Thursday, March 31, 2011

Peacemaker Award Nominations Announced

For Immediate release:

Western Fictioneers (WF) is pleased to announce the nominations for the first annual Peacemaker Awards.

Nominees for the 2010 Best Western Short Story Award are listed in alphabetical order:

“Left Behind” by Carol Crigger from the anthology Roundup! Great Stories of the West (La Frontera Publishing

“This Old Star” by Wayne Dundee from the anthology Bad Cop…No Donut (Padwolf Publishing)

“Two-Bit Kill” by C. Courtney Joyner from the anthology Law of the Gun (Kensington) .

“Scourge of the Spoils” by Matthew P. Mayo from the anthology Steampunk’d (Daw Books, Inc)

"Catch a Killer by the Toe" by Pete Peterson published by Untreed Reads

Nominees for the 2010 Best Western Novel Award are listed in alphabetical order:

Manhunt (Berkley) by Lyle Brandt (Berkley)
Avenging Angels by Lyle Brandt (Berkley)
Settler’s Chase by D. H. Eraldi (Berkley)
Long Ride to Limbo by Kit Prate (Western Trail Blazers)
Wulf's Tracks by Dusty Richards (Berkley)
Congregation of Jackals by S. Craig Zahler (Dorchester)
There will be no Best First Western Novel Award awarded this year as there were not enough entries to complete the field of judging.
The Peacemaker Awards will be announced June 23rd, 2011 in Bismarck, North Dakota. A place and time will be announced at a later date.
Western Fictioneers (WF) was formed in 2010 by Robert J. Randisi, James Reasoner, Frank Roderus, and other professional Western writers, to preserve, honor, and promote traditional Western writing in the 21st century. Entries were accepted in both print and electronic forms. The Peacemaker Awards will be given out annually. Submissions for the 2011 awards will be open in July, 2011. Submission guidelines will be posted on the WF web site. For more information about Western Fictioneers (WF) please visit:

Gang Girl/Sex Bum - Don Elliott (Robert Silverberg)

I’ve known for a good many years that Robert Silverberg actually wrote the scores of softcore erotic novels published between the late Fifties and the mid-Sixties under the name Don Elliott. A few years ago I read and enjoyed LOVE ADDICT, the first Don Elliott novel and the first book published by Nightstand Books, the first and probably best-known softcore imprint published by William Hamling. I was surprised at how good LOVE ADDICT was, although I shouldn’t have been, of course, since I already knew what a good writer Silverberg was (and is).

In a few days Stark House Press will be publishing GANG GIRL/SEX BUM, the first reprints of any of Silverberg’s Don Elliott novels. GANG GIRL, originally published in 1959, was his second book for Nightstand, while SEX BUM came out a few years later in 1963. Both novels are rise-and-fall stories.

The protagonist of GANG GIRL is Lora Menotti, a tough and experienced sixteen-year-old gang member from New York who has to find herself a new gang to run with when her family moves to a different neighborhood. Given Lora’s willingness to use sex to get what she wants, it doesn’t take her long to insinuate herself into the Cougars, and she doesn’t settle for being a junior member, either. She sets her sights on being the deb of the gang leader and actually running things as the power behind the throne.

I’m not a huge fan of “juvie” novels, but this is a good one. The details of gang life come across as realistic, whether they actually are or not, and Lora is a fine if unsympathetic character, dominating the book with her fierce and ruthless ambition. There’s quite a bit of sex but even more graphic violence, and the fact that it’s so unsettling is a tribute to Silverberg’s skill as a writer.

SEX BUM is more of a hardboiled crime novel. Set in upstate New York, it centers around Johnny Price’s rise from being a small-town punk to becoming a powerful man in the New York Syndicate, double-crossing and stepping on anybody he has to in order to get what he wants. As in all tragedies, though, Johnny sets his sights too high and ultimately has to pay a price for his ambition, as Lora does in GANG GIRL.

With its upstate New York setting and heel-as-protagonist, this one actually reminded me of an Orrie Hitt novel, although Silverberg doesn’t use any of the other familiar Hitt plot elements. Nor is there the deus ex machina happy ending often found in Hitt novels. Which is not to say that Silverberg’s approach is better, just different. And equally compelling and entertaining.

Silverberg’s prose is some of the smoothest I’ve ever encountered. I would sit down to read a chapter or two and find myself halfway through the book before I knew it.  Every so often there’ll be some small inconsistency (a girl’s small breasts are mentioned in one chapter, while in the next chapter the same girl has “big boobs”, for example), but that can be chalked up to the speed with which the books were written, usually six days apiece. Plenty of other writers have been guilty of the same thing. (Raises hand sheepishly.)

These are hugely entertaining books, and Stark House is to be commended for bringing them back into print. Adding to the book’s appeal is a fine introduction by Silverberg (an expansion of his famous essay “My Life as a Pornographer”) and an equally informative afterword by author and scholar Michael Hemmingson, plus a bibliography of Silverberg’s erotic novels as Don Elliott and those published under other pseudonyms. I hope GANG GIRL/SEX BUM is only the first of many Don Elliott reprint volumes. In the meantime, I have the original editions of a couple of other Elliott novels, so I may read them soon, too. These two are highly recommended.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Condemned

How long has it been since you saw a good “women in prison” movie? If it’s been too long, you can remedy that by watching Oren Shai’s CONDEMNED. It’s a short film with only four characters, but it’s very well-made and made me want a feature version, complete with all the back-story and more about what happens to Prisoner #1031 (Margaret Anne Florence). The performances are good, the production values are top-notch (the movie is very well-photographed), and the music is great. Plus you get vintage paperbacks and some fine noir dialogue.

CONDEMNED is available on-line several places, but the main page for it is here. Do yourself a favor and check this one out if you haven’t seen it already. Highly recommended.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Top Suspense Anthology

I’ve just read the first anthology published by the Top Suspense Group, a gathering of fine writers who have joined forces to provide consistently excellent mystery, suspense, horror, and Western e-books. There are twelve authors currently involved, and in this anthology they’ve brought together a variety of stories, some reprints and some new, that share the quality of being top-notch entertainment. Here’s the line-up:

Unreasonable Doubt by Max Allan Collins
Death’s Brother by Bill Crider
Poisoned by Stephen Gallagher
Remaindered by Lee Goldberg
Fire in the Sky by Joel Goldman
The Baby Store by Ed Gorman
The Jade Elephant by Libby Fischer Hellmann
The Big O by Vicki Hendricks
The Chirashi Covenant by Naomi Hirahara
El Valiente en el Infierno by Paul Levine
A Handful of Dust by Harry Shannon
The Canary by Dave Zeltserman
The Chase by Top Suspense Group

What sets TOP SUSPENSE apart from many anthologies I’ve read is that there’s not a weak story in the bunch. They’re all good. I had read some of them before but read those again and thoroughly enjoyed them. Since I’m friends with many of these writers and have known some of them for decades, I hesitate to start listing favorites. That said . . . I really enjoyed Joel Goldman’s Depression-era crime story “Fire in the Sky”, Ed Gorman’s haunting “The Baby Store”, Vicki Hendrick’s Florida-set noir “The Big O”, and “The Chase”, a slightly crazed and highly entertaining round-robin story written by the authors in 250-word chunks. I had to laugh several times because I could almost see the authors at their computers cackling fiendishly as they set something up for the next author in line to tackle. Having been involved in several “collaborative novels”, I can tell you that sometimes that set-up works, and sometimes it doesn’t. In “The Chase”, it works really well.

TOP SUSPENSE is one of the best anthologies I’ve read in quite a while and well worth your attention. Highly recommended.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

So Close the Hand of Death - J.T. Ellison

I’m not a big fan of serial killer novels, but I read one now and then. And J.T. Ellison is another of those writers I don’t really know, but we have lots of mutual friends. So I picked up her newest novel about Nashville homicide detective Taylor Jackson, SO CLOSE THE HAND OF DEATH, and gave it a try. I’m glad I did.

I’ll admit that at first I had a little trouble getting into this one, because there’s a lot of back-story. As with quite a bit of current mystery fiction, it might be better to read this series in order (which I intend to do, now that I’ve sampled it). But Ellison does a good job of bringing new readers up to speed, and once I had all the characters straight, the rest of the book really races along.

In this one, Taylor Jackson has to track down a serial killer she’s encountered before. The Pretender, who apprenticed himself to a killer Jackson took down in a previous book, mimics the murder methods of famous serial killers of the past. To make things worse, it appears that he’s taken on apprentices of his own and has followers carrying out murders in various places across the country. Complicating things even more is a true-crime blogger who may have figured out who The Pretender is, and he definitely knows who she is.

There are a few soap opera undertones – Jackson works with an FBI special agent and profiler with whom she has a romantic relationship – but for the most part the book is a straight-ahead procedural filled with nice details about how the authorities track down serial killers and punctuated with bursts of well-done action. Taylor Jackson is a fine character, plenty tough but not unrealistically so, and Ellison produces some good, hardboiled prose.

As I mentioned above, if you haven’t been reading this series, you should probably start at the first. But if you have, you certainly don’t want to miss SO CLOSE THE HAND OF DEATH. (Ellison’s other novels, which I assume all feature Taylor Jackson, are ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS, 14, JUDAS KISS, THE COLD ROOM, and THE IMMORTALS.)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Dime Western, June 1944

This is certainly an odd cover, one of the few I've seen other than issues of MASKED RIDER WESTERN where a character is wearing a Lone Ranger-style mask.  And then there's the badge on the shirt underneath the torn shirt.  Really makes you want to find out what it's all about, doesn't it?  I'd say a cover like that has done its job.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Forgotten Books: Girl Possessed - Dean Owen (Dudley Dean McGaughey)

(I'm kind of swamped these days, so from time to time I'm going to be re-running some posts from the early days of this blog, before there was a Forgotten Books series.  I hope they'll be new to many of you, and to those who have seen them before, my apologies.)

For an author who is remembered today (if at all) as a Western writer, based on the evidence of this book Dean Owen could also write a pretty good crime novel. The plot of this book is very much in the Gold Medal style: an earnest but not too bright lunk of a hero runs into a beautiful dame who's maybe no better than she has to be; hero makes one wrong decision that sets in motion a chain of steadily worsening events including murder; and then things get even worse. If there's a drawback to this book, it may be that it hews too closely to this well-established plotline and doesn't provide any real surprises along the way. But Owen tells his story in a terse, fast-moving style that's very appealing to me and gives the reader a good picture of a man who's gone past the end of his rope.

And how about that cover, hey? Pretty spicy stuff.

This novel was published by Gold Star Books, a short-lived company headquartered in Derby, Connecticut. In its three years or so of existence, Gold Star published quite a few crime novels, including American editions of some of the Hank Janson novels, which were hugely successful in England. Gold Star is best known, though, as the publisher of several Tarzan pastiche novels which appeared under the pseudonymous byline "Barton Werper" (actually the name of a character in one of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan novels). If I'm remembering the story correctly, these Tarzan novels were lightly rewritten plagiarisms of some of Burroughs' novels. I recall seeing the Barton Werper books on the paperback rack at Tompkins' Drug Store, where I bought a lot of books and comics and digest magazines in the mid-Sixties, but for some reason I never bought any of them. That sort of surprises me because I was a big Burroughs fan by then. I sort of wish I had picked them up, because they're semi-collectible now, but I don't want them badly enough to go looking for copies.

I've wandered off the subject. GIRL POSSESSED is good enough that I'll definitely read more of Dean Owen's mystery novels under his various pseudonyms (most notably Dudley Dean and Owen Dudley). Luckily I already own most of them.

(Update:  Since this post, like the others I'll be re-running, is from before the fire, I don't have all those Dudley Dean and Owen Dudley mysteries anymore.  But I do have some I've picked up since then, and I still plan to get around to reading them.  One of these days.)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Green Hornet: Year One: The Sting of Justice - Matt Wagner

I’ve written here before about listening to the syndicated reruns of THE GREEN HORNET radio show when I was a kid during the early Sixties, watching the Green Hornet TV series later that same decade, and writing a Green Hornet story of my own for the anthology published last year by Moonstone. So you know about my fondness for the character.

I recently picked up a trade paperback reprinting of the first six issues of the comic book series THE GREEN HORNET: YEAR ONE, published by Dynamite Entertainment. This volume is entitled THE STING OF JUSTICE and employs flashbacks to tell the story of The Green Hornet and Kato beginning their battle against the criminal underworld in Chicago in 1938, as well as fleshing in their backgrounds and explaining how they met. The script is by Matt Wagner, author of the great SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE comics series, and the art is by Aaron Campbell.

I really like the fact that the main story is set in the Thirties, as it should be. This is clearly the radio character, and Wagner’s script and Campbell’s art do a fine job of capturing the era and staying true (for the most part) to the continuity and atmosphere of the radio show, while telling a more hardboiled story than most of the broadcasts from that era. Also, without ever coming right out and saying it, there are a couple of things eagle-eyed readers will spot that are nods to the fact the Lone Ranger was the original Green Hornet’s great-uncle.

My only complaints are minor ones. The story is set in Chicago, and while I don’t believe the city was ever identified in the radio show, I thought it was understood to be Detroit, home of the radio station where the Green Hornet originated. Also, I can’t believe six entire issues went by without one scene of a newsboy yelling, “Extry! Extry! Green Hornet still at large!” I know, I know, the guys on the rebooted HAWAII FIVE-O don’t like saying “Book ’em, Danno”, either (and the snarky comments they made about it in interviews before the show ever aired sort of prejudiced me against it). Sometimes you can just be too post-modern and ironic for your own good, damn it. Anyway, I plan to read future collections from this Green Hornet series, and that newsboy better show up sooner or later.

In the meantime, I liked this one a great deal and thought that overall it was a faithful adaptation and expansion of the original. If you’re a Green Hornet fan, you really should read it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Demon Cross - Nathan Shumate

Nathan Shumate runs the excellent Pulp of the Day website. I’ve been a subscriber to it for years, getting a cover image in my email every day. Not all of them are exactly what purists like myself consider pulps, but hey, I love vintage paperbacks and men’s sweat mags, too, so it’s all good. Very good, in fact.

But in addition to this fine work, Shumate is also a writer, and his new e-book, THE DEMON CROSS, is a top-notch horror/private eye yarn. PI and single mother Rennie Avalon tends to get involved in cases that have a supernatural angle to them, and in this one she’s hired to recover an ancient book that contains dangerous information. (That’s right. It’s a wandering book job.) Naturally things get both complicated and dangerous. How could they be anything but with neo-Nazis and demons involved?

The pace in this one really races right along, which I always like, and Shumate does a good job with the characters as well. Despite all the fantastic goings-on, Rennie Avalon doesn’t come across as some sort of super-heroine but rather more of a realistic character who’s reasonably tough when she needs to be but certainly not perfect. The supporting cast consisting of her daughter and various people who help her with her cases is well-drawn, too.

THE DEMON CROSS reminds me of the pilot episode of a good TV series. Shumate has more Rennie Avalon novels coming, and I plan to read them. Recommended.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: The Dead Don't Dream

My memories of Hopalong Cassidy from when I’m a kid are of the TV show, of course, as well as the early films that starred William Boyd in the iconic black outfit and hat (Hoppy being one of the few good guys who wore black).

But years later, I discovered that in the series’ final years, there were a number of entries in which Boyd wore a tan suit and cream-colored hat, and the plots took on a definitely hardboiled, mystery-oriented tone. One of the best of these is THE DEAD DON’T DREAM, which is a great noir title that would have been just as much at home on a Gold Medal paperback.

Boyd’s sidekicks in these later films are Andy Clyde as California Carlson and Rand Brooks as Lucky Jenkins. In this one, our heroes find themselves staying in an isolated frontier hotel where a murder takes place, and that killing is only the first of several. This film is actually structured more like a Charlie Chan movie than a Western (which I guess makes Andy Clyde the Mantan Moreland character) and is nicely photographed in sinister black-and-white.

THE DEAD DON'T DREAM and the other Cassidy movies from this era are nice, tight films that pack quite a bit of plot into running times that seldom went much over an hour. When the Hopalong Cassidy TV show was at its height in the early Fifties, some of the movies from the late Forties, like this one, were edited down to fit into a half-hour TV episode, which meant cutting them by almost two-thirds once you account for the commercials. I’ve seen those episodes, and they make almost no sense at all. But the original versions are well worth watching. I believe some of them are available on Netflix, including this one.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Host of Shadows - Harry Shannon

I don’t know Harry Shannon well, but we have a lot of good mutual friends and have had stories in some of the same anthologies. I also hadn’t read much of his work until now, but I just finished the massive collection, A HOST OF SHADOWS, which has been nominated for a Stoker Award by the Horror Writers of America.

Despite that nomination, there are quite a few stories in A HOST OF SHADOWS that aren’t what you’d think of as traditional horror. You got your Westerns, your war stories, your crime and suspense stories to go along with plenty of stories that definitely are horror yarns. What they all have in common, though, is that they’re very dark and very well-written. Shannon’s clearly a master of the terse and hardboiled.

Another thing I like about this collection is that a number of the stories take place in the West and Southwest, and Shannon does an excellent job of portraying the bleak high desert country that manages to be both starkly beautiful and depressingly ugly at the same time.  He's written a number of mystery novels with the same setting, and I plan to read those as soon as I get a chance.

So I think the Stoker nomination for this collection is well-deserved, and if you haven’t read Harry Shannon’s work yet, A HOST OF SHADOWS would be an excellent place to start. Highly recommended.

(Harry Shannon is a member of the Top Suspense Group.)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Criminal, Vol. 1: Coward - Ed Brubaker

I’ve read quite a few favorable comments about CRIMINAL, the series of noir-oriented graphic novels written by Ed Brubaker and drawn by Sean Phillips. While I enjoyed Brubaker’s work on various Batman titles in the past and am really liking his current efforts on several comics published by Marvel, I’d never sampled the CRIMINAL series until now.

The first volume, COWARD, is narrated by a guy named Leo, a former pickpocket who has graduated to planning and helping carry out elaborate robberies. He has a strict set of rules, though, and won’t get involved in any job where he has to run too much of a risk. When he’s approached by a fellow thief and a crooked cop and asked to plan the robbery of a police evidence van carrying five million dollars worth of stolen diamonds, Leo first says no. He doesn’t want to get involved in something being set up by a crooked cop. Too chancy.

But he has his father’s former partner to take care of, and the man is not only hooked on heroin but also has Alzheimer’s, so Leo needs money. The fact that the widow of a former partner of his is also going to be part of the crew influences Leo as well. He feels a little guilty that the woman’s husband got killed during a job he planned. So, reluctantly, Leo says yes.

You already know where this is going. Leo has made a bad mistake.

Naturally, things don’t work out the way he expects them to. People die. Lies and double-crosses abound. More people die. And Leo is left scrambling to try to protect himself and the people he cares about while trying to make things right. You’ve seen this before, going all the way back to the Gold Medal glory days.

But the heist plot, when done well, is still remarkably effective, and Brubaker and Phillips do a great job in COWARD. Although Leo is a far cry from being the hardnosed guy that Parker is, reading this book reminded me quite a bit of Westlake’s Richard Stark novels. Brubaker writes fine dialogue, the plot twists back and forth nicely, and the whole thing has that inexorable spiraling of fate that makes noir fiction what it is. This is excellent work, and I plan to read more of the collected editions of CRIMINAL in the near future. Highly recommended.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Complete Western Book Magazine, October 1935

This is a pretty daring cover for a non-Spicy pulp.  I haven't read anything by any of the authors in this one except J. Allan Dunn, who is usually pretty entertaining.  Several of Dane Coolidge's novels have been reprinted in recent years and he had a pretty good reputation as a Western author, but I've never read anything by him.  I probably will, though, sooner or later.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Forgotten Books: Sinful Woman - James M. Cain

SINFUL WOMAN is regarded as one of James M. Cain’s lesser novels, but let’s face it, when you’re the author of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE and DOUBLE INDEMNITY, most of your other novels are going to be regarded as lesser. SINFUL WOMAN may not be anywhere near the level of those two novels, but it’s still a pretty entertaining yarn.

Set in Reno, Nevada, the story concerns beautiful actress Sylvia Shoreham, who’s there to get a divorce from her husband, a formerly penniless European baron turned movie producer. Sylvia meets the local sheriff, Parker Lucas, and they fall for each other immediately, but things are complicated by the arrival in town of the baron, his somewhat shady partner in the movie studio that has Sylvia under contract, and some colorful hangers-on. Throw in a casino owner, Sylvia’s troublesome sister, some insurance guys (Cain must have loved the insurance business, as often as it turns up in his books), and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that somebody winds up dead and Sheriff Lucas has a mess on his hands trying to untangle everything and save Sylvia from a murder charge . . . that is, unless she’s really guilty.

This is one of those books where a lot happens in a span of about twelve hours, and the plot gets pretty complicated. I think it all makes sense in the end, but I’m not sure. My only real complaint is that Cain goes overboard on the dialect in places. But I like the characters, especially the sheriff, and the book is pretty funny in places. The back cover copy on the edition I read refers to it as “a zany soap opera”, and that’s a good description. It’s definitely in the screwball vein.

If you’ve never read Cain’s work before, SINFUL WOMAN is not the book you should start with, since it’s not really that typical of his other books. But if you like the others, you’ll probably enjoy this one, too, despite its oddball nature. I thought it was fun.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


You can't get much simpler than the plot of UNSTOPPABLE.  Two average joe railroad workers try to stop an unmanned runaway train carrying toxic chemicals from crashing in a highly populated area.  That's about it.  There's a little back story for the characters, but not much.  Almost the entire movie is devoted to trying to stop the train.  And that makes for a very suspenseful film that I really enjoyed.

However, it occurred to me that very, very few of the people who watch this movie would ever realize it's a high-tech, 21st Century version of the sort of yarns that used to appear all the time in the pulp RAILROAD STORIES.  I have a few issues of this magazine, and it's pretty darned good.  Here are a few covers.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Assorted Movies

We've watched several movies lately, but I've been too busy to blog about them.  So, a few quick catch-up comments.

THE FIGHTER is very, very good.  The Oscar-winning performances by Christian Bale and Melissa Leo struck me as a little showy, but that's what wins Oscars, after all.  And that's not to say they didn't do great jobs.  But I thought Mark Wahlberg and Amy Adams were just as good.  I really didn't expect to see  sweet, innocent, wholesome Amy Adams in a role like that, but she was fine.

MEGAMIND is also very good.  Great animation and lots of humor that probably went over the heads of the little kids who watched it.  I was very entertained, though.

WILD TARGET is a British hitman comedy.  The British sometimes have an odd sense of humor, and it's displayed to very good effect in this one.

THE NEXT THREE DAYS is okay, a bit of a downer at the end as far as I'm concerned.  I would have done it differently, but hey, that's just me.

LIFE AS WE KNOW IT is a decent rom-com, a little darker than some.  Josh Duhamel is a likable actor, and Katherine Heigl is, well, Katherine Heigl, which is usually enough for me.  That's the case here, too.

But definitely, watch THE FIGHTER and MEGAMIND if you haven't seen them yet.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: The Picasso Summer

This is a movie that I saw once on TV, many years ago, so I’m going by memory here (and IMDB) here. Albert Finney and the always lovely Yvette Mimeaux play a struggling couple who decide to take a trip to France and find Pablo Picasso in order to save their marriage. Not Picasso’s paintings, mind you, but Picasso himself, because he’s Finney’s favorite painter and Finney convinces himself that if he can just meet Picasso, everything will be all right again.

Well, there’s lots of lush, beautiful scenery, lush, beautiful music, colorful, eccentric French people, and romance. All very pleasant, I’m sure. But the thing that’s stuck with me all these years is the twist ending, about which I can’t say anything without giving away too much. I remember watching it on TV and saying, “Whoooaaa.” Of course, this was the early Seventies, I was in college, and my “Whoooaaa” threshold was probably pretty low. Maybe the movie doesn’t hold up. But if you haven’t seen it and ever run across it, I think you should watch it anyway, on the chance that I’m right. I certainly would.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Big News From Black Dog Books

The acclaimed 2010 title from Black Dog Books, The Best of Adventure, Volume
1:1910-1912 has been selected as a finalist in The 2010 Book of the Year

The general announcement was released today.

National Review says "[Readers] like me will regard it as a treasure trove."

And Blogcritics says: "Quick and satisfying little actioners offering
readers into worlds we now primarily see on cable doc series like Deadliest
Catch or Ax Men--rough environments where tough-as-nails men put themselves
at risk on a daily basis--or classic Hollywood adventure movies."

Find out what all the banter is about. Be sure to order your copy today!

Midnight in Rosary by Charles Gramlich Now Available

Longtime friend, fellow Robert E. Howard fan, and all-around fine writer Charles Gramlich has a new book out, the collection MIDNIGHT IN ROSARY.  As Charles says:  "It's a collection of my short stories, mostly vampire and urban fantasy type tales, with some werewolves and a ghost thrown in."

Now, I haven't read this book yet, but I certainly will.  Knowing Charles, these aren't your typical vampire stories.  Also, a number of his earlier books are now available as e-books, including the Talera trilogy (sword-and-planet novels) and BITTER STEEL, his collection of heroic fantasy yarns.  If you haven't sampled Charles's work yet, you should definitely check out any or all of these volumes.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Pretty Polly - Duane Spurlock

My friend Duane Spurlock's Western story "Pretty Polly" is now available as an e-book, and it's well worth reading.  You might think that a story featuring characters named Griswold "Grizzly" Bear and Sheriff Billy Shoat might be a little cutesy, but nope.  "Pretty Polly" is actually a fairly gritty Western yarn with a bit of a twist ending.  And even though Bear's the bad guy, he's also a great character and I hope he returns one of these days.  This is fine entertainment at an inexpensive price.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Best Western, December 1951

Calling something the best of anything is always debatable, of course, but if you're talking about a pulp magazine, it certainly doesn't hurt to have an action-packed cover by Norman Saunders.  Ray Gaulden and Frank Castle are probably the best-known authors in this one, other than that Louis L'Amour guy, whose story "Long Ride Home" appears in this issue.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Forgotten Books: Sin is a Redhead - Steve Harragan (William Maconachie)

Observant readers of this blog with a good memory may recognize this cover art. That's because it was used, with some minor modifications, on the cover of Orrie Hitt's novel PUSHOVER, which I wrote about a while back. That comes as no surprise, since the publisher of SIN IS A REDHEAD, Universal Publishing and Distributing, later published sleaze novels under the Beacon Books and Softcover Library imprints, and smaller publishers like that often reused cover art. (UPD also published a wider variety of paperbacks in the Sixties and Seventies under the Award Books imprint, including scores of the Nick Carter, Killmaster novels before that series moved over to Ace/Charter and eventually Berkley.)

I've finally gotten around to reading SIN IS A REDHEAD. Great cover, great title, okay book. "Steve Harragan", the author, is also the main character. Harragan the character is a former crime reporter who hit it big playing the ponies and retired to become a man about town/hardboiled amateur detective. Some websites refer to him as a private eye, but he's not, at least not in this book. In SIN IS A REDHEAD, Harragan is driving down the street in New York City when he spots the beautiful Flame Tilson. He makes her acquaintance, finds out that she's the girlfriend of jazz trumpeter Siggy Houston, and regretfully decides that there won't be any romance with the gorgeous Flame.

But then she calls on him for help, Siggy winds up dead, Flame disappears, and Steve (who, to be honest, is not the brightest guy in the world) winds up on the spot for the murder. So off he goes, galloping around the New York underworld trying to find the real killer and rescue Flame from the bad guys. Along the way he winds up in a couple of pretty diabolical death traps, which he barely escapes.

There's not much detective work in this book. It's more of a straight-ahead thriller, and while it's not particularly good overall, there are some nice scenes here and there and some surprisingly funny lines. It's written in that breezy Carter Brown style, and again, it's no big surprise to find that like Alan G. Yates, the author of the Carter Brown books, "Steve Harragan" the author is also an Englishman, William Maconachie. In fact, SIN IS A REDHEAD is actually a reprint of a British novel, REDHEAD RHAPSODY!, originally published by Hamilton & Company in London, probably in 1950, and reprinted in the States by Uni-Books in 1952. In the original version, both character and author were named "Bart Carson". The name was changed for the American edition, and the character was also given an eye-patch. All this information is courtesy of the top-notch British researcher and bibliographer Steve Holland, author of the indispensable history of post-war British paperbacks THE MUSHROOM JUNGLE. More details about Maconachie and the Bart Carson/Steve Harragan series can be found on Holland's excellent blog Bear Alley.

SIN IS A REDHEAD and the other Harragan paperbacks (which are actually digest size) seem to be pretty easy to come by, although some of them are a little pricey. I'm not going to run right out and order the others, but I found enough to like in this one that if I ever come across other books in the series I won't hesitate to pick them up if the price is reasonable.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sgt. Rock: The Lost Battalion - Billy Tucci

My fondness for the comics character Sgt. Rock has been discussed here before. I recently picked up a trade paperback reprinting a mini-series called SGT. ROCK: THE LOST BATTALION. If you know your World War II history, you already know how the 141st Infantry – the T-Patchers, a unit assembled and trained at Camp Bowie in Brownwood, Texas – was surrounded and trapped by the German army in the Vosges Mountains in the fall of 1944. Vastly outnumbered, low on supplies and ammunition, the members of the 141st, who dubbed themselves the Alamo Boys because of their Texas background, held out for a week against overwhelming odds until the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (made up of Japanese-American soldiers, the Nisei) broke through the German lines and rescued them.

That’s the bare bones of the history. In SGT. ROCK: THE LOST BATTALION, writer/artist Billy Tucci comes up with a feasible way for Rock and the other men of Easy Company to be trapped on that wooded hill with the 141st. With great historical accuracy, well-documented in the extra material in this reprint, Tucci follows the events of the next week, switching back and forth between the trapped soldiers and the Japanese-American GIs trying to rescue them.

The result is a well-written graphic novel that achieves a considerable amount of suspense despite the historical outcome being known ahead of time. Tucci’s portrayals of Rock, Ice Cream Soldier, Wildman, Bulldozer, and Little Sure Shot are consistent with the characters established by Robert Kanigher in decades worth of stories. I also enjoyed the cameos by other DC war comics characters such as The Unknown Soldier, Lt. Jeb Stuart and the crew of the Haunted Tank, and Johnny Cloud. For a long-time fan like me, this is great stuff.

I like Tucci’s art as well, with a few quibbles. Everybody in Easy Company looks right except Rock. I had trouble picking him out from all the other GIs. In fact, too many of the characters looked too much alike, so that I had trouble following the story at times. I’d think that a particular character had been killed, but then a few pages later he’d still be alive, so I had to go back and try to figure out what happened earlier and who really got killed. The fact that much of the story takes place in rain and fog probably doesn’t help this problem, but that’s historically accurate so I can’t blame Tucci for that. And a lot of the individual panels are outstanding. I guess being the old codger that I am, any artist would have a hard time living up to the standards set by Joe Kubert.

So if you’re a fan of war comics or a student of World War II, SGT. ROCK: THE LOST BATTALION gets a high recommendation from me. Billy Tucci’s done a good job on an iconic character, and I’ll certainly read anything else he wants to do featuring Sgt. Rock and the combat-happy joes of Easy Company.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Booklifenow Interview

There's a new interview with me about the life of a freelance writer at the excellent Booklifenow website. Check it out, and while you're there take a look at the other interviews, too.

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Hearts of the West

From a more recent Jeff Bridges movie (THE OPEN ROAD) to one from the early part of his career . . . HEARTS OF THE WEST is a long-time favorite of mine. I’m really a sucker for movies about making movies, and this is one of the best. Bridges is just about perfect as farm boy Lewis Tater, whose ambition is to write Western novels and become the next Zane Grey. He winds up in Hollywood. Not as a writer, however, but rather as a budding star in early Western movies. The studio gives him the name Neddy Wales, and he becomes friends with a former Western star who’s fallen on hard times, Billy Montana (played wonderfully by Andy Griffith). Alan Arkin plays a director, Blythe Danner (Gwyneth Paltrow’s mom) is a beautiful script girl who falls for Lewis/Neddy, and there are some gangsters running around to complicate the plot, too.

Plot’s not the most important thing in this movie, though. It’s the characters, along with all the little touches about movie-making in early Hollywood (Arkin’s director character is named after the real name of a prolific B-movie director who went by Alan James). The Western fiction that Lewis/Neddy writes, reading aloud as he does so, is a pitch-perfect recreation of the real Western fiction from the time period. Screenwriter W.D. Richter must’ve read an awful lot of Zane Grey, William MacLeod Raine, Charles Alden Seltzer, B.M. Bower, etc., to get that voice down as well as he did.

I’m not sure what the target audience for this movie was, even when it first came out in 1975. Movies about early Hollywood never do very well financially. (Another one I like a lot, Peter Bogdanovich’s NICKELODEON, falls into that same category . . . and I’ll probably write about it one of these weeks.) These days no Hollywood studio would even consider making a movie like HEARTS OF THE WEST. But it’s a funny, well-acted, well-written film, and if you’ve never seen it, you really should. I don’t think it’s available on DVD, although it got a videotape release years ago and you might be able to find one of those or catch it on some obscure cable channel.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Free Lucas Hallam Story

Livia has decided to give away copies of "Hallam", the 10,000 word novelette that introduced the character back in 1984.  If you haven't made Hallam's acquaintance, or if you have but have never read this story, I can't think of a better way to do so.  You can check out her blog for all the details.

Run - Blake Crouch

Blake Crouch is one of the co-authors of the horror novel DRACULAS (along with Joe Konrath, F. Paul Wilson, and Jeff Strand), which I read and enjoyed several months ago. I’d never read any of Crouch’s solo work, though, until his new novel RUN, which I believe is available exclusively as an e-book right now.

RUN has a fairly simple plot. For some unknown reason, a large percentage of the population of the United States, northern Mexico, and southern Canada suddenly goes crazy and sets off on a rampage of murder and destruction. Society rapidly breaks down. Those who are unaffected by this bizarre phenomenon are left to fend for themselves, sometimes hiding out and sometimes running away in an attempt to save themselves from being slaughtered. Jack Colclough, a university professor in Albuquerque, New Mexico, his wife Dee, a doctor, and their two children, teenaged Naomi and seven-year-old Cole, go on the run and try to reach Canada, where there are refugee camps and they’ll be safe.

That’s almost all the plot. The family tries to survive against crazed killers and hostile wilderness. Just when you think maybe they’re safe, things get worse. Just when you think things can’t get any worse, you guessed it, they get worse. Like DRACULAS, this book is filled with gore and extreme violence.

Yet there are a lot of quieter moments of humanity showing through it, and Crouch strikes a near-perfect balance between them and the all-out action. RUN is also one of the fastest-paced books I’ve ever read, and the first one in a long time that I’ve stayed up too late in order to finish. The gradual revelation of what’s behind the transformations is interesting, and it’s a nice change from the current wave of zombie-themed fiction (not that there’s anything wrong with zombies . . . well, there is, but you know what I mean). And the ending is just about perfect as well.

RUN is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. If an abundance of gore doesn’t bother you too much, I highly recommend it.

Sunday, March 06, 2011


I had a hunch I’d like this movie as soon as I saw the ads for it. They reminded me a little of a Gold Medal novel. As it turns out, that’s sort of true. There’s a certain Dan J. Marlowe feel to the film, along with some Richard Stark influence.

The plot is pretty simple. Dwayne Johnson is an ex-con who went up for being the driver in a bank robbery. When he gets out, he goes after the members of the gang that double-crossed his gang, murdered everybody but him, and stole the loot. Billy Bob Thornton is the tormented, drug-addicted cop who tries to track down Johnson, and Oliver Jackson-Cohen is the professional hitman who’s hired by the guy who set up the double-cross to eliminate Johnson before Johnson gets around to killing him. The movie cuts back and forth between those three storylines until they inevitably all come together.

Dwayne Johnson started out as a good actor back in his rasslin’ days, and he’s gotten better. He doesn’t have to do much in this movie, though, except look big and dangerous, which he does very well. Thornton’s okay, although he doesn’t seem to bring much enthusiasm to his part, and the rest of the cast is all right as well. There’s a minor twist in the plot that works pretty well, and a major one that’s pretty predictable.

But let’s be honest, the main appeal of this movie is the action, and there are plenty of well-staged chase scenes, fistfights, and shootouts. If you like those moments where you say, “Oh, he shouldn’t have done that,” just before all hell breaks loose, you’ll find an abundance of them in FASTER. I thought it just raced right by, appropriately enough, and was entertaining as all get-out. If you like hardboiled action movies, you ought to watch it.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Graphic Classics Western Edition

Eureka Productions is pleased to announce the release of WESTERN CLASSICS: Graphic Classics Volume Twenty, the newest volume in the GRAPHIC CLASSICS® series of comics adaptations of great literature.

WESTERN CLASSICS features an adaptation of Zane Grey’s grand western prototype, “Riders of the Purple Sage”, illustrated by Cynthia Martin. Plus stories by Bret Harte, Willa Cather, Gertrude Atherton and John G. Neihardt, with art and adaptations by Trina Robbins, John Findley, Arnold Arre, George Sellas, Reno Maniquis and Ryan Huna Smith. Also an early Hopalong Cassidy story illustrated by original "Hoppy" newspaper strip artist Dan Spiegle, and a comic western by Conan creator Robert E. Howard.

GRAPHIC CLASSICS are available in bookstores, comics shops, or direct from the publisher at http: ⁄ ⁄

“These are handsomely-crafted books presenting terrific stories.””
— Tony Isabella, Comics Buyer's Guide

“A splendidly inventive series.”
— Malcolm Jones, Newsweek

“In short, every volume is highly recommended.’”
— Paul Buhle, Rain Taxi


WESTERN CLASSICS: Graphic Classics Volume Twenty
Edited by Tom Pomplun
Published March 2011, Eureka Productions
Distributed by Diamond Book Distributors
(ISBN 978-0-9787919-9-5)
144 pgs, 7 x 10", paperback, full color, $17.95

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ace-High Western, August 1936

Of the three people on this cover, I think the girl is the scariest of the bunch.  This gun-toting redhead with the oddly intense eyes shows up on a number of Western pulp covers painted by Tom Lovell in the mid-Thirties.  She must've been a model he used.  I wouldn't want to get on her bad side, like whoever it is this trio is facing off against.

I wasn't familiar with Oliver King, who wrote the lead story in this issue, so I looked him up and discovered that he was really Thomas Ernest Mount, who was best known under the pseudonym Stone Cody.  I've read some of his work under that name and enjoyed it.  The other authors in the lineup -- Walt Coburn, Harry Olmsted, Cliff Farrell, James P. Olsen, among others -- are good ones as well.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Forgotten Books: Serrano of the Stockyards - Anatole Feldman

There’s a line of copy on the back cover of a recent volume reprinting this novel and three others in the same series that really sums up “Serrano of the Stockyards”:

Glorious Mayhem! Blazing Tommy Guns! Gangland Carnage! And a Bunch of Swell-Looking Frails!

Who could resist that? Some of you reading this, probably, but not me. I go for this stuff, see?

I’ve never read a lot of gangster pulp, but the short novels featuring Chicago mobster Big Nose Serrano come highly recommended, and they’ve been reprinted by the fine small press publisher Off-Trail Publications. The series originally appeared in the pulps GANGSTER STORIES, GREATER GANGSTER STORIES, and THE GANG MAGAZINE in the early Thirties, beginning with “Serrano of the Stockyards” in the May 1930 issue of GANGSTER STORIES.

As Will Murray notes in his fine introduction to the first reprint volume (which also includes “The Gang Buster”, “The Gunless Gunman”, and “Dames, Dice and the Devil”), this initial entry in the series is a blatant retelling of CYRANO DE BERGERAC, transported to the Chicago underworld. All the characters from Edmund Rostand’s play are there in recognizable form, most notably Big Nose Serrano, a singing, gunslinging, poetry-spouting mobster who’s the deadliest man with a gat in town. Unknown to any of the criminals he associates with, Big Nose is really an undercover operative for the District Attorney and is bent on wiping out the Chicago mobs. According to the introduction, this angle is dispensed with in subsequent stories, and to be honest, it doesn’t play much of a part in this first yarn, which finds Serrano helping another gangster woo the beautiful Annie, the moll he really loves.

As you can probably tell, the style used by author Anatole Feldman in this story is contagious. The prose is fast-paced, definitely over the top, and great fun. I don’t think Feldman himself took any of this too seriously. He seems to be enjoying himself, and as a reader, I did, too. I’ve read very little by Feldman in the past, but based on this story, he’s a pretty good writer. Although very different from Robert Leslie Bellem’s Dan Turner stories, the Big Nose Serrano saga seems to have the same sort of goofy charm. I plan to read more of the stories soon, and in the meantime, “Serrano of the Stockyards” gets a high recommendation from me if you’re a pulp fan.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Redemption, Kansas

My author copies of this book arrived yesterday, so I assume it's out even though I haven't seen any copies in the stores yet. I don't know how many published books this makes, somewhere around 250 (I could tell you the 250th book I wrote, but that's not necessarily the 250th book published). But however many it is, it's certainly still a thrill to open the box and take out copies of a new book and hold it in my hands for the first time, especially when it has my name on it. That never gets old.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Cross Road Blues - Troy D. Smith

From the Perfect Crime Books website:

Roy Carpenter, blues-playing harmonica man
in 1957 Nashville, knows great music when he hears it.

He also knows a dangerous woman when he looks
at her . . . and finds her looking back.
Beautiful Sallymae's got a brutal husband,
just the kind of guy to wind up dead
with Roy taking the fall.

Here is a sharply observed novel steeped
in the atmosphere of character and place,
of sexual passion and the blues.

I read this novel a while back in manuscript so I could give Troy a quote for it, but I'm not sure I stated my opinion of it quite strongly enough.  CROSS ROAD BLUES isn't just one of the best crime novels I've read recently, it's one of the best crime novels I've read in a long time.  Roy is a great character, very human, very flawed, but at the same time someone the reader can't help but root for.  The other characters are very well-developed, too, and the setting is the sort of flawless recreation of a time and place that makes you think you've been there, even though you really haven't.  You need to read this one, and I recommend it very highly.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: The Open Road

I don’t know if THE OPEN ROAD counts as an Overlooked Movie, but I’d never heard of it, so I think it does for me, anyway. And it’s a good film, to boot.

As you’d expect from the title, this is a road movie. Justin Timberlake plays a minor-league baseball player in Corpus Christi, Texas, and some of the movie was filmed there, with some very recognizable landmarks like the Nueces Bay bridge in the background, leading me to say, “I’ve been there!” Anyway, the character’s mother (played by Mary Steenburgen) is in bad health and needs an operation, but she won’t consent to it unless her ex-husband is there. That ex-husband, a former star baseball player, has been estranged from the family for years, but Steenburgen prevails on Timberlake to go looking for him and bring him back. The charming, ne’er-do-well ex-husband is played by a perfectly cast Jeff Bridges. Timberlake locates him at a baseball card show in Ohio, and they start driving back to Texas together, accompanied by Timberlake’s former girlfriend (Kate Mara).

That’s your movie, right there. THE OPEN ROAD makes its way leisurely across the country, with the three travelers meeting colorful characters along the way and working out their emotional problems amongst themselves. It’s only mildly funny and mildly dramatic, but somehow it adds up to a pretty good film, carried by fine performances by all three of the leads. Bridges is playing a self-destructive character much like the one he played in CRAZY HEART, but I think his performance in THE OPEN ROAD is even better, and I liked this film better than CRAZY HEART, too.

Don’t beat down the doors to see this one. It’s just a quiet little movie. But it’s well worth putting on your Netflix queue, I think.