Sunday, May 20, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy, July 1, 1939

Another fine, colorful Rudolph Belarski cover on this issue of ARGOSY, one of my favorite pulps. This issue features an installment of the serial "Seven Footprints to Satan" by A. Merritt (reprinted from its original appearance in ARGOSY ALL-STORY WEEKLY in 1927), plus a South Seas novella by Allan Vaughan Elston and stories by Garnett Radcliffe, Walter C. Brown, and more serials by Walter Ripperger and Howard Rigsby. I'd love to have a complete run of ARGOSY from the Twenties and Thirties. So many great serials . . . 

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Thrilling Ranch Stories, Summer 1951

Like RANCH ROMANCES, THRILLING RANCH STORIES may have been aimed at a slightly more female readership, but at least during the Fifties it featured quite a few hardboiled Western action yarns. In this issue, with a good cover by Sam Cherry, there are stories by Walker A. Tompkins, Wayne D. Overholser, Giff Cheshire, Paul Evan Lehman, Cibolo Ford, and Samuel Mines.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Forgotten Books: Hot Lead For Gleaming Rails - Van Cort (Wyatt Blassingame)

I’ve seen the name Van Cort in the table of contents in numerous Western pulps and have read at least one story under that name that I recall. I enjoyed it, too. I found out recently that Van Cort was a pseudonym for Wyatt Blassingame, a prolific and well-respected author of Weird Menace and detective tales for various pulps. (I believe he was also the brother of well-known literary agent Lurton “Count” Blassingame.) I don’t think I’ve read any of Blassingame’s work under his own name, although I have a couple of collections of it, but I did just read his short Western novel “Hot Lead for Gleaming Rails”, published in the August 7, 1937 issue of WESTERN STORY (with the first name of the pseudonym misspelled), and thought it was very good.

The protagonist of this violent yarn is Lee Carey, a young man who works for the railroad obtaining right-of-way for new lines. He returns to the town and the valley where he grew up and still owns an abandoned ranch, with the intention of building a spur line into the area, but he’s also out for revenge on the crooked cattle baron who ran him out years earlier. Along the way he helps out a young newspaper editor and the man’s wife and child, so Lee decides that starting a newspaper and getting his new friend to run it will help him mold public opinion in favor of the railroad. He also meets a beautiful young woman who’s come to the area to search for her missing father, but she winds up throwing in with Lee’s old enemy the cattle baron. One more complication is the presence of the Laredo Kid, an old friend of Lee’s who has turned outlaw. Having the Kid on his side may be more hindrance than help for Lee.

Blassingame does a fine job of weaving these strands together into a fast-paced plot that includes a number of shootouts and bushwhackings, culminating in an epic battle. Even while he’s doing this, however, he manages to work some moral complexity into the story, as not everything turns out to be as black and white as it appears at first. The good guys are not always sympathetic, and all the bad guys aren’t stereotypical villains. Blassingame writes in a smooth, clean style as well, without the overdone dialect and flowery descriptions that sometimes show up in Western pulp stories. This reads more like a novel that would have been published by Gold Medal in the Fifties.

As far as I can tell, Blassingame wrote only a couple of full-length novels as Van Cort, but I’m going to hunt down copies of both of them. “Hot Lead for Gleaming Rails” is available in an e-book collection, which is where I read it, and if you’re in the mood for a good hardboiled Western yarn, I recommend it.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Coming From Stark House: Hostage for a Hood/The Merriweather File - Lionel White

Cribbins has the heist planned down to the last detail. He and Santino are driving one of the cars, on their way to hold up an armored car to remove its quarter of a million dollars. The only thing Cribbins doesn't plan on is being run into by Joyce Sherwood's Chevy. All they can do after that is quickly take over Joyce's car, including Joyce and her dog, and finish the job. When her husband Brad comes home and finds no Joyce and no dog, he knows something is wrong. He calls the police, but they only put him off, assuming that a missing wife could have run off with somebody. Brad knows different. But can he find her before the cops put so much effort into solving the armored car hold that they lose sight of the missing wife who is now part of the same crime?...before Cribbins decides he doesn't need a hostage anymore....before Santino finally flips out and starts to use his knife....?

Ann Merriweather thinks someone is trying to kill her. She shares her fears with an old friend of the family, her lawyer friend Howard Yates, but though he believes her, there is nothing he can do. Then Ann's husband, Charles, is found by the cops with a flat tire by the side of the road and a murdered body in his trunk. The man had been shot. Charles is held for questioning, then arrested, and Howard agrees to take the case. But nothing is as it seems. The police quickly determine that the murder occurred at the Merriweathers' house. But Charles has an alibi. He was gone from the house all night. And Ann was asleep under the heavy influence of some sleeping pills. But someone killed the man in the trunk, and the more Howard discovers about the case, the less inclined he is to assume the innocence of his client.

I've enjoyed everything I've read by Lionel White. I think I may have read HOSTAGE FOR A HOOD years ago, but I'll be reading it again in this reprint.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

West of Hell - Brett Halsey

Brett Halsey has had a long, successful career as an actor in movies and TV, but he’s also written a number of novels over the years and in fact, according to his website he thinks of himself as a writer who acts, rather than an actor who writes. I tend to agree with him. His latest novel, and his first Western, WEST OF HELL, is a well written and solidly entertaining yarn.

The protagonist is bounty hunter Chris Tracy, who uses his manhunting skills to finance his on-going search for his younger sister, who was carried off by outlaws who raided the family farm years earlier. A veteran of the Civil War, Chris is a decent but highly dangerous man when he needs to be. In this book, he teams up with a friend from the war and an old desert rat in a quest to recover some ancient golden figurines hidden in the New Mexico Territory wilderness. These little statues, known as the Golden Apostles, date back to the days of Spanish rule over the territory.

Naturally, several hardcases are after the valuable statues, too, and along the way Chris and his companions also run into a shady gambler and the man’s wife and stepdaughter. This trio complicates things quite a bit, too, and eventually tragic violence breaks out.

WEST OF HELL is a pretty gritty book, the sort where you never really know who’s going to survive and who isn’t, and Halsey springs a number of unexpected plot twists as well. This one doesn’t play out in some respects as you’d probably expect. Having written and read so many Westerns, I’m generally pretty confident that I have a good idea what’s going to happen. In WEST OF HELL, not so much.

Halsey does a fine job of developing the characters and depicting the landscape. It’s easy to imagine him playing Chris Tracy in a Spaghetti Western version of this tale from the Sixties, when Halsey was in Europe making some of those films. He admits in an afterword that that experience was an influence on the writing of this book.

I enjoyed WEST OF HELL quite a bit. It’s a good hardboiled Western and could easily be the first of a series. I wouldn’t mind a bit if it was. Recommended.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: All Fiction Stories, July 1931

You don't hear as much about the Dell pulps as you do about some from other publishers, but from what I can tell, they were consistently high quality productions. This issue of ALL FICTION STORIES, Dell's general adventure fiction pulp, sports a good cover by H.W. Reusswig, and inside you'll find a great group of authors: H. Bedford-Jones, Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, Tom Curry, and Seven Anderton, among others. Looks thoroughly enjoyable to me. 

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Giant Western, October 1950

As usual, the poker game gets interrupted by a gunfight. Makes you wonder if they ever finished a hand in the Old West without burning powder. But there are some good authors in this issue of GIANT WESTERN, starting with two of my favorites, Walt Coburn and Leslie Scott (writing as A. Leslie this time around). There are also stories by Robert J. Hogan (probably best remembered for his aviation stories, including G-8 AND HIS BATTLE ACES, but he wrote a lot of Westerns, too), Ben Frank, Francis H. Ames, and house-names Sam Brant and Clay Starr.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Forgotten Books: The Python Pit - George F. Worts

I wouldn’t have guessed that it’s been more than ten years since I read, enjoyed, and blogged about SOUTH OF SULU, the first collection of George F. Worts’ Singapore Sammy stories from Black Dog Books. It seems more recent than that, and the stories are still pretty fresh in my memory, which means they were good ones, I guess. Now I’ve read THE PYTHON PIT, the second Singapore Sammy collection, also published by Black Dog Books, and thoroughly enjoyed it as well.

Singapore Sammy is really Samuel Larkin Shay, red-headed American adventurer in southeast Asia during the 1930s. The character first appeared in 1931 in a series of adventure yarns published in the pulp SHORT STORIES (the ones collected in SOUTH OF SULU). Sammy is searching for his father, a conman named Bill Shay, looking for vengeance because the old man deserted Sammy’s mother, and also because Bill Shay has possession of a will that means Sammy will inherit a fortune if he can get his hands on it.

Later that same year, Worts moved the series over to ARGOSY. The first four stories to appear there are the tales collected in THE PYTHON PIT, starting with “Sapphires and Suckers”, a novella which was serialized in two parts under the title “Singapore Sammy” in the December 12 and December 19, 1931 issues of ARGOSY. It serves as an adequate introduction to the character for anybody who hadn’t read the earlier stories in SHORT STORIES, explaining about Sammy’s quest to find his father. He gets mixed up with a beautiful young woman whose father is a dangerous criminal and who, in partnership with Bill Shay, has sold the young woman’s fiancee a worthless sapphire mine. Or is it worthless? That becomes the question, leading to intrigue, double-dealing, and considerable danger for Sammy. He’s good at staying a couple of steps ahead of everybody else, though . . . except for his father, who always seems to give him the slip.

More than a year passed before Sammy reappeared in the three-part serial “The Python Pit”, in the May 6, 13, and 20, 1933 issues of ARGOSY. At 30,000 words, this is almost a novel. Sammy and his sidekick, Lucifer “Lucky” Jones, reluctantly agree to take a beautiful young woman to the remote island where her father has been mauled by a tiger. The problem is, the island, called Konga, is rumored to be inhabited by a race of gigantic cannibals and haunted by the ghosts of all their victims. They set sail on their schooner, the Blue Goose, anyway. Sammy expects to run into trouble, and that’s what happens, since nothing about the situation is exactly what it appears to be at first. There’s a ton of action in this one, and Sammy comes face to face with Bill Shay again. Worts massages the back-story in this one, revealing that the villainous Shay is actually Sammy’s stepfather (whether that was the intention all along, I don’t know, but I sort of doubt it). He also introduces another recurring character to be a thorn in Sammy’s side, the lovely but treacherous Shanghai Sally. Worts manages to get all this in without ever letting up on the breakneck pace and the vivid writing, which makes “The Python Pit” one of the best pure pulp adventure yarns I’ve read in a long time.

Singapore Sammy next appears in “Isle of the Meteor”, a complete novelette published in the August 19, 1933 issue of ARGOSY. Lucky Jones is off on another adventure when this yarn takes place, so Sammy has to handle all the danger himself when he agrees to help out a dying sea captain and deliver a cargo of supplies to an isolated island where a group of communist-leaning, anti-war Americans established a colony during the Great War (World War I, to us). Of course, when Sammy gets there, surprises are waiting for him, most of them quite perilous, including another encounter with Shanghai Sally. Bill Shay is mentioned in this one but doesn’t appear. It’s a good, fast-moving tale with some particularly brutal scenes near the end.

The final story in this volume is “A Whisker of Buddha”, originally published as “Buddha’s Whisker” in the May 26, 1934 issue of ARGOSY. Sammy is in bad shape when this one opens, having had ownership of the Blue Goose stolen out from under him and Lucky Jones while he was drugged, by none other than Shanghai Sally, of course. He wakes up in Rangoon, in a fog from the mickey Sally slipped him, but then some of the local criminals start approaching him, wanting to hire him for a big job. This tells Sammy something big is up, so he finds Lucky and before you know it, they’re up to their necks in an adventure that involves infiltrating a secret ceremony that can get them killed and stealing a small, jewel-encrusted chest that’s supposed to contain an authentic hair from Buddha’s beard. This is the weakest story in the collection because it takes a while to get going, but once it does it’s pretty darned good, with lots of exciting scenes.

It also lays the groundwork for the next story, the only full-length novel in the series, THE MONSTER OF THE LAGOON, which I also happen to have in reprint. As much as I enjoyed THE PYTHON PIT, I’ll probably get to it fairly soon.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Now Available: Say It Was Murder - Stephen Mertz

McShan is tough and smart, one of the top operatives for the detective agency Honeycutt Personal Services. But he has his hands full when he’s sent to the picturesque desert landscape of southeastern Arizona to check on the well-being of a former Olympic gymnast who’s become involved with a New Age cult. It doesn’t take long for murder to rear its ugly head, and McShan finds himself neck-deep in a case involving vicious bikers, an unassuming barber who may be a criminal mastermind, a wealthy entreprenuer hiding dangerous secrets, and too many beautiful blondes with deadly secrets of their own.

Critically acclaimed thriller author Stephen Mertz returns with a private eye novel in the classic mold, crackling with suspense and plot twists, populated with compelling characters, and told with a sharp, contemporary edge that will leave the reader breathless.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Double-Action Gang, February 1937

I've never read much from the gang pulps, but this issue of DOUBLE-ACTION GANG looks like a pretty good one, and a bit unusual, too, because most of what's inside it was written by a pair of authors much better known for their Westerns. The featured novel "This Way to Hell", which fills up about two-thirds of the issue, is by Harry Sinclair Drago, who had a long, prolific career as a Western novelist and pulpster under his own name and the pseudonyms Bliss Lomax and Will Ermine. The supposedly true story about the Jesse James gang attributed to Bill Stiles is actually by Ed Earl Repp. And there are two stories by Will F. Jenkins, one under his own name and one under his much more famous pseudonym Murray Leinster. While Jenkins/Leinster isn't really famous as a Western author, he wrote quite a few of them. On top of all that, I like the cover. If I actually owned a copy of this pulp, I'd read it, you can count on that.