Friday, October 31, 2014

Forgotten Books: The Essential Tomb of Dracula, Volume 1 - Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan

Since today is Halloween, it seems appropriate to write something about the longest-running and many would say the best comic book series about a vampire ever published. I'm referring, of course, to Marvel's THE TOMB OF DRACULA, which ran for 70 issues from 1972 to 1979. Recently I've been reading THE ESSENTIAL TOMB OF DRACULA, VOLUME 1, which reprints in black-and-white the first 25 issues of the comic book, plus one issue each of WEREWOLF BY NIGHT and GIANT-SIZED CHILLERS in which Dracula appears.

The creative team most associated with this title was Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan, but while Colan handled the art from the first (and superbly, too), the writing on the first six issues was split equally between Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin, and Gardner F. Fox. So it's actually Conway who introduces Frank Drake, one of Dracula's descendants, and his friend Clifton Graves, who makes the mistake of removing a stake from somewhere he shouldn't have and freeing Dracula to roam the earth again. Goodwin expands the cast of characters by introducing beautiful vampire hunter Rachel van Helsing and her Sikh assistant Taj. Frank, of course, joins in their quest to rid the world of Dracula. Fox sort of marks time in his two issues, then in #7 Marv Wolfman takes over the scripting and brings in Quincy Harker, another descendant of a character from Bram Stoker's novel. The wheelchair-bound Harker is the final regular member of the group, and once everyone is in place, the series really takes off.

Colan's atmospheric art is great, and it works really well in this black-and-white reprint. Superhero comics don't work as well in that format, I've found—that type of story really benefits from bright colors—but horror comics hold up just fine. Wolfman's scripts are top-notch, fast-moving morality plays that function as stand-alones much of the time but still manage to move the larger story arcs forward. Blade the Vampire-Slayer, who went on to have three movies made about him, is introduced in the tenth issue and will be a recurring character in the series for a long time.

I bought and read the whole run of THE TOMB OF DRACULA when it was new. I liked it then, but I think I enjoyed reading this reprint volume even more. Some of that is probably due to nostalgia, but really, these are just excellent yarns, and if you're a comics fan or a vampire fan and haven't read them, you definitely should check them out.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Don't Open the Door!

Since Halloween is later this week, I wanted to write about a horror movie, and they don't get much more overlooked and obscure than DON'T OPEN THE DOOR!, made in 1974 for an extremely low budget in Jefferson, Texas, by producer/director S.F. "Brownie" Brownrigg. It's the story of a young woman who moves in to take care of her elderly, ill grandmother, only to find that there's a crazy killer hidden in the house. There are some nice touches in the script, including a small-town judge who lives in a house made from an old railroad car, and despite the mostly unknown cast and the production values that are sometimes lacking, the movie generates a fair amount of suspense.

However, there are a couple of other reasons I find this movie interesting. One is that it was written by my longtime friend Kerry Newcomb and his writing partner Frank Schaefer very early in their careers. I believe Frank wrote a couple more low-budget horror movies, but as far as I know DON'T OPEN THE DOOR! is Kerry's only film credit. I'm not really at liberty to go into the details, but the writing of this movie was an adventure in itself. I didn't know him at the time it was made, but I've heard him talk about it many times.

The other thing I find interesting about this movie is that when it got its first videotape release in the early Eighties, it was brought out by a company owned by E-Go Enterprises, better known for publishing books and magazines. In fact, E-Go Enterprises (which was really a guy named Edward Goldstein and his wife, I believe) was the publisher of none other than MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE, having bought MSMM from Cylvia Kleinman's Renown Publications, which she'd inherited from her husband Leo Margulies. Goldstein's venture into the world of video included a dozen or so low-budget horror movies like DON'T OPEN THE DOOR!, and evidently he helped finance this part of his operation by, well, not paying the writers at MSMM, including me, who was still owed $242 when the whole shebang went bankrupt a few years later. (Bitter? Obsessive? Me? Just because I remember the exact amount more than thirty years later? Nah.)

So Kerry writes the movie in '74, before he and I know each other, and then ten years later after we've become friends, it comes out on videotape from a guy who stiffs me on what he owes me for Mike Shayne stories. Small world, isn't it? (You can still get a DVD of the movie on Amazon, by the way, and if you enjoy suspenseful, low-budget horror films you should check it out.)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Weird Tales, July 1943

This cover by Franklin Wittmack is on the mild side for WEIRD TALES, but what a fine issue this is. I read it a number of years ago and still recall most of the stories. In addition to Robert Bloch's classic "Yours Truly--Jack the Ripper", there are tales by H. Bedford-Jones, Ray Bradbury, Otis Adelbert Kline and Frank Belknap Long, Frank Owen, Allison V. Harding, and the underrated Harold Lawlor. I know the magazine's glory days were supposedly over by then, but I really like the 1940s issues of WEIRD TALES that I've read.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Short Stories, December 1951

There's a lot happening on this Norman Saunders cover, all of it exciting, as usual. And inside this issue of WESTERN SHORT STORIES are yarns by Lewis B. Patten, H.A. DeRosso, L.L. Foreman, Philip Ketchum, C. William Harrison, Steve Frazee, Joseph Chadwick, Ray Townsend, and others. Looks like a fine issue.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Forgotten Books: The Square Shooter - Walt Coburn

(This post originally appeared in different form on April 25, 2005)

By 1957, when this novel was originally published, Walt Coburn’s once-formidable talent had deteriorated due to age and drink until his output was very hit-and-miss. THE NIGHT BRANDERS, from the same era, is the worst Coburn novel I’ve read. But he was still capable of turning out a good story sometimes, and luckily, THE SQUARE SHOOTER falls into that category.

The plot is one that Coburn used many times: a young man is raised by an outlaw and believes the older man to be his father, only to discover that his past is really a mystery. In this case the young man is known only as Boone, and his outlaw foster father is Jawbone Smith. When he finds out that Jawbone isn’t really his father, Boone sets out to discover the truth about his past, making a deadly enemy out of Jawbone in the process. Boone’s quest involves him with a shady gambler, a judge and his beautiful daughter, a half-crazed mountain man, and assorted owlhoots, all of whom may or may not have secrets of their own that connect them to Boone.

While this plot is nothing new, Coburn keeps a pretty tight rein on it this time, so that all the last-minute revelations at least sort of make sense. Coburn is obsessed with the sins and dark secrets of the past and their affect on the present, and sometimes his plots get away from him and become overly complicated. THE SQUARE SHOOTER avoids this for the most part and provides a fast-moving, exciting story. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: Breakfast at Tiffany's

Is there a movie that absolutely everybody else in the world has seen, and somehow you've missed it? For me that movie was BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S. Never saw it, despite the hundreds of times it was on TV when I was growing up. But my daughter Joanna loaned me her DVD of it, and now, well, I've finally seen it, too. I won't bother talking about the plot (since all of you have already seen it, probably multiple times), but I will offer a few random observations.

This is one of those movies where New York City is so clean and safe and charming. If I ever had to live in New York, this is the version I'd want to live in.

I've never thought of Audrey Hepburn as sexy, but she almost is at times in this movie.

I can't watch George Peppard, even a young George Peppard, in anything without thinking about THE A-TEAM. But he's really good as the young writer, and it's as much his movie as it is Hepburn's.

There are a lot of good character actors in this one: John McGiver, Patricia Neal, Buddy Ebsen, Martin Balsam, Alan Reed, Stanley Adams, Elvia Allman, etc. For a fan of character actors like me, this is a good film. I would have sworn I spotted Rodney Daingerfield in a bit part as a party guest, too, but he's not listed on the film's IBDB page.

I've always liked the song "Moon River". I still do.

Boy, people sure smoked a lot in 1961.

So, after all these years, did I actually like the movie? Yeah, it's okay. I'm not really the target audience, but I enjoyed it. There are some mildly amusing lines, and the ending is nice. I'm glad I finally watched it. But now I have to find some other movie everybody else has seen that I haven't.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Double-Action Gang Magazine, December 1937

I don't know much about the gang pulps and haven't read many stories from them, but this one has a nice cover and the first three authors in the table of contents are E. Hoffmann Price (misspelled on the cover), Norman Daniels, and G.T. Fleming-Roberts. With a line-up like that, I suspect this issue was worth reading.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ace-High Magazine, March 1937

The Angry Redhead makes a return appearance on this vivid cover by Tom Lovell. This looks like a good issue, with stories by some of my favorites like Harry F. Olmsted, Walt Coburn, and Gunnison Steele. Popular Publications had not only some of the best covers on Western pulps, but some of the best titles, too. I mean, how can you not want to read "Legion of the Lost Frontier" or "The Derelict from Hell"?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Forgotten Books: Blondes Die Young - Bill Peters (William P. McGivern)

(This post originally appeared in somewhat different form on August 7, 2005)

I’ve had two copies of this novel, the original paperback edition and a later edition, on my shelves for years, long enough that I don’t remember where or when I got them.

This is a good hardboiled novel about Philadelphia private eye Bill Canalli, who goes to visit a girl in Chicago and winds up in the middle of a vengeance quest to bust up the largest drug ring in the Midwest. I know it’s a cliché, but I like a private eye book where the hero gets hit on the head, and Canalli gets clouted several times in this one. There’s plenty of action, some nice observations on human nature, and a twisty plot. The surprise ending isn’t really much of a surprise, but it’s still effective. This is actually the first mystery novel by McGivern that I’ve read (I read his World War II novel SOLDIERS OF ’44 several years ago). BLONDES DIE YOUNG is good enough that I want to read more of his hardboiled stuff.

UPDATE: I no longer have the two copies of this book that I mentioned, of course, but I have a few others by McGivern. I've even read one or two of them. And I'll read more by him one of these days, if I get around to it. My plan was to slow down a little on my writing next year so I could read more and do some other stuff, but that's pretty much out the window. Now I'm shooting for 2016...)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Outlaw Ranger #2: Hangman's Knot Now Available for Pre-Order

Hell came to Santa Angelina on a beautiful morning, as the Texas settlement was practically wiped out by vicious outlaws led by the bloodthirsty lunatic Henry Pollard. Now Pollard is in jail in Alpine, waiting on his trial and an all but certain date with the hangman. The only real question is whether an outraged lynch mob will string him up first. 

Not everyone wants to see Pollard dance at the end of a rope, however. His gang of hired killers would like to set him free, and so would his older brother, a wealthy cattleman who has always protected Pollard from the consequences of his savagery. 

Riding into the middle of this three-cornered war is the Outlaw Ranger, G.W. Braddock, who may not have a right anymore to wear the bullet-holed star-in-a-circle badge pinned to his shirt, but whose devotion to the law means he'll risk his life to see that justice is done! 

HANGMAN'S KNOT is another fast-action Western novel from New York Times bestselling author James Reasoner. Brand-new and never before published, it continues the violent saga of the Outlaw Ranger.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: The Last Legion

(This post originally appeared in slightly different form on August 13, 2008)

This movie took me by surprise. It barely played in the theaters, I don’t recall reading any reviews of it, and as likable as he is, Colin Firth never struck me as an action hero. But then we watched it and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Firth plays Aurelius, the Roman soldier in charge of Caesar’s personal guard – Caesar, in this case, being the adolescent Romulus, who has the bad luck to be crowned emperor just before Rome falls to the Goths. Aurelius, with the help of some fellow legionaries and a hot female warrior from India (don’t ask, it make sense in the movie), rescues Romulus and his sage old mentor, a wizard from the far-off province of Brittania, from the Goths who have captured them. Then, with the Goths in hot pursuit, the group heads for Britannia, where the only remaining loyal Roman legion, the Ninth, is posted. Thus the title of the movie. Of course, more complications and battles ensue once they get there.

Now, there’s not a single thing in this movie that you haven’t seen numerous times before. I don’t mind that if it’s done well and the participants seem to be enjoying themselves, which is the case here. Firth makes for a surprisingly tough and gritty hero, his legion buddies are basically the same squad of good guys who show up in just about every war movie ever made, Ben Kingsley chews the scenery just fine as the old wizard, the kid emperor manages not to be too cute, and I believe I mentioned that Aishwarya Rai (one of those Bollywood actresses, I assume; I’m too lazy to look her up on IMDB) is hot. Kevin McKidd, who plays a fairly sympathetic character on HBO’s ROME (which we’re also watching on DVD, and which I’ll comment about eventually), is suitably villainous as the Goth warrior who leads the pursuit to Britannia. Best of all, though, there isn’t an abundance of special effects, and the battle scenes are staged and edited in a very old-fashioned manner – in other words, you can actually tell what the heck is going on most of the time.

This movie reminded me a lot of Jack Whyte’s excellent Camulod Chronicles novels. If you’ve read those and enjoyed them, I think there’s a good chance you’d like THE LAST LEGION as well. Predictable or not, it’s one of the most entertaining films we’ve seen recently. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Riders on the Storm - Ed Gorman

If you want to learn about small-town life in America during the turbulent era stretching from the late Fifties to the early Seventies, forget the history books. Just read Ed Gorman's Sam McCain series. It's as perfect a recreation of a time and place (Black River Falls, Iowa, the town where Sam works as a lawyer) as you're ever likely to find. The latest one, and the final book in the series, is RIDERS ON THE STORM, like all the others titled for a song that was popular when it takes place.

As usual, there's a well-plotted mystery for Sam to solve. A psychologically troubled, anti-war Vietnam vet is arrested for the murder of another veteran, a successful businessman and aspiring politician who had beaten up the accused man at a party because of his anti-war views. Sam is friends with the man and doesn't believe he's guilty of murder, so he begins his own investigation to find the real killer. It'll come as no surprise that things are a lot more complicated than they appear to be at first, and Sam puts his own life in danger by trying to sort everything out and clear his friend's name.

Over and above the mystery angle, though, the strongest appeal of the Sam McCain books is Sam himself, with his melancholy yet hopeful observations about life and the people he knows in Black River Falls. Plus all the mentions of the music, the books, the TV shows and movies, that make the novels seem so real for those of us who lived through those days. In so many ways, Ed is us, and we are him.

I've long since given up the pretense of objectivity where Ed's books are concerned. I've been reading and enjoying his books for more than 30 years, the same amount of time that we've been friends. But it's not like I'm the only one praising them, either. He's widely hailed, and rightly so, as one of the best writers of our generation. RIDERS OF THE STORM is a fine conclusion to the Sam McCain series and will leave you glad that you've been able to be a part of Sam's life for the past ten books. Highly recommended.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Detective, January 1947

The giant horseshoe on this Rudolph Belarski cover for THRILLING DETECTIVE looks like something from a 1950s Batman story with art by Dick Sprang. This pulp is notable for including both Carroll John Daly and Louis L'Amour among its contributors. Two incredibly popular authors from different eras that overlap here.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Blazing Western, February 1947

I'm not sure the cover on this issue of BLAZING WESTERN makes much sense, but it's eye-catching, anyway, especially that logo, so I guess it did its job. I don't recognize the names of any of the authors inside. Some are known house-names, others appear only in this issue, and the rest showed up only in various pulps published by Trojan, so it's possible, even likely, that there's not a real name in the bunch. Not to mention the fact that the stories may well have been reprints from other Trojan Western pulps with the titles and by-lines changed. But hey, I'll bet some of them were entertaining anyway.

UPDATE: Thanks to Phil Stephensen-Payne, and to the late Glenn Lord for the original research, here's a rundown of the contents of this issue, complete with reprint history:

Blazing Western [v1 #1, February 1947] (Trojan Publishing Corporation, 15c, pulp)
 Details supplied by John Locke from Table of Contents.
 Reprint information supplied by Glenn Lord, via the REH Foundation.
 4 * James Desmond * A Hand in the Game ["Owlhoots of Ghost Creek", as by Larry Dunn] * ss
 from Spicy Western Stories 1-39
 17 * Walter Cook * The Devil in Doctor Dave [as by Clark Nelson] * nv
 from Speed Western Stories 2-44
 28 * Joseph A. Moore * Gulchers' Glory ["Sting of a Hornet", as by Jim North] * ss
 from Spicy Western Stories 9-40
 38 * Hal T. Evans * The Guns Hang High ["Six-Gun Nurse", as by Laurence Donovan #1] * ss
 from Spicy Western Stories 1-39
 48 * Hoot Crenshaw * Ruckus at Santa Fe ["Siren of Santa Fe", as by Jackson W. Thorne] * ss
 from Spicy Western Stories 1-39
 57 * Will Nichols * Strike Me Pink! * ar
 58 * Lloyd Nelson * Taps for a Terror ["Tonic for a Terror", as by Clem Carlson] * ss
 from Spicy Western Stories 1-39
 66 * Harvey Saunders * Rider Headed West ["You Can't Fight a Woman", as by E. Hoffmann Price] * ss
 from Spicy Western Stories 1-39
 78 * Wayne Hemingway * A Man to Have Around ["The Woman Nobody Knows", as by Roy Cutler] * ss
 from Spicy Western Stories 1-39

 95 * James Bennett * Redskin Weapons * ar

So there are two stories, minimum, by Laurence Donovan in this lone issue of BLAZING WESTERN, one under his name and one under his Larry Dunn pseudonym. Some of the others may be his work as well, and that's equally true of E. Hoffmann Price. What a tangled mess those Trojan Publications house-names and pseudonyms were!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Forgotten Books: Last Stand at Saber River - Elmore Leonard

(This post originally appeared in somewhat different form on January 21, 2006)

I’m on record as preferring Elmore Leonard’s early Westerns to his later crime novels, and LAST STAND AT SABER RIVER is a good reason why I feel that way. The set-up is fairly traditional: a former Confederate soldier returns home to Arizona Territory after being wounded and finds that Union sympathizers have taken over his ranch. Fightin’ and shootin’ ensues.

But what makes this such a fine book are the little touches. Instead of the usual hard-bitten loner who shows up so often in Westerns as the hero, Paul Cable is a family man with a wife (who is almost as tough as he is) and three small children. Several of the other characters aren’t really what they appear to be at first, or what the reader would expect. And the story is told in Leonard’s terse prose and wonderful dialogue. All in all, this is an excellent example of Leonard’s Westerns.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Savage Wolverine: Kill Island - Frank Cho

I remember quite well reading the issue of THE INCREDIBLE HULK in which Wolverine made his debut, and I was there when the X-Men were relaunched with him as a member. So I've known the character for a long time and generally enjoyed reading about him. I haven't really kept up with him in recent years, though, other than seeing him played well by Hugh Jackman in various movies.

Not long ago, though, I picked up the trade paperback of SAVAGE WOLVERINE: KILL ISLAND, which reprints the first five issues of a new Wolverine series. The reason I bought this one is pretty simple: it's written and drawn by Frank Cho, the creator of one of my favorite comic strips, "Liberty Meadows".

If you're familiar with "Liberty Meadows", you know it features some of the most beautiful women in all of comics, especially the character named Brandy. Since SAVAGE WOLVERINE: KILL ISLAND finds Logan stranded in the Savage Land and has him teaming up with Shanna the She-Devil to fight a rather Lovecraftian monster that's been trapped there for eons, that was more than enough to get me to pick it up. The cameo appearance by Man-Thing, one of my favorite characters from the Seventies, was just a bonus.

The previous paragraph won't make much sense to those of you who aren't comics fans. For those of you who are, KILL ISLAND is a pretty entertaining yarn. Cho's art is great all the way through. The story's plot is a little thin, and dragging the Hulk and Man-Thing into the plot seems sort of out of left field, but overall it's a nice, action-packed tale. If you're a Wolverine fan, or a "Liberty Meadows" fan, or both, like me, it's well worth reading.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

The Chaplain's War - Brad R. Torgersen

THE CHAPLAIN'S WAR is the first novel by Hugo-nominated author Brad R. Torgersen, and in time-honored science fiction tradition, it's a fix-up of sorts, combining and greatly expanding upon his novelette "The Chaplain's Assistant" and his novella "The Chaplain's Legacy". I read and enjoyed those two stories, but when I read them I felt like they ought to be part of something bigger, and now they are.

Torgersen turns them into a novel by giving us a lot more back-story about Harrison Barlow, the chaplain's assistant who winds up right in the middle of a war between humans and an alien race not once but twice. We follow him through his military training and find out how he came to be a chaplain's assistant, how he prevented humanity's eradication once at the hands of the aliens, and how years later he was forced back into that same position, with the plot continuing considerably past the end of the original stories.

For a big space opera about a galatic war, there's really not a lot of action in this novel. Don't get me wrong, Torgersen does a fine job with the battles and all his military details ring true, but THE CHAPLAIN'S WAR is really a novel of ideas, as the characters on both sides struggle to come to terms with faith and religion and how sentient beings from vastly different backgrounds can learn how to co-exist with each other. Torgersen never lets things get too philosophical, though. There's always a sense of narrative drive that's enhanced by his straightforward prose. He's telling an interesting story about interesting characters, and he does an excellent job of it.

THE CHAPLAIN'S WAR is just the sort of science fiction novel I like, as well as one of the best books of any kind I've read this year. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: Legionnaire

(This post originally appeared in different form on December 30, 2008.)

I’ve always liked Jean-Claude van Damme’s movies, and I’m not sure how we missed this one when it came out ten years ago. It’s right up my alley, with a plot like a yarn by Robert Carse or Georges Surdez in ADVENTURE or ARGOSY. Van Damme’s a boxer who doesn’t take a dive when he’s supposed to (do the boxing heroes of books and movies ever take a dive when they’re supposed to?), who winds up joining the French Foreign Legion to get away from the gangsters who are after him. There’s nothing here you haven’t seen in scores of cavalry Westerns and war movies, but I enjoyed it anyway.

Monday, October 06, 2014

The Ape Man's Brother - Joe R. Lansdale

Who better to tell the true, previously-untold tale of a certain Ape Man and his adopted brother among the great apes than Joe R. Lansdale? Nobody, that's who, and so that's what Joe does in THE APE MAN'S BROTHER, an excellent novella published by Subterranean Press.

Joe makes it plain early on that this isn't exactly the same Ape Man those of us of a certain age grew up reading about, and watching movies about on Saturday morning TV. There's more sex and violence, for one thing, and a lot of deadpan humor, not to mention some alternate history that ties this novel in with other books and stories Lansdale has written. The story takes the two protagonists through their adventures in a lost land, their first encounter with civilization, trips to New York and Hollywood, and a dangerous mix of love, lust, jealousy, and greed that culminates in a great adventure involving a zeppelin.

Edgar Rice Burroughs purists may not care for some of this, but I'm an ERB fan from 'way back (50 years, at least) and while I can't speak for Joe, I sense a genuine affection for Burroughs and his work in THE APE MAN'S BROTHER. There are plenty of subtle hints that he's very familiar with Burroughs' novels, not only the Tarzan series but others as well. (And he should be, considering that he completed the unfinished Tarzan novel Burroughs left behind.) I'm not big on deconstructing myths, but when it's done in a good-hearted way I don't mind.

That's the case with THE APE MAN'S BROTHER, which I found to be compelling, entertaining reading. Highly recommended. (And thanks to Scott Cupp for recommending it to me.)

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Dime Detective, December 1943

(Here's a post that originally appeared on January 10, 2006, long before I started the Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp series. But it certainly fits right in.)

I finished reading this pulp tonight and thought that it was a very good issue. The lead story is a long novelette by Merle Constiner about private detective Wardlaw Rock, also known as the Dean. I've read several stories from this series and liked them all. Constiner takes several wildly different plot elements, obscure historical trivia, bizarre scientific facts, and mixes them all into coherent, highly entertaining mystery yarns. If I had to compare the Dean stories to something current, it would be the TV series MONK, although personality-wise the Dean and Adrian Monk are completely different. The small press publisher Battered Silicon Dispatch Box has done a pricey volume reprinting all the Dean stories. I haven't sprung for it yet, but I may one of these days.

This issue of DIME DETECTIVE also features novelettes by Norbert Davis (a Bail-Bond Dodd story) and Day Keene. Davis's stories are always well-written and funny, and Keene is a long-time favorite of mine. And it has a striking cover to boot. Good stuff.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Texas Rangers, February 1955

From fairly late in the long run by TEXAS RANGERS, this issue features a Jim Hatfield novel by Peter Germano writing as Jackson Cole. Germano, better known under his pseudonym Barry Cord, consistently turned out excellent Hatfield yarns. I haven't read this one, but I'd be willing to bet that it's good. Authors of the back-up stories in this issue include Louis L'Amour, the very prolific Lauran Paine, and Clark Gray and Roe Richmond, each of whom also wrote Hatfield stories under the Jackson Cole house-name.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Forgotten Books: Texas Hold 'Em -- Kinky Friedman

(This post originally appeared in somewhat different form on September 9, 2005.)

I first heard of Kinky Friedman back in the early Seventies, when my good friend Leland DeBusk got interested in the whole Cosmic Cowboy music scene in Austin. After that I was aware that the Kinkster started writing mystery novels, but I never read any of them. (I own several, though, and really need to get around to reading them.) Over the years I read articles and essays he wrote for various magazines, and last year I read and thoroughly enjoyed KINKY FRIEDMAN'S GUIDE TO TEXAS ETIQUETTE. So when I saw his new collection of essays, TEXAS HOLD 'EM, at the library the other day, I didn't hesitate to pick it up. I expected to like it. I didn't know that I would think it's an absolutely wonderful book, one of the best I've read all year.

Friedman writes about a variety of subjects in this book, ranging from humor pieces like "You Know You're From Texas If . . ." to beautifully poignant reminiscences like "The Hummingbird Man" about his parents and the children's camp they ran for many years at Medina, Texas. He's one of those rare writers who can bring tears of laughter to your eyes as he dissects the idiocy of modern life and then nearly break your heart a few pages later with an eloquent tribute to times past and the things we've lost.

In several essays, Friedman also talks about his campaign for the governorship of Texas. The Kinkster's efforts in the political arena have been chronicled in numerous places, so I won't go into detail about them. I will say, though, that I hope he manages to get on the ballot. One of the comments in his dust jacket bio on this book made up my mind for me what I'll do if I see his name on Election Day:

"He wants to take things back to a time when the cowboys all sang and their horses were smart."

Folks, that man has got my vote.

(Update: I still haven't read any of Kinky Friedman's mystery novels. One of these days...Meanwhile, he's run for governor and lost, which is probably a good thing because I'd rather he spend his time writing books.)

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Faith and the Law #3: The Holy Roller - James J. Griffin

Father Tad, now in the guise of his Texas Ranger brother Chaz, faces a long and dangerous journey to get his prisoner to Austin. Once he arrives in the capital city, he realizes he needs to get more evidence against the criminals his brother was trying to bring to justice, before he was ambushed. His search will lead him into an exclusive gambling den, which is secretly owned by some of the most powerful men in Austin.

(This serial novel keeps getting better with each installment, and it's still early enough in the game for you to catch up easily if you haven't started it. The explosive climax of this chapter has me eager to read the next one!)

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Now Available: The Big Adios Western Digest (Fall 2014)

THE BIG ADIOS was a fine weekly on-line magazine of Western fiction, and now it's become a quarterly digest with both e-book and print editions. I haven't had a chance to read this one yet, but I will be soon. There are some excellent authors in it, including my friend Jim Wilsky. Check it out!

The Valhalla Prophecy - Andy McDermott

I mentioned recently that I think most current thrillers are too long, but sometimes I get the urge to read one anyway. That's the case with THE VALHALLA PROPHECY, the latest book in the Nina Wilde/Eddie Chase series by Andy McDermott. I haven't read the other books in the series, although I have several of them, but it was easy enough to jump into this one. The story occasionally refers back to previous events in the series but for the most part works just fine as a stand-alone.

Nina and Eddie are husband-and-wife protagonists. She's an American archeologist, he's a British ex-SAS commando who now travels the world with Nina, helping her get out of the various Indiana Jones-like scrapes she gets into. They've become famous for locating supposedly mythological places like Atlantis that turn out to be real, and in this novel they're on the trail of Valhalla from Norse mythology. The story flashes back and forth between the present and a time eight years earlier, before Eddie met Nina, when he was part of a mercenary group carrying out a secret mission in Vietnam, a mission that actually turns out to be connected to their quest for Valhalla.

As you'd expect, there are a lot of action scenes along the way, competing groups of bad guys, numerous death traps that our heroes have to escape from, and a deadly scientific secret that can only be dealt with by finding the real Valhalla. The plot is very much in the same neighborhood as books by Clive Cussler (and his various ghosts) and James Rollins, which isn't a bad neighborhood to be in.

So is THE VALHALLA PROPHECY too long? Probably, but I'll give McDermott credit. He writes in a terse style that kept me reading and handles the action scenes very well. He also does a good job of working the info dumps into the story and keeps the pace moving. I was never tempted to skim or jump ahead to the ending, which says something when you're dealing with a reader as impatient as I am. It certainly helps that Eddie and Nina are both extremely likable protagonists. If you enjoy modern-day thrillers and haven't read Andy McDermott, you should check out his work, and THE VALHALLA PROPHECY wouldn't be a bad place to start.