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.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Forgotten Books: Owl-Hoot Horde - Clint Douglas (Lawrence A. Keating)

Kid Calvert is the only son of outlaw Gunner Calvert and was raised by Gunner and his gang, known as the Calvert Horde. Also in the gang are massive Swede Andersen, also known as The Giant, fancy-dressed gambler Dandy McLain, and assorted other supporting characters. Most of the men in the gang wound up on the wrong side of the law through bad luck or other mitigating circumstances, and Gunner holds them to a strict moral code. They're good guy outlaws, much like Robin Hood and his Merry Men, and they always avoid clashing with honest lawmen, saving their bullets for the crooked star packers.

But then, while the Calvert Horde is trying to save the herd of a small rancher from minions of the local cattle baron, both Gunner Calvert and Sheriff Mart Reynolds are mortally wounded in the resulting gun battle. Gunner and Reynolds have always respected each other and managed to dodge this tragic confrontation until now, but with both of them dead, The Kid has to take over the gang and finds himself facing the new sheriff . . . who happens to be Mart Reynolds' beautiful, gun-toting daughter Terry.

That's the set-up of OWL-HOOT HORDE, the lead novel in the very first issue of the pulp WESTERN ACES. This magazine was intended at first to be a Western character pulp, with Kid Calvert headlining every issue in a novel written by veteran pulpster Lawrence A. Keating under the house-name Clint Douglas. But publisher A.A. Wyn changed his mind and WESTERN ACES became a standard Western pulp, although it did feature a number of series characters, most notably L.L. Foreman's Preacher Devlin, who eventually moved over to WESTERN STORY. There were four more Kid Calvert novels in WESTERN ACES, although they were scattered out over the next year and written by a different author, Phil Richards. Will Murray explains all this in detail in his excellent introduction to a volume from Altus Press that reprints all five Kid Calvert yarns.

I found OWL-HOOT HORDE to be a pretty entertaining debut to the series. I think it's the first thing I've read by Lawrence A. Keating, who wrote one of the Masked Rider novels and a lot of other stories for various Western pulps. His style is a little clunky in places, but his action scenes are good and he provides some nice dramatic moments. The inevitable ill-fated romance between The Kid and Terry Reynolds is well-handled. There's nothing ground-breaking here, just good solid pulp storytelling. I'll be reading the other Kid Calvert novels over the coming months and reporting back on them.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Overlooked Movies: Below the Border (1942)

BELOW THE BORDER is one of the entries in the Rough Riders series of B-Westerns starring Buck Jones, Colonel Tim McCoy, and Raymond Hatton as a trio of U.S. marshals who work undercover. In this one they’re after a gang of rustlers and jewel thieves who have a hideout just across the Mexican border from Arizona. The plot is standard stuff, but as always, the chemistry between the three heroes is good and the movie also benefits from the presence of veteran heavies Roy Barcroft, Charles King, and Bud Osborne. There’s a pretty good shootout in this one near the end between Buck Jones and Charles King.

(This post first appeared in different form on January 1, 2010.)