Saturday, March 25, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Texas Rangers, March 1956

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. The scan is of my copy, which I try to do when possible.

The Jim Hatfield novel in this issue, "Guns Across the River", was written by Peter Germano under the Jackson Cole house-name. It's a cattleman vs. sheepherders yarn, but Germano puts a lot more plot that that into the story. In fact, there are almost too many characters and too much plot for a novel that runs maybe 40,000 words. Hatfield is sent to Peaceful Valley to stop a bloody range war before it breaks out, but he's barely gotten there when he finds a dead body and then a would-be killer takes a shot at him. There's a weak sheriff, a stubborn deputy, a cattle baron, the cattle baron's two beautiful daughters, a former schoolteacher turned gunslinger, a kidnapped youngster, an old-timer who's supposed to be dead but apparently isn't, a blustering lawyer who seems to have been inspired by W.C. Fields (his name is H. Goldwyn Pepper), and a West Texas winter storm. The action hardly ever slows down for more than a few paragraphs.

Germano was the most hard-boiled and realistic of the Hatfield authors, and he was also capable of the occasional touch of poetry in his work. I was a little worried that he had crammed too much into this story, but he maintained control over the plot and I wound up liking it a great deal. The somewhat bittersweet ending is very effective. Germano rewrote and expanded this into the novel WAR IN PEACEFUL VALLEY, which was published three years later as half of an Ace Double under his usual Barry Cord pseudonym. Texas Ranger Jim Hatfield becomes Deputy U.S. Marshal Matt Vickers, but everything else appears to be pretty much the same. I have this book but haven't read it, and I probably won't, now that I've read and enjoyed the original version.

George Roulston is an author I'm not familiar with. He appears to have published only half a dozen stories in the mid-Fifties. But his story in this issue, "Moment of Violence", is a good one. It's about an ex-convict returning to his home town after serving ten years for a stagecoach robbery in which the driver was killed. It was the convict's partner who actually pulled the trigger, but he never revealed who that was (although it's no secret from the reader). The reactions his return provokes lead to more violence. There's enough plot here for a novel, the sort that Gold Medal published during that era, but Roulston does a good job boiling it down to a short story.

H.G. Ashburn is another author unknown to me who published a few stories in the mid-Fifties. "Miguel's Private Miracle" is about scalphunters who show up at a small mission and try to terrorize the priest in revealing the hiding place of a group of Indian women and children. It's more about the nature of religious faith than anything else, making it a little offbeat for a Western pulp, but it's well-written and I enjoyed it.

The parade of unknown-to-me authors continues with Pat Pfeifer, another whose work appears to be confined to a handful of stories in the mid-Fifties. "Time Enough to Die" is about the showdown between a marshal and two brothers who want to either kill him or run him out of town. The marshal's newly hired deputy is a former friend of one of the brothers, so the lawman doesn't know if he's really facing two enemies, or three. Everything plays out like you'd expect it to, but the writing is good enough that it makes for an enjoyable yarn.

Even more obscure is Cameron Roosevelt, who has only two stories listed in the Fictionmags Index, "Showdown at Jericho" in this issue, and a story in an issue of 2-GUN WESTERN a couple of months later. "Showdown at Jericho" is a revenge tale, with the protagonist tracking down the man who stole both his wife and his money. The inevitable gunfight is resolved in a fairly clever manner, but what sets this story apart is its noirish tone and some excellent writing. This one is good enough that it's hard to believe Roosevelt sold only one other story, which makes me wonder if the name is a pseudonym for another, more well-known writer.

Finally we come to an author I've heard of, John Jo Carpenter, who was really John Reese. Reese used the Carpenter pseudonym for scores of stories in various Western pulps during the Forties and Fifties, while writing mystery and slick magazine stories under his real name. Later he wrote hardback and paperback Western novels as John Reese, a couple of which I've read and remember enjoying. His story in this issue, "The Reluctant Hangman", is a real oddity for a Western pulp in that there's no action in it at all. Instead it's a tale of psychological turmoil as a young deputy struggles with having to carry out a murderer's hanging because the sheriff is laid up with a heart attack. It's a gripping, very well-written story and makes me think I need to read more by Reese as John Jo Carpenter.

Eric Allen is another familiar name. He wrote a number of paperback Westerns, including a series set in a town called Whiskey Smith. I've never read any of them, but his novelette that wraps up this issue, "Death on the Chaco", is a good one, if a little by-the-numbers when it comes to the plot. It's a yarn about a young man who comes home to the ranch he just inherited from his murdered uncle, only find himself caught up in a brewing range war with a group of sodbusters. The plot twists in this one are pretty obvious, but Allen writes in a nice, easygoing style and I enjoyed the story.

There are also a few columns and features, but as usual I just skimmed them. My interest is in the fiction, and in that respect, this is an above-average issue. There's not a bad story in the bunch, and three of them—the Hatfield novel and the stories by Cameron Roosevelt and John Reese—are excellent. The quality of TEXAS RANGERS remained high right up until its end a couple of years later, and if you happen to have a copy of this issue on your shelves, it's well worth reading.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Forgotten Books: Ki-Gor--and the Forbidden Mountain - John Peter Drummond

What seems to be yet another new author comes on board this series with KI-GOR—AND THE FORBIDDEN MOUNTAIN, originally published in the Spring 1940 issue of JUNGLE STORIES. At first it appears that whoever wrote this novel never read the previous one, since the continuity that marked the first four stories is missing. Eventually, there are some references back to the previous novel, including the reappearance of one of the villains, which makes me wonder if the author of this one read the earlier story while he was in the middle of writing. There's a definite change in tone about halfway through KI-GOR—AND THE FORBIDDEN MOUNTAIN.

The biggest difference, though, between this novel and the previous ones is the characterization of Helene Vaughn, the beautiful redhead who shares Ki-Gor's adventures. In the earlier novels, Helene is a real bad-ass, picking up a rifle or a Tommy gun and fighting the bad guys right alongside the Lord of the Jungle. In this book, she's ditzy and incompetent almost all the way through, although she does quite a bit to save the day in the late going. She's certainly not the Helene the reader has come to know in the first four novels.

All that said, KI-GOR—AND THE FORBIDDEN MOUNTAIN does have some things going for it. The writing is reasonably good, the action scenes are okay, and as a lost race novel, it definitely shows a lot of Edgar Rice Burroughs influence. That lost race lives on top of a mysterious flat-topped mountain surrounded by a sinister force that kills invisibly, which leads the natives in the area to dub it the Invisible Death. (Well, what else would you call it?)

This is the weakest of the novels so far, an uneasy mixture of the goofiness of the early stories with the more hardboiled realism of KI-GOR—AND THE SECRET LEGIONS OF SIMBA. I enjoyed it enough to keep reading and I hope the next novel will pick up the pace again.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Bloody Arizona - Frank Leslie (Peter Brandvold)

Peter Brandvold, writing as Frank Leslie, brings back his popular character Yakima Henry in BLOODY ARIZONA, the first of four connected novels to feature the character. This one opens with the drifting half-breed gunfighter in jail, but before the book is over, he'll have pinned on a lawman's badge and set out to avenge a murderous raid on the settlement of Apache Springs in Arizona Territory. Along the way there's some domestic drama with a couple of beautiful sisters and an encounter with a washed-up old outlaw called the Rio Grande Kid who proves to be a surprisingly effective sidekick.

As always with Brandvold's work, the action scenes are superb and the setting is rendered vividly and effectively. Yakima Henry is a fine character (every time I read one of Brandvold's books, I think the protagonist is my favorite of his characters—until I read the next one and change my mind), and the Rio Grande Kid shamelessly steals every scene he's in. Brandvold is one of the most purely entertaining writers in the business today, and BLOODY ARIZONA is another great tale well told. Highly recommended.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Terror Tales, August 1939

Pulp covers don't get more lurid than in the Weird Menace genre, and this one from the August 1939 issue of TERROR TALES raises that luridness to new levels. But you would have spotted it right away on the newsstand, wouldn't you? Inside are stories by stories by pulp stalwarts Wyatt Blassingame, Russell Gray (who was really Bruno Fischer), and Ray Cummings, writing under his own name and in collaboration with his daughter Gabrielle as Gabriel Wilson.

A Middle of the Night Music Post: The Captain of Her Heart - Double

Haven't been posting many of these lately, but I'm up sick tonight (just a bad cold), so here's one I like.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Wild West Weekly, June 15, 1940

Robert Stanley is probably best known for his paperback covers, but he did a number of pulp covers, too. I really like this one for WILD WEST WEEKLY. The colors are very eye-catching. So is that title, "The Devil's Calling Card", the lead novel by Chuck Martin, who also wrote as Charles M. Martin. Elsewhere in the issue is a Sonny Tabor yarn by Paul S. Powers writing as Ward M. Stevens, plus an installment of the serial "Don Hurricane" by Brad Buckner (our ol' pard Ed Earl Repp) and stories by J. Allan Dunn (writing as John B. Strong) and S. Omar Barker. Looks like a fine all-around issue.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Forgotten Books: Just the Way It Is - James Hadley Chase

JUST THE WAY IT IS was published originally in 1944 under the pseudonym Raymond Marshall, although it's been reprinted several times as by James Hadley Chase, the much more famous pen-name of its author, Rene Raymond. It appears again under the Chase name in a recent double volume from Stark House, along with BLONDE'S REQUIEM, another novel first published as by Raymond Marshall.

Chase (we might as well call him that) was an English author who specialized in crime and mystery novels set in the United States. In JUST THE WAY IT IS, the story revolves around two neighboring small cities, Bentonville and Fairview, as well as a slum area outside Fairview known as Pinder's End. Bentonville's criminal underworld is controlled by a mysterious mastermind named Vardis Spade, but nobody knows who Spade really is or what he looks like. Clare Russell, a newspaper reporter, stumbles across the fact that a low-level criminal has bought Pinder's End. Clare's boyfriend's best friend is a gambler named Harry Duke, who is widely reputed to be a dangerous, shady character. Harry Duke rents an office from poolroom owner Paul Schultz, who has a beautiful mistress called Lorelli and a driver/gunman named Joe. All of these people, and assorted others, are vying to find out what suddenly makes Pinder's End so valuable and get their hands on whatever it is, no matter what it takes, including double-crossing, kidnapping, and murder.

The plot of this novel is actually pretty simple once you get to the core of it, but with all the conniving characters running around drinking, smoking, and killing each other, Chase makes it seem complicated. It's all as hardboiled as can be, with lots of snappy banter and terse action. I've read quite a few James Hadley Chase books, and they're always fast-moving and entertaining. JUST THE WAY IT IS fits that description very well. I had a fine time reading it. In my opinion, Chase never really succeeds in sounding like an American—he still sounds like an Englishman trying to sound like an American—but hey, if I was trying to write crime novels set in 1940s England, I probably wouldn't get it completely right, either. What he succeeds at is spinning good yarns, and if that's what you're looking for, Stark House has published quite a few of his novels. I recommend any or all of them.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Overlooked Movies: Skiptrace (2016)

I'd never heard of this Jackie Chan movie until Livia came across it. The title is rather deceptive, since the movie isn't about skiptracers at all. Chan is a police detective in Hong Kong who's trying to bring down a drug kingpin known as the Matador. When his partner is killed in that effort, Chan becomes obsessed with the case. (Stop me if you've heard this plot before. On the other hand, don't, because then there's no post.) Johnny Knoxville plays an American gambler/con man who has the members of a Russian crime family after him. He stumbles across some information connected to the case Chan is working on. So they have to team up and work together to solve both problems, and that winds up with them getting lost in Mongolia before they finally get back to Hong Kong. Along the way there are wisecracks, crazy, death-defying stunts, and some spectacular Chinese landscapes.

This action/buddy comedy/road movie is really by the numbers, but Jackie Chan is always likeable and fun to watch. Johnny Knoxville doesn't annoy me as much as he does some people (faint praise, I know). And the script has a few over-the-top goofy moments that make the movie better than it could have been. SKIPTRACE isn't in the upper ranks of Jackie Chan movies, but it is a good popcorn movie, which is probably all it ever set out to be.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Wonder Stories, April 1947

That cover is by Earle Bergey. (Was there ever any doubt?) I know his work was controversial at the time, but dang, I like his covers. This issue of THRILLING WONDER STORIES contains stories by Henry Kuttner, Bryce Walton, George O. Smith, L. Sprague de Camp, and Will F. Jenkins twice, once under his most famous pseudonym Murray Leinster and once as William Fitzgerald. My old mentor Sam Merwin Jr. was the editor. Good stuff.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Max Brand's Western Magazine, September 1953

That's a nice atmospheric cover by H.W. Scott on this issue of MAX BRAND'S WESTERN MAGAZINE, and only the Max Brand story appears to be a reprint (from the January 2, 1937 issue of ARGOSY). The other authors in this issue include H.A. DeRosso, George C. Appell, Gordon D. Shirreffs, Fred Grove, and the house-name Bart Cassidy. That's a good bunch of writers.