that, he's got to break his parole (he just got out of prison for a crime he didn't commit, you see) and drive from New York to California in less than 48 hours, while the bad guys try to stop him along the way. Will he make it? What do you think?

Despite its complete predictability, NEED FOR SPEED is great fun. I grinned all the way through it. Watching it made me feel like I was back at the Eagle Drive-In again. If you share similar memories, you'll probably enjoy this one.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Monday Morning Digest Magazine: Far West, March 1978

FAR WEST was another late Seventies digest magazine that had me thinking, "All right! Another market!" And like the other new digests from that era I've written about in this space, I never sold a thing to FAR WEST, despite submitting a number of stories. But I bought and read every issue I came across, including this one. You certainly can't argue with the bold claim on the cover: "America's Leading Western Fiction Monthly". Of course, it was also America's Only Western Fiction Monthly at that time, but that doesn't sound as impressive.

Louis L'Amour is the only author in the first issue that readers are likely to recognize, but as time went on FAR WEST featured stories from some other well-known Western writers, such as Matt Braun, R.C. House, Wayne Barton, John D. Nesbitt, Bill Gulick, W.L. Fieldhouse, Michele McQuaid, Kit Prate, Earl Murray, and Mel Marshall. There were reprints from S. Omar Barker and James Warner Bellah. It was a good magazine during the three years or so that it lasted. I would have liked to contribute to it, but that wasn't to be.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Spicy-Adventure Stories, February 1940

I sometimes wonder how the Spicy pulps would have survived without Robert Leslie Bellem. He has three stories in this issue of SPICY-ADVENTURE STORIES, one under his own name and one each under his pseudonyms Jerome Severs Perry and Harley L. Court. Other authors who show up a lot in the Spicy pulps are represented here by Lew Merrill (old-time pulpster Victor Rousseau) and Edwin Truett Long under his Luke Terry pseudonym. But it's a rare Spicy pulp that doesn't have multiple Bellem stories in it. Which is okay with me, because I always enjoy his work.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Story, February 15, 1941

Nice cover by H.W. Scott on this issue of WESTERN STORY, and a fine line-up of authors inside: Harry F. Olmsted, L.P. Holmes, Stephen Payne, Jim Kjelgaard, Tom J. Hopkins, and William Colt MacDonald.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Forgotten Books: Boomer - Clay Randall (Clifton Adams)

Clifton Adams wrote quite a bit of Western fiction about the oil boom in Oklahoma Territory in the early Twentieth Century, and his novel BOOMER, published by Perma Books in 1957 under the pseudonym Clay Randall, is a prime example of that. Joe Grant (an alias) is on the run from the law after robbing a bank in Missouri. He's not a hardened owlhoot but rather a farmer who was cheated out of his land by the banker he held up. Fate leads Grant to lend a helping hand to a beautiful blonde who's on her way to an oilfield boom town in Oklahoma. Grant goes with her, figuring he can hide out there.

It won't come as any surprise to experienced Western readers that Grant soon finds himself in even more trouble. The blonde's father is a wildcatter who's engaged in a war with another oilman. Throw in murder, a romantic triangle, a deadly hired gun, a doggedly determined U.S. marshal on the trail of the bank robber, and a blue norther, and you've got yourself the makings of a fine traditional Western.

Adams' work is always notable for its bleak, hardboiled prose that verges on poetry in places, and there's plenty of that in BOOMER as the ugly landscape and the perilous weather are portrayed in stark, vivid terms. Adams also knew the oil business well and provides just enough detail about it without going overboard on the subject. His characters are realistic, with plenty of flaws, and he has the knack of making the reader care about them. He's one of the best of the hardboiled Western writers and deserves more of a reputation than he has these days. If you've never read his work, BOOMER would be a fine place to start.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Coming Soon: Outlaw Ranger - James Reasoner

G.W. Braddock was raised to be a Texas Ranger and never wanted anything else. But when he's stripped of his badge through no fault of his own and a corrupt system turns the vicious killer Tull Coleman loose on the people of the Lone Star State, Braddock has to decide if he's going to follow the law—or carry out the job he was born to do, even if it means becoming an outlaw himself! 

Never before published, OUTLAW RANGER is the first book in an exciting new Western series by best-selling author and legendary storyteller James Reasoner. Based on actual incidents, this action-packed novel is the stirring tale of a little-known era in Old West history. Rough Edges Press is proud to present this compelling saga of a man haunted by the past and fighting to make a place for himself in the violent world of the Texas frontier.

This one will be out later this month, but you can pre-order it now, if you're of a mind to.

New Interview on The Write Answers

There's a new interview with me posted on Jim Wilsky's excellent Write Answers blog. As always, I've tried to include some things I haven't talked about in other interviews. You can find it here. Check it out!

Zombies From the Pulps!: The Song of the Slaves - Manly Wade Wellman

After Howard, Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith, Manly Wade Wellman is one of the most respected authors who contributed to WEIRD TALES, and he wrote a zombie story, too: "The Song of the Slaves" in the March 1940 issue.

Unlike the other stories in this anthology, this one is a historical yarn, set in the 1850s. Instead of the Caribbean or the United States, it goes all the way back to Africa, the land where voodoo originated. An American plantation owner has journeyed there to cut out all the middle men and capture a group of slaves to put to work back home. He does so, but the return trip doesn't go exactly as planned. And once he's back in the States, things certainly don't work out the way the planter had intended, as the song sung by the slaves during the journey haunts him and becomes more and more sinister.

This is a short but really well-written story that turns some of the genre's conventions upside down, and as a result it's a little ahead of its time, reading more like a story that could have been published in the Fifties or Sixties. I haven't read Wellman's work extensively, but everything I've read by him has been excellent, and "The Song of the Slaves" is no exception.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Comanche Trail - Carlton Stowers

I've known Carlton Stowers for many years. He's a journalist, an award-winning, bestselling author of true crime books, a collaborator on a number of celebrity autobiographies, and in recent years has written several critically acclaimed volumes of historical non-fiction about small-town Texas, often sports-related. He's also a great yarn-spinner in person, and I've told him many times that he ought to be writing novels. A while back he contributed a chapter to NOAH'S RIDE, the round-robin Western novel published by TCU Press, which further convinced me he ought to try his hand at fiction.

Now, Stowers has written his first full-length novel, the recently released COMANCHE TRAIL, published by Signet as part of the Ralph Compton series. Given his background in true crime and non-fiction, it makes sense that Stowers would use the real-life case of the Bloody Benders as the jumping-off point for his story. The Bender family operated a small tavern and inn in Kansas, but their real business was robbing and murdering unwary travelers. They're sometimes referred to as America's first serial killers. They weren't—I think that dubious honor goes to the Harpe brothers—but that doesn't really matter here.

A shiftless young man named Thad Taylor, who spends a lot of his time drinking and getting thrown in jail, winds up connected by tragedy to the Benders. When the family's gruesome crimes are discovered, they go on the run. History doesn't record what happened to them, but Stowers offers the reader one possible scenario, as Thad Taylor sets out after them on a vengeance quest that will take him from Kansas through Indian Territory and deep into Texas. Along the way he makes a friend—a great character named Tater Barclay—fights Indians, outlaws, and hired killers, and finds romance. It's a great example of a personal story that becomes epic in scope.

Stowers' terse, hardboiled prose fits very well with a story that's as grim and gritty as they come, and his plot takes some unexpected twists along the way. There are also some welcome moments of humor here and there, and Thad and Tater are about as likable a pair of heroes as you're ever likely to find. COMANCHE TRAIL is top-notch Western entertainment, and I hope we can look forward to more Carlton Stowers novels in the future.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: Dead Man's Gun

Over the years we've tried to watch most of the Western TV series that came along, even the ones that weren't very good. But this one totally slipped past us somehow until recently when Livia came across the DVD set of the first season and bought it. DEAD MAN'S GUN is a Canadian production from the late Nineties that ran originally on the cable network Showtime, I believe. And besides being a Western, it's a bit of a rarity in another way: it's an anthology series, with the only constant threads running through the stories being the presence of a cursed revolver supposedly made by the Devil and some off-camera narration by Kris Kristofferson who comes across a little like an Old West version of the Cryptkeeper.

As you'd expect with an anthology series, the episodes are a little uneven, but most of them are surprisingly good. There's a stock company of actors who show up in a variety of roles, including Henry Winkler, who's also one of the producers. Most of the leads are played by actors who are at least fairly well-known in American TV, including the late John Ritter, Ed Asner, Scott Bakula, and Tim Matheson. They seem to be having fun making a Western, too, something that most of them didn't get to do very often.

The show's limited budget shows up in the production values. Almost every scene takes place in the same town, no matter where the story is supposed to be set, the street is always muddy, and the weather is always gray and rainy. Maybe the producers were trying for a realistic look, but it's just a drab sameness as far as I'm concerned. The action scenes are pretty uneven, too, as are the few special effects. And the evidently cable-mandated sex scenes that show up in the middle of most episodes are a little jarring, too, considering the strong traditional Western flavor of everything else.

DEAD MAN'S GUN was co-created by Ed Spielman, who created two shows I liked from an earlier era, THE YOUNG RIDERS and KUNG FU, and he and Howard Spielman (a brother, I assume) wrote nearly all the scripts. The stories are, for the most part, predictable EC Comics-style morality plays, with the protagonist usually coming to a bad end because of his own character flaws, which become more dominant when he comes into possession of the so-called Dead Man's Gun. They work pretty well if you space them out, and the Spielmans also throw in some nice twists in some of the episodes.

DEAD MAN'S GUN certainly isn't a great series, but I found it to be pretty entertaining most of the time. And hey, it's a Western I hadn't seen before, so it has that going for it, too.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Exiles in Arms #1: Moving Targets - C.L. Werner

MOVING TARGETS is another heroic fantasy novella set in the Iron Kingdoms/Warmachine universe, like Dan Wells' THE BUTCHER OF KHARDOV that I read a while back. This one is by C.L. Werner. I've read some of Werner's stories set in the Warhammer universe (a totally different setting, although some people seem to get them confused) and enjoyed them, so I thought I might like this one as well. Turns out I was right.

This is the first book in a series called Exiles in Arms, which follows the adventures of a pair of mercenaries, Rutger Shaw, a big, tough but basically good-hearted brawler, and Taryn de la Rovissi, a beautiful gun-mage, which means the pistols she carries fire enchanted bullets that do different things depending on which spell Taryn uses. As the story opens, Rutger and Taryn are trying to get out of the country where they've been working, which is in the process of collapsing because of an invasion by a more powerful neighboring country. They get involved in the plight of some refugees, which leads to them being hired by a fleeing nobleman. That nobleman has a dangerous secret, though, and there are bad guys after him trying to capture and/or kill him. From there the action scenes are almost non-stop before Rutger and Taryn finally sort everything out and escape from the mess with their lives.

I really enjoyed this one, with a few reservations. The game-based setting, with its mixture of magic and steampunk, is really complex, and the back-story is so dense that I almost got lost a few times. The writing seemed geared more to gamers who are very familiar with the background, rather than general heroic fantasy readers like me. Understand, I don't fault Werner for that at all. Fans of the games are the real target audience for these books, after all. And I wasn't confused enough to keep me from being entertained. My other complaint is that there's not quite as much resolution to the story as I would have liked...but hey, what are sequels for, anyway?

What I really liked was the fast pace and the well-done action, as well as the colorful villains. The head bad guy's minions are gatormen, savage swamp-dwelling creatures who are, well, half-man, half-gator. (Paging Bill Crider!) Rutger and Taryn are likable heroes, too, and I plan to read the rest of the series to see what happens to them. If you're a fan of heroic fantasy, I think MOVING TARGETS is well worth reading, especially if you try to familiarize yourself a little with the setting first (as I'm doing by reading these books).