Sunday, July 31, 2016

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Spy Novels Magazine, April 1935

I'm a sucker for covers featuring a classy babe with a gun, like this one on SPY NOVELS MAGAZINE. Inside are stories by E. Hoffmann Price, Major George Fielding Eliot, Frederick C. Painton, and more. SPY NOVELS lasted only a few issues but looks like it had some decent yarns in it.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Story, June 29, 1940

As hot as it is this time of year, a nice snowy cover like this one by A. Leslie Ross is quite refreshing. "Blizzard Brotherhood" sounds like a pretty good story, too, although I don't think I've ever read anything by Kenneth Gilbert. There are plenty of other authors I like in this issue of WESTERN STORY, however, including Harry F. Olmsted, Tom Curry, W. Ryerson Johnson, and Jim Kjelgaard.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Forgotten Books: Dropsie Avenue: The Neighborhood - Will Eisner

I read about Will Eisner’s work, primarily THE SPIRIT, before I ever read any of the work itself. But then in the Seventies, reprints of some of the Spirit stories began to appear in various black-and-white comic magazines published by Warren, including a few issues composed entirely of Spirit reprints, with gorgeous color covers by Eisner. Right away, I was a fan, struck by the charm, intelligence, humor, and heart of the stories. (Although I realized pretty quickly it was best not to read too many of those short eight-pagers too close together.)

Late in his career, Eisner began writing and drawing graphic novels that are the equivalent of mainstream fiction. One such that I hadn’t come across until recently is DROPSIE AVENUE: THE NEIGHBORHOOD, published in 1995. It may have been intended as the first of a series of similar graphic novels about various locations, but there were never any follow-ups, as far as I know.

This one follows the lives of a multitude of people who live along Dropsie Avenue, a fictional street in the South Bronx, from 1870 to 1970. Eisner spins more than a dozen interconnected yarns and numerous side vignettes in the course of the book’s 170 pages, illustrating them with his distinctive art. As always, he’s great at capturing the lives of normal people in all their tragedies and triumphs, and it makes for compelling reading.

Having said that, I also have to say that DROPSIE AVENUE: THE NEIGHBORHOOD may be the bleakest, most depressing graphic novel I’ve ever read. It’s an endless parade of murder, depravity, prejudice, corruption, and heartbreak. The first settlers, mostly descended from the Dutch, are upset about the English moving in. The English hate the Irish that follow them. The Irish hate the Germans, who hate the Jews, who hate the Italians, who hate the Puerto Ricans, who . . . You get the idea. With each generation, the old-timers hate the newcomers, and there’s constant conflict, often with young lovers caught in the middle. No doubt all of this is realistic, but it’s not exactly entertaining to read. Nor does Eisner ever make any real point except that people should learn how to get along.

I’m recommending the book anyway, because of the sheer quality of the dialogue and to a somewhat lesser extent the art. (I’ve never liked Eisner’s less polished later art as well as his earlier stuff, although I hasten to add, as I have many times before, I’m not really a visual guy and am no expert on art by any stretch of the imagination.) You can’t help but get caught up in the stories he’s telling, and occasionally there’s a glimmer of hope that’s quite satisfying. So if you decide to read this, you may well find it rewarding (I did), but be aware that it’s pretty dark stuff.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Saddle the Wind

SADDLE THE WIND is yet another Western movie I somehow never saw until now, possibly because I’m not a big fan of its star, Robert Taylor, who usually comes across to me as too dour and humorless. In this one he’s a former gunfighter who has settled down and become a rancher. But of course you know that his violent past will catch up to him. An oddly cast John Cassavetes is his younger brother, who has gunfighting ambitions of his own. Complicating things is the always watchable Julie London, who plays a saloon singer Cassavetes brings back to the ranch. Then some homesteaders move into the valley, bringing more trouble with them as things play out a little like SHANE in reverse.

This is a strange little movie. The dialogue is pretty good, not surprising since the screenplay is by Rod Serling based on an original story by veteran pulpster and Western novelist Thomas Thompson. The acting by the leads is okay, although London isn’t given much to do except stand around and look sultry and beautiful, which she does quite well. The supporting cast includes Western stalwarts Royal Dano and Ray Teal. The photography is great, and the action scenes, although sparse, are well done. There’s enough about the movie I liked that I’m glad we watched it, but it’s so relentlessly grim and depressing that I can only give it a mixed recommendation.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: New Detective, July 1949

Not a bad cover on this issue of NEW DETECTIVE, but look at that line-up of writers inside: John D. MacDonald, Day Keene, Fredric Brown, William Campbell Gault, J.L. Bouma, and Joel Townsley Rogers. Those are some heavyweight pulpsters who also had successful careers as hardback and paperback novelists.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Exciting Western, April 1946

Injury to a hat alert! I like this cover by Sam Cherry, as I do most of Cherry's work. I also like EXCITING WESTERN, especially the Tombstone and Speedy stories by W.C. Tuttle. They're not as good as the Hashknife and Sleepy stories, but they're pretty entertaining. There's also an Alamo Paige story by Reeve Walker (a house name; I think maybe Walker Tompkins wrote this series), and stories by Syl McDowell, Gunnison Steele (Bennie Gardner), Archie Joscelyn, and Barry Scobee (the pride of Fort Davis, Texas). Looks like a good issue.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Forgotten Books: Murder Calls the Black Bat - G. Wayman Jones (Norman A. Daniels)

Just last week I was talking about how it had been five years since I read the first novel in the Ki-Gor series. Well, it’s been more than six years since I read the first Black Bat novel, and now I’m back with the second one, MURDER CALLS THE BLACK BAT, reprinted by Altus Press from the September 1939 issue of BLACK BOOK DETECTIVE.

The Black Bat, for those of you who don’t recall, is former district attorney Tony Quinn, who, like another famous former DA, Harvey Dent, has acid thrown at him in a courtroom. Unlike Dent, who is disfigured and becomes the villainous Two-Face, one of the most prominent members of Batman’s Rogues Gallery, Tony Quinn is blinded by the attack and faces a bitter life of unending darkness. But then he meets a beautiful young woman who arranges for him to have a mysterious surgery that not only restores his sight, it allows him to see even in pitch blackness. Blessed with this unexpected ability, Quinn decides to pretend to still be blind so he can don a black hood and fight crime as the mysterious and somewhat sinister Black Bat. He recruits his lovely blond benefactor, Carol Baldwin, to help him in this quest, along with former confidence man and reformed small-time crook Silk Kirby and a big palooka named Butch. The cops, of course, think the Black Bat is just another criminal, so they’re determined to catch him, especially dogged Sergeant McGrath, who’s convinced Tony Quinn is the Bat despite his apparent blindness. Police Commissioner Warner suspects Quinn, too, but he realizes how much good the Bat is doing and is ambivalent about catching him.

In other words, this series marks just about every check box in the masked vigilante genre, so whether or not it’s any good depends almost entirely on the quality of the writing and the cleverness of the plots. In the case of the Black Bat, most of the novels were written by Norman A. Daniels, one of the most dependable pulpsters in the business before he went on to a long and also successful career as a paperbacker. I’ve always regarded Daniels as a solid member of the second tier of hero pulp authors. His work lacks the spark that makes Lester Dent, Walter B. Gibson, and Norvell Page superstars in that genre, but his stories are always well constructed and move right along without too many implausibilities.

MURDER CALLS THE BLACK BAT has to do with a gang of jewel thieves who are able to steal gems right out of jewelry stores and substitute top-notch paste replicas. Tony Quinn is drawn into the case because one of the store owners is a friend of his. There are several murders and a bunch of suspects, the Black Bat and his allies get captured and escape a number of times (the best scenes in the novel take place in an abandoned sewer tunnel during one of these sequences), and finally the Black Bat manages to get all the characters together to reveal the mastermind behind the whole scheme. It’s a little on the bland side and the resolution could have been more dramatic, but overall this is an entertaining yarn. It’s a lot better written than the Ki-Gor novel from last week—but the Ki-Gor was more fun, if that makes sense. I’ll read more of the Black Bat, which also is supposed to get better as it goes along, and I hope it won’t be six years before the next one.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Witnesses - James Patterson and Brendan DuBois

The family next door has a very dark secret.

The Sanderson family has been forced into hiding after one of them stumbled upon a criminal plot. Or so they think. No one will answer their questions. And the terrifying truth may come too late....

Man, this book is fast-paced. I didn't read it in one sitting, but I did read it in one day, which is unusual for me. Like all James Patterson novels (no matter who actually writes them), the chapters are short, there's lots of dialogue, there are innocents and truly despicable bad guys, and the plot twists are considerable. In this case, you've got an archeologist, his travel guide author wife, and their two kids (one of whom is a bit unusual) as the innocent family in trouble and being protected by a stalwart government agent, plus the people out to get them and some unlikely allies.

This is part of the Bookshots series, more novellas than novels, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I have no idea how much is Patterson and how much is DuBois, but the prose is really smooth and entertaining. I haven't read anything else by DuBois except the science fiction story "The Siege of Denver", which is very good. I think I need to read more by him, though. I might read more of Patterson's Bookshots, although I'm not a fan of most of the series they spin off from. I really like novellas, though, so I'll probably give the stand-alones a try.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: The 5th Wave

A whole lot of alien invasion. A little bit of teen angst and romance. Chloe Grace Moretz kicking butt. Yep, it's another movie based on a series of post-apocalyptic YA novels, but unlike the big-name franchises, I'd never heard of this one. There's nothing in THE 5TH WAVE you haven't seen or read before, but it's fairly well made and reasonably entertaining. If they make movies out of the two sequel novels, I'll probably watch 'em.

There is one wince-inducing gun mistake, but I was never sure if it was ignorance on the part of the screenwriters (or the author of the source novel), or if it was a deliberate mistake used as a bit of characterization. I lean toward the former.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Short Stories, October 10, 1930

You don't see too many "clown with a gun" covers, or at least I haven't, but I like this one. Circus stories were pretty common in the pulps, though, and I've enjoyed the ones I've read. Thomson Burtis, who wrote this one, was best known for his aviation stories, as I recall. Elsewhere in this issue of SHORT STORIES is an installment of a serial by James B. Hendryx featuring Corporal Downey of the Mounted Police, along with stories by prolific pulpsters Foster-Harris, Bertrand V. Sinclair, and Robert E. Pinkerton, among others.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Action Novels Magazine, September 1937

Is that a giant cactus the girl is tied to on this cover? That's gotta hurt! And the cowboy is handcuffed. There's got to be an interesting story behind this one. Whether it's actually in this issue of WESTERN ACTION NOVELS MAGAZINE, I don't know, but I'm sure there's some good reading since the authors include prolific and popular Western writers Frank C. Robertson and E.B. Mann, as well as the house-name Cliff Campbell and some lesser known names.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Forgotten Books: Ki-Gor--and the Stolen Empire - John Peter Drummond

Man, if I had the attention span of a six-week-old puppy, I might be dangerous. This observation is prompted by the fact that I posted a JUNGLE STORIES cover here on the blog a couple of weeks ago, as part of the Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp series, which led to a discussion in the comments about the Ki-Gor novels featured in that pulp. I recalled reading the first one in the series a while back, liking it, and blogging about it, a post that concluded with my stated intention to read the second novel “soon”.

Well, that was more than five years ago.

But better late than never, or so they say, which brings us to “Ki-Gor—and the Stolen Empire”, from the Summer 1939 issue of JUNGLE STORIES. As you may recall, the blond giant Ki-Gor is really the son of English missionary Robert Kilgour, who grew up in the jungle after his father’s death. In the previous story, Ki-Gor met and rescued beautiful, redheaded American aviatrix Helene Vaughn, who was captured by Arab slavers after her plane crashed. The second story picks up pretty much where that one left off. Helene wants to get back to civilization, but Ki-Gor has more in mind that she’ll stay and live with him in the jungle. To help convince her that’s a good idea, he builds her a treehouse in a giant baobab tree. Before anything can get settled between them, though, they encounter a sinister American who’s trying to set up his own little empire in the middle of equatorial Africa. There’s also a lost city, a remnant of an ancient Egyptian colony, involved in the story. (Africa, as we all know, is lousy with lost cities.)

Clearly, the Ki-Gor stories are imitations of Tarzan, although they seem to me to be influenced more by the Johnny Weissmuller movies than by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novels. The first one was published under the author’s real name, John Murray Reynolds, while this one appeared under the house-name John Peter Drummond. However, while there are some stylistic differences, my hunch is that this one is Reynolds’ work, too. It’s rather sloppily written in places with a number of continuity errors, and some of the action is described so sketchily that it’s really lacking in drama. The villain is woefully underdeveloped.

However, there are some interesting things in “Ki-Gor—and the Stolen Empire” as well. Helene is a great character. She’s not as much of a bad-ass as Ki-Gor, of course, but that doesn’t stop her from trying. She gets right in the middle of some of the fights, mowing down bad guys with an Enfield rifle. The relationship between her and Ki-Gor is a little odd, too. There’s no real chemistry, no passion between them. I suspect that will change as the series goes on, but at this point they’re more comrades-in-arms than anything else. The climax of this story tries to be big and dramatic and almost succeeds, and the sacrifices made by some of the characters are genuinely touching.

From what I’ve read, this series gets wilder—and better—as it goes along. While I’m tempted to skip ahead, I think I’ll continue reading them in order for now. I have the first dozen stories in reprint editions from Altus Press. I just hope it won’t take me five years to get to the next one. At that rate I’ll never even make it to the crazy stuff! (Although the next one is called “Ki-Gor—and the Giant Gorilla Men”. That sounds promising . . .)

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Lost in the Fog - Martin L. Shoemaker

Burns Mountain Regional Airport is a quiet little airport in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. Nothing ever happens there... until The Fog rolls in, bringing with it traffic from other worlds. Then air traffic controller Marla Tucker and the rest of the airport staff go to work, guiding the alien visitors to land for clandestine meetings and mysterious trading. Before The Fog lifts, these strange aircraft will return to their worlds, and Burns Mountain will go back to sleep. 

The Fog Traffic remains a closely guarded secret... until one visitor goes missing, and the Mantis people want him back for an important diplomatic ceremony. Now government agents are taking over the airport, and suspicion falls on Marla and her friends. Marla must decide who she trusts and how far she will go to help a stranger in trouble... while avoiding interdimensional war!

This novella is exactly the sort of science fiction I like, filled with big ideas, interesting characters, and suspenseful action. I'll be publishing a story by Martin L. Shoemaker in an anthology from Rough Edges Press later this year, and after reading that story and this one, I'm going out and hunting up the rest of his work. Great stuff for fans of classic SF.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Resume Speed - Lawrence Block

From the legendary author of A Walk Among the Tombstones comes this gripping tale of sudden endings and new beginnings. When a man called Bill spots a sign in a restaurant window, he grabs his carry-on and gets off his bus. Within an hour he’s got himself a job as a short-order cook, and a start on a whole new life in Cross Creek, Montana. Things just fall into place. He applies for a library card, and the next thing you know he’s having dinner with the librarian. One thing leads to another, and he can see a whole new life stretching out before him…

This novella by Lawrence Block came out earlier this year. It has a crime in it--maybe--and a mystery of sorts, but it's not really a crime or mystery story. Instead it's a character-driven, compelling portrait of a man who has no real identity other than that which he invents for himself. What's interesting to me is that Block could have used this same concept for a Gold Medal sort of novel or even an Andrew Shaw or Sheldon Lord book 50-some-odd years ago. He's honed it down to its essentials, though, and spun an intriguing tale in the usual smooth, excellent prose. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Medical Update

I went to the ophthalmologist this morning and got some good news. It took some tinkering around with different medications, but my glaucoma is under control and the pressure in my eyes is back down where it's supposed to be. I'm not crazy about the idea of using eye drops three times a day for the rest of my life, but it's a lot better losing my sight. Evidently the treatment of choice these days for glaucoma is laser surgery, but my doctor has said from the first that I'm not a good candidate for it because my eyes are made a little goofy inside. That's what the technical terms boil down to, anyway. But goofy eyes or not, I can still see, and I'm happy about that.

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: Precious Cargo

I'd never heard of this crime film from earlier this year. PRECIOUS CARGO is a heist movie with two competing groups of thieves, one led by Mark-Paul Gosselaar and the other by Bruce Willis, who are after a fortune in diamonds. The plot is the sort where you have to squint your eyes, tilt your head to the side, and hold your mouth just right for it to make sense, but the plot's just an excuse for a lot of shootin', chasin', and double-crossin', so there's no point in worrying too much about that. There are actually some fairly funny lines here and there, and the real thief is a young model-turned-actress named Jenna B. Kelly, playing a sharpshooting member of Gosselaar's crew, who shamelessly steals every scene she's in despite an awkward way of delivering her lines. Somehow it works. PRECIOUS CARGO is far from a great movie, but it's an amiable way to kill an hour and a half.

Monday, July 11, 2016

M.I.A. Hunter: Hostage Town - Stephen Mertz

When an M.I.A. mission goes terribly wrong, Mark Stone and his team are thrust into a showdown with terrorists who have seized control of an isolated Texas border town. But the invaders have not counted on the fury of Mark Stone, Terrance Loughlin and Hog Wiley. It’s a deadly race against time to rescue a church full of innocent hostages when world terrorism strikes the American heartland.

I read most, if not all, of the M.I.A. Hunter books back when they first came out, so when I heard that Steve Mertz had written the first new book in the series in many years, it was pretty exciting news. HOSTAGE TOWN lives up to that excitement. Nobody does this sort of book better than Mertz. Compelling characters, fast action, a real sense of urgency and suspense. He's one of the best adventure writers of our time, plain and simple. Highly recommended.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Sidewise Award Nominations

I'm beyond pleased and proud that my short story "The Hero of Deadwood", which appeared in TALES FROM THE OTHERVERSE, is a finalist for the Sidewise Award in the Best Short-Form Alternate History category. Even better, one of the other stories is the book is also a finalist, but I'll let the author of that one post about it. TALES is the only publication to have two finalists in it, so as editor and publisher I'm really excited about that, too. All the details and finalists can be found here.

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy, March 10, 1934

A serial by H. Bedford-Jones called "Jungle Girl"? Why hasn't this been reprinted yet? Somebody needs to get on this. Elsewhere in this issue, behind the usual excellent cover by Paul Stahr, there are stories by Donald Barr Chidsey and Robert Carse and serial installments by W.C. Tuttle ("Buckshot", a title I'm not familiar with) and "George Challis", really Frederick Faust, of course ("The Naked Blade", his pirate novel featuring Ivor Kildare). Looks like a pretty strong issue to me. 

A Middle of the Night Music Post: The Lady Wants to Know - Michael Franks

I know that supposedly nobody like jazz, especially smooth jazz, but I do. Especially the stuff I used to listen to back in the Seventies and Eighties, like this one.

Actually, this leads me into a few writing-related comments. I've been in a slump the past couple of weeks, still writing but not turning out nearly as many pages as I need to, so on Saturday I tried something different and played music all day on my computer while I worked. I hardly ever have music going while I'm writing. I played some Acoustic Alchemy, some Herb Alpert (both with the Tijuana Brass and his later solo stuff), History: America's Greatest Hits, and a couple of movie theme song compilations I have, one from war movies and one from historical epics. So how did it affect my writing?

Best day in almost a month. Thing of it is, I don't know if it was the music or if the cycle had just come back around for me to be productive again. But will I try it again when I get back to work later today? More than likely.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Fifteen Western Tales, December 1947

Now that's a bright, eye-catching cover! Plenty of red and yellow, supposedly the colors that sold the best. Of course it helps having stories by Philip Ketchum, Joe Archibald, Lee E. Wells, Murray Leinster, Bryce Walton, and Ray Gaulden, among others.

A Middle of the Night Music Post: The Jonny Quest Theme

I've been feeling pretty misanthropic lately, but this makes me feel better, at least for a little while. I suspect it has the same effect on quite a few guys of a certain age. If any of you have any suggestions for music that always lifts your spirits, I'll see if I can post some of them.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Forgotten Books: Some Buried Caesar - Rex Stout

I’ve been wanting to reread this Nero Wolfe novel for a while now, and Rex Stout Week gives me a good excuse for doing so. SOME BURIED CAESAR is one of my favorites for several reasons.

For one thing, it’s one of the rare books in the series that takes place outside of Wolfe’s New York brownstone. Wolfe and Archie are on their way to an exhibition in upstate New York where Wolfe plans to show some of his prize orchids. But their car is disabled in a minor accident and they’re forced to seek assistance at a nearby estate. I always enjoy seeing Wolfe flummoxed by having to cope with unfamiliar surroundings.

Another rarity is that someone doesn’t show up on Wolfe’s doorstep to hire him to investigate something. The case is already well underway before Wolfe has a client in this one, and he and Archie are in the thick of it, just by being where they are. The puzzle involves two rich, feuding families, a prize bull (the Caesar of the title), blackmail, and a couple of murders.

This novel also has some historical significance in the series because it introduces Lily Rowan, who goes on to become Archie Goodwin’s long-time girlfriend. I always liked Lily, and the banter between her and Archie is appealing and amusing right from the start.

Another reason I have such fond memories of this book is that it’s the first mystery (by any author) where I figured out who the murderer was. And I don’t mean just a wild guess. I followed the exact same logic and came to the same conclusion as Wolfe. I’m not sure that ever happened again in this series, although I’ve spotted the murderer and had good reasons for doing so many times since then in books by other authors.

Finally, I read this book the first time in the summer of 1967, while I was staying at my aunt’s house in Blanket, Texas. (I read the Triangle Books cheap hardback reprint edition, by the way, with the flimsy cardboard covers and the already browning paper for which those Triangle editions were notorious.) That was a fine summer for me, full of comic books and paperbacks and library books and great music on KBWD out of Brownwood and a bit of a summer romance with the girl who lived across the street. So SOME BURIED CAESAR holds a lot of nostalgia value for me.

So the question becomes . . . how does the book hold up now, 49 years later?

I’m happy to report that it holds up very well for the most part. Occasionally some of Stout’s prose seems a little long-winded to me, and some of the comedy doesn’t quite come off, especially the scenes where Archie is in jail. But other than that, SOME BURIED CAESAR is a pure joy to read, fast and funny and dominated by two of the greatest characters in mystery fiction. Rereading this now, I can see why I read every Nero Wolfe book I could get my hands on back in junior high and high school. They’re just great stuff.

As for the solution, I had no memory whatsoever of who the killer was, but I solved it again, identifying not only the murderer but also figuring out the motive. So I’m glad to know I haven’t gotten dumber since I was 14 years old. Well, not too much dumber, anyway. I still can’t remember the name of that girl who lived across the street . . .

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Now Available: Gun Lust: Comanchero Kill - W.L. Fieldhouse

Ruthless Comancheros had stolen seven Gatling guns from the Army and taken them back to their hideout in Mexico. Unable to cross the border to retrieve the weapons without causing an international incident, the military turns to the deadliest pair of bounty hunters in the West—Shaddrock and Cougar! For enough money, the Yankee sharpshooter and the former Confederate officer will risk their lives to bring back the Gatling guns and deal out hot-lead justice to the Comancheros...but if they fail, not only will it cost them their own lives, but the entire Southwest will soon be awash with blood! 

COMANCHERO KILL is another gritty, fast-paced Western novel from legendary adventure author W.L. Fieldhouse, full of suspense, humor, colorful characters, and unsurpassed action scenes that will leave you breathless. Read COMANCHERO KILL and see why W.L. Fieldhouse has inspired an entire generation of writers!

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Punished, Book 1: Undead - Jackson Lowry

PUNISHED, BOOK 1: UNDEAD is the first book in a new series of semi-weird Westerns by popular author Jackson Lowry, who is actually a prolific author of science fiction, mysteries, and Westerns under a variety of other names. I say semi-weird because while are some supernatural elements, most of the book is fairly gritty and realistic.

Vincent Bayonne is a former plantation owner from Louisiana who lost everything in the aftermath of the Civil War. His mansion was burned down by the freed slaves who worked on the plantation, and his wife and children were herded off as prisoners by Union soldiers. The soldiers tried to lynch Bayonne as well, but he escaped to hunt for his family and seek revenge on those who destroyed his life. Branded a fugitive, he’s forced to flee and eventually winds up down and out in San Francisco, where he encounters an old enemy five years after the war and his fate takes an unexpected twist.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Lowry’s prose is smooth and professional, and the action never slows down for long. He takes on the difficult task of writing about a protagonist who’s rather unsympathetic most of the time and making the reader care about him anyway. That’s not easy to do. It’s not so much a matter of rooting for Vincent Bayonne as it is being compelled to find out what’s going to happen to him next. He’s pretty well knocked around by life, but by the end of the book, even though his circumstances are, shall we say, challenging, he’s making plans to fight back against what he considers an unfair destiny. I’m eager to see where Bayonne’s vengeance quest is going to take him next.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Cimarron

Yet another Western I missed somehow, the 1960 adaptation of Edna Ferber's famous novel. (The 1931 version starring Richard Dix, which I also haven't seen, won the Academy Award for Best Picture that year.) A few weeks ago I wrote about William S. Hart's TUMBLEWEEDS, which depicted the Cherokee Strip land rush. CIMARRON also features an Oklahoma land rush, although an earlier one. That takes place early in the film, though, rather than serving as the climax. The movie goes on to cover the next 25 years of Oklahoma's history as a territory and then a state, following in the process the adventures of gambler, gunman, lawyer, and newspaperman Yancey Cravat, whose nickname is Cimarron.

Well, just about everything you'd expect to find in a movie like this is there: Indians, outlaws, gunplay, the discovery of oil, political corruption, and a fairly soap operatic love triangle. Glenn Ford, never a real favorite of mine but always solid and likable, plays Yancey Cravat. Maria Schell is his wife, and Anne Baxter (who looks great in a red silk shirt, by the way) is the good-natured prostitute who's the third leg of that romantic triangle. And man, what a supporting cast: Arthur O'Connell, Mercedes McCambridge, Harry Morgan, Edgar Buchanan, Russ Tamblyn, Charles McGraw, David Opatashu, and Vic Morrow as a sniveling villain. (It's amazing how Morrow, who was so good as the stalwart, all-American Sarge in COMBAT!, could be such an outstanding sniveling villain in most of his movies.)

CIMARRON is long and epic in scope and has some great stunt work. It's also a little overblown and too slick for its own good in places, and the plot is really predictable. (I used to write this kind of stuff for Book Creations Inc. all the time.) Despite all that, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's the kind of movie I used to watch on TV all the time, so I don't know how I missed it until now.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Now Available: Gun Trouble at Diamondback/The Jackals of Sundown - Peter Brandvold


Meet Bear Haskell, former union war hero, former Pinkerton agent, current deputy United States marshal, and lover of some repute.

Bear’s a big man—over six and a half feet tall and as broad as a barn door. He wears a necklace of bear claws taken from the grizzly that almost had him for supper. That’s the kind of man Bear is. He holds a grudge and he gives no quarter—to grizzly bears or men.

Bear rides for Chief Marshal Henry Dade out of Denver’s First District Court. In this first adventure, Bear is given the sour assignment of going after the man or men who killed his old friend, Lou Cameron. Cameron was the town marshal of Diamondback, a small, dusty settlement in the wilds of Wyoming Territory—until someone back-shot him when he was leaving the outhouse behind his office.

Bear’s relationship with Lou Cameron was complicated. They fought together in the War of Southern Rebellion, but when they came west they both ended up falling into the web of the same intoxicating Southern belle—Suellen Treadwell.

Lou took his and Suellen’s relationship one step farther. He married her. So now when Bear rides into Diamondback, he finds himself not only chin-deep in the mystery of who killed his old friend but eyebrow deep in the allure of his old friend’s still-beautiful and alluring widow.

Did Suellen kill Lou? What does Cameron’s death have to do with a remote, burned-out cabin and two fresh graves? In a heart drawn atop one of the graves is a small hide pouch with a ring in it...

If Bear Haskell can survive an ambush and a savage hanging from a group of cutthroats led by an ugly man named Krantz, he just might live to exact a reckoning for his old friend Lou.


In this second adventure, Henry Dade assigns his top deputy, Haskell, to head down to Texas and throw the cuffs on an infamous, and notoriously mysterious as well as slippery regulator named Jack Hyde whose cunning and devious methods of killing those he’s been paid to kill, as well as his uncanny ability to avoid capture, have gotten him dubbed “the Jackal.”

The Texas Rangers think that a killer killing men for a large rancher near the little town of Sundown must be Hyde. Several dead men have Hyde’s stamp—namely, that they’ve been shot in the back from long-range by a high-powered rifle. It’s widely known that the Jackal kills from long range with a large-caliber Sharps hybrid.

Complicating matters is that nobody seems to know what the Jackal looks like. No one has gotten that close and lived to tell about him. He rides like a...well, like a jackal haunting the range!

On his train journey down to Texas, Haskell meets an attractive and saucy young Pinkerton detective, Arliss Posey. A one-night-stand turns into a shared assignment. As the bodies pile up on the west Texas desert, and more jackals rear their ugly heads in Sundown, Haskell finds himself rethinking not only who the Jack Hyde might be riding for, and why he’s killing, but also just who he really is...

In the mean time, Bear must also negotiate the bountiful wiles and charming mystery of his Pinkerton partner while riding like hell to keep the Jackal from turning him toe-down!

I was privileged to read advance copies of both of these books and thoroughly enjoyed them. Nobody is better at gritty action Westerns than Peter Brandvold, and Bear Haskell is no Longarm clone but rather an interesting, compelling character in his own right. If you're a Western fan, I give this new series a high recommendation. I'm already looking forward to the next one! 

Happy Fourth of July

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Blog Anniversary

Today is the 12th anniversary of the first post on this blog. Here's what I wrote on July 3, 2004:

Following the example of my friends Bill Crider and Ed Gorman, I've decided to start a blog. I may not post every day, and what gets posted here may be pretty haphazard sometimes, but I intend to talk mostly about what I'm reading and sometimes writing, as well as the events in my life I don't deem too boring. (Whether the readers find it too boring is, of course, up to them.) Don't expect anything about politics or religion.

To start things out with some griping, our phone service was out for five days this week, following a month of power outage after power outage due to a series of bad storms. If I had to choose between the electricity and the phone being out, I'd choose the phone, but I still don't like being without it. I like email and the Internet too much. The phone was fixed today (otherwise I wouldn't be posting this), but then this afternoon one of our circuit breakers went bad, killing the air conditioner in our living room. My wife Livia (aka L.J. Washburn) can fix 'most anything, and she was able to replace the breaker. Then this evening we discovered that Sugarfoot, one of our Nigerian dwarf goats, had Crossed the Great Divide. Now Sugarfoot, like all of our dwarf goats, was a cull, not a show goat, which means that unlike the cute little things you think of when you hear "dwarf goat", this old fella was damn near the size of a Great Dane. So we spent the evening digging a large grave in black clay, not the easiest task in the world, meanwhile fighting skeeters and trying not to think about all the chiggers that were bound to be crawling on us. We managed to lay him to rest properly, though.

The last thing I read was the August 2004 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. I recently subscribed to F&SF after not reading it regularly for several years, and this was the first issue on my sub. It was a good one to start with. The best story is novella "The Tribes of Bela" by Albert E. Cowdrey. I'd never heard of Cowdrey before, but based on this story he's a darned good storyteller. "Bela" manages to be both a well-plotted, fairly-clued mystery story and a survival-on-a-hostile-planet adventure yarn. The other stories in the issue were okay, but sometimes unnecessarily obscure, in my opinion. I'm currently reading ON THE TRAIL OF FOUR by Max Brand (Frederick Faust), which originally appeared in the pulp WESTERN STORY in 1925. That's a typical swing in genres and time periods for me, because I read a little bit of everything. However, I'm really fond of pulps and moderate a Yahoo group called WesternPulps. Check it out if you have any interest in the subject.

For those of you who don't know, I'm a professional writer and have been since 1976. Yesterday I finished my 165th novel, so I'm sort of between projects at the moment. I have to do some research and come up with a proposal for a historical novel, and then the next thing on the schedule is a house-name Western novel. I have work lined up through the spring of '05, which in the world of freelance fiction writing is considered pretty good job security. Of course, it could all come to a crashing halt after that.

That's enough to start this off. Feel free to comment if the mood strikes you.

And the first comment on the blog came from Todd Mason, who I already knew from the WesternPulps group. Todd, Bill, and Ed may be the only ones reading this who read that first post back in 2004.

I'm still writing about pretty much the same things on here. I'm still writing house-name books, so I can't talk about them much. I still don't talk about politics or religion. I'm up to 335 novels now and working on #336. I don't recall reading anything by Albert E. Cowdrey since then, but I've read quite a few novels and stories by Frederick Faust. The WesternPulps group is still rolling along, not as busy these days, but I posted twice there yesterday. In looking over the old posts, I see that they're a lot chattier and don't have the level of promotion and self-promotion that social media has today. I kind of miss that. I may try to do more of it. So don't be surprised if I start talking about the weather (it's hot and dry), and the errands I need to run (car needs the oil changed and the two little dogs have to go to the vet for a check-up), and the chores I do (I've mowed and used the weed-eater and tried--none too successfully--to work on the tractor in the past few days), and the bookstores I've been to (yesterday Shayna and I went up to Denton because Recycled Books was having a 20% off sale for the holiday). After all, the word blog comes from web log, right? Sometimes I think social media has become too slick and overproduced. Or maybe I'm just a nostalgic sucker for the good ol' days of 2004. Anyway, thanks to those of you who are reading this. You're a good bunch of friends.

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Jungle Stories, Summer 1947

I've got to read some more of the Ki-Gor novels one of these days. In the meantime, I'll just look at this eye-catching George Gross cover for a while. I don't know who wrote the lead novel under the John Peter Drummond house-name, but there are also stories by Fiction House regulars Dan Cushman, Bryce Walton, and Emmett McDowell.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Thrilling Ranch Stories, Summer 1953

THRILLING RANCH STORIES was a Western romance pulp, but like its companion magazine RANCH ROMANCES, most of the stories weren't much different than what you'd find in a regular Western pulp. They just had a little more "woman interest", to use the editorial term of the time. "Knife, Fork, and Sixgun: A Novel of the Harvey Girls", by the consistently entertaining Walker A. Tompkins, sounds pretty good to me. Elsewhere in this issue are stories by H.A. DeRosso, Joseph Chadwick, Ben Frank, and Harold F. Cruickshank, all behind a cover by Sam Cherry, who could sure paint some nice-looking redheads.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Now Available: Blaze! Bloody Wyoming - John Hegenberger

All J.D. Blaze wanted to do was celebrate his wife Kate’s birthday, but when you’re the Old West’s only pair of husband-and-wife gunfighters, trouble is never far away. A savage attack and a dangerous injury not only threaten Kate Blaze’s life, she also finds herself a captive of twisted killers and unsure of her own identity. But J.D. will battle with his wits, a pair of rock-hard fists, and a blazing .45 to find Kate and free her before it’s too late!

Acclaimed author John Hegenberger joins the BLAZE! team with a scorching tale of hate and revenge that leads to an apocalyptic showdown. Read BLOODY WYOMING and see why BLAZE! is today’s bestselling Adult Western series.

Forgotten Books: The Man From Nowhere - T.T. Flynn

T.T. Flynn has been one of my favorite Western pulp authors for quite a while, and I think the novels he wrote in the Fifties are even better than his pulp stories. The title character of THE MAN FROM NOWHERE, published by Dell in 1958, is Roger Travis, who, after his wife is killed by Indians, abandons his ranch in Wyoming and goes to South America, where he’s believed to have been killed in an avalanche.

But Travis isn’t dead, and when he finally returns to the States to try to make a fresh start in life, he finds that his identity has been taken over by a stranger. Travis, now calling himself Clay Mara (Flynn doesn’t explain why he chooses that name), sets out to track down the thief, and the trail leads to a ranch in New Mexico owned by the father of a friend who really was killed in that South American avalanche. This is a pretty complicated set-up that would have worked, with some adjustments, as a contemporary hardboiled crime novel, which isn’t surprising because Flynn’s Westerns usually have some sort of crime element and he also wrote detective fiction for the pulps.

The plot gets even more complex as Travis/Mara finds himself in the middle of a range war as well as a couple of overlapping romantic triangles. Flynn is always in control of the various threads of his story, and his characters are really well-developed. Travis/Mara is definitely the hero of the story, but all the other characters are a mixture of good and bad and I wasn’t sure who to root for along the way or how things were going to turn out. That makes for some pretty compelling reading. Throw in some fine, gritty action scenes and you have a really top-notch Western novel. THE MAN FROM NOWHERE is one of the best books I’ve read this year, and if you’re a Western fan I give it a high recommendation.