Saturday, December 16, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Dime Western, August 1939


You could always count on Popular Publications for top-notch Western pulps, and DIME WESTERN was the flagship of their line. This issue has a great bunch of writers in its pages: Walt Coburn, Harry F. Olmsted (under his own name and possibly as by Bart Cassidy, the latter being a Tensleep Maxon story), Cliff Farrell, and Thomas Mount twice (as Stone Cody and Oliver King).

Friday, December 15, 2017

Best, Bill


So there I was, sometime in 1978, reading a copy of ELLERY QUEEN’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE, which had a small section of classified ads on the last page. Among those tiny-print listings, there was an ad for something called THE NOT SO PRIVATE EYE, which seemed to be a fanzine devoted to private eye fiction, my long-time favorite sub-genre of mystery fiction. Back issues were available, so I sent off a check to the editor/publisher, Andy Jaysnovitch, and in due time I got a box in the mail containing all the issues that had been published up until then. I was only vaguely aware of what fanzines are, and that was because I’d read about ones devoted to science fiction, although I’d never seen one. The small Texas town where I grew up wasn’t a place where you would run into such things.

But when I started reading TNSPE, as it was known to its subscribers, I knew right away that I loved this sort of thing: articles about private eye fiction and its authors; reviews of books new and old; and maybe best of all, a letters section where fellow fans could get together. A prehistoric version of Facebook, if you will.

As I looked through those letters and saw the names and addresses of the guys who had written in, I noticed one thing right away. Some of them were from Texas! There were fellow fans of the stuff that I loved! I had never met or even corresponded with any. As far as I could tell, I was the only person who read Mike Shayne or Shell Scott novels anywhere in the vast Lone Star State.

Not only was one of those fans in Texas, he actually lived in Brownwood, a town I knew quite well because I had relatives all over that part of the country. Bill Crider, his name was. So I acted on impulse and wrote him a letter introducing myself. (The other two Texas fans who had letters in TNSPE were Joe Lansdale and Tom Johnson, and I could write a lot about them, too, but this is Bill’s day.)

Bill wrote back immediately. He recognized my name from a story I had published in MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE, “Down in the Valley”. That started a pattern that went on for years: I’d write a letter to Bill, and five or six days later, I’d get one in return. (The post office was a little more efficient and dependable in those days, or at least so it seemed.) We talked about books we’d read and movies we’d seen and got to know about each other’s families. After a while, since Brownwood was only a two-hour drive away from where I lived, I drove down there one Sunday and had lunch with Bill, his wife Judy, and their kids Allen and Angela. Later, Bill took us all out to Greenleaf Cemetery and showed me the grave of Robert E. Howard, a writer both of us admired greatly. And he gave me a bunch of duplicate paperbacks from his collection, great old Gold Medals and other vintage paperbacks.

Later, I made another trip to Brownwood and delivered a VCR to him. They had just started selling those to the public, and my dad sold them at his TV shop, so I was able to get him a good deal. The thing was enormous and heavy, had a corded remote, and would record a whole two hours on a videotape. But for the early Eighties, it was a pretty cool deal. On that same trip, Bill took me to a couple of used bookstores in Brownwood, so I went home with more books again.

Around that same time, Bill sold his first book, a Nick Carter novel written with a friend of his named Jack Davis. I remember unfolding one of Bill’s letters and seeing the first line: “The Nick Carter book SOLD!” From that beginning, he went on to become one of the most beloved and acclaimed mystery writers of the past three decades with his Sheriff Dan Rhodes series as well as other mystery series and stand-alones. And while he was doing that, he published a bunch of critically acclaimed Western and horror novels and became one of the most reliable authors of house-name men’s adventure and Western novels. We worked together on six books, four in the Cody’s Law series under the name Matthew S. Hart and two in the Trailsman series as Jon Sharpe.

We saw each other fairly often at conventions like Aggiecon and Armadillocon and best of all, the annual Cluefests in Dallas. On the Friday evening of Cluefest, Dallas mystery fan Barry Gardner (who, as it turned out, was the son of Bennie Gardner, aka Gunnison Steele, one of the Western pulp authors I greatly enjoyed) held a barbecue at his house for a small group of fans and writers that included at various times Bill, Scott Cupp, Marv Lachman, Richard Moore, Steve Stilwell, Bruce Taylor, and others I know I’m forgetting. Those evenings are some of the best convention-related memories I have.

With the rise of the Internet, Bill and I traded emails instead of letters, but we stayed in touch. He started a blog (which in the early days featured frequent posts about how much he disliked mowing his lawn) and that blog inspired me to start one of my own. By this time he had moved from Brownwood to Alvin, near Houston, to teach at Alvin Community College. We still ran into each other at conventions but not as often since real life kept us away from them more than it used to. But every time we saw each other, it was like the proverbial no time at all had passed. We could sit down and pick right up talking about books, writing, movies, and anything and everything else.

The trials that Bill has gone through over the past decade are probably well known to everyone reading this. He helped his wife Judy battle cancer and then, after losing her, fought the disease himself. Through it all, he’s continued to turn out fine books, kept producing his blog until very recently, and adopted three kittens whose luckiest day ever was the day Bill found them. He’s been able to make it to a few conventions. I saw him at Armadillocon in Austin in 2016, and again, the times we spent together there will always be favorite convention memories.

At the bottom of that very first letter from Brownwood all those years ago was the signature, “Best, Bill”. That’s exactly what everyone who knows Bill has gotten from him: his best friendship, and it’s very good indeed. Here’s to you, Bill, with thanks for the past forty years. It’s been my honor and my great pleasure.

Best,
James 

Forgotten Books, Bill Crider Edition: We'll Always Have Murder - Bill Crider


I wanted to read something I hadn’t read before for Bill Crider Week, which is no easy task because I’ve read a lot of Bill’s books over the years. But somehow I’d never read WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE MURDER, which was intended to be the first of a series featuring Humphrey Bogart, narrated by Terry Scott, a private eye who works for Jack Warner. Like Bill Lennox and Dan Turner before him, Terry Scott is a Hollywood troubleshooter whose job is keeping movie stars out of trouble. In this case, the star is Bogart. Frank Burleson, a sleazy private detective who works for one of the lower-rung studios in much the same capacity that Scott works for Warner Brothers, is trying to blackmail Bogart. Jack Warner wants Scott to get Burleson off the star’s back. But when Scott and Bogart pay a visit to Burleson, they find the guy murdered—with a .45 stolen from Bogart’s apartment during a wild party lying beside the body—and a couple of hostile cops show up mere moments later to complete the frame.

All you have to do is read that description of the opening to know that this is the sort of book I love, and I suspect many of you do, too. Naturally enough, Scott and Bogart set out to find the real killer in order to clear Bogart’s name. If Burleson was trying to blackmail Bogart, it stands to reason he had other blackmail targets as well, and since most of the people who were at Bogart’s party and had the opportunity to steal the murder gun are working together on a jungle picture at Superior Studios, that leads the two investigators into more trouble in a back-lot jungle, where, before you know it, another murder takes place.

What do you want in a book like this? Snappy patter? Gangsters? Thuggish henchmen? Night clubs? Beautiful actresses? Fistfights and shootouts and our heroes being taken for a ride? You get all that and more in WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE MURDER, and all of it told in a smooth, fast-paced style. Bill does a great job of blending historical characters with fictional ones (Peter Lorre’s cameo appearance is wonderful). Writing a historical mystery like this can be tricky. It’s easy to go overboard with the period details. Bill never does this, and as a result, the setting is very evocative without being heavy-handed.

I can’t even pretend to be an objective reviewer in this case, since Bill and I have been friends for more than 40 years, but I can tell you this in all sincerity and you can believe me or not: WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE MURDER is a wonderful book, one of the most entertaining I’ve read in a long time, and I give it my highest recommendation. And I’d say that whether I knew the guy or not.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Fantastic Adventures, December 1952


Okay, maybe I'm crazy, or just a 12-year-old boy at heart, or both, but that cover by Robert Gibson Jones is just great! Riding in a sling under the neck of a giant bat while fighting spaceships with a smoking raygun! I mean, what could possibly be cooler? I don't know which story in this issue of FANTASTIC ADVENTURES it goes with, if any of them. Milton Lesser, who went on to become Stephen Marlowe, of course, is the only author in it I've heard of. The others are a mixture of house-names and writers I'm not familiar with. I'll bet I'd have a good time reading it anyway. Or I could just look at the cover and imagine my own story to go with it.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

A Million Words and Counting


Today I reached a million words written for the year, for the 13th year in a row. Superstitious? Who, me? But I think there's a good chance I'll try for that mark again next year, and hey, if you're gonna write a million words a year for 14 straight years, you might as well go for 15, am I right?

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Novel and Short Stories, October 1956


Well, that's one of the oddest Western pulp covers I've run across. I'm not sure I actually like it, but it's certainly eye-catching. The artwork is by Stanley Borack, who did the covers for a bunch of men's adventure magazines. Inside this issue of WESTERN NOVEL AND SHORT STORIES are stories by Elmore Leonard, Noel Loomis, S. Omar Barker, Edwin Booth, John H. Latham, and William Vance, which is a fairly strong line-up of writers.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Forgotten Books: The Ebony Juju - Gordon MacCreagh


I enjoyed the first Kingi Bwana novella, “The Slave Runner”, quite a bit, but Gordon MacCreagh’s second novella in the series, “The Ebony Juju” (originally published in the July 13, 1930 issue of ADVENTURE) is even better.

This yarn finds the American hunter and freelance trouble-shooter named King being asked by an official of the British government to investigate rumors of gun-smuggling and a possible native uprising around Lake Victoria in Africa. King, not wanting to get wrapped up in all the red tape of working for the government, refuses. But he plans to head in that direction anyway, since he’s on the trail of a fortune in ivory that’s supposed to be buried somewhere in the area.

Wouldn’t you know it, the bad guys, fearing King’s possible involvement, decide to kill him to eliminate that potential threat to their scheme. (Doc Savage’s enemies made this same mistake, over and over again.) The attempted assassination fails, of course, but now they’ve gotten King actually interested in what’s going on in the area. He discovers that the natives (and yes, they’re very restless) are being stirred up by a large idol carved of ebony that can move and talk when it’s possessed by the spirits. (Didn’t I see this same plot in at least one Tarzan movie?)

Eventually King figures out everything that’s going on and foils the villains. You knew he would. Along the way, though, there are a couple of very suspenseful scenes and a lot of fine, authentic writing about Africa. These Kingi Bwana stories are starting to remind me of Robert E. Howard’s El Borak yarns in the way they’re structured, which makes me wonder if Howard read them. We know he was a fan of ADVENTURE. The locations are different, of course, and MacCreagh’s work lacks the breakneck pace and action of Howard’s stories. MacCreagh’s stories move along more deliberately and seem more concerned with creating tense scenes, which they do quite well. But there’s the same element of the “Great Game”, the political and espionage manueverings between England and Russia as they try to solidify their power in what they consider a backwards part of the world.

I’m only two novellas in, but I’m really enjoying this series so far. In this story, we learn that King is a Westerner, having grown up in Dakota Territory, and if they had made a Kingi Bwana movie back in the Thirties, Randolph Scott would have been perfect for the part. I’m glad I have the entire series and will continue reading and reporting on it here.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Overlooked Movies: Diggstown (1992)


James Woods and Oliver Platt are con men. Louis Gossett Jr. is a boxer involved in the game they're running. Bruce Dern is the mark. Heather Graham is young and beautiful. Punches are thrown, blood is spilled, and plot twists abound.

I vaguely remember when DIGGSTOWN came out, but we never watched it and I couldn't tell you why. I like boxing movies and I like con game movies, and this is a pretty entertaining combination of the two genres, with a little Southern small town Americana thrown in. The supporting cast includes Randall "Tex" Cobb, who I've always liked. So I enjoyed DIGGSTOWN quite a bit and am glad we finally watched it.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Ernest Haycox and the Western - Richard W. Etulain


Reading ON A SILVER DESERT, the biography of Ernest Haycox by his son Ernest Haycox Jr., prompted me to read this book as well. ERNEST HAYCOX AND THE WESTERN by Richard W. Etulain is a fairly new book, released earlier this year, although much of it is drawn from Etulain’s 1966 doctoral dissertation. It’s not a biography, although there’s necessarily some information in it about Haycox’s life, and not exactly a critical examination of Haycox’s work, either, but more of a book about Haycox’s work and career, how he approached the writing of his stories and novels and how he handled the life of a professional author of Western fiction in the first half of the 20th Century.

This is just the sort of book I really enjoy. I never tire of reading about what, how, and why writers write what they do. Etulain devotes a lengthy chapter to Haycox’s time as a Western pulpster, from 1924 to 1930. After that, although Haycox still wrote some for the pulps, he had broken in to the slicks and sold most of his work to COLLIER’S. As a pulp fan, this part of the book is probably the most interesting to me, but the later chapters about Haycox’s work for the slicks, the movies based on his stories, and his efforts late in life to break away from traditional Westerns and write major historical novels, are all well written and well worth reading.

Having read these two books, I’m in the odd position of having almost read more about Haycox and his work than I’ve actually read of his novels and stories. I’m exaggerating, of course, but because, as I’ve mentioned before, I was never much of a fan of his books, I’ve barely scratched the surface of what he produced. I have quite a few volumes on his work on my shelves, though, and plan to read something else by him soon.


Sunday, December 03, 2017

Fast Job


Due to a schedule bottleneck largely of my own making, I wound up with just three weeks to write an 80,000 word historical novel. That would have been a pretty fast pace even back in my younger days, and now it's a lot more than I normally do. But I felt like I had to give it a try.

So just a few minutes ago, I sent the manuscript to my editor in New York. 82,522 words written in 19 straight days. Not something I'd want to do again any time soon. But I think the book turned out to be pretty good, and that's the most important thing.

I'll be starting the next one tomorrow.

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Hollywood Detective, October 1945


It's not just the number of words Robert Leslie Bellem wrote that's impressive, although that has to be considerable, it's the sheer number of stories. For example, for every 90,000 word novel I write, Bellem had to come up with ten or twelve workable short story plots to equal the same wordage. That's insane. I can't even imagine how many hundreds and hundreds of plots he created. (And sure, he probably repeated himself some, but still . . .)

What prompts this is the fact that Bellem wrote every story in this issue of HOLLYWOOD DETECTIVE, four Dan Turner yarns under his own name and a non-series story as Jerome Severs Perry. And this is hardly the only issue of a pulp written entirely by Bellem. The guy was a wonder. At least he didn't do the cover for this issue, but whoever did turned out a good one.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Lariat Story, November 1947


Good ol' LARIAT STORY. For two thin dimes, you got covers like this one by Norman Saunders, stories by authors such as Les Savage Jr., H.A. DeRosso, John Jo Carpenter (John Reese), Will C. Brown (really C.S. Boyles, the other author from Cross Plains), Rollin Brown, W.F. Bragg, and Ben Frank. (Well, I'm not much of a Ben Frank fan, but I like everything else I've read by those other guys.) Plus story titles like "Gun-Witch From Wyoming". I think the readers got their money's worth.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Forgotten Books: On A Silver Desert: The Life of Ernest Haycox - Ernest Haycox Jr.


I always enjoy reading about writers, and that inspired me to pick up a copy of ON A SILVER DESERT: THE LIFE OF ERNEST HAYCOX, a biography by the Western author’s son Ernest Haycox Jr. I’ve never been a big fan of Haycox’s work, although it’s grown on me in recent years. I’ve found that I really enjoy his early pulp novellas, more so than his later novels, which he regarded as more serious and ambitious. But you know me—give me a bunch of ridin’ and shootin’ and fightin’, and I’m happy.

Although I’m more interested in Haycox’s work as a writer, Haycox Jr. does a fine job with the family history and in painting a vivid picture of his father’s personal life to go along with the professional. I learned a lot about Haycox and his career that I didn’t know, and perhaps most importantly, this biography makes me want to read more of his work.

The one thing in the book I’d take issue with is a comment in the foreword by Ronald L. Davis which mentions that the Western Writers of America referred to their annual awards as the Erny (after Haycox) until they changed it to the Spur Award. I don’t believe this is right at all. I seem to remember reading that there was some discussion among WWA’s membership (at the time, many of them were founders of the organization) about calling the award the Erny, but that never got off the ground and it’s always been the Spur (and not the Golden Spur, another common mistake that people keep repeating).

One quibble in a lengthy book admittedly is pretty minor, so I don’t hesitate to give a high recommendation to ON A SILVER DESERT. (The title comes from an early Haycox novel, THE SILVER DESERT, which I’ve read and enjoyed.) For anyone interested in the history of Western fiction or in the life of a professional writer in the first half of the 20th Century, it’s well worth reading.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Play a Cold Hand - Terence Faherty


A while back I read THE HOLLYWOOD OP, a collection of stories by Terence Faherty featuring private eye Scott Elliott. These ranged in time period from the Forties to the Sixties, and I thought they were great. I picked up copies of some of Faherty’s novels starring Elliott but you know me, attention span of a six-week-old puppy, so I never got around to reading them. However, I recently got my hands on an ARC of Faherty’s latest Scott Elliott novel, PLAY A COLD HAND, and read it immediately. And I’m very glad I did.

This one takes place mostly in 1974, although there’s a lengthy flashback to 1952 and a murder that took place in 1944 figures prominently in the plot. Elliott’s old boss, long retired from the private detective business, is murdered while trying to solve one last big case. In fact, the book opens with Elliott being called to the scene of the murder and talking to a friendly cop, for all the world like the opening of a Mickey Spillane novel with Mike Hammer and Pat Chambers.

However, that’s the only thing in PLAY A COLD HAND reminiscent of Spillane. This novel is much more in the Raymond Chandler/Ross Macdonald vein, all the way down to a late reference to a Chandler novel that provides a clue. The plot is properly convoluted, involving mobsters, a con game, a beautiful torch singer, movie stars, blackmail, black marketeering during World War II, and numerous secrets bubbling up from the past to cause trouble in the present.

To put it simply, this is a wonderful book. It’s set in 1974, as I said, and reads like it could have been written then. It passes the Front Porch Test with flying colors, right down to the masterful solution that had me smacking my forehead and looking back to see if the vital clues were really all there. And sure enough they were.

Don’t let anybody tell you they don’t write ’em like they used to. Sometimes they do, and PLAY A COLD HAND is a prime example. It’ll be out soon from Perfect Crime Books, and I give it my highest recommendation.


Sunday, November 26, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Adventures, May 1934


I've seen a lot of "guy fighting a bear" covers over the years--on pulps, on men's adventure magazines, and on outdoor and hunting magazines. This is a pretty good one. There are some top pulpsters inside this issue of THRILLING ADVENTURES as well: L.P. Holmes, Arthur J. Burks, Frederick C. Painton, Charles Green, L. Ron Hubbard, John Scott Douglas, and Syl McDowell.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Masked Rider Western, December 1949


I haven't read this particular Masked Rider novel, but since it's by Walker A. Tompkins, I'm sure it's pretty good. Tompkins always seemed to have a nice touch for the character in the ones by him that I've read. There are some other top-notch writers in this issue: L.P. Holmes, Lee Bond, and Clee Woods.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Forgotten Books: The Night Hell's Corners Died - Clay Ringold (Ray Hogan)


Clay Ringold was really Ray Hogan, and if you’ve read any of Hogan’s numerous Western novels published as Ace Doubles, you know what to expect from his work: a short, tough-minded, fast-paced action Western yarn, told in a terse, very effective style.

That’s certainly the case with THE NIGHT HELL’S CORNERS DIED, published under the Ringold name in 1972. This one is even tighter than usual, as Hogan compresses all the action into a single 12-hour span. The plot is simple: the respectable businessmen in the former trail town of Hell’s Corners decide it’s time to clean up the lawless element in the settlement, so they hire a town-taming marshal. But he proves not to be up to the job as the outlaws and the crooked saloon owner whose establishment is their headquarters all fight back. When the bad guys go on a rampage that threatens to destroy the town, local ranch hand and former gunfighter Cord Munger, who has put his violent ways behind him for the most part, winds up being the only chance for Hell’s Corners to survive.

This is pretty standard stuff, but Hogan puts a nice spin on it by having Munger be more of an anti-hero than a hero. He’s almost as unsympathetic as the villains and would gladly ride off and let the outlaws run roughshod over the town, if not for a young orphan with whom Munger feels a certain kinship, having been raised in an orphanage himself. Once Munger does decide to take a hand, his plan to battle a much superior force by himself is pretty clever.

Ray Hogan was never a ground-breaking Western writer, but he’s also never let me down. His books are always entertaining. I really enjoyed THE NIGHT HELL’S CORNERS DIED, and if you’re a fan of traditional Westerns, it’s well worth reading.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving Western Pulp: Wild West Weekly, November 26, 1932


There are at least three Thanksgiving stories in this issue of WILD WEST WEEKLY: "Sonny Tabor's Trail to Thanksgiving" by Paul S. Powers writing as Ward M. Stevens; "Circle J's Thanksgiving Guest" by Ronald Oliphant writing as Cleve Endicott; and "One Turkey--Plenty Tough", a Shorty Masters yarn by Allan R. Bosworth. I suspect that "Celebratin' in the Thunder Birds" by Reginald C. Barker writing as Lee Harrington may be a Thanksgiving story as well. Other authors in the issue are Walker A. Tompkins and Lee Bond, once as himself and once as Frank J. Litchfield. The cover art is by H.W. Reusswig. The cover scan and the information comes from the Fictionmags Index, that invaluable site for which I'm very grateful. I'm also thankful for family, friends, and all of you who read this blog. I hope it's a wonderful day for all of you.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Big Showdown - Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins


I enjoyed the first book in this series, THE LEGEND OF CALEB YORK, which was Max Allan Collins' novelization of an unproduced movie script Mickey Spillane wrote for his friend John Wayne. I think the second book, THE BIG GUNDOWN, by Collins based on Spillane's characters, is even better.

Legendary gunfighter and former Wells Fargo detective Caleb York has been serving as the temporary sheriff in Trinidad, New Mexico Territory, but as the book opens he has turned over the job to an old friend of his and is about to leave for San Diego, where he's going to work for the Pinkertons. Unfortunately, a bank robbery occurs just before the stagecoach that will take York away from Trinidad arrives. This bloody crime keeps York from leaving and forces him to put on a badge again as he tries to find the bank robber who escaped and recover the stolen money.

Then there are a couple of murders, leading York to realize that more is going on than a simple bank holdup. On top of that, five gunfighting brothers who have a grudge against him are on their way to Trinidad to settle the score. And there may be more to that than there appears to be at first, too.

THE BIG SHOWDOWN is a really entertaining mixture of Western and crime novel. Caleb York is a good character, more flawed than the legend surrounding him might suggest but that just makes him human. His old geezer sidekick (I'm seeing him more as Al "Fuzzy" St. John rather than Gabby Hayes) is great, and the other supporting characters are interesting, too. As usual, Collins' fast-paced prose is smooth as can be. This is a fine traditional Western and I had a really good time reading it. There'll be at least one more book in the series, and I'm looking forward to it.

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.

#355


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.