Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Wrap Up

This was a year of being nagged at by lots of little annoyances, mostly health-related, as well as the year one of my best friends, Ed Gorman, passed away. I still halfway expect to get an email from Ed promising me another Maserati is on the way in appreciation for something I did for him, when in truth Ed did more to help me than I ever did for him. More than a hundred Maseratis could ever pay back.

But not to dwell on the bad, 2016 was also a year in which a lot of good things happened. Bill Crider won the Sidewise Award for a story I published in TALES FROM THE OTHERVERSE, and one of my stories was a finalist for the same award. I read a bunch of good books and watched a bunch of good movies and TV shows. I attended my first ice hockey games and discovered that I'm a hockey fan. (Actually, now that I think about it, it may have been right at the end of 2015 when I went to my first game, but it was this year I became a real fan. I even know what icing is!) The world is still a good place and I intend to enjoy it.


I topped a million words again this year, for the 12th straight year. I just take it year to year and don't know how much I'll get done in 2017, but based on the contracts I have, I should be in the neighborhood of a million words again. This year it broke down to ten novels, five more novels written in collaboration, and two novellas, both of which will have my name on them when they're published next year. I had a really good first half of the year, then slowed down some in the second half, largely due to my eye problems. Those seem to be under control for now, so I'm optimistic about my production for next year.


Here are my top ten favorite books I read in 2016, in alphabetical order by author, as usual.

SINNER MAN, Lawrence Block
PISTOL PASSPORT, Eugene Cunningham
THE KNIFE SLIPPED, A.A. Fair (Erle Stanley Gardner)
POWDER SMOKE, William Colt MacDonald

Two that almost made the list are SOME BURIED CAESAR by Rex Stout and A GENT FROM BEAR CREEK by Robert E. Howard. I dropped them off because they were rereads. I also debated with myself whether to include Fred Blosser's THE SAVAGE PACK since I published it, but finally I decided to put it on there because I think it's a great frontier adventure novel. I think I blogged about all of these except the Offutt book, which is fascinating and disturbing and very well-written, and Lou Cameron's ANGEL'S FLIGHT, which I'll be posting about probably next week. I'll say this, though, as a teaser: it's the best book I read in 2016. My reading this year was dominated by Westerns, and pulp Westerns, at that. That should come as no surprise to anyone. I read 111 books in all, down quite a bit from last year's 125. I don't make New Year's Resolutions, but I am going to try to read more next year. Seems like I always say that. We'll see.

So I'll close with a quote from my favorite philosopher (bet you didn't know I have a favorite philosopher), Marcus Aurelius: "When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive—to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love." Have a great 2017, everyone.

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: New Western, November 1951

I don't believe I'd ever read an issue of NEW WESTERN until now, but this is an issue I own and read recently. Most of the Western pulps from Popular Publications are pretty much interchangeable. Their two flagship titles, DIME WESTERN and STAR WESTERN, ran more novellas, especially STAR WESTERN, but other than that the same authors appeared in all the titles across the line and the magazines featured good, solid hardboiled Westerns, for the most part.

This issue gets off to a good start with "First Stage to Sundown", a novelette by George C. Appell, whose work appeared frequently in a variety of pulps during the late Forties through the Fifties. This story uses a fairly standard plot: a stagecoach has to make a long, dangerous run in a set period of time in order to secure a government mail contract. Along the way, the coach and another wagon that accompanies it are plagued by a gang of outlaws. Appell throws in a couple of decent twists and there are several tough action scenes, along with some nice descriptive writing in places. Appell was never in the top rank of Western writers, but he seems to have produced some pretty good work. I've enjoyed the few stories I've read by him.

Next up is "Cactus-Eatin' Lady" by Robert Trimnell, an author whose name I've seen, but I don't know anything else about him. This is a humorous tale about a couple of cowpokes and a camel. It read like it might be part of a series, but I don't know for sure about that. As I've said before, with a few major exceptions, comedy Westerns just don't work for me. This is not one of those exceptions. I didn't care much for this story.

James B. Hendryx's Halfaday Creek series, featuring the good-hearted outlaw Black John Smith and Corporal Downey of the RCMP, ran for many years, mostly in the iconic pulp SHORT STORIES. "Black John—Claim Jumper" is a late entry in the series. How it wound up in NEW WESTERN, I don't know, but it's a good yarn about Black John helping out a young couple who get caught up in a mining swindle. This story could have used a little more action, but it's very well-written. This is actually the first Halfaday Creek story I've read, but I'm going to have to try some more of them.

"The Drifter Stops Off" is by James Charles Lynch, an author I know nothing about except that I think I've read somewhere he ghosted some for Ed Earl Repp. This is a pretty good story about a hobo and former printer who runs afoul of the most powerful man in town and takes measures to settle the score with him in unusual ways.

"Gun-Fighter's Brand" by John C. Colohan is a reprint from the August 1934 issue of DIME WESTERN. I've probably read a few stories by Colohan—he was a prolific contributor to the Popular Publications Western pulps—but nothing that I recall. This yarn is about a wounded lawman who has to couple of people who have a grudge against him, one a killer and the other a beautiful young woman. It's fairly well-written and has a nice twist ending I didn't see coming.

Bill Colson was actually Verne Athanas, who was more well-known under his real name. As Colson, he wrote a series about stagecoach driver and teamster Seven-Foot Sanders and his sidekick Shorty Shamrock. This sounds like a comedy series, but the entry in this issue, "Seven-Foot Sanders' Private War", is a fairly straightforward tale about trying to get a stagecoach and then a freight wagon full of supplies through Apache country. The tone is a little light in places, but there are also some gritty action scenes. I enjoyed this one enough that I'd read more in the series.

"The Hoodoo Trail Drive" by Stone Cody is another reprint, originally appearing under the title "Signed On With Satan" in the May 1937 issue of STAR WESTERN. It features a thinly disguised version of real-life cattleman Shanghai Pierce, here called Shanghai Pearson, and is about a danger-filled, seemingly cursed trail drive from Texas to Kansas. It's an excellent yarn and achieves an almost epic feel, which is hard to do in a novelette. I enjoyed it a lot, more than any of the other stories in this issue, in fact. Stone Cody was really Thomas Mount, the first husband (if I recall correctly) of bestselling author Laura Z. Hobson. I'm sure I've read his work before, but I'll be keeping a better eye out for his stories in the future after reading this one.

There's one other thing of interest in this issue of NEW WESTERN: a little house ad for the then-current issue of Popular Publications stablemate DIME WESTERN that includes the line A Riproarious "Tensleep" Story by Harry F. Olmsted. Well, other than the word "Riproarious", which I like, the interesting thing about this is that all the Tensleep Maxon stories (and there were scores of them) were published under the name Bart Cassidy. Only in the last year or so has Harry Olmsted's name been linked with that pseudonym, but here's another indication of it. Cassidy may have been used as a house-name at times, but I'm starting to believe that Olmsted was responsible for most of the stories published under that name. (Something similar happened to me many years ago, when the November 1978 issue of MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE had a house ad in it listing the next issue's Mike Shayne story: "Death in Xanadu" by James M. Reasoner. When they were making up the issue, they obviously got my name off the manuscript and forgot to replace it with the usual Brett Halliday pseudonym. As far as I know that's the only time a prose Shayne story was credited to someone other than Halliday.)

Overall, a decent issue of NEW WESTERN, with several good stories, several readable ones, and only one that I didn't finish. The scan, as usual with this sort of post, is of the copy I read, and it's a pretty good cover.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Forgotten Books: The Knife Slipped - A.A. Fair (Erle Stanley Gardner)

Well, fry me for an oyster. I didn't expect to ever see a new Donald Lam and Bertha Cool paperback with a cover by Robert McGinnis again. But that's what we have in THE KNIFE SLIPPED. Granted, it's not actually new, although it's never been published until now. It's the second Cool & Lam novel Erle Stanley Gardner wrote, but it was rejected by the publisher. Also, it's a trade paperback from Hard Case Crime instead of a small-sized Pocket Books edition. And the McGinnis cover is okay, but I'm not fond of model Dita Von Teese, so it's not in the top rank of covers as far as I'm concerned. Still, it's Bertha and Donald, and man, do I love this series.

In this one they're working on a divorce case, with Donald trailing a suspected cheating husband who turns out to have not one but two apparent love nests hidden from his wife. Only it's not hanky-panky going on (although there's a little of that, too) but rather something more sinister, and before you know it, the guy Donald's been shadowing winds up dead and either he or the switchboard girl he's fallen for is on the hook for the murder. Corruption, crooked cops and politicians, an empty shell casing switched from one gun to another, Donald being taken for a ride by gangsters, Bertha pinching every penny she can, lots of smoking and drinking . . . Gardner just keeps things rocketing along in very entertaining fashion. The plot is complicated (did you ever read an ESG book where it wasn't?), but Gardner pulls a nice double-reverse in the last chapter and it all makes sense in the end.

There are a few differences. The characterizations aren't quite what we're used to from the other books in the series. They're very close, of course, but Russell Atwood explores some of the differences in an insightful afterword. And although the title fits the book, it doesn't seem to have quite the same ring as the other titles in the series. Or maybe that's just me.

I don't recall for sure which of the Cool & Lam books I read first. I think it may have been SHILLS CAN'T CASH CHIPS. I know for sure, though, that I checked it out from the bookmobile, which means it was around 1964. I've read a bunch of them since, although not all of them. I sort of ration them out and read one now and then. I'm glad THE KNIFE SLIPPED is available at last. I grew up on stuff like this, and I had a great time reading it.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

40 Years Later; or The Annual December 27th Post

Earlier this morning I posted about the Overlooked Movie GENIUS, which is mostly about writing and editing, and talked a little about my own influences and what my goals were during my early career. That leads into this post, where I'll expand a little on those things. Because today is the 40th anniversary of the day I became a professional writer.

If you've been reading this blog for very long, you know the story: newly married, working for my dad at the TV repair shop, pounding out short stories as fast as I could on an old manual typewriter, sending them out to any possible market, and more than a few impossible ones, because, hey, you've got to hope, right? Livia and I lived in an apartment attached to the side of an old house and didn't have a mailbox, so I used my parents' address on my manuscripts. The morning of December 27, 1976, I swung by there on my way to work. Nobody was home, so I was by myself when I got the envelope out of the mailbox that had Ideal Publishing Company as the return address. I tore it open and took out a check in the amount of $167.50, payment for my short story "The Voice on the Other End", a confession yarn published about four months later, anonymously, in the magazine INTIMATE STORY.

I mentioned in the earlier post that a part of me wanted to write The Great American Novel. Well, "The Voice on the Other End" sure wasn't it. But I also wanted to see my work in print and to get paid for it, and there was the proof of my ability to do that, all $167.50 of it. It wasn't cold hard cash, but it was the next thing to it, and once that check was in the bank it paid our rent for a month and bought a week's worth of groceries, and that was a thrill I'd never experienced before. That was probably where my mercenary instincts began to win out over my artistic ones, although it took a while for the victory to be complete, but my main goal ever since has been to write for a living.

I've done that, mostly. Over the next ten years I had several regular jobs but managed to write full-time for three of those years. Then, since February 1987 I've done nothing but write and have made an often precarious but sometimes comfortable living at it. I am, to quote Lou Gehrig without the microphone reverb, the luckiest man on the face of the earth. Never wrote The Great American Novel, but I've written some decent stuff under my own name and a lot of solid novels under other names that have entertained millions of people. I've brought pleasure to them in the good times and I hope I've helped them get through some of the stressful times, the same way that books have gotten me through many dark nights of the soul.

If you want numbers, as of today we're talking about 344 novels, one non-fiction book, and upwards of 150 short stories, novelettes, novellas, essays, articles, and book introductions. The fiction output alone is somewhere between 25 and 30 million words. I've slowed down some in recent years, but if I stay healthy I think I've got at least another five million words in me, maybe more.

As always, special thanks to Livia, who really does make it all possible; to our daughters Shayna and Joanna, who have helped out in so many different ways; to the editors who have bought my work over the years, from Sam Merwin Jr. to Gary Goldstein and all the ones in between; to the writers who have inspired me with their work and their friendship—I'd list them but there are too many and I'd leave somebody out—and to the readers who have kept me in business. I'm thinking this may be the last lengthy December 27th post I'll write, although I'll probably keep pointing out the anniversary here on the blog. If I make it to 50 years in this business, I may have a few other things to say.

Until then, thanks to all of you reading this as well, and now I have pages to do.

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Genius

I guess I'm just the target audience for certain movies, which is the case with GENIUS, a film about the relationship between editor Max Perkins (an oddly cast but effective Colin Firth) and author Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law, chewing the scenery relentlessly, but the part sort of calls for that). Nicole Kidman is Wolfe's mistress Aline Bernstein, Guy Pearce is F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Dominic West is Ernest Hemingway. (I find it cool that West has now played both Hemingway and Howard Stark.)

The reviews weren't kind to this movie, and I can see why. It's pretty stagebound, and a lot of scenes consist of Wolfe and Perkins arguing about the editing of Wolfe's huge autobiographical manuscript O LOST!, which eventually becomes his debut novel LOOK HOMEWARD, ANGEL. Once that's a success, they move on to the even more gargantuan OF TIME AND THE RIVER before the two men have an inevitable falling-out. Along the way there's some soap operatic stuff with Wolfe and his mistress and Perkins and his wife, as well as the travails of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, but really, the focus is on writing and editing for the most part, and you know me, I can't get enough of that stuff.

This may come as a surprise to some of you, but early in my career I, too, wanted to write The Great American Novel. I was torn between wanting to be Mike Avallone/Harry Whittington or Ernest Hemingway/F. Scott Fitzgerald. (I never wanted to be Thomas Wolfe.) Over time I realized my talent and personality were more suited to the Avallone/Whittington end of the spectrum. Not that I'm disparaging those writers at all. Avallone might not have been able to write THE GREAT GATSBY, but Fitzgerald damn sure couldn't have written THE THOUSAND COFFINS AFFAIR, and which one of those has had more of an influence on my career and stayed with me longer, huh? (Now I have to digress again and make clear that I'm not knocking GATSBY, which I love immensely, anachronisms and all. And Whittington, come to think of it, could well have written something like THE SUN ALSO RISES, which is one of my all-time favorite novels. And now I'm off the rails completely . . .)

To get back to the point of this post, I really enjoyed GENIUS. I've never read a word of Thomas Wolfe's work—the books were too long for me even back when I regularly read long books—but the quotes from them in this film sort of make me want to. I'll have to think about that. In the meantime, if you're a writer and/or editor, you might enjoy this movie, too. I think it's well worth checking out.

Monday, December 26, 2016

King Kong vs. Tarzan - Will Murray

Okay, picture this: Tarzan . . . riding an elephant . . . leading a herd of elephants . . . fighting King Kong.

If that doesn't get your blood racing, you're probably not the target audience for Will Murray's excellent new novel, KING KONG VS. TARZAN. This top-notch adventure yarn fills in a gap in the original King Kong movie and tells the story of how Carl Denham, Jack Driscoll, Ann Darrow, Captain Englehorn, and the crew of the Wanderer get the captured King Kong from Skull Island back to New York. Turns out they have to stop in Africa along the way to take on supplies, and Kong escapes, and Tarzan shows up to help corral the big ape.

This is a great idea, and Murray tells the story in his usual fast-paced, exciting prose. There are some spectacular scenes in this one. Murray does a fine job of capturing the characters. I really hope there are more Tarzan novels to come from him. For me, a book like this really makes me feel like I'm back on my parents' front porch on a warm summer day with nothing to do but read. Well, maybe a break to play baseball later, but most of the day I'd spend happily lost in Africa with the Lord of the Jungle and the King of Skull Island. Highly recommended.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Fiction Weekly, December 24, 1932

Ho, ho, ho! Yeah, life's tough for a jolly old elf in the big city. If you don't believe me, obviously you can ask Lieut. John Hopper, a forgotten pulpster who's featured in this issue of DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY. Also in this issue are stories by Erle Stanley Gardner, Donald Barr Chidsey, Fred MacIsaac, and Hulbert Footner. If Santa didn't make it to your house last night, now you know why!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Wild West Weekly, December 24, 1932

Many of the Street & Smith pulps had Christmas-themed issues. Here's one from the long-running WILD WEST WEEKLY. There are three Christmas stories in this issue: "A Holiday fer Dry Gulch", a Billy West/Circle J novelette by Lee Bond writing as Cleve Endicott, "The Whistlin' Kid Sees a Star in the East" by Emery Jackson (really J. Allan Dunn), and "Two Bags of Christmas Grub", a Lum Yates story by Galen C. Colin writing as Collins Hafford. I have to admit I don't know anything about the Lum Yates character, although I've read Circle J stories by Lee Bond and Whistlin' Kid stories by J. Allan Dunn (and of course many other stories by those authors, who are both top-notch). Other authors in this issue are Stephen Payne, William F. Bragg, Reginald C. Barker (writing as Lee Harrington), and Houston Irvine (writing as Philip H. Deere). I've never read an issue of WILD WEST WEEKLY that I didn't enjoy, and I'm sure I'd like this one, too.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Forgotten Books: Eve of Evil - George G. Gilman (Terry Harknett)

I always try to read something Christmas-themed for my Forgotten Books post closest to the holiday. This year's book comes from a bit of an unlikely source. The Edge series launched the British Western boom and also influenced American Westerns for several years with its graphic violence and dark humor. They were reprinted in the U.S. by the original Pinnacle Books with covers by the great Bruce Minney and were very successful. I read quite a few of them during the late Seventies and early Eighties, including this Christmas novel, and I just reread it in an e-book edition.

For those of you not familiar with the series, Edge is really Josiah Hedges, a farmer who went off to the Civil War (his adventures there are chronicled in several flashback volumes within the series) and fought beside several men who turned into brutal outlaws after the war. They show up at Hedges' farm before he returns from the war and proceed to torture and murder Hedges' younger brother because they think there's money hidden on the farm. When Hedges finds out about this, he tracks them down and kills them in bloody fashion, picking up the nickname Edge along the way. After that he becomes a drifter, riding into troublesome situations that always turn extremely violent. He tries to settle down a few times, but that always ends badly. The overall grimness of the series is broken up by Edge's penchant for puns and bad jokes, many of which are veiled references to modern-day popular culture. A lot of these come close to breaking the fourth wall but don't quite.

In EVE OF EVIL, Edge finds himself in a ghost town in Wyoming's Wind River Mountains on Christmas Eve, although he doesn't know what day it is when the book starts. A young couple named Joseph and Maria show up. She's pregnant, of course, and her rancher father has sent gunmen to kill Joseph. The rancher is also involved in a dispute with some sheepherders—or shepherds, if you will. There's a gunman named Starr who dies in the east. There's a whore named Angel. There are three strangers from Japan—three kings from the Orient? You get the idea. The story of the Nativity plays out all over again in Wyoming, although there are a lot more gunfights in this one. And there's a bit of a twist in the ending.

The Edge series is pretty much a love-it-or-hate-it proposition. I always enjoyed the books. Unlike all the house-name Western series, Edge was the brainchild of one man, British author Terry Harknett, who wrote all the books under the pseudonym George G. Gilman. Because of that, the voice remains consistent all the way through. There are stretches where the series gets a little too jokey and the pop culture references a little too blatant for my taste. That's not the case in EVE OF EVIL. Harknett plays things relatively straight, and as a result I enjoyed the book quite a bit and thought it held up well to rereading more than 35 years later. In fact, since I never finished the series before, I think I might go back and pick it up again, along with some of Harknett's other series that I never sampled.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: The 12 Dogs of Christmas

(A rerun is the best I can do this year. This post originally appeared in somewhat different form on December 26, 2009.)

This Christmas movie is set in 1931 and is about a girl from Pittsburgh whose father has to send her to live with her “aunt” (really an old girlfriend) in a small town that has a local ordinance against dogs. Naturally the girl winds up with an adorable dog and makes friends with a family that provides a “dog orphanage” just outside the town limits. The mayor’s brother is the dogcatcher and rides around in a motorcycle sidecar while his assistant drives the motorcycle. There’s a lot of mild danger and adventure and plenty of cute little kids and dogs.

This is a family-friendly movie, very sweet and heart-warming and inspirational, but the Depression-era setting is portrayed in an appropriately dark and gritty manner. The cast, all of whom were unfamiliar to me except for character actors John Billingsley and Richard Riehle, does a good job, and the period detail is good with one exception: I don’t think the football term “Hail Mary pass” had been coined in 1931. That’s a pretty minor quibble, though. Overall, this is a mild but enjoyable film and worth watching if you're looking for a Christmas movie you might not have seen.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Sinner Man - Lawrence Block

Donald Barshter is an insurance salesman in Danbury, Connecticut, just an average guy who one day accidentally kills his wife in the course of an argument. Instead of facing what he has coming to him for that crime, he decides to leave town and establish a new identity for himself elsewhere. That turns out to be Buffalo, New York, and the new identity is that of Nat Crowley, an up-and-coming mobster. And son of a gun, wouldn't you know that Nat has a real talent for organized crime, so he soon finds himself rising in the ranks of the local mob. Of course, he has to kill some more to do it . . .

SINNER MAN is the first actual crime novel Lawrence Block wrote, although not the first published, and for decades it was considered a lost novel before the discovery that it was published in 1967 by Softcover Library (the same publisher that was known earlier as Beacon Books) under the title SAVAGE LOVER and the pseudonym Sheldon Lord. The story behind that is told in Block's excellent afterword to the new Hard Case Crime edition of SINNER MAN, published for the first time under Block's name and with its original title.

It's an excellent book, too, much too good to have been lost for decades. But we can be glad that it's been found and reprinted. Some of the plot is a little far-fetched, but Block is very good at making such things seem not only plausible but very possible. It's a good portrait of the era in which it was written, as well. Block admits to doing some slight revisions, but he left the period references alone, which is always good as far as I'm concerned. I also noted that this very early novel shares some thematic elements with his recent novella RESUME SPEED, which I also read not that long ago. It's interesting to compare the two tales written more than fifty years apart. RESUME SPEED doesn't fit quite as neatly into the crime fiction genre, but its protagonist is certainly a spiritual cousin to Donald Barsthter/Nat Crowley. I've already given RESUME SPEED a high recommendation on this blog. Now I do the same for SINNER MAN. It's a very good novel.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Ace G-Man Stories, April 1940

This is a great cover that would look even better in the scan if somebody hadn't written a price in an unfortunate spot. But what can you do? Well, if you own this issue, you can read a Suicide Squad story by Emile C. Tepperman, a Brian O'Reilly story by Wyatt Blassingame, a Phil Towne story by William R. Cox, and a Phantom Fed story by Harry Lee Fellinge. I can certainly think of worse ways to spend a little time.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Thrilling Western, February 1947

If I had the actual pulp, I could probably tell for sure, but from the scan it looks like this may be an injury to a hat cover. Or maybe that's some sort of design on the guy's hat, I'm not sure. But either way I'm confident that "Blind Trails at Broken Butte" by W.C. Tuttle is a pretty good story because Tuttle was about as consistent a Western writer as you're ever going to find. I hate to say it because I don't care for the Swap and Whopper series by Syl McDowell, but "Billboard Buckaroos" isn't a bad title, either. Elsewhere in this issue of THRILLING WESTERN are stories by old pros Hal G. Evarts, Harold Cruikshank, and William O'Sullivan.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Forgotten Books: Bill Pronzini/Marcia Muller Day

For Bill Pronzini/Marcia Muller day, I wanted to write about something a little different, so I wound up reading two novellas written by Pronzini and Jeff Wallmann when they were living in Europe in the early 1970s, writing erotic novels for Liverpool Library Press and house-name novellas for various digest magazines published by Leo Margulies' Renown Publications.

We'll start with Pronzini and Wallmann's only entry in the Mike Shayne series, "Danger—Michael Shayne at Work!", from the April 1972 issue of MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE. This is a classic mystery set-up: a group of people trapped in an isolated hunting lodge by a hurricane. In this case, the hunting lodge is in the Florida Panhandle, and Mike Shayne has driven up there to deliver a report to his client, a politician who suspects his assistant of being involved in a crooked bid-rigging deal with a construction company. Also on hand are the politician's girlfriend; his ex-wife and her husband; his daughter and her boyfriend; the lodge's caretaker; and the assistant who's mixed up in the corruption and graft. As you'd expect, one of them winds up dead, leaving Shayne trapped with plenty of suspects and an unknown killer who's soon after him, too.

This story has quite a bit going for it. The action takes place in a short period of time, which I always like. The plot is suitably complex, and Pronzini and Wallmann play fair with the clues, so when Shayne finally gathers the suspects and names the killer, everything makes sense. There are some nice hardboiled scenes along the way.

Where it suffers is in the authors' characterization of Mike Shayne. Shayne has been referred to (erroneously, in my opinion) as the generic private eye, and unfortunately that's true in this case. Other than the fact that he has red hair and tugs on his earlobe occasionally when he's thinking, there's little to distinguish Shayne from dozens of other private eyes. With the story not being set in Miami and without a single mention of any of the regular supporting cast, Shayne just doesn't seem like Shayne. It's true that Davis Dresser sometimes took Shayne out of his usual setting, in novels such as MURDER IS MY BUSINESS, STRANGER IN TOWN, and SHE WOKE TO DARKNESS, but more of his personality survived intact. However, as I mentioned this is the only Shayne story Pronzini and Wallmann wrote, so they probably would have done a better job of that had they continued. As it is, "Danger—Michael Shayne at Work!" is an enjoyable if minor yarn.

This issue of MSMM also contains a Pronzini short story, "The Duel", under his Jack Foxx pseudonym. It's a well-written little tale about two men fighting over a woman, with a twist ending that could have gone two different ways. I didn't pick the right one.

The final novella Pronzini and Wallmann wrote for Renown is "The Pawns of Death", originally published in the final issue of CHARLIE CHAN MYSTERY MAGAZINE (August 1974). There's an old saying among long-time mystery fans: Never go to the opera with Ellery Queen. The same warning holds true for going to a chess tournament with Charlie Chan. The Honolulu detective is actually in Paris this time around, to attend the championship matches of an international chess competition. The reigning champion is a very stiff-upper-lip Britisher; the challenger is a brash, arrogant young American. Each man has an entourage of friends and family with him, and there are a lot of reporters on hand as well. Pronzini and Wallmann do a good job of introducing us to all the characters, and if it's pretty obvious that at least one of them will wind up as a murder victim and the rest will be suspects.

Using that set-up, the authors do a good job of spinning an entertaining yarn featuring not one but two locked room murders, a dying message, romantic triangles, a bizarre murder weapon, and a satisfactory solution. Packing all that into 30,000 words isn't easy, but Pronzini and Wallmann pull it off.

Best of all, though, is their portrayal of Charlie Chan. He's probably a little closer to the movie versions of Chan, rather than the character from Earl Derr Biggers' original novels, but he's still smart, funny, and very likable. His friendship with the French police prefect in charge of the case is handled quite well. I read this in an e-book version available on Amazon, and it includes a good introduction by Pronzini that mentions the editor of the magazine cut out some of the typical Chan sayings, but there are plenty left to make the character ring true to what we expect. Typical of most writers, Pronzini doesn't seem to think much of this early effort (I feel the same way about some of my stuff), but I found it to be very entertaining and thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

Even though they were always digests, the magazines from Renown Publications were really the last gasps of the pulp era, with their lead novels under house names, backed up by an assortment of novelettes and short stories, many of them by authors who wrote for the actual pulps earlier in their careers. Editors such as Sam Merwin Jr. and Frank Belknap Long also had long associations with the pulps. I don't know if Pronzini and Wallmann feel this way, but I've always been very glad I got the chance to be a part of that.

I didn't want to completely neglect Marcia Muller in this post, so I reread her story "The Time of the Wolves" from the iconic Western anthology WESTERYEAR. This is a tale of two pioneer women trapped in an isolated cabin in Kansas by a blizzard and a pack of hungry wolves, and one of the women may just be going mad . . . It's a great story, full of suspense, and as good as I remembered it from the last time I read it, years ago. I give it a high recommendation, along with the book it's in. WESTERYEAR is one of the all-time best Western anthologies (and it has my all-time favorite Bill Crider story in it). Hard to believe it's been almost thirty years since it was published.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Ride With the Devil - Peter Brandvold

  Bounty hunters Lou Prophet and Louisa Bonaventura, the Vengeance Queen, are back in Peter Brandvold's latest novel, RIDE WITH THE DEVIL. This time around, they're pursuing a gang of outlaws through the rugged Arizona wilderness and have to split up to bring their quarry to justice. The outlaws are led by Jack Flood and Apache Slade, as despicable a pair of villains as you're ever going to find in a Western novel, and things are complicated by a cavalry patrol led by an eager, wet-behind-the-ears lieutenant. Prophet and Louisa have their hands full just surviving this adventure, let alone bringing in the men they're after.

Nobody is better at this sort of gritty action Western than ol' Mean Pete his ownself. RIDE WITH THE DEVIL is fast-paced, filled with vivid details, and packed with violence, tragedy, and dark humor. Prophet and Louisa are great characters, and if you've never read one of their adventures before, this would be a fine place to start. If you're already a fan of the series, you won't want to miss this one. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: The Time of Their Lives

This was one of my long-time friend Gary Looney's favorite Abbott and Costello movies, and the last time I saw it was with him about 45 years ago. So I thought it was time to watch it again. It's a good film, but it's certainly not a typical outing for Bud and Lou.

THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES opens during the Revolutionary War with Lou playing a tinker and Bud the butler on an estate belonging to a wealthy young man who's cooperating with Benedict Arnold to betray the American forces. Through a twist of fate, Lou and the young woman who's engaged to the estate's owner are mistakenly thought to be traitors and shot and killed by some American soldiers. Their ghosts are cursed to remain bound to the estate unless they can somehow prove their innocence. Not exactly a laugh riot so far.

We jump ahead to 1946, the year this movie was released. A young man who seems to be a World War II veteran who had a hard time of it (although this is never really made clear) has the old mansion rebuilt and bring his fiancee and her aunt to visit, unaware that the place is haunted. The guy's psychiatrist—an unlikely role for Bud Abbott—comes along, too. Ghostly hijinks ensue, mostly revolving around the search for a letter from George Washington that will clear the names of the two spirits and let them move on to their heavenly reward.

For the most part, this is a movie that's mildly amusing rather than laugh-out-loud funny, although I can't watch Lou Costello for very long without laughing at least a little. Bud and Lou interact hardly at all and there's none of their trademark banter. The plot has some rather dark undertones, too, what with traitors, death, and whatever's plaguing the young WW2 vet. Lou works hard, though, and the female lead, Marjorie Reynolds, is beautiful and sports a bra that would put your eye out.

So overall it's a pleasant movie. My favorite Abbott and Costello films are probably BUCK PRIVATES and ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN, and THE TIME OF THEIR LIVES isn't up to that level, but it's certainly enjoyable and well worth watching.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Wonder Stories, August 1950

All that futuristic-looking machinery in the background, and the girl's using a plain old revolver. But hey, it's Earle Bergey's work, so I'm not going to complain. I wouldn't complain about the contents of this issue of THRILLING WONDER STORIES, either, since it features stories by Arthur C. Clarke, Henry Kuttner, Jack Vance, L. Ron Hubbard, Walt Sheldon, and Wallace West. That's a pretty good lineup.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Adventures, April 1941

WESTERN ADVENTURES was a second-string Street & Smith Western pulp (if you consider both WESTERN STORY and WILD WEST WEEKLY to be first-string), but from what I've seen it was a pretty solid publication. The covers aren't great, but there were plenty of good authors published in its pages. In this particular issue, for example, are stories by Walker A. Tompkins, Leslie Ernenwein, Ed Earl Repp (writing as Brad Buckner), and Rolland Lynch. I certainly wouldn't hesitate to pick up an issue of WESTERN ADVENTURES for some good reading. 

Friday, December 09, 2016

Forgotten Books: The Oxbow Deed - D.B. Newton

Jess Kingman returns to his ranch in Montana's Oxbow River country after spending twelve years in prison because he was framed on a rustling charge. His former cellmate Dal Chantry comes with him, both men having been pardoned after they saved the warden's life during a riot. Chantry is a young man who helped rob an express office; he was caught while his two partners deserted him and got away. Kingman knows that his wife passed away while he was behind bars, but he expects to find his daughter on the ranch. Instead the place is deserted, and in fact the neighboring cattle baron is about to move in and take the place over. Nobody wants the two ex-convicts around, and it's clear from the start that they're in for trouble if they're stubborn enough to stay. Which, of course, they are.

Originally published in 1967 by Ace Books under the pseudonym Clement Hardin as half of an Ace Double with KINCAID by John Callahan. I love the cover copy on this edition: "Welcome back, rustler--your noose is ready". Reprinted in a large print edition by G.K. Hall in 2000 under Newton's name (the edition I read). This is a good, fast-moving Western novel. Newton is very much of a traditionalist in his plotting and writing style. Nothing here is going to come as much of a surprise to veteran Western readers, although some of the characters didn't turn out exactly like I expected. I've been reading Newton's books for a long time, and he never disappoints because he consistently comes up with good characters and is able to create a sense of urgency in his writing, even when the reader has a pretty good idea what's going to happen. His work reminds me of Ray Hogan's; they both tell tough-minded, traditional tales. THE OXBOW DEED is one of Newton's better books, well worth picking up if you come across it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: The Monster and the Girl

Every so often you run across a movie with such a goofy premise that it shouldn't be anything except a silly mess, but somehow the people making it manage to elevate it into something that's much better than it has any right to be. Such is the case with THE MONSTER AND THE GIRL, a 1941 noir/horror movie that I recorded months ago from Svengoolie's show and then promptly forgot about until now.

There are some minor spoilers ahead, since it's impossible to talk about the movie's plot without them. It begins as a flashback (in fact, there are numerous flashbacks within flashbacks in this movie, an unusual structure for a film from this era), a story being told by the girl of the title, played by the fetching Ellen Drew. Her brother is on trial for murder, and we quickly find out that he was framed for the crime by the prostitution ring that forced his sister into a life of degradation (another unusual touch for the time period; the script keeps things vague, but it's obvious what's going on). This part of the movie comes across like a standard but well-done crime film . . . except that during the trial, one of the spectators is played by George Zucco, so you know there's going to some mad scientisting going on sooner or later.

Sure enough, the girl's brother is found guilty and executed, but not before he agrees to let his brain be used in a scientific experiment after he's dead. Zucco's character, assisted by Abner Biberman from GUNGA DIN, transplants the guy's brain into the body of a gorilla. The gorilla now has all the memories of the dead man, so he escapes from Zucco's laboratory to seek vengeance on the men responsible for ruining his sister and condemning him to death.

Several things make this work a lot better than it should. The script, the director (Stuart Heisler), and the actors all play it straight. It's a good cast, too, with the criminals being played by Paul Lukas, Joseph Calleia, Gerald Mohr, Marc Lawrence, and Onslow Stevens, among others. A young Rod Cameron is very good as a hard-nosed reporter. But the real star of the picture is effects man Charles Gemora, who fashioned not only a very realistic gorilla suit but gives an excellent performance while wearing it. This is some of the best gorilla suit work I've ever seen, especially in scenes with the dog who belonged to the character when he was human. The dog, whose name is Skipper, just about steals the show on several occasions.

Maybe I'm the target audience or I was just in the right mood for it, but I think THE MONSTER AND THE GIRL is an odd but borderline great film. I'm very glad I watched it.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: All Star Detective Stories, November 1930

Some pulp covers are just so goofy, you can't help but love 'em. For example, the November 1930 issue of ALL STAR DETECTIVE STORIES. And behind that cover, you've got a pretty good line-up of authors, including T.T. Flynn, Johnston McCulley, Arthur J. Burks, and Leslie McFarlane, who was also writing the Hardy Boys books at the time.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Speed Western, April 1947

Every story in this issue is by either a house-name or an author I've never heard of (and those may be house-names, too, for all I know), so there's no telling who actually wrote any of them. It's entirely possible they're all reprints that appeared originally under other titles and by-lines. But that's a pretty good George Rozen cover, so I'm posting about this issue of SPEED WESTERN anyway.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Forgotten Books: Triplanetary - Edward E. "Doc" Smith, Ph.D.

A few years ago I got an email from someone whose name I didn't recognize. Normally I'd think that was just spam, but the subject line had to do with the Lensman books, the famous science fiction series by Edward E. "Doc" Smith, so I was curious enough to open it. When I read the email, I could tell that it was part of an ongoing conversation about the series that had somehow wound up in my inbox. I had gotten the email equivalent of a wrong number. So I replied to the guy to let him know and mentioned that while I hadn't read the Lensman series myself, I'd been meaning to get around to it for a long time. I wound up trading several more emails with him, intentionally this time, talking about Doc Smith and SF. My new-found friend advised me to skip the first two books in the series and start with the third one, GALACTIC PATROL, and to read the original pulp versions if I could.

Well, there are two problems with that. First of all, my OCD makes it difficult for me to just skip books in a series like that, and second, I don't own the pulp versions of any of the Lensman books. I do, however, have the Pyramid paperback reprints from the Sixties, and so finally, at long last, being in the mood for some classic SF, I read TRIPLANETARY, which is, chronologically, at least, the first book in the series. (The scan above is the copy I read.)

Most of you probably know this, but for those who don't, some quick background: TRIPLANETARY was originally published as a stand-alone serial in the pulp AMAZING STORIES. Three years later in ASTOUNDING, Smith began the Lensman series with GALACTIC PATROL and wrote several sequels to it. In the late Forties, those novels were reprinted by a small publisher called Fantasy Press. At that time, Smith took TRIPLANETARY and wrote a new opening sequence about 30,000 words long that ret-conned it into the Lensman series. He also wrote a new novel, FIRST LENSMAN, that fits between TRIPLANETARY and GALACTIC PATROL.

Based on all that, it's easy to see why my email friend suggested that I start with GALACTIC PATROL, then go back and read the others later if I wanted to. But that's not what I did.

Actually, it's easy to separate the later additions from the original material. The new opening sequences lay the groundwork for a long war between two super-intelligent and super-powerful galactic empires, the Arisians (the good guys) and the Eddorians (the bad guys). As you'd immediately assume, a small, backwater planet called Earth is going to turn out to be vital to both sides. Throughout our history, from the fall of Atlantis to the fall of Rome to the world wars in the 20th Century, events were actually being manipulated by the Arisians and the Eddorians.

Jump ahead a few centuries, and our solar system is governed by the Triplanetary League, an alliance between Earth, Mars, and Venus. The main section of the novel involves a space pirate named Roger waging war on the solar system and the efforts by various Triplanetary agents to stop his reign of terror. Then, out of the blue, a bunch of aliens called the Nevians show up to attack the solar system and try to steal all our iron, which they use as a power source. The Nevians aren't really bad guys, though, just so far advanced they regard humanity as an annoyance to be brushed aside. They find out different, though, since our human scientists are smart enough to turn the Nevian technology against the invaders, while still battling Roger and the space pirates.

Smith did some rewriting in this section, as well, to make Roger a pawn of the Eddorians who's actually being controlled by one of them. You can tell what the book was like in its original version, though: stalwart heroes versus evil space pirates versus invaders from another galaxy. Adding the Arisia/Eddore war just widens the scope and sets up the later books.

Is TRIPLANETARY worth reading? Well . . . all the things Smith was notorious for can be found in this book: the clunky prose, the minimal characterization, the tin-eared dialogue. But the things which make him one of the most influential figures in science fiction history are here, too: the vast ideas (every "warring galactic empires with Earth caught in the middle" book and movie owes something to Smith), the super-weapons (Roger has a warship the size and shape of an asteroid, sort of like . . . oh, the Death Star, anyone?), the universe-spanning force of agents dedicated to battling evil ("In brightest day, in blackest night . . ."), armed with a super-powered lens instead of a power ring like the Green Lanterns. If you can overlook the shortcomings, and for the most part I could, TRIPLANETARY definitely has that sense of wonder I look for in science fiction. The space battles are great, and even the stodgy characters are sort of likeable. I don't know if I'll ever make it to the end of the series, but I plan to push on and read more of the Lensman saga.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Tracker - James Rollins

This is another of those short e-book originals designed mostly to promote the full-length books by various bestselling authors. I've read only one book by James Rollins (SANDSTORM), but I liked it pretty well. In TRACKER, he introduces a couple of new protagonists, a former soldier named Tucker Wayne and Tucker's German Shepherd Kane, who worked with him in Afghanistan. Tucker left the service after some unspecified tragedy and took Kane with him, and now they wander around the world and wind up in dangerous situations when Tucker tries to help people who need it.

They're in Bulgaria for this one, and when Tucker sees a beautiful blonde being tailed by three thugs, he and Kane take a hand. I don't think it's giving too much away to say that there are various factions after a fortune in gold looted by the Nazis during World War II. Yes, it's that plot again. There's some nice action, though, in and underneath a creepy old cemetery.

It would be easy to indulge in some snark and say that this is Jack-Reacher-with-a-dog, but actually, although that's an accurate description in some ways, Rollins is a good enough writer to elevate it above that. He's an admitted fan of Doc Savage (he used to be a veterinarian before he became a bestselling writer, and I believe he said he had the entire Bantam series on a shelf in his office), and a little Lester Dent may have rubbed off on him. This story moves along nicely. I really like the characters of Tucker and Kane, too. Being a dog lover, I was inclined to enjoy this one to start with. Tucker and Kane have gone on to appear in one of Rollins' Sigma Force novels (his main series) and in a collaborative novel by Rollins and Grant Blackwood, THE KILL SWITCH. I have that one and will probably give it a try at some point, although it's longer than I prefer. For now I can say that TRACKER is a very quick read and that I liked it.