Friday, February 24, 2017

Forgotten Books: Riders of the Night - Eugene Cunningham

RIDERS OF THE NIGHT, from 1932, was Eugene Cunningham's second published novel, although some of the ones that came out later actually predate it since they were fix-ups of linked novellas originally appearing in various pulps. As far as I can tell, RIDERS OF THE NIGHT was written as a novel. It's the story of young Burk Yates, who returns from college in the East to the Texas ranch where he grew up. The ranch was started by Burk's father and his partner Duke Yarborough, both of whom are now dead. Ownership of the ranch is shared between Burk and Yarborough's beautiful daughter Myra, who has fallen for neighboring rancher Lance Gregg. A bunch of outlaws known as the One Gang has been rustling stock from the ranch as well as holding up stagecoaches and trains and generally raising hell throughout the area. In fact, the novel opens with a very sinister and atmospheric scene in which the gang lynches two men, leaving them dangling from a corral gate.

Anyone who's read or watched very many Westerns will have a pretty good idea of everything that's going to happen in this novel, although the final showdown between Burk Yates and the "mysterious" mastermind behind the One Gang plays out differently than I expected. The predictability of the plot does hurt RIDERS OF THE NIGHT a little, but it's still worth reading because of Cunningham's distinctive hardboiled style, the great action scenes, the introduction of Mexican/Navajo gunfighter Chihuahua Joe, a recurring character in Cunningham's work who serves as sidekick to a number of different heroes, and a raft of other colorful characters including, yes, a saloon girl with a heart of gold. I had a fine time reading it.

By the way, someone has tallied the number of killings in this book and come up with 75. I've read that in some of Cunningham's novels there are as many as 300 deaths. His reputation as one of the most violent of the early Western authors appears to be well-deserved.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Kickstarter of Interest: The Odds Are Against Us: A Military Fiction Anthology

My friend Jim Wilsky is going to have a story in a new anthology of military fiction called THE ODDS ARE AGAINST US, and the publisher is looking for more stories as well as funding through a Kickstarter project. This isn't really a market for military science fiction, although near-future (in the next decade) SF is acceptable. You can read about the Kickstarter here, and if you're interested in writing a story for the book, you can find all that information here. I'm backing this project and look forward to reading the book.

Monday, February 20, 2017


I first encountered the work of Fred Blosser in the pages of Marvel's black-and-white magazine THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN when I was reading it regularly back in the Seventies. Blosser wrote a fine series of articles and essays about Robert E. Howard's stories and characters for that magazine. Later I read more of his articles in other journals devoted to Howard scholarship and met Blosser one year in Cross Plains during the annual Robert E. Howard Days get-together. And then I wound up publishing his great historical adventure novel THE SAVAGE PACK as part of my Rough Edges Press line.

AR-I-E'CH AND THE SPELL OF CTHULHU: AN INFORMAL GUIDE TO R.E. HOWARD'S LOVECRAFTIAN FICTION is Blosser's latest publication. This book-length study of all of Howard's stories that are part of, either directly or indirectly, or influenced by H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, is both entertaining and informative reading for Howard fans. In my case, I haven't read a lot of Lovecraft's work and am about as far from a Lovecraft scholar as anybody could get. But Blosser's clear prose, meticulous research, and enthusiasm for his subject made it easy even for me to learn things and get a better grasp on the relationship between Howard and Lovecraft and the connections between their work. Over the years I've already read all the stories Blosser discusses, but this volume makes me want to read them again, this time with a greater understanding of them. One word of warning: Blosser discusses the plots in detail, so anyone who hasn't read the stories might want to do that first.

Blosser has more guides to other areas of Howard's fiction planned, and I'm very much looking forward to reading them. In the meantime, if you're a Howard fan, don't miss this one.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Soldiers of Fortune, October 1931

The first issue of a short-lived pulp devoted to adventure fiction. It appears there were only four issues of SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE before it went down for the count with the rest of the Clayton magazine line. But the four stories in these pages were from top-notch authors of pulp adventure fare: F.V.W. Mason, Victor Rousseau, S.B.H. Hurst, and Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson. The cover art is by Jerry Delano, who did the covers for all four issues.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Wild West Weekly, March 3, 1934

A nice cover by H.W. Scott on this issue of WILD WEST WEEKLY, and a very nice line-up of authors inside: Paul S. Powers. Allan R. Bosworth, Stephen Payne, Samuel H. Nickels, J. Allan Dunn (a Whistlin' Kid yarn as by Emery Jackson), Lee Bond (writing as Philip F. Deere), and Norman W. Hay (a Circle J story as Cleve Endicott). I've never read an issue of WILD WEST WEEKLY that I didn't enjoy, and I'm sure if I had a copy of this one, I'd have a great time reading it, too. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Forgotten Books: The Twisted Thing - Mickey Spillane

Spoilers below, sort of.

THE TWISTED THING came out in 1966, Mickey Spillane's ninth Mike Hammer novel, but I believe I've read that it's actually the second book Spillane wrote, back around 1950. There are a few lines that make it sound as if that could be the case, including what might be a reference to the famous ending of I, THE JURY. The book doesn't have any topical references, either, other than a few mentions of "the war". However, I didn't have any idea about that when I first read the novel all those years ago, and the things I noticed now went right past me then. All I knew was that while I liked the book, I didn't think it was as good as the other Mike Hammer novels I'd read up to that point.

It's sort of an odd duck, to be honest. The setting is a small town somewhere in New York, rather than Hammer's usual haunts in New York City. Most of the action takes place on a country estate belonging to wealthy scientist Rudolph York, who hires Hammer to find his kidnapped son Ruston. Ruston York is a prodigy, raised by his father to be a genius, a little reminiscent of Doc Savage only without the physical development. Also at the country house are an assortment of relatives and employees, most of them with secrets and agendas. More than once I thought, "Wait a minute, shouldn't this be a Hercule Poirot novel?"

But no, it's definitely a Mike Hammer yarn. Maybe not as much shooting and punching as some in the series, but there's still plenty. The voice of Carroll John Daly's Race Williams definitely echoes in some of Hammer's musings. He actually solves the kidnapping and rescues the kid pretty early in the book, but then there's a particularly grisly murder and the case becomes a lot more complicated. Ruston York doesn't turn out to be quite the innocent victim Hammer believed him to be at first. Eventually Hammer sorts everything out, and there's a long scene at the end where it's all explained before the traditional jarring Spillane ending.

After rereading this book fifty years later, I still wouldn't place THE TWISTED THING in the top ranks of the Mike Hammer series. I wasn't sure I completely bought the ending even back in '66, and I don't now, either. However, the action scenes are great and I just love Spillane's voice and the sheer pace of the storytelling. I suspect many of you read this book a long time ago, like I did, but if you haven't, it's worthwhile, just probably not the best place to start with Spillane's work.

For what it's worth, the first Spillane novel I read was the non-series book THE DEEP. I started the Hammer series with KISS ME, DEADLY and quickly read all the others that had come out by then, which I believe took the series up through THE SNAKE. That's one I have fond memories of reading in the old barracks building that served as our high school's study hall, so maybe I ought to reread it one of these days. If I do, I'll be sure to let you know what I think.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Ace Mystery, May 1936

I have a facsimile reprint of the first issue of ACE MYSTERY MAGAZINE from May 1936 and read it recently. (I don't own the original magazine.) It’s primarily a Weird Menace pulp but it has strong overtones of the mystery and detective pulps as well, and even some supernatural yarns.

It gets off to a strong start with the novella "The Singing Scourge" by Frederick C. Davis. This one involves a beautiful young heiress (is there any other kind?) who’s driven into a killing frenzy by a strange, high-pitched song that comes out of nowhere and that only she can hear. Her fiancĂ© takes on the role of two-fisted detective to find out what’s going on. Most of the action takes place in an isolated mansion and there are a number of sinister characters lurking around, so you’d expect the goings-on to be suitably creepy, and they are. Davis was an excellent writer no matter what the genre. He tells a pretty standard story here but does it very well.

Laurence Hammond’s story concerns an heiress as well. "Death's Heiress", in fact, as the title tells us. She’s a beautiful redhead from Boston who inherits a fortune from her crazy old uncle in New Orleans. But when she arrives she winds up being trapped in an old plantation house with her uncle’s lawyer, Edmond LaRue. (And if you think a lawyer named Edmond LaRue is going to turn out to be bad news...well, you’ve read a pulp story or two in your time, haven’t you?) Despite having a pretty good idea what’s going to happen, Hammond’s writing is atmospheric enough that I enjoyed this story. I haven’t encountered Hammond’s work before, but I’d read more by him.

I don't know anything about Ben George, either, but his story "Cat-Man" is more like something you'd find in WEIRD TALES, rather than a Weird Menace pulp. It's about an artist who has become rich and famous by painting portraits of cats that belong to wealthy members of high society. But when he crosses a Crazy Old Cat Lady (to borrow a term from THE SIMPSONS), he finds himself cursed and believes he's turning into a cat. This is an okay story for the most part, but it's cursed, too—with a really lame ending.

Maitland Scott is better remembered as R.T.M. Scott, the author of the first two novels about The Spider, which were packaged together and reprinted by Berkley Books in the Sixties. I remember buying those and reading them nearly fifty years ago. I recall that I liked them, but that’s about it. Unfortunately, Scott’s novelette in this issue, “Priestess of Pain”, isn’t very good. The protagonist is a would-be writer whose childhood sweetheart marries a friend of his, then apparently dies in a car wreck, then comes back to life as one of the minions of an evil occultist who practically twirls his mustache. The writing is too florid even for a Weird Menace pulp (and that’s saying a lot), and there are some continuity glitches that make me think this might have been rewritten from an earlier, unsold manuscript.

Steve Fisher is the author of some well-regarded hardboiled crime novels, one of which, NO HOUSE LIMIT, was reprinted by Hard Case Crime. His story "Satan's Faceless Henchmen" in this issue is also a crime yarn, although a much more lurid one. It's the tale of a resurrection racket in which a gang of evil monks steals freshly dead corpses and brings them back to life in return for a payment of a quarter of a million dollars. The explanation behind all this is less than convincing, but the pace is fast and the action scenes are good.

"Wolf Vengeance" by Rex Grahame is a backwoods tale about the rivalry between two half-brothers over the beautiful girl they both love. One of the brothers was practically raised by wolves and has a strange affinity with them, and when he disappears it sets a chain of violent events in motion. The twists in this yarn are pretty obvious, but it's well-written, with a nice sense of its swampy locale.

John H. Knox was one of the leading authors of Weird Menace stories, but his contribution to this issue, "The Corpse Queen's Lovers", is a supernatural yarn more like what you'd find in WEIRD TALES. It concerns an archeological expedition in search of artifacts from an ancient religion in the New Mexico hills, and that Southwestern setting gives this story a nice distinction. Naturally enough, what the expedition finds is dangerously evil, and Knox tells the story in smooth, well-written prose.

Paul Ernst is best remembered as the author of the pulp novels featuring The Avenger, but he also wrote a lot of weird fiction and straight mystery tales. "Nightmare House" mixes the two genres effectively. It has some Weird Menace trappings—an eccentric scientist and a gorilla—but it's basically a detective yarn with a beat cop (who would have been played by Ward Bond if this had ever been filmed) serving as the protagonist. A minor but entertaining story.

Hugh B. Cave was one of the pulps' best and most prolific writers, turning out top-notch work in numerous genres for many different magazines. His novelette in this issue, "The Horde of Silent Men", concerns a group of businessmen who are meeting mysterious deaths one by one, until only the son and daughter of two of the men (who had died earlier of natural causes) are left and are threatened by the same doom that claimed the others. Though it's plenty creepy in places, this is really more of a mystery yarn, and the solution is fairly interesting. It's not in the top rank of Cave's work, but it's certainly enjoyable.

As is this entire issue. There are a couple of weak stories, but the ones by Davis and Knox are excellent and the others are well-written. Plus it has a good cover by Howard Sherman. For a hybrid of Weird Menace and mystery pulp, ACE MYSTERY is pretty darned good, based on this issue, and I wouldn't hesitate to read another.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Six-Gun Western, June 1946

In the mid-to-late Forties, the Western pulps from Trojan Publications had a number of minimalist but effective covers like the one on this issue of SIX-GUN WESTERN. There are some fine writers in these pages, too, including Dan Cushman, Cliff Farrell, Giff Cheshire, Wayne D. Overholster, and R.S. Lerch. That's a solid line-up.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Forgotten Books: Sixgun Duo - Ernest Haycox

As I've mentioned before, I've become an Ernest Haycox fan over the past few years. I especially enjoy the novellas he published in the pulps during the early years of his career. This 1990 paperback from Pinnacle reprints two such novellas.

The protagonist of "The Gun Singer" is drifting gunfighter Bill Keogh, who rides into a settlement and finds himself in the middle of a war. He's hired by an embattled rancher to deliver a letter to the man's partner. The rancher sacrifices his own life to help Keogh break free of a trap. As it turns out, the rancher has a beautiful daughter, and her father's arch-enemy wants to take the ranch away from her, so of course Keogh sticks around to give her a hand, even though he's greatly outnumbered.

It would hard to find a more standard plot than this in a Western pulp, but Haycox elevates it well above the more run-of-the-mill fare with his usual fine writing and characterization. In the past I've complained about the lack of action in his work, but that's certainly not the case here. "The Gun Singer" features several brutal fistfights and shootouts, and the lengthy action scene that forms the story's climax is top-notch.

According to Haycox's papers archived at the University of Oregon, "The Gun Singer" was published in the June 5, 1931 issue of ACE-HIGH. However, that doesn't agree with the listing in the Fictionmags Index for that issue. In fact, there's not a listing for a Haycox story with this title in the FMI. So I don't know who's wrong in this case or where the story originally appeared. Luckily, that bibliographic mystery has no bearing whatsoever on how enjoyable a yarn it is.

We know that "Night Raid" appeared in the April 1929 issue of FRONTIER STORIES. It's on the cover and everything. This novella features Haycox's most prominent series characters, drifting cowboys Joe Breedlove and Indigo Bowers. Many Western authors have used a pair of drifting cowboys as protagonists, such as W.C. Tuttle's Hashknife and Sleepy, Marshall Grover's Larry and Stretch, and William W. Johnstone's Bo Creel and Scratch Morton. Haycox does a good job with his version. Joe Breedlove is big, blond, slow to action and slow to anger, but a lot smarter than he appears to be at first glance. Indigo Bowers is small, cantankerous, and a deadly gunman. In "Night Raid", they find themselves mistaken for new recruits in a gang of rustlers, so they play along with it in order to foil the rustlers' plans and keep a rancher's herd from being looted. It probably won't come as any surprise that this rancher has a beautiful daughter, too.

The writing in this story isn't quite as good as in "The Gun Singer", but "Night Raid" is a good, solid pulp yarn with very appealing protagonists. The story races right along, with effective action scenes all through it, and finally comes to a rather low-key but satisfying ending.

There's an Ace paperback edition from the Sixties called SIXGUN DUO, which according to listings I've seen also features "The Gun Singer", but instead of "Night Raid" it includes a story called "The Killers". I don't know if that's actually the case because I don't have a copy of that edition. I'd certainly pick it up if I came across it, though, especially if one of the stories is different. I'm not going to pass up the chance to read more of Haycox's pulp novellas, even if I never get around to all of his novels.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Now Available: Blaze! Boxed Set

If you haven't tried the Blaze! series yet, you'll never get a better chance than this special ebook boxed set edition of the first six novels.

J.D. and Kate Blaze are two of the deadliest gunfighters the Old West has ever seen. They also happen to be husband and wife, as passionate in their love for each other as they are in their quest for justice on the violent frontier!

BLAZE! is the first novel in a thrill-packed, all-new Adult Western series created by bestselling action/adventure author Stephen Mertz. J.D. and Kate find themselves facing a deadly ambush by Apaches, then they're hired to track down a gang of ruthless outlaws led by the beautiful, savage bandit queen Rosa Diablo. It's gun-swift excitement all the way in this gritty tale from Stephen Mertz.

Legendary Western author Robert J. Randisi, creator of The Gunsmith, joins the Blaze! team with this fast-action novel of treachery, revenge, passion, and blistering gunplay. From the finest hotels in Denver to a savage showdown in a ghost town, THE DEADLY GUNS is adventure all the way!

Wayne D. Dundee, one of today's bestselling and most acclaimed Western authors, spins a lightning-fast, action-packed yarn in BITTER VALLEY, the third book in the all-new BLAZE! series. Trouble always seems to follow J.D. and Kate Blaze, and they answer with hot lead!

The only thing J.D. and Kate Blaze planned to do in the settlement of Wilderness, Wyoming, was attend the wedding of one of Kate's friends. Instead outlaws launch a bloody raid on the church in the middle of the ceremony and kidnap the groom. Acclaimed Western author Jackson Lowry (THE SONORA NOOSE and WEST OF THE BIG RIVER: THE ARTIST) spins a colorful, action-packed yarn in SIX-GUN WEDDING, the fourth book in the bestselling Adult Western series BLAZE!

It was one of the most brutal crimes Nevada had ever seen—a stagecoach and everyone in it chopped to pieces by a hail of bullets from a Gatling gun. Award-winning Western writer Michael Newton joins the BLAZE! team with an action-packed novel rooted in the bloody history of the Old West. One of the most popular and acclaimed authors of Western, crime, and adventure novels for the past 30 years, Newton spins a compelling tale of violence and deadly secrets in AMBUSHED!

ZOMBIES OVER YONDER is the wildest BLAZE! adventure yet, as J.D. and Kate investigate the mysterious death of a mine owner and find themselves facing a danger unlike any they've ever encountered. From bloodthirsty outlaws to cold-blooded killers to marauding Indians, they thought they had seen it all—but the looming castle atop a ridge near the settlement of Yonder, Arizona, holds something new and deadly. It's the Old West's only team of husband-and-wife gunfighters versus a sinister count and his walking dead minions—and hot lead may not be enough to stop them!

If you like gritty, fast-paced Western novels seasoned with sexy romps, don't miss this amazing deal.