Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Revenants #1: Assault on Abbeville - Jack Badelaire

Jack Badelaire has come up with a great concept for his new World War II adventure series: five soldiers, each from a different nation conquered by the Germans, are considered missing in action and presumed dead, but in actuality, they've been recruited by a British spymaster to form an elite commando squad that can be sent on vital but unofficial missions behind enemy lines. The squad consists of men from Poland, France, Norway, Belgium, and Holland. To put it in terms that a lot of guys of a certain age will grasp immediately, THE REVENANTS is BLACKHAWK as written by Alistair Maclean, with a little dash of CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN thrown in.

Badelaire brings that concept to life with considerable skill and excitement in ASSAULT ON ABBEVILLE, the first novel in the series, which finds the Revenants being smuggled into occupied France to make contact with a group of partisans and assassinate a German fighter pilot who's been taking a great toll on British bombing raids. This will not only rid the Luftwaffe of a valuable asset but also damage German morale . . . if all goes as planned. Which, of course, it doesn't.

ASSAULT ON ABBEVILLE is fast-paced and full of action and has an undeniable sense of authenticity. Badelaire is a long-time fan of World War II adventure fiction and it shows in this and his other novels. If you're a fan of the genre, you owe it to yourself to pick up his books.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Rio Conchos

Livia, bless her heart, keeps finding Western movies for me to watch that somehow I never saw before. I've been aware of RIO CONCHOS ever since it came out in the Sixties. It ran on TV dozens of times after that. I've seen the novel by Clair Huffaker that it's based on and may even have a copy on my shelves somewhere. But I had never actually watched the movie until now.

Richard Boone, one of my all-time favorite actors, plays an embittered rancher who's carrying out a vendetta against the Apaches because they killed his wife and daughter. He reluctantly joins forces with a couple of cavalrymen (Stuart Whitman and Jim Brown) and a Mexican bandit (Tony Franciosa) to track down a shipment of stolen army rifles that are going to be sold to the Indians by a crazed ex-Confederate officer (Edmond O'Brien). This mission leads them across the border into Mexico and results in several violent encounters with bandits, gunrunners, and Apaches, directed in gritty fashion by Gordon Douglas, an action specialist who made quite a few decent movies in the Sixties and Seventies.

Boone is good as always, and former NFL great Brown has a formidable screen presence. Whitman and Franciosa are okay, but neither will ever be a favorite of mine. The sight of O'Brien's half-finished antebellum Southern plantation house in the middle of the Mexican badlands is a striking, very effective image. One jarring note is a cantina on the Rio Grande that appears to be about four times bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. (On the other hand, maybe it's a Tardis.) The script, co-written by Huffaker based on his novel, ends a little abruptly for my taste. Overall, though, I found RIO CONCHOS to be a good, solid second-tier Western, and I very much enjoyed watching it.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Private Detective Stories, September 1940

Nobody was ever going to accuse the Trojan pulps of being too classy, as this lurid cover demonstrates. But a lot of the stories in their pages were pretty darned good. This issue of PRIVATE DETECTIVE STORIES features two yarns each by Robert Leslie Bellem (as Harley L. Court and Harcourt Weems) and E. Hoffmann Price (one under his name and one as by Hamlin Daly), plus stories by Roger Torrey, James H.S. Moynahan, and a couple of names that strike me as pseudonyms, John Archer and Robert Saxon.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Trails, June 1948

The two Ace Western pulps, WESTERN TRAILS and WESTERN ACES, were pretty good magazines during this era. This particular issue of WESTERN TRAILS features a good cover by Allen Anderson and stories by L.P. Holmes, Joseph Chadwick, Ray Gaulden, John Jo Carpenter, Gladwell Richardson, and Lee Floren. I've enjoyed every issue of WESTERN TRAILS that I've read. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

End of a Streak

Today while looking over the list of books I read in 2016, I realized that I didn't read a single library book last year. Not one. My sister took me to the bookmobile for the first time in the fall of 1959, and I'm fairly certain I read at least a few library books every year since then. But now, all my library cards are expired, and with all the books I own, both print and e-books, it's entirely possible I'll never read a library book again. Which is kind of sad.

Forgotten Books: Dead Men Singing - H. Bedford-Jones

I've enjoyed nearly everything I've read by H. Bedford-Jones, and DEAD MEN SINGING: THE MEN WHO FOUGHT FOR TEXAS is no exception. This volume from Altus Press reprints six stories that Bedford-Jones wrote for the pulp SHORT STORIES in 1935 and 1936 to mark the Texas Centennial. Unlike the two serials he wrote for ARGOSY on the same subject, "Bowie Knife" and "Texas Shall be Free!", which featured fictional characters as the leads whose storylines tied in with the history, the tales in this book involve only historical characters and are only light fictionalizations of the actual events.

The time period covered ranges from the early days of the Texas Revolution to the decisive Battle of San Jacinto and focuses on such figures as Ben Milam, Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett, James Fannin, and Sam Houston. Bedford-Jones gets the history right and does a fine job of making it understandable. Some modern-day revisionists might disagree with him on a few points, but that's fine with me since I tend to be a traditionalist.

I don't think this one is quite as good as those two ARGOSY serials, which are some of Bedford-Jones' best work, in my opinion, largely because he had more room to work with in those novel-length tales. But DEAD MEN SINGING is still excellent and as a long-time Texas history buff, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Now Available for Pre-Order: Blaze! Red Rock Rampage - Ben Boulden

J.D. and Kate Blaze ride into the settlement of Small Basin, Utah, on the trail of train robbers but soon discover that the town and the surrounding area are ruled by the iron fist of a renegade Mormon patriarch—and he has his eye on two beautiful young women he intends to make unwilling brides. Hired killers, corrupt lawmen, and brutal kidnappers mean a heap of trouble for the Old West's only husband-and-wife gunfighters. Forced to split up, Kate and J.D. have to battle their way back to each other to survive!

The debut novel from acclaimed young author Ben Boulden is a fast-action gem, full of intriguing characters, gritty violence, and vividly realized settings. Get in on today's bestselling original Adult Western series with BLAZE! RED ROCK RAMPAGE.

Flame and Thunder - Ben Bridges

Ben Bridges (also known as David Whitehead) has been writing about the adventures of fighting man for hire Carter O'Brien for a long time, and I've read and enjoyed most of those novels. In FLAME AND THUNDER, the latest of these top-notch Western yarns, O'Brien is hired to protect an oil wildcatter who's trying to strike it rich with a drilling rig on the Kansas-Oklahoma border. The wildcatter's lease is about to run out, and if he doesn't bring in a gusher before it does, a gang of outlaws led by the local saloonkeeper will take it over. Those hardcases will resort to anything to keep the well from coming in, including sabotage and murder.

I've always had a fondness for oilfield stories, and this is a very good one. Bridges does a fine job of capturing the rough-and-tumble setting, and as always, he writes some of the best action scenes in the business and populates his tale with interesting characters. The big battle at the end is spectacular, and the final showdown between O'Brien and the leader of the villains is very satisfying. I really enjoyed FLAME AND THUNDER, and if you're a reader of traditional Western novels, you probably will, too.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: The Shallows

The premise of THE SHALLOWS is about as simple as you can get: Blake Lively plays a surfer who's attacked by a shark off an isolated Mexican beach and has to take shelter on some rocks that are only exposed at low tide. She has to figure out a way to get to shore a couple of hundred yards away before the tide comes back in, without getting eaten by the shark. There's a little bit of back-story for the character, but not much. Otherwise this is a pure woman-against-nature yarn. If the protagonist was a guy instead of a girl, it could have been a story in a men's adventure magazine from the Sixties.

THE SHALLOWS is a really suspenseful movie. It's not quite an hour and a half long, but it seems longer because it's so intense. At one point Livia said, "This is worse than JAWS!" I replied, "Yeah, at least they had a boat—although they needed a bigger one." It's not a better film than JAWS, mind you, but it is pretty darned good. When we go to the coast, I generally don't get in any water deeper than my ankles anyway, and I think I'll continue that.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Weird Tales, July 1940

I used to own this issue of WEIRD TALES and read it many years ago, but I'm afraid I don't remember much about it except the H. Bedford-Jones story. But elsewhere in the issue are stories by Frank Gruber, Robert Bloch, Seabury Quinn, Manly Wade Wellman (writing as Gans T. Field), and Frank Owen, so I'm sure there's plenty of good reading there.