Saturday, March 31, 2012

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Crack-Shot Western, October 1941

Western pulps sported photo covers from time to time, as you can see from this example, the first such I've run here. I'm not a huge Gene Autry fan -- when it comes to singing cowboys, I think Roy Rogers has Gene beat, hands down -- but I generally enjoy his movies. I can't complain about the authors in this issue of CRACK-SHOT WESTERN, either: Frank C. Robertson, Paul S. Powers, L.P. Holmes, Claude Rister, and Lloyd Eric Reeve. This isn't a particularly well-known Western pulp, so it must not have been very successful, which might mean that having Gene Autry on the cover was an effort to boost sales.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Forgotten Books: One is a Lonely Number - Bruce Elliott/Black Wings Has My Angel - Elliott Chaze

The latest double reprint volume from Stark House is a study in both contrasts and similarities. Let's get some of the similarities out of the way first.

The authors, Bruce Elliott and Elliott Chaze, have a name in common, obviously. Both novels are noirish, hardboiled crime yarns originally published in the Fifties. And both are very, very good.

But the two authors have very different backgrounds. Bruce Elliott was a stage magician who wrote books on that subject in addition to turning out pulp novels and working as an editor on various magazines. Elliott Chaze was a small-town journalist in the South who had a long career as a newspaper reporter and editor as well as being a novelist.

ONE IS A LONELY NUMBER was originally published by Lion Books in 1952, BLACK WINGS HAS MY ANGEL by Gold Medal in 1953. Both novels spent decades in obscurity, but in different ways. BLACK WINGS HAS MY ANGEL was famously obscure, if you know what I mean. Unlike most Gold Medal novels from that era, it was extremely difficult to find, as Bill Crider points out in his introduction to this reprint. A number of articles were written about how good it was, one of the very best novels ever published by Gold Medal, but most fans had never read it and held out few hopes of ever reading it because it was so rare. ONE IS A LONELY NUMBER was just flat-out obscure, a Forgotten Book if ever there was one. I've been reading this sort of stuff for more than forty years now, and I'd never even heard of it until Stark House announced this edition. As Ed Gorman says in his introduction, "I have no idea how a novel this good could have been around for more than sixty years without hardboiled readers being aware of it." I can only echo that comment.

As for the books themselves . . .

ONE IS A LONELY NUMBER is the story of Larry Camonille, an escaped convict who's trying to get to Mexico because he has tuberculosis and thinks he'll live longer in the warm, dry air. One of his lungs has already been removed in the prison hospital before he broke out, and the other one is in bad shape. I don't think Elliott ever mentions what Larry's crime was, but it's established that he's a former musician (a trumpet player) and that he's never killed anyone. In need of money, he takes a job as a dishwasher in a small rural roadhouse, and wouldn't you know it, two beautiful women wind up interested in him, one older, one dangerously younger. And as Larry eventually discovers, both of them have plans for him, plans involving crimes that could send him back to prison or even get him killed.

Larry is about as unsympathetic a protagonist as you could find, but to Elliott's great credit, he makes the reader care about Larry despite that. The plot twists and turns with great skill, and Elliott's prose is fast and lean, just like it should be. The atmosphere of doom that hangs over this novel is powerful, and to quote Gorman again, "Even Cornell Woolrich and David Goodis would find this book a downer." Larry Camonille never really gives up in his struggle to be free, though, and I think that's what makes him oddly admirable in spite of his flaws. Because of all this, I found ONE IS A LONELY NUMBER to be one of the best noir novels I've ever read.

Now, moving on to BLACK WINGS HAS MY ANGEL, when you finally get your hands on a book you've heard great things about for years or even decades, a book you figured you'd probably never get to read, there's always a nagging worry that it's not going to live up to its reputation. That was certainly true in my case when I started BLACK WINGS HAS MY ANGEL.

Luckily, it didn't take me long to realize that wasn't going to be a problem. This book also concerns an escaped convict, and of course he meets a beautiful woman. Only one, though, in BLACK WINGS HAS MY ANGEL, and the crime that gets them both into deep trouble is the narrator's idea, not the blonde's.

I'm not really a fan of Chaze's dense prose. The long, long paragraphs and the scarcity of dialogue at times bother me. I'm accustomed to much leaner, faster, and more hardboiled writing in this sort of novel, and that's what works best for me. Where Chaze excels, though, is in his characterization. The relationship between Tim and Virginia is the dominant factor in this novel, and it's developed in very powerful fashion. They love each other, they hate each other, they fight, they scheme together, they certainly don't trust each other. The reader never really knows what's going to happen next, and that sense of things being off-kilter is what makes BLACK WINGS HAS MY ANGEL such a fine novel.

Taken together, this is one of the best volumes Stark House has published so far. ONE IS A LONELY NUMBER is the better of the two books, I think, but they're both well worth reading and if you're a fan of noir fiction and haven't ordered this one yet, you definitely should.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Out of the Garden - Angeline Hawkes

I’ve known Angeline Hawkes and her husband Christopher Fulbright for several years. They’re both fans of Robert E. Howard as well as writers, but I’d never read any of their work until now. Hawkes’ new collection OUT OF THE GARDEN brings together a number of the heroic fantasy stories she’s written about Kabar of El Hazzar, a blacksmith, thief, and barbarian warrior who lives in a world modeled somewhat after the Middle East during Old Testament times. Kabar is a fine, compelling character, and the stories feature plenty of action as he is drawn into tales of sorcery, political intrigue, mystical weapons, monsters, and plenty of beautiful women, maidenly and otherwise. By turns eerie, lyrical, adventurous, and philosophical, all the stories in this book are good, but the title novella is a real highlight, a stunning blend of action, fantasy, and theology. If you’re a fan of heroic fantasy, this one is highly recommended, and you can order it here. 

Wrong Town - Matthew P. Mayo

You can check out my review of Matthew P. Mayo's WRONG TOWN over on the Western Fictioneers blog.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Blindside - Ed Gorman

Political consultant Dev Conrad is back in Ed Gorman's latest mystery novel, BLINDSIDE. This time Dev's been brought into the re-election campaign of a young congressman whose staff has a spy for the opposition in it somewhere. Dev is supposed to identify the source of the leak and put a stop to it, but before he get very far on that job, one of the staffers winds up dead, another goes missing, and as usual Dev winds up investigating a murder on top of his other assignment.

Although politics is the backdrop, BLINDSIDE winds up being about a lot more, mostly, as is common in Gorman's work, about the frailties and dangers, both emotional and physical, of being human. The plot is put together well and unfolds in smooth, fast-moving prose, but the main appeal of the novel is the characters, particularly Dev, who's a very likeable narrator and protagonist. Gorman really puts him through the wringer in this one, and by the end of the book I was eager to find out what was going to happen to him next.

If you're looking for a good traditional mystery set against an intriguing background, you won't go wrong with BLINDSIDE. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: The Three Musketeers (2011)

I think a movie that is universally critically reviled, bombs at the box office, and disappears from the theaters in the blink of an eye qualifies as overlooked, especially when I think it's a really good movie, to boot. Sure, re-imagining THE THREE MUSKETEERS as a steampunkish, James Bondian action/adventure movie was a big gamble, and it didn't pay off for whoever came up with it, but that doesn't mean the movie is bad.

Actually, this version is a fairly accurate adaptation of the first half of the novel. Well, uh, if you don't include the airships, the aerial dogfights, the machine guns, the scuba gear, and things like that. That's where the steampunk part comes in. But there's also plenty of swashbuckling adventure, and the fantastic elements mesh with it pretty well.

The cast is decent, too, and any movie with the great Ray Stevenson in it is worth watching, as far as I'm concerned. He plays Porthos in this one. Throw in the fact that the action scenes are staged and edited so that you can tell what's going on, with none of that flash-cut garbage, and I had a great time watching this.

Yes, a few things are a little too silly and over the top (but you know my motto: "If you're going over the top anyway, you might as well go 'way over."), a few lines of dialogue are a little too anachronistic, and a little of that MATRIX-style slow motion goes a long way as far as I'm concerned, so I could have done without some of it here. Also, the final scene in the movie should have come after the closing credits rather than before them. (I'm a big believer in after-the-closing-credits scenes.)

Those are my only reservations about this latest screen version of THE THREE MUSKETEERS. The version from the Seventies directed by Richard Lester remains the best, but this one is well worth watching. I thought it was one of the most entertaining movies I've seen in quite a while.

Monday, March 26, 2012

New This Week

As I mentioned, last week was unusual. This week I have only three new books to talk about . . . but they look like good ones.

Paul Cain – THE COMPLETE SLAYERS. This is a beautiful limited edition from Centipede Press that reprints Cain's novel FAST ONE (in its original form as published in BLACK MASK) and all of his shorter fiction. It includes a lengthy biographical introduction by editors Lynn F. Myers Jr. and Max Allan Collins that reveals quite a bit of new information about the mysterious Paul Cain, including his real name. The book is signed by Myers, Collins, and artist Ron Lesser, who provided the great cover and several interior illustrations.

Max Allan Collins (again) – DICK TRACY: THE COLLINS CASEFILES, VOLUME 1. This handsome trade paperback reprints the first three storylines by Collins when he took over the writing duties on the Dick Tracy comic strip in 1977. Tracy is a longtime favorite of mine, but I haven't read these stories yet and I'm looking forward to them.

Matthew P. Mayo – WRONG TOWN. This is a new e-book edition of a Western novel originally published a few years ago in England by Robert Hale as part of the Black Horse Western line. My review of it will be coming up in a few days.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Daredevil: Reborn - Andy Diggle

While the Black Panther is back in New York taking Daredevil's place as the protector of Hell's Kitchen (which I wrote about earlier), where is Matt Murdock? Why, he's out wandering across the country, trying to find himself (as the result of events in a storyline that I didn't read). And where does every hero go to do all that soul-searching? A little town in the middle of nowhere, of course, often in the American Southwest. What does he find in that little town? Crime, corruption, danger, and a reason to reclaim his identity, naturally. Did you ever doubt it?

That came across a little snarkier than I intended it, but it's true you're not going to find anything in DAREDEVIL: REBORN that you haven't seen before. The familiar can still be very enjoyable if it's done right, though, and for the most part it is in this collection of the Daredevil mini-series from last year that sets up the current DD series. Andy Diggle is a good writer, and there are some nicely effective moments in these scripts, along with one fairly major plot hole. The artwork by Davide Gianfelice I'm not crazy about. He did the art for the Northlanders storyline I wrote about a while back, and he's illustrating another mini-series I'm currently reading called SIX-GUNS. I would have much rather seen this Daredevil story drawn by Gene Colan or Wally Wood, but we can't always get what we want, can we? (Hey, that would make a good song lyric.)

Overall, DAREDEVIL: REBORN is okay and worth reading if you're a long-time fan of the character. Since I bought DAREDEVIL #1 (with that great Bill Everett art) brand-new off the spinner rack in Trammell's Pak-a-Bag Grocery Store, I think I fit that description. And I'm glad I read it to fill in some of the gaps from the time when I wasn't reading comics.

Black Panther: The Man Without Fear, Vol. 1: Urban Jungle - David Liss

Writers who started out doing other things are showing up more and more often in comics these days, it seems like, and David Liss is a good example. He became well known for writing historical mystery novels (I haven't read any of them yet, but I plan to get around to it), so at first he seems like an odd choice to take over the writing chores on a superhero comic. But he's the scripter of BLACK PANTHER, THE MAN WITHOUT FEAR, and the trade paperback URBAN JUNGLE collects the six issues of his first storyline on that title.

As long-time Marvel fans might guess from that title, T'Challa, the Black Panther, former king of the African nation of Wakanda, has abdicated his throne, moved to New York, and taken over from Daredevil as the protector of the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood. This storyline has its roots in things that happened while I wasn't reading comics, so I wasn't clear on all the details, but I got up to speed quickly enough. And the set-up is really pretty simple, as I just summarized. T'Challa works as the manager of a diner, and in his spare time he battles a super-powered Romanian crime lord known as Vlad. Liss throws in a nice twist, though, because in addition to all the organized crime shenanigans and superhero battles (and guest appearances by Spider-Man and Luke Cage), there's also a serial killer roaming Hell's Kitchen, apparently selecting victims at random.

Liss does a good job of managing the different threads of this plot, and his scripts are well written. There's a lot of dialogue, a lot of captions, and although these stories take longer to read than many comics stories do, which isn't a bad thing as far as I'm concerned, they don't come across as wordy. Those of you who are really long-time Marvel readers may recall a previous Black Panther series that ran in a title called JUNGLE ACTION. That one was written by Don McGregor, who established a tradition of densely packed but very well written scripts. Liss doesn't take that to the extremes that McGregor did, but I still find his work here refreshing compared to some of the more bare-bones writers in the comics field these days.

The art is by Francesco Francavilla. It's a little dark and murky, but what would you expect, considering the setting? I'm not a big fan, but it's okay, and there are some pages that are very effective.

I almost started buying this title when it first came out but decided not to. Now that I've read the first collection, I may have to change my mind. It's pretty darned good stuff if you're a fan of the grittier side of superhero comics.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Action, March 1941

I mentioned both versions of the character The Rio Kid on the WesternPulps group the other day, so I thought it might be a good idea to feature one of them this week. The best-known Rio Kid, of course, was Bob Pryor, the star of his own pulp magazine that ran for 76 issues from 1939 to 1953. Many of those novels were reprinted in paperback by Curtis Books and Popular Library. I've read a lot of them, and it's one of my favorite pulp Western series.

But there was another Rio Kid, this one not having any other name that was ever revealed to the readers, as far as I recall. He was created by Davis Dresser, much better known as Brett Halliday, the author of the Mike Shayne private eye novels. Under the name Don Davis, Dresser wrote four novels about this Rio Kid. They appeared in the pulps, in hardbacks, and in paperback reprints during the Fifties and Sixties from Pocket Books. Those are the editions I remember reading when I was a kid, and I recall that I enjoyed them very much. I probably ought to reread them one of these days.

"Death on Treasure Trail" appeared in the March 1941 issue of WESTERN ACTION, along with a couple of short stories by Mat Rand and James Rourke. This is another of those "shootout at the poker table" covers that were very popular on the Western pulps. After you see enough of these, you start to get the idea that there was no such thing as a friendly game of cards in the Old West. That's what the authors and artists wanted you to think, anyway.

And as a bonus, here's the paperback edition of DEATH ON TREASURE TRAIL.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Dead Man #1 Free for Kindle!

Want to get started on the Dead Man series but haven't gotten around to it yet? Well, now's the perfect time because the first book is absolutely free on Amazon. Don't miss out on this deal.

Forgotten Books: Black Friday and Selected Stories - David Goodis

(This post originally appeared in somewhat different form on January 12, 2007.)

This British trade paperback from Serpent's Tail reprints one of David Goodis’s noirish crime novels, BLACK FRIDAY (originally published by Lion Books in 1954), and a dozen of his novelettes and short stories from the pulpsNew Detectiveand 10 Story Mystery Magazine, the legendary digestManhunt, and Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine. In addition, there's a good introduction by Adrian Wootton that talks at length about Goodis’s pulp career, where he was best known for his aviation and air war stories.

I’d read a couple of Goodis’s novels (CASSIDY’S GIRL and NIGHT SQUAD) but none of his shorter work, so I was a little surprised at the wide range of the stories. Most of them aren’t as dark and bleak as his novels, and a couple of them, featuring homicide detective Ricco Maguire, almost qualify as screwball comedies. The later stories, mostly from Manhunt, get darker as they go along.

The novel BLACK FRIDAY centers around one of one of Goodis’s typical down-on-his-luck loser heroes, a guy named Hart who is on the run from a murder rap when he accidentally gets involved with a gang of professional thieves in Philadelphia. Not everything is as it seems, though, because Hart is a man with secrets, which are gradually revealed in the course of the book. This is a novel with a great opening – the first forty or fifty pages are some of the best stuff I’ve read recently – and a very suspenseful ending, but the middle of the book meanders around some and drags compared to the rest of it. Still, I enjoyed it quite a bit and will read more of Goodis’s novels. Overall, this is a fine volume and well worth having if you like hardboiled crime fiction.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Gods and Fathers - James LePore

James LePore is one of my favorites among the current group of thriller writers, and his latest novel, GODS AND FATHERS, may be his best yet.

Matt DeMarco is a successful assistant district attorney in New York City, but his personal life isn't going nearly as well as his professional one. He's divorced, his ex-wife is married to a fabulously wealthy international businessman, and his college-age son can barely stand him. Matt doesn't hesitate to leap to his son's defense, though, when the boy is charged with the brutal rape/murder of his girlfriend. There's no doubt in Matt's mind that his son was framed.

Because of his position, Matt has to investigate the case unofficially, with some off-the-books help from friends of his in the law enforcement community, and his poking around reveals the fact that the case isn't nearly as simple as it appears to be at first. Instead it's tied in with an international conspiracy with roots that go back for years, and LePore does his usual masterful job of weaving all the plot elements together.

LePore's protagonists are always appealing: flawed but decent people who find themselves in over their heads, trying to make the best of dangerous situations. He has the storyteller's knack of moving things right along, as well. GODS AND FATHERS is an entertaining, well-written book, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Blood on the Mink - Robert Silverberg

Charles Ardai and Hard Case Crime have given us another nearly lost treasure in BLOOD ON THE MINK, the only hardboiled crime novel by science fiction legend Robert Silverberg (unless there are more like this still hidden in the pages of the crime digests of the late Fifties and early Sixties, and we can only hope that's the case). This one was written for a magazine that went defunct before it could be published, but Silverberg sold it a couple of years later to one of his other markets, TRAPPED, where it appeared in the November 1962 issue under the pseudonym Ray McKensie. As Silverberg explains in his afterword to the novel, it turns out that was the final issue of TRAPPED, which is a shame because this novel could well have been the first of a series.

The narrator is a federal agent named Nick whose specialty is undercover work. In BLOOD ON THE MINK, he takes the place of a Los Angeles hood who comes to Philadelphia to make a West Coast distribution deal with a counterfeiting ring. Nick's real objective is to find the engraver who's responsible for the printing plates being used to turn out nearly perfect counterfeit bills. In order to do this he has to maintain his dangerous charade while several different factions vie to come to an agreement with the head of the counterfeiters.

Naturally, there are a couple of beautiful women involved, the mistress of the boss counterfeiter and the daughter of the engraver, and both dames wind up putting Nick in even more peril before the assignment is over. Fistfights, shootouts, and explosions punctuate the narrative, and Silverberg delivers it all in terse, fast-moving prose with a firm hand on the various strands of the plot.

Quite a few of Silverberg's erotic novels are crime yarns in disguise, but he's in full hardboiled mode in BLOOD ON THE MINK and I thought it was great. Like I said above, I wish there were more of these books

The Hard Case Crime edition sports a fine cover, as well as including a couple of Silverberg's equally excellent short stories from the crime digests, "Dangerous Doll", another story bylined Ray McKensie, from the March 1960 issue of GUILTY, and "One Night of Violence", originally published as by Dan Malcolm in the March 1959 issue of GUILTY. With a lot of Silverberg's early SF and some of his erotica back in print, it's time for some enterprising publisher to bring out a massive collection of his crime stories as well. I'd certainly buy it.

And speaking of buying, BLOOD ON THE MINK will be available in early April, but you can pre-order it now. If you like top-notch hardboiled crime novels as much as I do, I highly recommend you do so.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: "G" Men

When it comes to gangster movies, I've always been more of a Humphrey Bogart fan rather than a Jimmy Cagney fan. Of course, the two of them made several excellent films together, and it's not that I don't like Cagney's movies. I generally like 'em a lot. It's just that Bogart is one of my all-time favorites.

But I'll still watch Cagney any time, so when I recently came across a four-movie set of his films, only one of which I'd ever seen, I didn't hesitate to snap it up. The four movies are WHITE HEAT (the only one I'd seen, and it's a great, great film), CITY FOR CONQUEST, EACH DAWN I DIE, and "G" MEN. The first one of those I watched is "G" MEN.

From 1935, it's the earliest of the four movies in this set. Cagney plays Brick Davis, a young lawyer whose education was paid for by one of the local mobsters who wants to see the kid make good. The mobster insists that Brick play it straight instead of working for criminals like him, and Brick gives it a try, even though he's not really cut out for practicing law.

Then one of Brick's friends from law school who joined the Bureau of Investigation (the forerunner of the FBI) is murdered, and Brick's desire to avenge his buddy's death leads him to his true calling. He gives up practicing law and turns to enforcing it, becoming a G-Man.

From there we're off to the races, as Brick goes through training to be a federal agent and then helps track down his friend's killer. But that just opens up a larger investigation and an even more extensive war against crime that leads to kidnapping, heart-tugging drama, and shootouts galore. There's plenty of tommy gun action in this one.

"G" MEN's cast is full of standouts from Hollywood's Golden Age. Robert Armstrong and Lloyd Nolan are fellow agents, Barton MacLane is one of the gangsters, and even B-Western stalwart Raymond Hatton gets in on the action as a messenger working for the mob.

Not surprisingly, though, Cagney dominates the film. He was a genuine movie star, and no matter who else is in the scene or what's going on, the viewer is almost compelled to watch him. He doesn't ham it up, though, at least not too much, and is willing to let the other actors shine, too, which explains how he was able to work so well with other stars who possessed as much firepower as he did, such as Bogart in THE ROARING TWENTIES and others, and later, with Henry Fonda and Jack Lemmon in MISTER ROBERTS, also a great, great film.

"G" MEN probably doesn't belong in the top rank of Cagney's films; its script is a little too formulaic for that. But it's a solid middle-of-the-pack entry from his career, and as such, it's very well made and highly entertaining. I had a great time watching it.

One final note: as somebody who grew up watching old movies on local TV, which in those days meant a lot of scratchy, jumpy prints, I'm always amazed at how crisp and clean most of these films look on DVD. The photography in "G" MEN is top-notch, like just about everything else in the film. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

New This Week

I've been meaning to start taking part in this series, but I always forget. So my entries in it may be sporadic. This was an unusual week for me. A lot of weeks I don't get anything except an e-book or two. But these are all print books that came in during the past week:

Dan Cushman – JEWEL OF THE JAVA SEA (Cushman's first book for Gold Medal), NAKED EBONY and SAVAGE INTERLUDE (a pair of African adventures that are rewrites/expansions of a couple of Armless O'Neil stories, with an adventurer named Crawford taking O'Neil's place), THE FORBIDDEN LAND, and PORT ORIENT, all of them published by Gold Medal.

Tom Phillips – ALL ABOUT AMY, a Monarch book that's actually by Tom Ramirez, a.k.a. Tony Calvano.

Richard Meade – TWO SURGEONS, an early medical novel by Ben Haas, published by Lancer.

W.C. Tuttle – TROUBLE AT THE JHC (Hillman) and GUN FEUD (Popular Library, and an abridgment of WANDERING DOGIES), a couple of Westerns by one of my favorite authors.

Tom Curry – GUNS OF DODGE CITY, a Curtis Books paperback reprint of a Rio Kid novel from the August 1942 issue of the pulp magazine.

Walt Coburn – ONE STEP AHEAD OF THE POSSE, together with Nelson Nye's THE NO-GUN FIGHTER, an Ace Double Western I bought mostly for the Coburn novel, only to discover when I got it that I'd already read it in a fairly recent large print edition called THE SQUARE SHOOTER. (Don't ask me my opinion of literary agents handling the estates of dead authors who make a practice of selling novels under new titles with no mention in them that they were ever published previously under different titles, or I might say things I shouldn't.)

William Chamberlain – TRUMPETS OF COMPANY K, a cavalry novel from Ballantine by an author whose World War II fiction I've enjoyed.

F.X. Toole – ROPE BURNS, a collection of boxing stories including the one on which the movie MILLION DOLLAR BABY was based.

Frank Gruber – QUANTRELL'S RAIDERS, a Signet Civil War Western with Quantrill's name misspelled in the title, but probably pretty good anyway considering that it's by Gruber.

Hal G. Evarts – COLORADO CROSSING, a Dell Western from the early Sixties in really good shape. I've seen books by Evarts around for decades but don't recall ever reading anything by him.

Richard Jessup – TEXAS OUTLAW, hardboiled Gold Medal Western from the Fifties.

Giles A. Lutz – OUTCAST GUN, hardboiled Gold Medal Western from the Fifties.

Lewis B. Patten – HOME IS THE OUTLAW, hardboiled Gold Medal Western from the Fifties. (Sensing a pattern here?)

Al Cody – THE HEART OF TEXAS, a Western by Archie Joscelyn under his Al Cody pseudonym, from late enough in his career that it might be good or it might not. This is a Leisure reprint of a book originally published by Arcadia Press.

Max Brand – HUNTED RIDERS, a Faust Western I didn't have, in a nice Pocket Books edition in the small size from the early Sixties.

Michael and Don Congson,eds. – ALONE AT NIGHT, Ballantine fantasy anthology from the early Sixties with stories by Robert Bloch, Henry Kuttner, Richard Matheson, Frank Belknap Long, August Derleth, and others.

Francis Leary – FIRE AND MORNING, a Fifties Ace historical novel about the War of the Roses by an author I've never heard of. But it has guys on the cover with swords.

Clive Cussler and Justin Scott – THE WRECKER, the third book in the Isaac Bell series. I have the first two but have never read them. One of these days.

That's too many books, especially for somebody who doesn't have room for any of them. But some of them are so cool! Ah, let's face it: I'm hopeless. Tell me again, Bill, about how you never regret the books you buy, only the books you didn't buy . . .

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Time Again Update From Ray Karwel

Maxim Media International, the largest world-wide distributor of independent horror and shock films, recently acquired sci-fi action/thriller film “Time Again” for worldwide distribution. Distribution plans are currently in consideration and most worldwide rights are still available. Interested parties should contact Darrin Ramage at

About The Film:
“Time Again,” the directorial debut of Ray Karwel, takes the audience on a wild sci-fi adventure into the notorious criminal underworld as a young waitress must travel back in time repeatedly to change the course of events that led to the death of her sister.

“Time Again” was edited by renowned Hollywood film editor John Rosenberg and stars veteran actress Gigi Perreau (Journey to the Center of Time, The Brady Bunch). It also features in starring roles Scott F. Evans (Big Bag of $, Alien Abduction), John T. Woods (Mega Snake, Zombie Strippers, House, NCIS, and 24), Angela Rachelle (The Kiss), and Tara Smoker.

Steve Miller of the Watching the Detectives blog writes, “All in all, this is a fun, swift-moving action flick that makes great use of its time travel story elements and its talented cast. Karwel and everyone else involved with this film are names and faces to watch for in the future.”

I watched and enjoyed TIME AGAIN back in December and wrote about it then. With any luck it'll be out on DVD soon and you can check it out for yourselves. Writer/director Ray Karwel sums it up nicely when he says:

TIME AGAIN is a cross between "Die Hard" and "Time Cop". It’s an old school, over the top tribute to 80’s action films.

The Best of Archie Comics

I was never a huge fan of Archie comics when I was growing up, but they were so popular – they were everywhere! – that it was inevitable I would read some of them. They were good, lightweight entertainment and a nice change of pace from all the superhero, Western, and war comics that made up most of my "funny book" reading.

So when I came across this really thick digest-sized collection reprinting stories from the Forties up to almost the current day, I didn't hesitate to pick it up. Reading it gave me a chance to see Archie as he originally appeared (the very first Archie story is one of those reprinted) and as he's presented today, as well as revisiting the era with which I'm most familiar, the late Fifties through the mid-Sixties.

First of all, those early Archie stories from the Forties are considerably different from what I expected. I had no idea they were as racy as they are, especially after Veronica is introduced as a sort of slutty socialite from New York. The stories are okay and the art is good. By the Fifties, though, everything is pretty much as wholesome and clean-cut as I remembered it, although Betty and Veronica are, let's face it, still hot. Other than experiments such as bringing in the musical group The Archies, to reflect the TV show, things don't change much through the Sixties, Seventies, Eighties, and Nineties. A little more social consciousness, a little more political correctness, but not enough to stifle the humor.

Backing up a little, when I was a kid I always liked the Little Archie comics better than the regular ones, although now I realize they violated previously established continuity by having Veronica in Riverdale from an early age. But when you're seven years old, who cares about such things? I also realize now that Bob Bolling's artwork on these stories is really good. The book reprints a regular Archie story with excellent art by Bolling, too, which leads me to think that he's the Archie equivalent of Carl Barks.

Moving on to the stories from recent years reprinted in this volume, you can see a real change. There's a long story from LIFE WITH ARCHIE, an alternate history version set five years in the future that finds Archie and Veronica married and working for Mr. Lodge's company, Betty having left town because she's heartbroken over losing Archie, Pop Tate retiring and selling the Choklit Shop to Jughead, Midge and Moose breaking up over Moose's "anger issues", Moose falling for his blind yoga teacher, Midge and Jughead getting together . . . I read all this sort of incredulously, asking myself "What the hell were they thinking?", but then the story ends on a cliffhanger, and wouldn't you know it, I, uh, kind of wanted to know what happened. I'd never prefer this new stuff to classic Archie, but I did find it interesting.

Chances are that if you ever read any Archie comics, you'd find something in this volume to interest you, too. I enjoyed my visit to Riverdale, although I may not ever go back there again. Or I may, who knows? And as for the eternal question that ranks right up there with "Ginger or Mary Ann?" . . .
Betty, of course. No contest.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Frontier Stories, Spring 1950

Fiction House pulps usually had colorful covers, and this one is really eye-catching. The contents look pretty promising, too: a novel by the always dependable Dean Owen, novelettes by prolific pulpsters John Jo Carpenter and Bart Cassidy, a story by the excellent Clifton Adams, and other stories by Conrad G. Feige, Charles Dickson, Kermit Rayborn, DeWitt Newbury, and Norman B. Wiltsey, none of whom I'm familiar with. I'm sure some of them are pretty good, though.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Forgotten Books: Curse of the Mandarin's Fan - Brant House (G.T. Fleming-Roberts)

Secret Agent X, on the trail of crime as always, finds himself away from his usual New York City surroundings in this novel from the February 1938 issue of the pulp magazine bearing his name. As the story opens, he's in San Francisco, trying to track down a Chinese criminal mastermind known as Chang, who has taken over the drug trade in that city. Chang, whose description is suspiciously reminiscent of Fu Manchu, sends warnings to his enemies in the form of curses written in delicate Chinese fans, hence the title of the story.

Since X is away from his usual stomping grounds, he doesn't have the help of his supporting cast such as Betty Dale and Harvey Bates, none of whom appear or even mentioned in this novel. He does wind up getting a hand from a different beautiful blond reporter who's very much like Betty, and there's a federal narcotics agent who sort of fills in for Bates. X spends most of the novel masquerading as crime-busting reporter Lon Hunter.

G.T. Fleming-Roberts is thought to be the author of this story, and the humor, the hardboiled rat-a-tat-tat prose, and the fact that it's a gangland story, rather than a super-criminal out to take over the world yarn, all support that theory. Some people also believe that it was written originally not as a Secret Agent X novel but rather as a non-series detective yarn featuring Lon Hunter as the hero, which was then hurriedly rewritten (probably by Fleming-Roberts) into a Secret Agent X entry. That seems plausible to me. We'll probably never know for sure.

No matter what its origins, "Curse of the Mandarin's Fan" is a fast-paced, entertaining story with some nice twists in the plot. A super-weapon does show up eventually, but it's almost an afterthought. Most of the story is spent on tough guy action scenes and politically incorrect, Yellow Peril-style shenanigans. There's a fairly strong mystery element, too, as the clues to the villain's true identity are scattered throughout the story. The solution does depend on some pretty obscure knowledge that the Agent happens to have, but at least the author attempts to give the reader a fair-play mystery along with the breakneck action.

An inexpensive reprint edition of this one is in the works from our friends at Beb Books. Whether it started out as a Secret Agent X novel or not, it's an entertaining entry in the series and well worth reading if you're a fan of the character.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

John Woo's 7 Brothers - Garth Ennis

JOHN WOO'S 7 BROTHERS is a trade paperback collecting a five-issue comic book miniseries published several years ago. From what I gather from the additional material collected in the paperback, film director John Woo came up with the concept for the story, which was then fleshed out and scripted by well-known comics writer Garth Ennis. Ennis has written some things I liked a lot, such as the long-running Vertigo series PREACHER, and I've liked all of Woo's films that I've seen, so I was willing to give this one a try.

I wound up liking it even more than I expected. The basic story of seven heroic brothers with special powers goes 'way back in Chinese mythology, but Woo and Ennis have updated it to the present day. This version concerns seven very unlikely heroes with mystical powers who are gathered together to stop an evil, 600-year-old Chinese sorcerer from taking over the world. Ennis writes great dialogue (although for those of you who are bothered by cussin', be warned that there's a lot of it), and the story is fast-paced, funny, grotesque, and adventurous, all at the same time. The drawback is that there are a lot of characters and many of them aren't very well-developed, at least in this first series. But the handful the story concentrates on are excellent.

The art is by Jeevan Kang. It takes a little getting used to (at least it did for this traditionalist), but it's not bad. Also, it fits the story pretty well.

There are a few scenes that show John Woo's influence and might have been lifted right from his films, but overall I suspect this is more Garth Ennis's creation than Woo's, despite the title. Whoever came up with what, the finished product is pretty darned entertaining. If you're a comics fan and overlooked this one, you might want to give it a try.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Favorite Bookstores #8: Bookstop on Meadowbrook

In January 1981, I had "retired" from my job as manager of my dad's electronics and appliance business to become a full-time writer.  I had a book contract with a decent advance, plus I was still writing Mike Shayne novellas for MSMM, so it seemed at least possible that I could make a living writing.  As it turned out, I was not yet well-suited for the life of a full-time writer (which means I was too damned young, stupid, and lazy), but it was a heady time for a while.

One thing we did a lot of in those days was going around to all the various used bookstores in the area.  I used the phone book to look up all the ones I'd never visited before.  One of them, Bookstop on Meadowbrook, was all the way around on the east side of Fort Worth, a 35 – 40 minute drive from where we lived and an area we seldom if ever visited.  But there was a bookstore there, and I'd never been to it, so one day, off we went to check it out.

It was a good bookstore, and we immediately hit off with the owner, a bearded, very personable young fellow named Steve Kerby.  Steve was a big reader and a mystery fan, to boot, so he was interested to find out that I had been "Brett Halliday" for the past couple of years.  Then he made the comment that there was another local writer who was a friend of his and sometimes he used the store's back room as a place to write.  In fact, he was back there that very afternoon working on a new novel, and Steve offered to go get him and introduce us.

Well, I hated to interrupt anybody's work, but I didn't know many writers in those days so I said sure.  A moment later Steve came back with a large, bearded gent and introduced us to Kerry Newcomb.

Now, I knew who Kerry Newcomb was.  I had even seen him on TV.  He and his writing partner at that time, Frank Schaefer, had been on an interview program hosted by a local TV personality named Michael Brown.  (Although I didn't know it at the time, Brown's wife Sandra harbored some writing ambitions herself and a couple of years later started selling romances to Dell's Candlelight Ecstasy line under the pseudonym Rachel Ryan.)  Kerry and Frank had been very successful writing historical romances under the names Christina Savage and Shana Carroll, as well as plantation novels as Peter Gentry and a thriller under their own names.

Kerry was easily the most successful writer I had met up to that time, and on top of that, he was one of the nicest guys you'd ever want to know.  (He still is, by the way.)  Livia and I quickly formed lasting friendships with both him and Steve, and Bookstop on Meadowbrook became one of the regular stops on our bookstore rounds.  I wasn't really looking for books, I just wanted to go hang around and talk.  Of course, a lot of that time I should have been working . . .

Over time, Steve added first new books in his store, then magazines, and finally video rentals, and Bookstop on Meadowbrook moved to a larger space in the same shopping center and became Fort Worth Books and Video.  I took over the used book operation and moved it a couple of blocks down the street, where I operated it and wrote books and short stories in my spare time for the next three years.  That proved to be a real dry spell in my writing as far as sales go.  I did a few ghost jobs, sold a porn story here and there, and generally struggled.  The bookstore wasn't very profitable, but at least it kept a little money coming in.

Then I managed to get a job writing for Lyle Kenyon Engel's book packaging company, Book Creations Inc.  BCI turned out a lot of different series, most of them Westerns, and my first assignment for them was also my first Western, an entry in the Stagecoach Station series (published by Bantam under the house-name Hank Mitchum) called PECOS.  My next job for BCI was another Stagecoach book, PANHANDLE, and I was sitting in the bookstore one day when my editor Paul Block called and asked me how the book was coming along.  It seemed that one of the other writers was going to be late with a manuscript, and Paul really needed something to plug into the schedule.  He asked if I could go ahead and send him however much of PANHANDLE I had done, so they could start editing it.  I said, "Paul, I'll send you the whole thing.  I finished it yesterday."  Which was true.

After that I started getting a lot more work from BCI.  Enough, in fact, that when the bookstore's lease was up, I wasn't sure I wanted to commit to another three years of making that long commute, even though the business had gotten to the point that it was finally making some decent money.  I asked the landlord if I could stay there for another year to see how it was going to go, but he was adamant.  It was either sign another three-year lease or get out.  So I got out, and I've never had an actual job other than writing since then.

To get back to Fort Worth Books and Video, I also worked part-time there, making friends I still have such as Tracey Berry and Dawn Perry Hand.  Steve expanded, adding a second location in downtown Fort Worth.  Eventually the big chain video stores ran most of the independents out of business, including Fort Worth Books and Video.  Steve went on to a very successful academic career on the East Coast, but we're still in touch.

Kerry Newcomb is still in Fort Worth, still a very good friend, and still one of the best writers in the business, although he's not as prolific these days as he once was.  He's a member of the Western Fictioneers and contributed a fine story to THE TRADITIONAL WEST.

I haven't been past the original Bookstop on Meadowbrook for several years and don't know what's there now.  I still have a lot of good memories of it, though, and that's plenty.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Music: San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair) - Scott McKenzie

I heard this song on the radio earlier today, and while I don't think it's a great song (and didn't think so back when it was new, either), it did trigger a lot of memories. And since (consider yourself warned) I'll seize any excuse to wallow in nostalgia . . .

I spent most of the summer of 1967 in the tiny town of Blanket, Texas, about halfway between Comanche and Brownwood, for those of you familiar with the area. My widowed aunt lived there, and my grandmother, who was in poor health, lived with her. My mother went down there to help out, and I went along.

I never went anywhere and stayed without taking a big stack of paperbacks with me. Since there really wasn't a whole lot I could do to help with the situation, I spent a lot of time with my nose in a book, as people used to say. I can't remember everything I read, of course, but I do recall reading RHUBARB by H. Allen Smith, the story of a cat who owned a baseball team (hilarious stuff); some of the Lancer editions of Robert E. Howard's stories (and I knew even then that pure Howard, or what passed for it at the time, was better than the stuff DeCamp and Carter monkeyed with); various "Nevada Jim" and "Larry and Streak" Westerns by "Marshall McCoy" (never dreaming, of course, that twenty years later I'd be friends with Len Meares, the guy who actually wrote them); a great Man From U.N.C.L.E. story in the digest magazine, "The Pillars of Salt Affair" by "Robert Hart Davis" (actually Bill Pronzini, and years later I was able to tell him in person how much I enjoyed it); half a dozen Sam Durrell espionage novels by Edward S. Aarons; and some hardboiled private eye yarns by Thomas B. Dewey featuring Mac, his most well-known character (Dewey lived out the last years of his life in Brady, Texas, about sixty miles from where I was reading those novels). Also, my aunt subscribed to THE SATURDAY EVENING POST and had stacks and stacks of them going back years, and I went through all of them reading the short stories that looked interesting, scores of them, I imagine, although I can't remember a single one now.

I listened to the radio a lot, too – KBWD-AM out of Brownwood – and Scott McKenzie's "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair)" was on there all the time that summer, along with "I Dig Rock 'n' Roll Music" by Peter, Paul, and Mary and "Light My Fire" by the Doors" (much better songs, both of them). And I hung out with the girl who lived across the street, who seemed impressed by a guy from the big city (trust me, compared to Blanket, Azle was a big city). It's driving me crazy that I can't recall her name, even though I can close my eyes and remember what she looked like. But I never saw her again after that summer, of course, so I guess it's not too surprising that her name eludes me. She probably doesn't remember me, either.

That was my summer of '67. Nothing spectacular, by any means, but the memories are good ones, and the influences of some of the books I read still echo 45 years later.

New Cover for Texas Wind

Livia's designed a new cover for TEXAS WIND. She really enjoys this stuff. And if you've been meaning to buy the book but haven't gotten around to it, now would be the perfect time, wouldn't it? (The old cover at the bottom is the Nook link, for those of you who prefer that platform, but the actual Barnes & Noble page for the book has the new cover.)

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Inherit the Wind

(This post originally appeared in somewhat different form on January 24, 2007.)

I remembered watching this movie many years ago and enjoying it, so when I noticed that the local PBS affiliate was running it, I decided to watch it again. I'm happy to report that it holds up quite well.

It's the story of the Scopes Monkey Trial, with Spencer Tracy playing Clarence Darrow, Frederic March playing William Jennings Bryan, and Gene Kelly cast against type as H.L. Mencken. The characters have different names in the movie (and the play it's based on), but it's obvious that's who they all are. The cast is good from the big names all the way down to the character actors and bit parts, although Frederic March does some pretty shameless scenery-chewing. But that's the way his role is written, so you can't really blame him.

The movie is rather heavy-handed at times, which you'd expect from a Stanley Kramer production, and often stage-bound, revealing its origins as a play. But the good writing, the crisp black-and-white photography, and the fine job by the actors, especially Tracy and Kelly, all combine to make a very good film. I'm glad I watched it again.

Monday, March 12, 2012

There's Still Time to Get "Devil Wings Over France" for Free

My paranormal air war/pulp story "Devil Wings Over France" is still free on Amazon for the rest of the day.

New Cover for Dust Devils

My novel DUST DEVILS has a nifty new cover that Livia designed. Check it out.

Party Doll - Steve Brewer

Steve Brewer's Bubba Mabry books are some of the best private eye novels of the past twenty years, and Bubba is back in PARTY DOLL, a very worthwhile addition to the series.

In this one, Bubba is hired by the owner of the Pink Pony strip club to find a missing dancer who goes by the name Joy Forever. Bubba goes about the job pretty efficiently and actually finds his quarry in fairly short order. But that's just the beginning, because someone involved in the case winds up dead, Bubba winds up in trouble with both the law and the shady characters from the strip club, and to save his own hide he has to untangle the threads of a complicated case involving corruption, infidelity, blackmail, and murder.

As always with Brewer's work, the prose is smooth and fast and very enjoyable to read. Bubba's voice is one of the most appealing in mystery fiction. Unlike the classic lone wolf PI, Bubba is married, and his relationship with his wife, investigative reporter Felicia Quattlebaum, is another of the strengths of this series.

If you haven't read any of the Bubba Mabry novels before, PARTY DOLL is a fine place to start. If you have, you'll certainly want to read this one, too. I liked it a lot. Highly recommended.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Outlaw and the Lady - Chap O'Keefe (Keith Chapman)

THE OUTLAW AND THE LADY by Chap O'Keefe (really our friend Keith Chapman) was published originally by Robert Hale in 1994 as part of Hale's Black Horse Western line. It's newly available as an e-book, though, and I think it's great that some of these older books are being republished. In this case, THE OUTLAW AND THE LADY is certainly deserving of finding a whole new audience of Western readers.

The protagonist of this novel is Tod Larraby, a former Confederate guerrilla who rode with Quantrill until he got sick of the violence and bloodshed. Although he tried to go straight after the war, he was charged unfairly with crimes he didn't commit and has spent nearly twenty years on the dodge, growing wearier all the time. Because of his status as an outlaw, he has to take whatever jobs he can, so when he's blackmailed by a corrupt lawman into helping an English nobleman find his missing son, Larraby is forced to shoulder this dangerous chore. It's made even more hazardous by the fact that the Englishman insists on coming along on the quest and bringing his beautiful young wife with him.

Chapman's work continues to remind me of the hardboiled Westerns published by Gold Medal during the Fifties and Sixties, and this one also has echoes of the early Lassiter novels by "Jack Slade" (really W.T. Ballard, Ben Haas, and Peter Germano, among others). The plot moves along at a suitably brisk pace, and the action scenes have a nice gritty feel to them. Larraby is a good hero, too, world-weary but not so full of angst that it leads to an excess of navel-gazing. As always, Chapman includes some effective twists and complications in the plot.

THE OUTLAW AND THE LADY is lean, fast, and very entertaining, and as usual when I finish a Chap O'Keefe book, I'm eager to read more. If you're a Western fan I think you'll enjoy it, too.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Dime Western, September 1934

It's hard to beat the combination of DIME WESTERN, a Walter Baumhofer cover, and this line-up of authors: T.T. Flynn, Walt Coburn, Harry F. Olmsted, Ray Nafziger, Robert Mahaffey, and Bart Cassidy. If I'd had a dime in my pocket when I saw this one on the newsstand, it would have been going home with me, you can bet a hat on that.

Pulp Adventure Free on Amazon!

My World War I air-war/horror adventure yarn "Devil Wings Over France" is free on Amazon for the next three days. This 8700 word novelette first appeared in the anthology RETRO PULP TALES, published by Subterranean Press in 2006. I intended for it to be the first in a series, but so far it's the only appearance of the courageous American pilot Dave "Dead-Stick" Malloy. I had great fun writing it, though, and you never know, one of these days good old Dave might fly again. If you're in the mood for chattering Vickers and strut-straining Immelmanns, have at it.

Friday, March 09, 2012


I know a lot of people liked this movie (obviously, considering its award nominations), but I just never warmed up to it. It looked great, the actors were fine, and the early moviemaking stuff was sort of interesting (I'm perfectly aware of Melies' importance in the history of film, but I've never actually been entertained by what I've seen of his work). However, I thought the whole thing was slow as molasses in December and I never connected to it.

I did like the brief clips from William S. Hart's TUMBLEWEEDS and Buster Keaton's THE GENERAL, though. I love those two films.

Forgotten Books: Texas Shall Be Free! - H. Bedford-Jones

This five-part serial by H. Bedford-Jones ran in ARGOSY from January 4, 1936 to February 1, 1936. It's the sequel to his novel "Bowie Knife" but with the exception of some historical figures does not use any of the same characters. This one starts a short time after the other novel leaves off with the fall of the Alamo and the slaughter of the old mission's defenders by the Mexican army under the command of General Santa Anna. Tennessean Gordon Durant, who has come to Texas to help in the fight for independence, is on his way from Goliad to San Antonio, carrying a message from his commander Colonel James Fannin intended for Colonel William Barrett Travis, in command at the Alamo. Durant has another reason for being in Texas, though: he is searching for his evil half-brother Vincent, who looks so much like Gordon that he was almost able to successfully seduce Gordon's fiancee in New Orleans. This occurred after Vincent stole a great deal of money from his and Gordon's late father in Tennessee. In the great pulp tradition, Vincent Durant is a thoroughly despicable villain.

Before he reaches San Antonio, Gordon Durant encounters a Mexican officer and is forced to kill him in a brief fight. The officer is carrying dispatches intended for Santa Anna. Gordon takes his uniform and the dispatch case, intending to masquerade as the dead officer. While disposing of the dead man's body, he is stumbled upon by a Mexican outlaw, Jacopo, who takes him for someone else-Vincent, obviously-and prattles on about stolen gold and how Vincent is a member of the same outlaw band. Gordon pretends to be his half-brother in order to get away and ride on into San Antonio.

When he gets there, he discovers that the Alamo has fallen and all of its defenders are dead. He successfully carries out his impersonation of the dead officer and is assigned by Santa Anna to a spying mission. Gordon's only real aim is to get out of San Antonio safely so that he can carry the news of its fall to the rest of the Texas army. But he gets saddled with the beautiful Dona Amadora de la Vega, who also thinks he is really Vincent Durant (half the people in Texas seem to have run into Vincent) and who happens to be the niece of the Mexican officer Gordon Durant killed. Amadora has a small casket full of jewels with her . . . or is it full of gold stolen from Santa Anna instead?

For several installments, Gordon Durant runs around southern Texas, catches up to his half-brother only to lose him before he can settle the score between them, is captured by the gang of outlaws that Vincent has joined, escapes, rejoins the Texas army and is sent out to spy by Sam Houston, discovers that his fiancee Faith and her father are also in Texas, is captured at the Battle of Coleto with the rest of Fannin's men and barely escapes when they are executed in the massacre at Goliad, scouts for the Texas army with Deaf Smith, and finally winds up taking part in the Battle of San Jacinto in which the outnumbered Texans handily defeat the Mexican army and capture Santa Anna. This decisive battle also forms the backdrop for Gordon's final showdown with his brother.

This is all as breathless as it sounds, and to be honest, all the fictional intrigue and adventures surrounding Gordon Durant come off as a bit forced and confusing. It reads wonderfully, of course, thanks to Bedford-Jones' skill as a storyteller. If anything, "Texas Shall Be Free!" has even more momentum than its predecessor, which was an excellent novel.

What sets this story apart and lifts it to the status of one of the best historical novels I've ever read about the Texas Revolution are the descriptions of both the landscape and the battles. I don't know if Bedford-Jones ever visited Texas or relied solely on research, but he nailed the area between San Antonio and the Gulf of Mexico. I've been all over this part of the country, and every bit of description rings true. Then there are the passages concerning the Goliad massacre, the Runaway Scrape (when the Texas army as well as the settlers in the area were fleeing from Santa Anna), and the battles at Coleto and San Jacinto. Bedford-Jones' prose is never wordy and never loses its swiftness, but he paints vivid pictures of these scenes that plunge the reader into the experiences he describes. Not to gush, but this is historical fiction at its best.

If I were a small-press publisher, one of the first projects I'd take on would be a reprinting of "Bowie Knife" and "Texas Shall Be Free!" in one volume. Since I'm not, I'll just highly recommend the issues of ARGOSY in which they appear to any fan of top-notch historical novels.