Saturday, February 28, 2015

(Guest Post) Our Man Clint: The Gunsmith Continues - Robert J. Randisi

The Gunsmith Continues
By Robert J. Randisi, aka J.R. Roberts

It was a bloodbath, probably fitting, given how long adult westerns and mens adventure paperbacks have been spilling blood within their pages.  But in one fell swoop publishers, with seeming disregard for the readers—or the readers that were left, anyway—cancelled all the Adult Western series—notably the long running Longarm and Gunsmith series—and mens adventure series—most notably, the Mack Bolan series.  This move, as of April of 2015, will not only rob loyal readers of the adventures of Custis Longarm and Mack Bolan, but will also put entire stables of writers out of work. Both series, along with many others, were written by multiple writers, having supplied work for many working writers for a good 40 years.  In fact, the Adult Western genre not only invigorated the western genre and kept it alive,but provided income for dozens of writers over the years. And now it’s the end of an era for all of them . . .

. . . except The Gunsmith.


Very simple answer. For the most part, the Gunsmith was created and written by one man. When Charter Books contacted me in 1981 and asked me if I could create an Adult Western series for them, I jumped at the chance.  I created a bible and, when it was approved, signed a two book contract.  Then a contract for a third.  And then they called me and said they wanted to go into the genre whole-heartedly, and could I write a book a month.  I was 30 years old, had no idea if I could write a book a month, but I said “Yes!”

I started writing under the pseudonym J.R. Roberts.  When I attended my first Western convention I discovered what anomaly the Gunsmith and I were. There were several other monthly adult westerns running at the time, and they were being written by three or four writers under a single house name. A “house name” is a name used by many authors on one series.  My “J.R. Roberts” nom de-plume was a pseudonym used by one person, not a house name. (It was only after Berkley Books purchased Charter Books and wanted to keep the Gunsmith going that they asked if they could hire two more writers, just to build up an inventory. The writers were to be approved by me, and I was to own even those books which I did not write, and receive a royalty. It made me even more of an anomaly in the genre. Once we had built up a one year inventory, I went back to writing all the books.)

And I have done so since then, for over 32 years.  Gunsmith #1: Macklin’s Women came out in January of 1982, and there has been a Gunsmith every month since then.  Berkley Books decided to end the run in April of 2015 with #399, and I was given enough warning so that I was able to place the series elsewhere and assure that Gunsmith #400 would appear in May of 2015, with no break in the action.  They will appear with a new cover design in ebook for from Piccadilly Publishing, and in paperback from Western Trailblazers.  And Our Man Clint will go on appearing in a book a month for as long as my flying fingers can flex.

So to those loyal Gunsmith readers who pick up up each and every month, you may continue to do so, with heartfelt thanks from me, and from Our Man Clint Adams.

I should also thank Charter Books, where it all started, and then Berkley Books, which has kept the series going all these years, as we all move on to the next bend in the road. 

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Wild West Weekly, May 7, 1938

At first glance, this issue of WILD WEST WEEKLY has a pretty run-of-the-mill cover by A. Leslie Ross, illustrating one of Walker Tompkins' Tommy Rockford stories. Then you see what Tommy's carrying, and the cover suddenly becomes more creepy and effective. That's the way it struck me, anyway. I've read only a few of the Tommy Rockford stories but liked them all quite a bit. Maybe someday somebody will do a collection of them. Also in this issue is a Silver Kid story by T.W. Ford (another series that could use collecting), along with stories by Charles M. (Chuck) Martin, Lee Bond, J. Allan Dunn, and Philip F. Deere, a house-name that was usually either Lee Bond or Walker Tompkins, although other writers used it, too. To me, WILD WEST WEEKLY is one of the most consistently entertaining Western pulps.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Forgotten Books: Rocket Robinson and the Pharaoh's Fortune - Sean O'Neill

This graphic novel came out in 2013, but I'd never heard of it until I came across a copy at Half Price Books and was intrigued by the look of it. It reminded me a lot of some of the adventure novels I read as a kid, books that were called juveniles then. I don't know what they're called now. Judging by the acknowledgments, it was a Kickstarter project. It certainly reads like a labor of love by the author/artist Sean O'Neill.

ROCKET ROBINSON AND THE PHARAOH'S FORTUNE is set in Cairo in 1933. The protagonist is Ronald "Rocket" Robinson, the son of an American diplomat who's been posted to Egypt. Nothing is ever mentioned about Rocket's mother, but it's pretty obvious that his dad is a single parent. Rocket has a pet monkey named Screech and a habit of getting into trouble because of his curiosity. When he has an unpleasant encounter on a train with a bald, eyepatch-wearing German named Count Otto von Sturm, you know it's not going to turn out well, especially when Rocket finds a mysterious note that von Sturm drops. It's written in what appear to be Egyptian hieroglyphics, but when Rocket gets to Cairo he finds that nobody can translate it. Even worse, when von Sturm discovers that the note is missing, he figures out that Rocket may have it and sends a couple of goons after him. (Of course he has goons working for him.) Rocket gets away from them with the help of a Gypsy girl named Nuri, and the fact that von Sturm wants the note so badly just makes our intrepid young hero even more determined to find out what it means.

This barely scratches the surface of a long, dangerous adventure that takes Rocket, Nuri, and Screech all over Cairo, into a set of sinister catacombs under the city, and out to Giza for more danger involving the Sphinx and the Great Pyramid of Khufu. There's a lot of stuff about code-breaking and Egyptian history worked into the story, but O'Neill handles it very well without really slowing down the pace.

If I'd read this as a novel when I was twelve years old, like Rocket, I would have thought it was one of the greatest books ever. As a cantankerous old geezer, I thought it was still pretty entertaining as a graphic novel. It seems obvious that O'Neill was trying for sort of a Young Indiana Jones/Rick Brant/Jonny Quest feeling in his story and art, and for the most part he succeeds. There were a few anachronisms that bothered me (comic books as we know them now didn't exist in 1933, and I don't think anybody would have used the phrase "good cop/bad cop routine" back then, either), but those are minor quibbles by, as I said, a cantankerous old geezer. With its kid protagonists, there's really not a lot of violence despite the perilous situations in which Rocket and Nuri find themselves, so it's pretty much safe for all ages.

I really enjoyed this one, and I think anyone who grew up on a steady diet of such adventurous, exotic yarns as I did probably would, too.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Terms of Enlistment - Marko Kloos

I'd read good things about TERMS OF ENLISTMENT, the debut novel by Marko Kloos and the first novel in a new science fiction adventure trilogy called Frontlines. I decided to give it a try and am glad that I did, because I thoroughly enjoyed it.

(Minor spoilers ahead, but not as much as you'd get from reading Amazon reviews of this book.)

The narrator/protagonist Andrew Grayson is a so-called "welfare rat" who escapes his life in the dangerous urban slum that Boston has become by joining the armed forces of the North American Commonwealth. Set about a hundred years from now, the NAC is taking tentative steps out into space, having discovered an FTL drive and started a few colonies on distant planets. Andrew hopes to get to go to one of those colonies, but instead when he finishes basic training, he's assigned to help keep the peace on Earth, a job that proves to be not peaceful at all. After a violent incident that turns into a PR disaster for the military, Andrew is transferred to a spaceship that's headed for one of the colony worlds, but unknown to anybody there are even worse things waiting out there.

TERMS OF ENLISTMENT takes some familiar SF elements—the near-future dystopia, the basic training novel, the first contact/alien invasion yarn—and blends them together. But while the elements are familiar, Kloos handles them very well and has the storyteller's knack that really made me want to keep reading. It takes a while for the aliens to show up, but when they do, they're not the same-old, same-old aliens, and I really liked Kloos's fresh take on them. TERMS OF ENLISTMENT is just good solid military SF, and I had a great time reading it. The second book in the trilogy is already out (and already on my Kindle), and the third one is supposed to be released later this spring. I'm looking forward to reading them.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Bring Me the Head of Chaz Savidge! - Peter Brandvold

Bounty hunters Lou Prophet and Louisa Bonnaventure (aka The Vengeance Queen) are two of Peter Brandvold's best characters, and they're back in his latest novel BRING ME THE HEAD OF CHAZ SAVIDGE! This one is subtitled "The Bounty Poacher", and that's an accurate description of the plot. Prophet and Louisa capture outlaw Chaz Savidge after a shootout that leaves the rest of Savidge's gang dead. They set out to get him from Dakota Territory to Denver so they can turn him in to the U.S. Marshal there and collect the reward on him.

But along the way they find out that a politician whose granddaughter ws raped and murdered by Savidge has also placed a bounty on the fugitive's head, and that's meant literally: all anybody has to have to collect is Chaz Savidge's head. That temptation is too much to resist, so Prophet and Louisa find themselves running a gauntlet of bounty poachers who want to take their prisoner away from them and chop off his head.

The situation is complicated by an encounter with a young woman who has problems of her own, and it starts to look like Prophet and Louisa will be doing good to escape from this mess with their own lives...

As always with a Brandvold novel, BRING ME THE HEAD OF CHAZ SAVIDGE! is fast-paced and full of gritty, well-written action as well as colorful characters. If you've read the rest of the Lou Prophet series, you'll definitely want to read this one, too, and if you haven't, it would make a fine place to start. Mean Pete's one of the best in the business and never fails to entertain.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Now Available: Li'l Tom and the Pussyfoot Detective Bureau - Angela Crider Neary

Someone is stealing the parrots of Telegraph Hill! San Francisco is plagued with a rash of exotic birdnappings, and it's up to Li'l Tom and Lola of the Pussyfoot Detective Bureau to track down the culprits and put an end to this sinister scheme. With the help of a motley crew of cats, one rat, and a dog, they'll venture into the dangerous back alleys of Chinatown to rescue the brilliantly plumaged captives! 

LI'L TOM AND THE PUSSYFOOT DETECTIVE BUREAU: THE CASE OF THE PARROTS DESAPARECIDOS is a whimsical, all-ages mystery featuring a pair of charming feline detectives. Packed with action, humor, colorful characters, and vivid settings, it's a delightful reading experience for young and old!

(I helped a little with the editing on this book, and I can tell you it's a lot of fun. This is one of those rare books that truly is great for young and old alike. Check it out!)

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: I'm Reed Fish

(This series is going to be in rerun mode most of the time for a while, but I'll try to get a new post in whenever I can. This post originally appeared on March 14, 2010.)

This is another of those movies I’d never even heard of. It’s an indie romantic comedy, and as such, you’d expect it to be quirky. But this movie takes quirky to a whole other level.

Speaking of quirky, the title character is played by Jay Baruchel, who starred in the good but short-lived TV series about college, UNDECLARED. In this one, he’s Reed Fish, the young host of a call-in radio show in a small Midwestern town called Mud Meadows. The radio station is so small and local that the traffic report is about how one of the town’s old-timers has a flat tire and won’t somebody go out and help him change it. As always in movies like this, the town is populated by charming, colorful eccentrics, and all of them have an opinion and don’t hesitate to express it when Reed suddenly breaks off his engagement to his long-time girlfriend and starts to pursue an old flame who has returned to Mud Meadows.

Then, about a third of the way through the movie, there’s a plot twist that causes things to just get weirder and weirder as they go on. You have to watch this one closely to make sense of it, and then there’s one final twist in the credits, so pay attention to them, too.

I liked I’M REED FISH quite a bit. I’m a sucker for small-market AM radio yarns (one reason I loved WKRP), having been around just such a station when I was in college. I doubt if there’s anybody reading this who ever listened to KHRB out of Lockhart, Texas, but if by some odd chance you did, you might have heard a high school football or basketball game I helped broadcast. But that’s another post, and to get back to I’M REED FISH, it’s a good-hearted little movie that’s well worth watching, so give it a chance if you like indie films.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Bitter Water Blues - Patrick Shawn Bagley

BITTER WATER BLUES is the debut novel from Patrick Shawn Bagley, and it's a good one. Although it's set in various places, including Chicago, there's a strong current of redneck noir running all through this book, stemming not only from the small town in Maine that's one of the primary location but also from the colorful characters who populate the story.

The protagonist, though, is hardly a redneck. He's Joey Connolly, a former hitman for the mob who's managed to make a successful break from his criminal past. Of course, that's not easy to do (just ask Ennis Willie's Sand and James Dockery's Bucher about that), so it comes as no surprise when Joey gets roped back into that violent life to do one last job for his former employer.

That job takes Joey to the above-mentioned small town in Maine, where he's supposed to track down a former director of porn movies who has something very valuable in his possession. Naturally, this seemingly straightforward assignment gets complicated by local gangsters, a pair of amateur hitmen, and a cop with plenty of ghosts of her own.

Bagley balances all these elements perfectly and keeps the story racing along to a satisfying conclusion. Along the way there's plenty of great dialogue, some dark comedy, and a sense of time and place that rings absolutely true. BITTER WATER BLUES reads more like the work of a seasoned pro than a debut novel, and it gets a high recommendation from me.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Adventure, December 1938

Ho-hum. Another issue of ADVENTURE with a great cover and iconic writers like H. Bedford-Jones, Walt Coburn, Georges Surdez, and William Chamberlain. You'd think they would have gotten tired of putting out one of the best pulp magazines ever published.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Now Available: Beating the Bushes - Christine Matthews

Two fathers. One missing boy. A friendship that binds the two men, even beyond death. 

When fifteen year old Stevie Kracher goes missing, volunteers descend on a small Missouri town to join the search. One of those volunteers is Vincent Lloyd, whose six-year-old little girl had disappeared three years earlier. When her body was finally found, Vince became the prime suspect. Now he sees this new abduction as a chance to redeem himself, and to help save a child. 

Baylor Kracher is frantic to find his son. Nothing this devastating has ever happened to him; when he meets Vince he's found the only person he believes might understands his terror. Working with an Internet search group, fighting an aggressive reporter who's convinced that Vince killed his daughter, neither man will give an inch. But are they too late? And if they succeed, are they prepared for what they might find?

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Trails, March 1947

J. Edward Leithead, one of my favorite Western pulp authors, had at least two stories in most issues of WESTERN TRAILS and WESTERN ACES during the second half of the 1940s, and that's true in this issue, where he appears under his own name and also under his most common pseudonym Wilson L. Covert. That would be enough to make me read this issue, but there are also stories by L.P. Holmes, Walker A. Tompkins, and Wayne D. Overholser. That's a really solid bunch of writers, with a cover by A. Leslie Ross, to boot. Looks like a fine issue to me.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Forgotten Books: Last Chance at Devil's Canyon - Barry Cord (Peter Germano)

I hadn't intended to read the other side of that Ace Double Western from last week quite so soon, but that's the way things worked out. And that's fine because LAST CHANCE AT DEVIL'S CANYON is a pretty entertaining novel.

The title is sort of a pun, because the protagonist is former boxer turned gunfighter Dave Chance, who was known as "Last" Chance during his pugilist days. But he was double-crossed by his manager, who ran off with all of Dave's money. Dave gave up boxing and devoted himself to tracking down the crooked manager. The trail leads him to the mining boomtown called Paydirt, but on the way there Dave gets mixed up in a shooting that leaves a man dead at the hands of bushwhackers.

When Dave takes the body into town, he soons finds himself in a convoluted plot that involves two lawmen (the county sheriff and the town marshal), neither of whom can be trusted, a troublemaking gambler, and missing mine payrolls. The crooked fight manager Dave's been after is on hand, too, using the money he stole to buy a railroad spur that's in danger of going bankrupt. He offers Dave a half-share in the railroad to find out who stole the mine payrolls from the train. And there's the sheriff's beautiful daughter to complicate things, too.

There's not much in LAST CHANCE AT DEVIL'S CANYON you haven't seen before if you've read very many traditional Westerns, but Germano's work is always worth reading because of his hardboiled prose, his tough heroes, and the occasional nice plot twist, of which there are a few in this novel. There are plenty of shootouts and ambushes, and given Dave's background as a fighter you know there's going to be a boxing match somewhere along the way. Germano doesn't disappoint in that regard, either.

This isn't as good a book as the Gordon D. Shirreffs novel on the other side of this Ace Double, but I had a fine time reading it anyway. Actually, I've never read a Barry Cord novel that wasn't good. He's a dependable author if you like tough, lean, hardboiled Westerns.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Now Available: Bounty for A Lawman - David Hardy

Marshal Tom Briscoe is charged with keeping the peace in the wild cowtown of Samaria, Kansas, but at the same time the town council doesn't want him doing anything that might run off the Texas cowboys and the valuable herds they drive up the long trail to the railhead. But when he's faced with a life-or-death situation, Briscoe has no choice but to gun down one of the Texans. Unfortunately, the dead man is the son of one of the most powerful and vengeful cattlemen in town, so as a lawman Briscoe finds himself in the unusual position of having a bounty placed on him. This is no dead-or-alive situation, however. Briscoe's enemies want him dead! 

BOUNTY FOR A LAWMAN is another top-notch tale from David Hardy, auther of THE BADLANDS RUSTLERS. Fast-paced and packed with action, this is a yarn that Western readers will enjoy! 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Free Story: Ten Seconds - David Hardy

Guadalupe Mountains

Ranger Sergeant Kelsey spoke loudly, to be heard over the desert wind that blew down from the Guadalupe Mountains across the salt flats. “How about a little shooting match?” He glanced at Private Thompson. “Jim Stroud was a damn good man with a gun back in Company C, before he quit the Rangers for soft living in Ysleta.” Kelsey was relaxing outside his tent, with Thompson, Deputy Marshal Kunze, and Marshal Stroud of Ysleta. 

Thompson grinned, eager for the challenge. He had joined the Texas Rangers in Austin only three months earlier. He was promptly ordered to proceed to the encampment of Company C outside Ysleta del Norte. Company C’s duties were to pursue hostile Apaches and to keep the peace. Since then Thompson had seen much hard riding, but few Apaches or desperadoes. Dreams of stirring victories had a way of vanishing into dust and alkali haze. 

Marshal Jim Stroud sipped his whiskey and said nothing. Stroud’s deep-set eyes and thick mustache formed a mask, guarding his inward thoughts. He was still shy of forty, but the lines on his face suggested a life crowded beyond his years.

Deputy Kunze looked up from his drink. “Things won’t be so soft in Ysleta long.” Kunze’s accent was a mix of West Texas and Westphalian. “Bill Stewart is madder’n a scalded cat that Jim got the marshal’s job away from him. That gott-dammed swine has thrown in with Johnny Hall’s gang of rustlers.”

“Didn’t you arrest Hall for murdering a couple of Mexican vaqueros on the Border?” Kelsey asked.

“Not that anything came of it. Stewart and Hall’s friends on the grand jury no-billed him. Too many of ‘em are buying beef cheap from Hall. Even so, Hall’s been swearing bloody vengeance ever since. I guess we’ll have to break Hall’s gang since you Rangers can’t.” Kunze downed his whiskey.

“That’s enough.” The slurring in Stroud’s words indicated the whiskey was taking effect. “Let’s shoot.”

A row of tin cans and bottles had been set up on a low mound of sand. The men took their places, ten paces from the targets. Both Stroud and Thompson carried the ubiquitous .45 caliber Colt Single-Action revolver. Thompson took his turn first. Six shots rang out in swift succession. Three bottles exploded and two cans leapt away. A third can made a half turn but stayed upright. “Dern,” Thompson muttered. 

Stroud raised his pistol. The shots came slowly, sending gouts of dust flying. A passing bird swooped as a .45 slug whistled past. As the dust settled Stroud peered at the targets. They remained untouched. “Not my day,” he said at last. “I got to see a man about a horse. Marco should have my nag shod by now.” Stroud and Kunze turned to leave. Kelsey and Thompson followed, as they needed to pick up supplies in town. 

Ysleta’s main street was a mix of old adobes and wooden storefronts. Schultz’s General Store was in the middle, next to Marco Jiminez’s stable and smithy. A Catholic church adorned one end of the street while a combination gambling den and bordello occupied the other, accepting an uneasy proximity forced by the circumstances of life on a desert the Apache claimed as their own.

Marco was not at the stable, so Kunze offered to wait. Stroud went next door to Schultz’s General Store. Kelsey and Thompson paused on the sidewalk to smoke and talk. “I know Stroud is a pal of yours,” Thompson began. “But he doesn’t seem like such an all-fired boss Ranger, let alone a man-eating lawman.”

Kelsey’s eyes narrowed. “Circumstances change. So do men. Ranger service is one thing, riding herd on a nest of scorpions like Ysleta is another. Our remit is state law and Indian fighting, but I’ll back Jim Stroud’s play anytime.” Behind him Stewart and Hall emerged from the gambling house and started for the far end of the street. Kelsey failed to notice.

Inside the store Schultz hurriedly warned Stroud. “Hall’s in town breathing fire, and drunk as a legislator. Stewart’s with him, you know he took it as a declaration of war when you replaced him as marshal.” 

Stroud glanced at the clock on Schultz’s wall. It lacked a few seconds of noon. “The storm’s coming then.” Stroud no longer seemed enveloped in whiskey fumes. He was alert, body suddenly taut. The mask was still there, awaiting only the moment when the revelers reveal their true faces.

Marco emerged from the church and went up the street towards his stable and blacksmith shop. Kunze emerged from the stable only to find Stewart and Hall glaring at him. “You oughta be shot,” Hall slurred. “Figures a god-damned Dutchman would take sides with Mexicans against white men.” He reeked of whiskey, but his hands were steady and close to his gun.

Stewart made no move for his pistol, but stood arms folded. “Stroud ain’t fit to be this town’s dog-pelter, let alone marshal. And you’re nothing but his ass-kisser.”

“Schwein!” Kunze dropped into a fighting crouch. 

“I got you covered!” Hall roared. He reached for his gun. 

The clock struck noon.

Hall’s pistol came up and he fired, striking Kunze in the chest. The deputy reeled back against the stable wall. Stewart froze, realizing that Kunze and Hall were on opposite sides of him, and he was in the middle of the shooting. Stroud heard the shot. Instantly, the mask of indifference dropped from his face only to reveal another, that of a beast, aware that he is both hunter and prey.

One second had passed.

Drawing his gun, Stroud lunged out the door of Schultz’s. Stewart was shouting, “I don’t want a fight!” But his hand dropped to his gun. Marco froze, seeing the men firing guns in front of his stable. Kelsey and Thompson looked up, unsure of what had just passed, and waited for understanding to come.

Two seconds had passed. 

Kunze drew his gun and fired, the bullet struck Stewart in the foot. Stewart grunted in pain, but cleared his gun from his holster. Hall fired again, but Stewart was in his way and the ball hit the stable harmlessly. Stroud was advancing, swiftly taking in the scene in the street. 

Three seconds past noon.

The deputy let out a groan of pure pain and fired again, this time his shot hit Stewart in the arm. Stewart’s gun fell to the ground. Marco’s mind was working. He saw guns and shooting and made his move towards a door for cover. Stroud fired at Hall. But Hall was moving, trying to get a clear shot at Kunze. Stroud’s shot caught Marco just below the heart. Marco collapsed in the doorway.

Four seconds past noon.

Hall wheeled, just in time to see Stroud adjust his aim and fire. The .45 slug hit Hall between the eyes. Stewart reached for his gun. Kunze shook his head as if to waken himself from a dream, he held his gun loosely. 

Five seconds past noon.

Stewart scooped up his gun. Kunze moaned as he slid to the ground, leaving a trail of blood on the stable wall. Stroud held his fire, eyes moving from Hall to Stewart. “We’ve got to do something,” Kelsey said to Thompson. But neither stirred, for they did not know what to do.

Six seconds.

“I don’t want to fight!” Stewart gasped. He held his gun in front of him. Stroud had already tightened his finger on the trigger. The slug tore into Stewart’s belly.

Seven seconds.

Stewart staggered back. “You murdered me!” Stroud held his fire. Stewart still had his gun.


Stewart looked up, eyes and gun moving together toward Stroud. “I don’t want to fight.”


“Too late.” Stroud fired into Stewart.


Wisps of smoke drifted in the air. Kelsey and Thompson broke from their place and hastened to Stroud’s side. Thompson stared at the dead men and the swiftly growing pools of blood. “My God, my God,” he muttered to himself. 

“I’ll back your play, Jim,” Kelsey announced. 

“Thanks, Kelsey,” Stroud said. “But who’ll back yours?” And there was no answer to that.

 More of David Hardy's fine work from Rough Edges Press:

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: The Cheyenne Social Club

It's been well over forty years since I saw THE CHEYENNE SOCIAL CLUB, and I'd forgotten what a pleasant little movie it is. Of course, with James Stewart, Henry Fonda, and Shirley Jones heading the cast, it's no real surprise that this is a very enjoyable movie.

Stewart and Fonda play Texas cowboys who are pretty content with their lives, but then Stewart gets a letter from a lawyer and discovers that he's inherited a business in Cheyenne, Wyoming from his late brother. They saddle up and ride north, and when they reach Cheyenne, Stewart is shocked to find that the business he's inherited is a house of ill repute. The best one in town, in fact, staffed by half a dozen beautiful and charming soiled doves led by Shirley Jones. The morally upright Stewart wants nothing to do with such an enterprise, but you know the girls are going to win him over.

This is all pretty much fantasy, of course, lightweight and played mostly for laughs, bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the reality of prostitution in the Old West. To which I say, so what? THE CHEYENNE SOCIAL CLUB is a sweet, good-hearted movie, and I'll take that over reality most of the time. There's a little action, as Stewart's character is forced into a gunfight with a local troublemaker (the great Robert Wilke, one of the go-to villains in Westerns from this era—he's the guy James Coburn kills in a knife vs. gun fight early in THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN). When Stewart guns down Wilke, a bunch of the latter's revenge-minded relatives show up, leading to a well-done battle at the club.

Almost any movie with Jimmy Stewart in it is worth watching just to listen to the man talk, as far as I'm concerned. He and Fonda phone it in a little in this movie, but so expertly that they're still great fun to watch. I've always liked Shirley Jones, and the rest of the cast is good, too. Gene Kelly isn't the first person you'd think of to be directing a Western, but his light touch works well with the comedy in this one and the action and the sweeping vistas are good, too.

Maybe it caught me at just the right moment, but I really had a good time watching this movie. If you've never seen it before, or if it's been forty years or more, like me, I think it's a fine way to spend a couple of hours.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Coming Soon: Blaze! #4 Six-Gun Wedding - Jackson Lowry

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. It's up to J.D. and Kate, the wild West's only husband-and-wife gunfighters, to track down the gang, rescue the groom, and find out the reason behind the shocking violence. 

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!

(This one will be out March 4th, but it's available for pre-order now.) 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Now Available -- Outlaw Ranger #3: Blood and Gold

(Need something to read on a leisurely Sunday afternoon? This ought to do you just fine!)

A savage ambush...twenty men slaughtered in a brutal massacre...a fortune in gold stolen! This was a crime big enough and bold enough to bring the Outlaw Ranger to the wide-open settlement of Cemetery Butte, where a powerful mining tycoon rode roughshod over any who dared to oppose him. But even that atrocity doesn't prepare G.W. Braddock for the evil that awaits him, stretching bloody hands out of the past. 

Gritty, compelling, and packed with action, the saga of the Outlaw Ranger continues in BLOOD AND GOLD, the third exciting installment in this series from bestselling author James Reasoner.

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Crime Busters, July 1939

That racy cover by Graves Gladney looks more like it ought to be on a Spicy pulp rather than one from Street & Smith. But hey, I like it. And inside are stories by Lester Dent, Walter B. Gibson, Paul Ernst, and Theodore Tinsley, four titans of the pulp business, along with Robert C. Blackmon and George Allen Moffatt. I don't think I've ever read an issue of CRIME BUSTERS. I'm pretty sure I don't own any. I would have bought this one if I'd been around in 1939, though.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ranch Romances, Second October Number, 1938

Pretty good cover by John Drew on this issue of RANCH ROMANCES. This was a good era for the long-running pulp. The stories had gotten a little tougher and more action-packed, a trend that would continue on into the Forties and Fifties. Stephen Payne, Clee Woods, and Paul Even Lehman are probably the best known authors in this issue, although William Freeman Hough and James A. Routh appeared frequently in RANCH ROMANCES and were probably popular among the magazine's readers.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Free For a Limited Time: Olive U - David L. Johnston

An aging Baptist preacher in small-town Kansas. The members of a band who play contemporary Christian music in Los Angeles. Beyond their love for the Lord Jesus and His people, they have only their struggles with failure and success in common—until tragedy brings them together on Christmas Eve. 

When Paul Knight joins the members of Olive U, the group instantly jumps from local cover band to sought-after opener at concerts across the nation. The problem is Paul may not know the Lord as well as he claims. 

After a tornado of historic proportions rips through Kansas, an elderly Baptist preacher, Ron Best, faces challenges to his doctrinal beliefs and failure after failure in his ministry. But the Holy Spirit keeps pushing him forward. 

Olive U is the story of how God brings these men together for Christmas Eve on the wind-swept Kansas Plains.

(This inspirational novel is free right now on Kindle and could use some reviews. David Johnston is Livia's cousin and a fine storyteller. I edited the manuscript of this book and really enjoyed it.)

Forgotten Books: Shadow of a Gunman - Gordon D. Shirreffs

As this 1959 Ace Double Western opens, seventeen-year-old Thorp Barrett is already a member of the outlaw gang led by his brother Travis. When the gang is trapped by a posse led by U.S. Marshal Doug Scott, Thorp winds up as the only survivor, thanks to his brother who gives up his life to help Thorp escape. Thorp goes on the run, flees across the Rio Grande into Mexico, and vows to turn himself into as deadly a gunman as his brother was, so he can kill Marshal Scott and avenge Travis's death.

From that point, Shirreffs follows Thorp's life for the next several years as he falls in with smugglers and bandidos and becomes an accomplished outlaw and gunfighter. Unfortunately, his quest to kill Marshal Scott becomes complicated when he meets and falls in love with the lawman's beautiful stepdaughter. On the run from a murder charge because he shot down another marshal, it looks like there's no way for Thorp to wind up other than dancing at the end of a hangrope or filled with lead by lawmen...

As always, Shirreffs is one of the most consistently entertaining Western writers, spinning a fine, hardboiled yarn that has an epic feel to it despite being only around 35,000 words. His action scenes are as gritty and effective as ever, and he springs some nice plot twists on the reader as well. SHADOW OF A GUNMAN is fast-paced, pure enjoyment for fans of the classic traditional Western. They really don't write 'em like this anymore—although some of us are still trying.

By the way, that cover scan is from the copy I read. The line about this being the first book publication makes me think the novel is probably an expansion of a pulp story, but if that's the case, I don't know where and when that story appeared. The other side of the double volume is LAST CHANCE AT DEVIL'S CANYON by Barry Cord (Peter Germano). Don't be surprised if you see a post about it in the reasonably near future.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

What Rough Beast - James A. Moore and Charles R. Rutledge

WHAT ROUGH BEAST is a new limited edition chapbook from James A. Moore and Charles R. Rutledge, with art by Keith Minnion, available from White Noise Press. It combines horror and sword and sorcery with a Western yarn, making for one of the weirder Weird Westerns you'll ever read. And it's top-notch work, as well.

The protagonist is Tom Morton, a deputy whose wife is on a stagecoach lost in a snowstorm. When he asks for help from the townspeople in looking for the coach, three of the four volunteers are strangers: Jonathan Crowley, a normal-looking hombre who is more than he seems; Slate, a mysterious and dangerous albino; and a huge man who calls himself Kharrn. No mister, just Kharrn.

This odd group sets out to look for the stagecoach, but there is more lurking in the snowstorm than a disabled vehicle. The cover art is a pretty good tip-off to what's waiting for our heroes. They find a lot more than Tom Morton expected, and the result is a bloody, epic battle in the snow with creatures made more dangerous by the fact that they're partially human.

WHAT ROUGH BEAST is a well-written, fast-moving tale that generates quite a bit of suspense before it explodes into action. Moore and Rutledge have crafted an excellent story with some great characters, and Keith Minnion's art and production match it. This is actually the first thing I've read by these two authors, but I have several more of their books and look forward to reading them soon.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Enemy at the Gates

(This post originally appeared on January 26, 2009.)

I try to catch most of the World War II movies but missed this one when it came out. A young Russian soldier (Jude Law) becomes a sniper during the siege of Stalingrad and demoralizes the Germans so much that they bring in a sharpshooter of their own, an aristocrat played by Ed Harris. Most of the movie is a tense duel between the two as they try to get a clear shot at each other, but there's also a little romance and some philosophizing as well. This is a grim and gritty but intelligent thriller. It's also a rather old-fashioned movie that's staged and edited so that the viewer can actually tell what's going on. ENEMY AT THE GATES is a well-made, involving film, and I liked it a lot.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Now Available: Lone Star Fury - James Reasoner (writing as Jackson Cole)

A plea for help from a woman he thought was dead brings Texas Ranger Jim Hatfield to the ghost town of Palminter. What he finds waiting for him is a storm of outlaw bullets—and an even deeper mystery that leads him to a mansion on top of a sinister mesa overlooking the Rio Grande. To survive, the legendary Lone Wolf will need his keen wits—and all his deadly gun skill! 

Bestselling author James Reasoner brings his masterful storytelling talent to the iconic Western character Jim Hatfield, star of the long-running pulp magazine TEXAS RANGERS. "Lone Star Fury" is a 7000 word novelette originally published in CLASSIC PULP FICTION STORIES nearly twenty years ago and now available again from Rough Edges Press.

(Some of you know that I'm a long-time fan of TEXAS RANGERS and the Jim Hatfield novels. It was great fun getting to write about the character, similar to when I was able to write Mike Shayne stories. I never wrote any more Hatfield yarns after this one, but maybe I will again one of these days...)

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Short Stories, October 10, 1932

Looks like another fine issue of SHORT STORIES, with a red sun cover by Edgar Franklin Wittmack and stories by H. Bedford-Jones, W.C. Tuttle, Cliff Farrell, James B. Hendryx, William Chamberlain, and Lemuel de Bra. It's hard to imagine that such quality was just an everyday thing during that era.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Frontier Stories, March 1931

This issue of FRONTIER STORIES has an eye-catching cover reminiscent of a movie stunt. I can see Yakima Canutt doing something like that. And the line-up of authors can't be beat: Walt Coburn with an installment of his novel BARB WIRE, which truly is an epic and maybe Coburn's best novel, Eugene Cunningham, Harry F. Olmsted, James P. Olsen, and an article about Tombstone by Walter Noble Burns. Definitely worth a couple of dimes at the newsstand.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Forgotten Books: The Sailor Dog - Margaret Wise Brown

I've had a lot of favorite books over the years, but this was my first favorite book, the one I bugged my parents to read to me over and over and then read repeatedly myself once I knew how. It's the story of a dog named Scuppers who has a boat and sails all over the world. He gets shipwrecked, has to survive on a desert island, eventually rebuilds his boat, and visits some exotic foreign lands. In pulp terms, it's sort of like a canine version of a J. Allan Dunn or H. Bedford-Jones yarn.

The art is by Garth Williams and is wonderful. Many of the images are still fresh in my brain nearly 60 years later. THE SAILOR DOG was first published as a Little Golden Book in 1953, so it was pretty new when I was a kid. I was surprised to learn that it's still in print, although anyone considering buying a copy should be warned that according to Wikipedia, the edition that's available now is abridged by four pages. I don't know which four pages were taken out or why, but if I were to buy a copy, I'd hold out for a used copy of the original edition.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

One Bright Star to Guide Them - John C. Wright

In this novella published last year, John C. Wright (an author I've been aware of but haven't read until now) harkens back to THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE, PETER PAN, and all the other books where British schoolchildren travel to magical lands and have all sorts of exciting adventures. But Wright approaches that subgenre by asking what happened to those brave youngsters in all the decades after those adventures, when they have to return to their mundane lives, as well as how they handle it when their dangerous past crops up again.

The protagonist, Thomas, is a corporate drone whose memories of that other land and his journey there with three of his friends have receded thirty years into the past. But then Tybalt, the talking cat who accompanied the kids on their adventures, turns up unexpectedly and warns Thomas that a great evil is loose again and threatens to venture from the realm of faerie and wreak havoc in our world. According to Tybalt, it's time to get the old gang together again and stop this from happening.

Well, I'm a sucker for stories where some old geezers band together for one last, great adventure, of course, but Wright doesn't go for the easy way out in his plot. Not all the intrepid adventurers are still alive, and not all of them are still pure of heart, either. Thomas will have his hands full keeping England, and eventually the whole world, from being taken over by the evil Winter King.

ONE BRIGHT STAR TO GUIDE THEM is a very well written book mixing fantasy and adventure with a little philosophy, and Wright packs enough plot into it to have kept a lot of writers going for a whole trilogy of fat novels. In fact, there are enough throwaway lines about previous adventures and magical places to fuel a seemingly endless series of doorstop volumes. I really like the fact that Wright blows right on past all that and tells a story that feels like an epic without taking thousands of pages to do so.

Since reading this novella, I've read some of Wright's short stories and enjoyed them as well. I have some of his full-length novels on my shelves and will get to them eventually, I hope. For now, I really enjoyed ONE BRIGHT STAR TO GUIDE THEM and think it's well worth reading.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Underdog

(I was going to try not to use any reruns in this series and Forgotten Books this year, but you know how that goes. Road to hell, good intentions, etc., etc. I made it for more than a month, though! This post originally appeared in slightly different form on January 11, 2008.)

Okay, you may not believe me on this, but UNDERDOG is a pretty good little film. Sure, it’s a kid’s movie, and it’s based on a cartoon series that was remarkably primitive even for its time (and not in a charmingly minimalist sort of way, either). But in this live-action version, the dogs are cute, the script is funny, and so are Peter Dinklage and Patrick Warburton (two of my favorite actors) in over-the-top performances as the villains of the piece. There are lots worse ways to spend an hour and a half.

Monday, February 02, 2015

How the West Was Written, Volume 2: Frontier Fiction, 1907 - 1915 -- Ron Scheer

The Western has a long and glorious history, and nobody knows the early era of Western fiction better than Ron Scheer. The second volume of his examination of the genre, HOW THE WEST WAS WRITTEN: FRONTIER FICTION 1907 - 1915, is pure pleasure to read for anyone who loves the genre. This book and its predecessor aren't really histories, but more of a critical look at various authors of early Western stories and novels, back in the days when what they were writing about wasn't far in the past.

Scheer's introduction focuses on Owen Wister and his novel THE VIRGINIAN, which established so much of what was to come in Western fiction. Then in turn he takes a look at cowboy stories, female and Canadian authors, the more pulpish and popular Westerns, and realistic tales of ranch life, mining, the timber industry, etc. There are a lot of familiar authors covered: Clarence E. Mulford, Zane Grey, William MacLeod Raine, Charles Alden Seltzer, Dane Coolidge, James B. Hendryx, and others, many of whose works are still available today, as well as once popular but now largely forgotten authors such as Peter B. Kyne and Harold Bell Wright. He also covers a number of authors almost completely unfamiliar to me.

All of it is fascinating and told in clear, insightful prose. I really enjoy books like this and have a hard time putting them down once I've started. That's certainly true of HOW THE WEST WAS WRITTEN. If you're a Western fan or just interested in American literature (it doesn't get any more American than Westerns!), I highly recommend both volumes in this series.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Hollywood Detective, November 1943

That's kind of a goofy cover (what else would you expect from Trojan Publications?), but I like it. And I'm sure the stories inside this issue of HOLLYWOOD DETECTIVE are goofy but fun, too. Robert Leslie Bellem wrote two of them under his own name, Dan Turner yarns, of course, plus the Dan Turner comic strip, plus stories under his pseudonyms Ellery Watson Calder and Harley L. Court. Filling out the issue are stories by Laurence Donovan and Harold de Polo. I always enjoy pulps like these when I read them.