Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Coming From Stark House: Portrait in Smoke/The Longest Second - Bill S. Ballinger



PORTRAIT IN SMOKE
Danny April is obsessed. He buys out a little collection agency in Chicago, and that s how he first meets Krassy. He’d never seen anyone so beautiful. She was Krassy Almauniski then, when he first runs across her picture in his files. She’s gone through several identities since then. As Danny tries to track her down, each new name presents him with a portrait of a woman on the move. Krassy is climbing up the social ladder, one sucker at a time. There’s the photographer who signs off on a charge account for her, later arrested for larceny. And the ad executive... he gets off lightly. He gets to walk away with his pride. Not all the men who Krassy meet are so lucky. But Danny knows he’ll be different. So he keeps looking... until at last he finds her.

THE LONGEST SECOND
When I awakened, I stared straight above me at the ceiling ... I attempted to turn my head. It was then I realized that my throat had been cut. The pain ran down both sides of my neck ... I gasped, choking for air. The next day I regained consciousness again ... Suddenly it struck me that I didn't know my own name!... They check his fingerprints and find out that his name is Victor Pacific. He has no memories of who he is, what he is, or why someone tried to kill him. He remembers the name Horstman. But he has no idea of how to find him. All he can do is to begin a search for the clues to his former life. Then he meets Bianca but will she be able to help him before they strike again?

I haven't read anything by Bill S. Ballinger in a long time. Both of these novels sound great and I'm looking forward to them.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Damon Runyon's Boys - Michael Scott Cain



We all know Stark House as one of the top reprinters of classic noir, hardboiled, and crime novels, but they also publish some excellent original novels in those genres as well, the latest of which is DAMON RUNYON’S BOYS by Michael Scott Cain.

Set in post-World War II New York City, DAMON RUNYON’S BOYS opens with the leader of a Lindy Hop dance troupe being gunned down by a pair of zoot-suited killers at the Savoy Ballroom. Soon investigating the crime is Damon Taylor, the top writer at a national crime tabloid who was once a protégé of the similarly named Damon Runyon. He has a cop friend who cuts him some leeway but not an unlimited amount, and he also gets help from Walter Winchell and a young reporter on a leftist journal named Truman Capote. Taylor’s probing of the case takes him into the middle of a gang war over the garment district whose players include the famous mobster Frank Costello. Not surprisingly, Taylor’s efforts get him beaten up and threatened. More murders ensue. There are a lot of plot twists to untangle before Taylor discovers the truth.

Historical mysteries like this are great fun, but they’re also tricky to write. It’s easy to weigh them down with too much period detail, and sometimes the historical characters act in unbelievable ways. I’m happy to report that Cain doesn’t fall into either of those traps. The setting and the time period ring true without being overdone, and although I’m far from an expert on either one, I believed both Winchell and Capote might have been involved with this case. Damon Taylor is a flawed but likable protagonist, and Cain keeps the action moving along at a very nice pace indeed. DAMON RUNYON’S BOYS is exactly the sort of complex, hardboiled, vividly written novel that I really enjoy, and I had a great time reading it. Highly recommended.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Short Stories, February 10, 1933


A classic "red sun" SHORT STORIES cover by Frank Spradling, and inside can be found stories by H. Bedford-Jones, Gordon MacCreagh, James B. Hendryx, Cliff Farrell, Jackson Gregory, Bertrand W. Sinclair, Bob du Soe, and more. Classic is nearly always the right word to describe an issue of SHORT STORIES. 

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Cowboy Stories, February 1934


I like this cover by E.M. Stevenson. This issue of COWBOY STORIES is one of those rare Western pulps that features an airplane on the cover, and Stevenson's done a good job with it. I'm really intrigued about what's going on here. Inside are stories by J. Allan Dunn (a reprint of a Bud Jones story from an issue of WILD WEST WEEKLY that came out a year or so earlier), Forbes Parkhill, Robert Enders Allen (who was really Chandler Whipple), Ray Humphreys, Raymond W. Porter, and some lesser-known authors. Maybe not a top issue, based on that line-up, but I'll bet it was pretty entertaining anyway. And I'd have probably bought it just based on the cover if I had an extra dime in my pocket.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Forgotten Books: Lands of the Earthquake - Henry Kuttner



I’ve read quite a bit of Henry Kuttner’s work and always enjoyed it. He’s one of my favorite science fiction and fantasy authors from the pulp era and can always be counted on for well-written, fast-moving yarns. That’s certainly true of LANDS OF THE EARTHQUAKE, a short novel originally published in the May 1947 issue of STARTLING STORIES (under the editorship of my old mentor Sam Merwin Jr., I might add).

LANDS OF THE EARTHQUAKE finds an apparently normal New Yorker, William Boyce, having a black-out that loses a whole year for him. He doesn’t have amnesia, he knows who he is, but that missing year is just gone except for the occasional memory, the most haunting of which is of a beautiful young woman. He also remembers a man’s face, and when he spots the guy on the street, Boyce follows him to an old brownstone and winds up going through some sort of mystical gateway to another dimension where time stands still but space moves in rippling waves that cause entire cities to shift around like ships on an ocean. Two such places seem to be anchored to each other, though: a massive castle called Kerak that’s inhabited by a group of Crusading knights who wandered in there from our world six hundred years ago, and the City, which is ruled by a king who’s made an unholy alliance with a group of evil, otherworldly sorcerers.

Got all that? Because that’s mostly back-story. Kuttner knew how to pack a plot with a lot of good stuff.

Boyce falls in with the Crusaders and helps them in their war with the City. He meets a wizard and sees a living marble statue of a beautiful young woman called the Oracle. He clashes with the mysterious Huntsman, who manipulates events in this strange land according to his own enigmatic agenda. He becomes acquainted with one of his own ancestors, the arrogant Crusader Guillaime du Bois. Eventually he assumes Guillaime’s identity and penetrates the City as a spy, where he finally encounters the young woman he remembers from his black-out and discovers the truth of everything that’s going on. Epic stuff ensues.

There’s a little semi-science here and there, but mostly this novel falls on the sword-and-sorcery side of things, and a mighty good one it is, too. Kuttner frequently collaborated with his wife C.L. Moore, and although the details are lost to the mists of pulp history, it seems very likely to me that she contributed some to LANDS OF THE EARTHQUAKE, mostly in the vivid descriptions that crop up from time to time. The straight-ahead action/adventure elements strike me more as Kuttner’s work, though, and those scenes race along very nicely. The theme of the duality of human nature, some good and some bad in everybody, is also worked into the story subtly and effectively, giving the tale some added depth.

Overall, I think this is one of my favorite Kuttner novels so far. It’s available in an e-book version and also as half of a double novel print volume with UNDER A DIM BLUE SUN by Howie K. Bentley. I enjoyed it and give it a high recommendation.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Mr. Calamity - Kenneth Robeson (Will Murray)


This latest entry in The Wild Adventures of Doc Savage is a sequel to one of the original pulp novels by Lester Dent. I won't say which one because that would be a spoiler of sorts, but anyone who's read it will recognize it right away. I recall reading that particular novel at my aunt's house in Blanket, Texas more than 50 years ago, and I'm sure the thought that I'd be reading a sequel to it half a century later never occurred to me.

That said, I'm really glad I did, because I thoroughly enjoyed MR. CALAMITY. It's one of the rare Doc Savage novels that's also a Western of sorts, being set in Wyoming and featuring cowboys and rustlers galloping around on horseback and firing six-shooters. Of course, there's plenty of the usual Doc Savage superscience, too, in this tale of something that makes gravity go wild so that objects--including human beings--go flying in the air, sometimes all the way to the stratosphere.

This one starts when Pat Savage, Doc's gorgeous, trouble-hunting cousin, is prospecting in the badlands near a ranch that Doc's associate Long Tom Roberts (the electronics genius) inherited from an uncle. Pat spies a man swimming in mid-air, hundreds of feet high. When the effect wears off, he plunges to his death. He won't be the last such victim of this mystery.

Doc, Renny, and Johnny show up eventually. (You know who Renny and Johnny are, right? Colonel John Renwick and William Harper Littlejohn?) Much action ensues. People die, including some you wouldn't expect. Murray does a fine job with the Western setting and elements. I've been to some of the places he writes about in this novel, and he captures them perfectly. There's a big twist that every Doc Savage fan will see coming a mile away, and as far as I'm concerned, that's part of the charm of the series and the way it ought to be. Man, did I have fun reading this book. If you're a Doc fan, you will, too. I guarantee it. Highly recommended.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Clues Detective Stories, July 1935


The cover on this issue of CLUES DETECTIVE STORIES makes it look more like an adventure pulp than a mystery magazine, at least to me. And the presence of E. Hoffmann Price with the lead novel makes it just seem even more like that. But that's okay with me, since I always like Price's work. Also in this issue are stories by Cleve F. Adams, Paul Ernst, William Merriam Rouse, Arden X. Pangborn, and others.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Aces, January 1948


Another fine Norman Saunders cover (is there any other kind?) on this issue of WESTERN ACES, and a pretty solid line-up of authors inside, as well. There are the usual two stories by J. Edward Leithead, one under his name and one as by Wilson L. Covert, plus stories by two more of my favorites, Walker A. Tompkins and Gunnison Steele, real name Bennie Gardner. The cover-featured story is by Glenn Low, who published quite a few stories in the Western pulps during the Forties, then went on to write soft-core novels for Beacon Books and Novel Books, the only one of which I've read, THE BARN, was pretty good.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Forgotten Stories: Dead Man's Rancho - T.W. Ford


T.W. Ford was a very prolific pulp writer, authoring several hundred Western, detective, and sports yarns over a long career. He also worked as a pulp editor but is almost completely forgotten today. The fact that he wrote only a few novels probably has something to do with that, as well as the wildly inconsistent quality of his fiction. His work was popular, though, and was often featured on the covers of the pulps in which it appeared. His most successful series starred a drifting, heroic gunfighter named Solo Strant (an odd name for a pulp hero), who was also known by the more conventional nickname The Silver Kid because of the silver buttons on his black shirt, the silver conchos on his chaps and the band of his black hat, his silver-butted Colts, and the small silver skull that adorns his hat’s neck strap. Ford wrote more than sixty Silver Kid stories between 1935 and 1950. At first they appeared regularly in WILD WEST WEEKLY and then eventually migrated over to the Columbia pulps REAL WESTERN, DOUBLE ACTION WESTERN, WESTERN ACTION, and COMPLETE COWBOY. Most of them were either novelette or novella length, sometimes billed as full-length novels even though they actually weren’t.

Several years ago I started one of the later Silver Kid stories and didn’t care for it, didn’t even finish it. But recently I read one of the earlier ones from WILD WEST WEEKLY, “Dead Man’s Rancho” (from the September 3, 1938 issue), and thought it was much better. In this one, the Kid helps a posse capture an escaped convict, only to discover that the man is actually innocent and in such poor health that he’ll die in prison. The proof that will clear the man’s name and save him from an unjust fate is in the hands of an outlaw who’s headed for a place called Dead Man’s Rancho, a notorious outlaw hideout in the desert where only the lowest, most desperate owlhoots go because the place is supposed to be cursed. The man who built it went insane and disappeared into the desert, but there are rumors that he’s still alive, somewhere out there . . .

Well, of course Solo doesn’t let any of this stop him from going after the proof he needs to save the unjustly imprisoned man, and along the way Ford adds some extra complications in the form of a murderous gambler and a fortune in missing bank loot. There’s plenty of action, and a few genuinely creepy scenes work very well.

I mentioned the inconsistency of Ford’s work. He’s one of the few authors I’ve encountered whose prose can be really good and really bad not just in the same story but sometimes on the same page. There are a few clunkers in this yarn. But there are also some great lines of dialogue and paragraphs that just sing. I really enjoyed “Dead Man’s Rancho” and think I’m going to have to hunt up more Silver Kid stories. This one is available in an e-book collection called THE PULP WESTERN ANTHOLOGY VOLUME 1, and if you’re a Western pulp fan, I think it’s well worth reading.


Thursday, April 12, 2018

The League of Dead Patriots - Andrew Salmon


I've read quite a few of the original Dan Fowler novels from the pulp G-MEN and always enjoyed them. THE LEAGUE OF DEAD PATRIOTS is a new Fowler novella written by Andrew Salmon, one of the stalwarts of the New Pulp movement. I haven't read much New Pulp, but I really enjoyed this one.

FBI agents Dan Fowler, Larry Kendal, and Sally Vane are in California trying to break up a black marketeering ring when they come across a connection to a Japanese internment camp in the area. The case is also complicated by the involvement of the beautiful crimefighter known as the Domino Lady, another pulp character who's actually had more stories about her written and published in this era than during her original run. Another, much more well-known pulp hero makes a cameo appearance as well.

Salmon keeps the pace perking along nicely and has a good grasp of the characters. I found the Domino Lady to be pretty interesting and actually bought an e-book collection of the original pulp stories about her. Once I've read that I might give some of the other New Pulp volumes a try.