Friday, October 29, 2004

Hard Case Crime Correction

Let's try that URL again:

I don't know why it didn't come through right the first time. One of the mysteries of Blogger.


I've spent most of the past two days sitting in front of the computer working on the current book, and I'm hoping that I'll finish it this weekend. But I've also managed to read ATTACK!, one of only three novels that I know of by Leland Jamieson. I read a bunch of Jamieson's pulp stories a while back and enjoyed all of them. He specialized in stories about aviation and was published often in BLUE BOOK, one of the classiest of the pulp magazines. It's possible that ATTACK! was originally published in BLUE BOOK. I know it had hardcover editions from two different publishers, Morrow and Grosset & Dunlap. I read the G&D, which was probably the "cheap" reprint edition.

Read now 64 years after it was published in 1940, this would have to be considered an alternate history novel. It centers around a U.S. aircraft carrier in the South Atlantic when war breaks out between the United States and Germany over Germany's attempt to invade and take over Brasil so that the Nazis can use it as a base for an invasion of North America. The pilots on the American carrier Scarab have to stop the German invasion fleet almost singlehandedly.

There's not much characterization other than the one pilot who functions as the book's protagonist, but Jamieson writes very well about air and naval combat. The battle scenes are extremely well-done, and his portrayal of life aboard an aircraft carrier is vivid and convincing. I'm no expert on such things, but I did quite a bit of research on the subject while I was writing my World War II series and have also visited the U.S.S. Lexington several times where it's now docked in Corpus Christi, Texas, and everything about ATTACK! rings true to me. Personally, I would have liked a little more detail about the planes -- were those dive bombers Dauntlesses, and were those fighters Avengers? -- but that's pretty minor. Jamieson probably kept things deliberately generic and vague because he was writing about something that, from his perspective, hadn't happened yet. That's very different from writing historical fiction.

Anyway, next up is THE CONFESSION by Domenic Stansberry, one of the new Hardcase Crime line of paperbacks. Anybody who hasn't seen these books needs to visit their website immediately.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Congrats to the Red Sox

Well, it wasn't your classic, down-to-the-last-out-in-the-seventh-game World Series, but it was pretty enjoyable to watch, at least in bits and pieces as I watched it. Nothing against the Cardinals, but I'm glad to see the Curse of the Bambino finally broken. I don't think I would have given the MVP to Manny Ramirez. My vote would have gone to the Boston relief pitcher, what's his name? Foulke? The guy who was out there in the ninth inning seemingly every game, not only in the World Series but also in the ALCS. I think he deserved it. I was more interested in baseball this year than I have been in quite a while. The Rangers had a great start and were in contention for most of the season, I rooted for the Astros on occasion, and then I got caught up in the playoffs. Next year I'll probably go back to ignoring baseball, but who knows.

Had another good day of work. I'm about five chapters from the end of this book and ready to be done with it.

I'm reading TRIBE OF THE TIGER, a chapbook reprint of a Secret Service novella by Lemuel De Bra, originally publiished in BLUE BOOK in 1940. De Bra's plots sometimes seem a little thin to me, but his stories read well.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Back to Work

Taking a day off yesterday worked out pretty well, because today I had my most productive day in a while. I'm getting close enough I can almost see the rest of the book in my head. Not quite, not yet, but I'm getting there.

I watched some of the World Series game tonight. It seems like I usually get around to turning it on around the seventh inning. Looks like a good thing I decided to root for the Red Sox. Of course, Yankee fans probably thought the same thing when they were up three-oh. I'll believe the curse is broken when I see it.

I finished "Power of the Range" and enjoyed it quite a bit. Very predictable stuff, but pretty well written with one nice twist that I didn't see coming. Now I find myself in the position that's becoming more and more common: I have literally thousands of unread books around here, and I can't decide what I want to read next. I suppose it's a good problem to have, but it can be annoying at times.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Library Day

I've never been one of those write-every-day-of-the-year writers. That's fine if it works, but it doesn't for me. I like to write for four or five days in a row and then take a day off. Lately, though, I've been putting in longer stretches. I turned out pages for the past eleven days in a row before today, so I decided to take a day off and run errands instead. I wound up going to three libraries, the post office, Wal-Mart, Sam's Club, Half Price Books, and a regular grocery store. I found only one book at Half Price that I wanted, a Sixties Lancer edition of Wilson Tucker's SF novel THE LONG LOUD SILENCE. This is supposed to be one of his best books, but I've never read it. Most of what I checked out at the library were research books, plus some large print romance novels for my mother. She doesn't get out to the libraries nearly as often as I do, so I try to keep her supplied with stuff to read. I'll be getting back to work tomorrow, I'm sure.

Tonight I'm reading "Power of the Range", a Jim Hatfield novel by Jackson Cole (Tom Curry, in this particular case) in the April 1944 issue of the pulp TEXAS RANGERS.

The Spirit

For the past couple of weeks, between other things I've been reading THE SPIRIT ARCHIVES, VOLUME I by Will Eisner, and I finished it tonight. This is a perfect book for reading in bits and pieces, since all the stories are only seven pages long. For those who don't know, these are comic book stories that ran originally in a syndicated weekly insert in various newspapers during the Forties and Fifties. The Spirit is really amateur criminologist Denny Colt (a great name) who was put into suspended animation when he was drenched in chemicals while battling the evil Doctor Cobra. Since he appeared to be dead, he was buried in Wildwood Cemetary. (Darn good thing he wasn't embalmed first . . . ) When he wakes up a day later, he decides to let his Denny Colt identity remain dead and buried so that he can fight crime without anybody knowing who he is. To that end, he dons a small mask, which of course conceals his true identity from everyone even though he still looks and dresses exactly like Denny Colt. But arguing with comic book logic is wasted effort. Better to just enjoy the stories.

And these stories from the first seven months of the feature, June through December 1940, are certainly enjoyable. They start out as pretty standard Forties comic book fare but gradually take on a humorous edge at times, while at other times the stories feature some pretty grim slice-of-life social commentary. Sometimes the same story manages to be both funny and bleak. Eisner was also an innovative artist as well as a good writer, and the stories are usually much better that most of what was being published in comic books at the time.

I'd read quite a few of the Spirit stories from the late Forties. During the Seventies some of them were reprinted by Warren Publishing, the same outfit that produced VAMPIRELLA, CREEPY, and EERIE (also magazines that I read and enjoyed). By the late Forties, some of the Spirit stories were being written by Jules Feiffer, and together he and Eisner produced some of the best comics of all time. The early stories aren't as good as the later ones, but they're still well worth reading.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Uncovered Treasures

So yesterday we decided to get rid of the old sofa that's been in our living room for almost twenty years and replace it with a new recliner. For several years the sofa has been sitting right against a couple of sets of book shelves. Once it was carried out and the new chair was carried in, I looked at the shelves and realized that I can now easily get to books that have been covered up for years. Books I want to read. Books I didn't even remember owning. That was a good moment, and now, more than a day later, I'm still pulling books off the shelves at random now and then, flipping through them and saying to myself, "Hey, this looks pretty good."

When I haven't been looking at books, I've been sitting in front of the computer writing my current one. I haven't yet dug myself out of the hole I'd gotten in, but I'm getting closer. Took a little time off tonight to watch some of the first World Series game and was glad to see Boston win. I have to wonder if both pitching staffs are worn out from the league championship series and if the rest of the series will be a slugfest like tonight. I hope not. I like offense, but I enjoy a good pitching duel now and then, too.

Friday, October 22, 2004

A.A. Fair

I finished reading THE BIGGER THEY COME, the first Donald Lam/Bertha Cool book by Erle Stanley Gardner writing as A.A. Fair. This is a very entertaining blend of tough guy banter and a plot so complex I'm still not sure if I followed all of it (common for me when reading a Gardner book). The edition I read was the sixth Pocket Books printing from 1963, and it smells great. I read somewhere years ago that decaying book paper gives off mold spores that are slightly hallucinogenic. I don't know if that's true or not, but I sure love the smell of old books. The first Pocket Books edition was in 1943. Just imagine how good it must smell by now, man. If the Hardcase Crime guys want to really recapture the feeling of that era, they've got to find some way to get rid of that new book smell.

On a slightly more serious note, I was sorry to see the Astros' season come to an end, but they had a good run. I don't have anything against the Cardinals, but I hope Boston wins the World Series.

Thanks to a tip from Bill Crider, I've added yet another blog to my list of regulars, Book Heaven, from Andy Jaysnovitch. In the late Seventies, Andy published a mystery fanzine called THE NOT SO PRIVATE EYE. I bought copies of it from him and that was my introduction to the world of mystery fandom, as well as to a couple of guys who are still my friends, Bill Crider and Joe Lansdale. They had letters published in the magazine, and I was thrilled to discover there were actually other people interested in the same stuff I was. Better yet, they were in Texas. Someday I need to dig out those old copies of TNSPE. I can't get to them easily, but I know where they are.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

More Baseball, and a Bonanza of Blogs

Last night I predicted the Yankees would win tonight. I was wrong and glad of it (although I got worried when the Red Sox put Pedro in in the seventh). After thinking about it, I probably will root for Boston in the series, just because I'd like to see the Curse of the Bambino laid to rest after all these years.

Six months ago, I barely knew what a blog was. Then I started reading Ed's Place occasionally and got hooked on it. When I found out Bill Crider was writing a blog, too, I began to read it every day. From those guys I found other blogs that interested me, and now I not only write my own, but I read several others nearly every day. Besides the two mentioned above, my regular stops are:

A Writer's Life (Lee Goldberg)
The Cap'n's Blog (Cap'n Bob Napier)
Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind (Sarah Weinman)
The Rogue Raven (Frank Denton)
Mystery Dawg (Aldo Calcagno)
The Crime Fiction Dossier (David Montgomery) (Vince Keenan)

Frank Denton's blog is on hiatus at the moment, but I'll be reading it again when he gets back. There are a handful of others I check from time to time.

I had another good writing day, and since there's been some discussion recently on Rara-Avis about Erle Stanley Gardner's Donald Lam and Bertha Cool books under the A.A. Fair pseudonym, I started reading the first one, THE BIGGER THEY COME. I read quite a few of these years ago -- in fact, I've read this one before, but it's been so long ago that I've forgotten everything in it. I'm thoroughly enjoying it so far. I'd forgotten how fast and funny these books are. I like the Perry Mason novels just fine, especially the earlier ones, and the D.A. novels I've read are pretty good, too. But the Lam/Cool books are special, possibly because the first person narration gives the books quite a bit of humor. Donald Lam's smart-aleck personality really comes through. I figure I'll be reading more of these.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004


I'm not a big baseball fan, although when I was a kid it was my game. And I especially liked baseball fiction, such as the books by John R. Tunis and Wilfred McCormack. Later I read quite a few adult baseball novels, like THE SOUTHPAW and BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY by Mark Harris. These days, though, I'm more interested in football and basketball.

However . . . how can anybody not get caught up in the baseball playoffs going on? As I write this the Red Sox and the Yankees are in the bottom of the ninth as the Red Sox try to continue their miraculous comeback from being down three games to none in the ALCS. I don't like the Red Sox much, but I'm rooting for them against the Yankees. And, petty though it may be, against A-Rod. Got quite a kick out of it earlier when he tried his "knock the ball out of the glove" stunt, which he wouldn't have gotten away with on most elementary schoolyards, let alone in front of forty or fifty or however many million people. And over in the National League, the Astros have become a sentimental favorite for me, because I watched several of their games on TV with my dad during the last weeks of his life. If the Astros make the World Series, I'm sure I'll root for them against either the Yankees or the Red Sox.

I had a pretty good day writing today and also finished reading one of the books submitted for the Spur Award competition. I'm going to take a break from them and read something else for a day or two, but I haven't decided what yet.

Well, the Red Sox just won to force Game Seven, the first time in playoff history to be down 0-3 and take the series to seven games. Pretty good stuff. But I'll be surprised if the Yankees don't win the next one.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Indian Summer

After some very welcome cooler weather last week, it's hot again, and likely to stay that way for a while. I have a theory (and after my squirrel evolution post a couple of weeks ago, you just knew I'd eventually venture back into the scientific realm again, didn't you?) that weather patterns have shifted some two to four weeks over the past forty years, or in other words, since I was a kid. Back then, May was a warm, rainy month, but by the first week in June summer had set in and it was hot and dry until late August. Now the real summer heat usually doesn't kick in until July. Likewise, when I started to school (un-air-conditioned, of course) in September, the first few days were pretty hot, but after a week or so it cooled off nicely, only to warm up again around the first of October. We seldom had snow or ice after the middle of February; now it's the middle of March before you can count on winter being over. I'm not convinced about global warming, but I do believe the weather does some odd things on its own, and this is one of them.

I've still got the bad knee, but it didn't stop me from running errands today. At one stop, in a discount clothing store, of all places, I found a rack of cheap DVDs, including the original Dick Tracy serial starring Ralph Byrd. Well, I couldn't leave it there, of course. There was also a set of five Tarzan movies, but not any of the really good ones, so I resisted that temptation.

I've also been writing and had a nice productive weekend. I wanted to have the current book finished by the end of the month and it looks like it's going to go over about a week into November, but that's not disastrous.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Stumpy Lives

Well, I'm about halfway laid up with a bum knee. I hurt it a couple of days ago. I'm not sure how, but I think it had something to do with carrying a fifty-pound bag of goat chow. So now I'm hobbling around like Walter Brennan in RIO BRAVO. Luckily it's my left knee, so I can still drive, although getting in and out of the van is a bit difficult. And it doesn't affect my writing, of course, so I've been able to have productive days both yesterday and today. Ten or fifteen years ago I cracked a bone in my leg and had to stay off it for several days. Put me in a recliner for any length of time and I wind up napping, so that's how I spent that time.

I'm about to finish reading that Max Brand book I started a couple of days ago, MONTANA RIDES. It's a good one. After that I need to read some books for the Spur competition.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Odds and Ends

Today I finally got back to turning out new pages, although the day was shortened by clearing away several other chores that have been neglected lately. I'm far behind where I need to be on the current book but think I can still write myself out of the hole. I'm going to try, anyway.

I'm still reading MONTANA RIDES and enjoying it. This one has a more hardboiled tone and a tighter writing style than some of Faust's novels. The plot seems awfully familiar, though, like it might be a variation of one that he used in another book. Of course, I know that there are only so many plots and I'm bound to have encountered a variation of this one somewhere else, but it strikes me that Faust himself used it more than once.

More Page Proofs

Took me a second day, but I was able to finish reading those page proofs today. Chores like this wreak havoc with my production of new pages, but they have to be done. And while I don't really enjoy reading over my own work, I usually come across a few nice bits that I'd forgotten. In this case it was a little homage to one of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite movies, THE COMANCHEROS. It's so obscure nobody will ever get it but me, but I got a chuckle out of it anyway.

Speaking of THE COMANCHEROS, I discovered that George J. Lewis, the hero of ZORRO'S BLACK WHIP, had an uncredited part in THE COMANCHEROS as Chief Iron Shirt, the drunken Comanche chief who passes out in his food at the dinner with John Wayne, Stuart Whitman, and Nehemiah Persoff fairly late in the movie. Now there's some trivia for you.

I've started reading MONTANA RIDES by Frederick Faust, in an old Paperback Library reprint bylined "Max Brand Writing as Evan Evans". Why did they go to so much trouble?

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The Jackson Hole Photo

As I was trying to say before Bloggerbot interrupted me . . .

Left to right, front: James Reasoner, Doug Grad
Left to right, back: Bill Crider, Judy Crider, Marion Reasoner, Paul Block, Pam Lappies

Left to right, front: James Reasoner, Doug Grad Posted by Hello

The Jackson Hole Gang

Over on Bill Crider's blog today, he posted a photograph that was taken in Jackson, Wyoming, in June of 1992, during the Western Writers of America convention, along with a very nice tribute to my dad. (Thanks, Bill.) That was my favorite WWA convention, in a great setting with a lot of great people in attendance. The photo came about when my dad and I went out to dinner with Bill and Judy, Doug Grad (then the Western editor at Pocket Books), and Paul Block and Pam Lappies, my editors from Book Creations Inc., the book packaging company for which I was doing a lot of work in those days. On our way to the restaurant, we stopped at one of those tourist places where they dress you in old-fashioned clothes and take a sepia-toned photo of you. The guys wound up dressed as outlaws, Judy was a Southern belle, and Pam was a saloon girl. We all bought copies of the photo. I think Doug may have even gotten it blown up into a poster, I don't remember.

During dinner, somebody (Doug?) said that in the photo I looked like I ought to be called Big Earl. I dubbed him The Kid and mentioned that while he appeared innocent, he was actually the most vicious killer in the bunch. Just the usual sort of convention banter. I even told Doug that I was going to write a book based on the photo, and he would have to buy it for Pocket Books.

Well . . . a few weeks later, I get a call from Paul at BCI. Doug actually wants me to write a proposal for a Big Earl book. After some suggestions from Doug and Paul, I come up with Big Earl Stark, former stagecoach driver who educates himself in the law, becomes a lawyer, and eventually is appointed a federal circuit court judge, riding from town to town in the West to hear cases. Doug likes the proposal and wants three books. He even says we can use the photograph from Wyoming as the cover of the first book. So that's how the Judge Earl Stark series of Western mysteries comes about. Just as I said back in Jackson, I name all the other characters and build the plot around them, even to the point of having a photograph of them taken during the course of the story. When the book came out, I was a little disappointed that the entire photo wasn't used, only a close-up of me as Big Earl. Of course, as Bill has been telling people for years, that's his hand holding the six-gun right behind my head. Bill has also never forgiven me for some of the things that happened to his character in the book.

I really enjoyed the Stark books and would have continued writing them, but poor sales did the series in after three books. Still, I've always gotten a kick out of being one of the few authors to appear as his own character on a book cover. (Mickey Spillane, Mike Avallone, and Stephen King come to mind. I'm sure there have been others.)

Page Proofs and Horror

I spent most of the day reading page proofs, and as I've mentioned on here before, that's one of my least favorite jobs. I've found only one typo so far, and I have a feeling it may be the only one in the book.

In between stints of reading my own words, I read part of a book called WRITING HORROR, edited by Mort Castle, written by members of the Horror Writers Association, and published by Writers Digest Books. I saw this at the library last week and couldn't resist it, even though I attempt to write horror fiction only occasionally and have been spectacularly unsuccessful at it. (I have managed to sneak horror elements into some of my Westerns, but again, only occasionally.) WRITING HORROR was published in 1997, so all the market information is very dated, but that's okay. I just like reading what various writers have to say about a particular genre. And some of the articles in the book are pretty well universal, such as David Morrell's piece on how to write good dialogue. This is a pretty interesting book. It makes me want to read some horror fiction more than it makes me want to write it, but that's okay, too.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Back at It

First of all, many, many thanks to everyone who wrote to express their sympathy at the passing of my dad. Your words of support meant a great deal to me. I think I have a scan of the photo that Bill mentions in his comment below, and if I can find it, I'll post it and the story behind it.

Though I didn't write any today, I was able to get some pages yesterday, and the current book is about one-third done. I need to pick up the pace on it a little.

I finished Connelly's THE LAST COYOTE and enjoyed it very much, as expected. I also read THE FRANKIE AND JOHNNY MURDER, a chapbook collection of two novelettes by Roger Torrey from the pulp PRIVATE DETECTIVE. I've read and liked Torrey's work before, and these are fun stories. I was especially fond of the set-up in the title story, which involved a roadhouse owned by a couple of beautiful women named Frankie and Johnny. This seemed to me like the first story in a series, but I don't think Torrey ever used the characters and background again, which is a shame. I'm not sure what I'm going to read next.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Marion Reasoner, 1916 - 2004

My dad passed away early this morning. We knew this was coming, so it wasn’t a shock, but yet it always is, of course, when someone who has always been there no longer is.

Marion Reasoner (no middle name) was born in the community of Indian Creek, Texas, on February 5, 1916. Indian Creek no longer exists; when the Army built its huge training base, Camp Bowie, in Brownwood in the early Forties, it completely took in Indian Creek, and the town, never big to start with, disappeared. My dad was raised on a farm and cowboyed a little as a young man on the old Binion spread, owned by the father of famous gambler Benny Binion. He managed a bowling alley in Brownwood, worked as a civilian aircraft mechanic during World War II, and then as a member of the Signal Corps strung telephone wire across most of Austria in ’45 and ’46. He came back to aircraft work after his time in the Army and worked in that industry until he retired in the mid-Seventies. At the same time he worked as a TV repairman and continued with that long after his official “retirement”. He started a TV and appliance sales and service shop and I worked for him for several years, running the office and doing a little repair work. (I was never good at it, though.) Most of my early writing, including my first novel, was done a paragraph at a time in between loading and unloading TVs, washers, dryers, refrigerators, etc.

Although he liked to read as a young man, he stopped for a long time, devoting most of his time to work, as many Depression-era kids did when they grew up. He thought the idea of somebody wanting to write books for a living was utterly nuts. Writers were people who lived somewhere else, not in little towns in Texas. But whether he understood it or not, he made sure I had a chance to give it a try. I’m also convinced I inherited whatever storytelling talent I have from him, because anybody who knew him knows how much he liked to talk and spin yarns. And when I began to have some success, he became the world’s biggest booster of my work. He told everybody he ran into about me and the books I had written, and he carried copies around in his truck while he was doing TV work and sold them to his customers. Earlier this summer, while he was in the hospital in bad shape, he was still plugging my books to the nurses.

He read just about everything that I wrote and became a big reader again, not just of my work but of any books he could get his hands on, especially Westerns. During the Nineties, he went with me to a couple of Western Writers of America conventions and had a great time hanging around with writers and editors. He learned a lot about the business and always wanted to know what I was working on and what deals I had coming up. A writer couldn’t ask for a better dad, or a better friend.

He was married for over 63 years to my mom and raised me and my brother and sister and did a fine job, if I do say so myself.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Connelly Again

I'm reading THE LAST COYOTE, the fourth Harry Bosch book by Michael Connelly, and enjoying it as usual. Connelly writes non-fancy, meat-and-potatoes prose and still makes it lyrical at times. That's a neat trick. I started reading another book this morning but it might as well remain unidentified since I'm not going to finish it. It was by a fairly well-known, highly-praised author, but the prologue was about a brilliant and eccentric serial killer, and by the time I finished it I realized I just didn't care, so the book went back on the shelf. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood.

This was a library and errand-running day, but when we got home I managed to get some pages done anyway.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Three Star Books

Steve Mertz comments below about that Jerry Cotton book I read, and that prompted me to do a little digging into the publisher, Three Star Books of Chicago. A search on ABE turns up two more books they published: an anthology called GREAT SCIENCE FICTION, edited by Tony Licata and including stories by Ray Bradbury, Fredric Brown, Avram Davidson, L. Sprague de Camp, Arthur C. Clarke, Arthur Porges, Lester del Rey, and Brad Steiger; and IAN FLEMING'S INCREDIBLE CREATION, consisting of "Part I: My Friend Ian Fleming, by Paul Anthony (Fleming's drinking partner), and Part II: The World of James Bond, by Jacquelyn Friedman, an analysis of Fleming's work and of his character James Bond". Throw in the Jerry Cotton book, and that's a really odd trio. Three Star Books was a division of Camerarts Publishing Company, which also produced Merit Books, the publisher of most of Ennis Willie's novels. (For more on Ennis Willie, see recent installments of Ed's Place, as Steve also mentions.)

I'm reading a 1936 ARGOSY serial by H. Bedford-Jones called "River Devil", in which Mike Fink plays a prominent role. I've been a fan of Mike Fink fiction since watching "Davy Crockett and the River Pirates" as a kid. For a more recent Mike Fink novel, look for a copy of Kerry Newcomb's excellent CALL DOWN THUNDER, published several years ago by Harper Paperbacks.

Jerry Cotton

A conversation on the WesternPulps list with Juri Nummelin strayed onto the topic of the Jerry Cotton books, a long-running series of mystery novels published in Germany. Written by a stable of anonymous authors, the books were published under the house-name Jerry Cotton, and that's the name of the lead character as well. Cotton is a U.S. federal agent, a fairly standard wise-cracking tough guy. In 1965 one of the novels was published in an English translation by Three Star Books, a small Chicago paperback house, under the title IN THE LION'S DEN. I've had a copy of this book on my shelves for years, so today I read it. The cover refers to Jerry Cotton as the German James Bond, but there's no James Bond feel to this book at all. Instead, it reads more like a very minor Gold Medal novel, with Cotton working undercover to clean up the corruption in a small Southern city. He gets shot at, beaten up, nearly run over by a gravel truck, almost blown up with dynamite, etc., and has one romantic interlude with a beautiful blonde who may or may not be working for the bad guys. It's all told in the usual breezy, hardboiled style, and while the writing is pretty mediocre most of the time, there are some nice scenes here and there. All in all, a slightly better book than I expected.

I looked through the serials I own and settled on THE MYSTERY SQUADRON to watch next. This is a 1933 Mascot serial starring Bob Steele. "12 Mystifying Chapters of Zooming Adventure!" according to the box. We'll see how it goes.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Zorro's Black Whip

I finished watching this serial tonight. I didn't quite make my goal of watching a chapter each night, had to skip a night or two, but I've been watching it pretty regularly. I wouldn't put it in the top rank of Republic serials, but it's very enjoyable. The plot is thin even by serial standards, and the villain is a scrawny little guy who doesn't live up to the great villainous standard of Roy Barcroft. But there's plenty of action, with numerous gunfights and a set-destroying brawl in nearly every episode. Stuff blows up real good a couple of times. The stunt work is excellent, with Babe DeFreest doubling Linda Stirling and Dale Van Sickel doubling George J. Lewis. Linda Stirling is considerably shapelier in the Black Whip costume than Babe is, so it's fairly easy to tell when they switch, but that's all right. Hal Taliaferro, also known as the early Western star Wally Wales, does good work as the villain's chief henchman. One of the opening credits says, "Zorro character created by Johnston McCulley". Well, yes, that's true, but it's got nothing to do with this serial, which never even mentions Zorro. I guess Republic figured they had paid for the right to use the name, so they might as well use it to try to boost revenues. All in all I had a very good time watching this and plan to start another serial soon.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Spur Awards

I'm serving as a judge in the Spur Awards this year, in the category of Best Novel of the West. This is the same category I helped judge seven or eight years ago. The rule that determines which novels go in which category is purely arbitrary: if it's under 90,000 words, a book is eligible for Best Western; if it's over 90,000 words, it goes in the Best Novel of the West category. I'll be getting a lot of books to read over the next three months or so, and it strikes me as unethical somehow to discuss them while the competition is still going on. So if I'm rather vague about what I'm reading for a while, that's the reason. Of course I'll continue to read and comment on other books, too, and after the Spur competition is over and my nominations have been turned in, I'm sure I'll have some things to say about some of the books I've read in the course of the contest.

By the way, the Spur Awards are given out each year by the Western Writers of America, which I failed to mention above.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Western Story, October 28, 1939 Posted by Hello

Yard Work

I managed to fritter away the day working on our lawn mower and doing some other chores, so no writing got done. I did manage to read some more of that Western pulp, though. I'm going to see if I can post the cover of it here, since I think it's a pretty good one, but don't hold your breath waiting.