In the days following the Civil War, Clint Gordon returns to his home in a devastated Texas to find himself facing another war, this time against rustlers, renegades, and hired guns. Clint isn't going to give up, though, even if his fight leads him to a deadly showdown on a mountain of bones! A SKINNING WAR is a brand-new 5000 word Western short story from acclaimed Texas author David Hardy. This edition also includes a preview of his best-selling historical novel PALMETTO EMPIRE. (This is Dave's first traditional Western for REP but hopefully not his last. It's a really fine yarn, and if you're a Western fan you should check it out! You can even read it for free if you're signed up with Amazon Prime or Kindle Unlimited.)
I'm aware of
Edith and Ejler Jacobson mostly as editors (they edited several different
science fiction digests at one time or another), but they also wrote stories
for the pulps, including "Corpses on Parade", which appeared in the April 1938 issue of DIME MYSTERY. When I started reading this one, I thought it
was going to be a more sane and sedate tale than Arthur Leo Zagat's
"Revels of the Lusting Dead", the previous story in ZOMBIES FROM THE
PULPS! Well, turns out it is, but only by a little bit. The Jacobsons knew how
to go over the top as well.
The first person narrator is a wealthy young man in high society in New York,
and as the story opens he's attending the funeral of a friend who died of a
mysterious illness. This opening reads more like a mystery story than a Weird
Menace tale, but then other members of society begin committing suicide or
dying in mysterious fashion, and it's discovered that they're all victims of a
disease that starts to rot the flesh from bones even before death. Before you
know it we're up to our necks in a wild yarn involving kidnapping, a battle in
a cemetery, prisoners locked in a dungeon, and a hooded mastermind.
This story is really interesting to me because if the plot had been handled
differently it would have worked just as well for a novel featuring The Phantom
Detective, The Black Bat, or any number of other pulp crimefighters. At heart
it really is a crime yarn, but the Jacobsons make it plenty gruesome enough to
fit in the pages of DIME MYSTERY in its Weird Menace phase. It's also a
fast-paced, well-written story and makes me think I should read more by this
husband-and-wife team. As far as I can recall, it's the only thing I've read by
them, and it's another strong entry in this collection.
I am happy to announce this year's ReadWest Awards for Literary Excellence. Each year, the ReadWest Foundation, Inc., chooses three award recipients for "Excellence in Western Literature," and a Presidents Award for a "Significant Career Contribution to Western Literature." In the past ReadWest has honored best-selling authors such as Stephen Harrigan, Thomas Cobb, Kat Martin, and Craig Johnson. The awards will be presented at the Will Rogers Medallion Award Ceremony in Fort Worth, Texas, on October 25, 2014.
This year's recipients are:
Robert M. Utley
Robert M. Utley is an American author and historian who has written sixteen books on the history of the American West. He is a former chief historian for the National Park Service. The Western History Association annually gives out the Robert M. Utley Book Award for the best book published on the military history of the frontier and western North America (including Mexico and Canada) from prehistory through the 20th century.
Literary Excellence Awards
S. C. Gwynne (nonfiction)
S. C. Gwynne is a senior editor for Texas Monthly and the author for the Pulitzer Prize nominated book Empire of the Summer Moon. His next book, Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson, is due out in September.
James Reasoner (fiction)
Besides writing under his own name, James Reasoner has written under 40 pseudonyms, including Dana Fuller Ross and the acclaimed Wagons West series. Regarded as one of the Western genre's hardest working authors, Reasoner recently finished his 310th novel.
Doug J. Swanson (nonfiction)
Besides writing a biography on the infamous Texas gangster Benny Binion, Doug J. Swanson is an investigative reporter for The Dallas Morning News, and a novelist. His novel Big Town was a finalist for the Edgar Award and won the John Creasey Award from the British Crime Writers Association. He has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in feature writing, and has twice been named the top newspaper reporter in Texas. Swanson is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, and was a John S. Knight Fellow in Journalism at Stanford University. He is recognized this year for his biography: Blood Aces: The Wild Ride of Benny Binion, the Texas Gangster Who Created Vegas Poker.
On behalf of the ReadWest Foundation, I want to congratulate this year's award winners, and thank them for their contribution to American's greatest genre: the Western.
I've been vaguely aware of Brad R. Torgersen's name for
several years now and knew he's a science fiction writer, but I'd never read
any of his work because I just don't read much modern SF. I'm trying to change that,
so I picked up LIGHTS IN THE DEEP, the first collection of Torgerson's stories,
including two that are nominated for the Hugo Award this year and one that was nominated for the Hugo and the Nebula Awards a few years ago.
Torgersen writes what I'd consider classic-style science fiction, stuff that
has both big ideas and the more personal stories resulting from those ideas,
and this collection includes stories with a wide variety of settings and
themes. "Outbound", his first professionally published story, is a
generation ship yarn about the survivors of a war that destroys the solar
system trying to catch up to ships that set out earlier to establish
interstellar colonies. "Gemini 17" is an alternate history story
about the U.S. space program after the failed assassination attempt on John F.
Kennedy. "The Bullfrog Radio Astronomy Project" ventures into
"Men in Black" style comedy about an unusual effort to search for
extraterrestrial intelligence. "Exiles in Eden" finds sentient
spaceships programmed with human intelligences fighting a desperate battle to
save the last survivors of humanity from an alien race that has wiped out
everybody else. "Footprints", which appeared in a college literary
magazine and was Torgersen's first fiction to see print, is a poignant story
about a little girl who wants to grow up to become an astronaut.
The highlights of this collection are his Hugo-nominated stories. "The
Exchange Officers", which is nominated for Best Novelette, is a fine piece
of near-future military SF about an American/Chinese clash over an orbital
docking platform. "The Chaplain's Assistant" and "The Chaplain's
Legacy" (nominated for Best Novella) manage the difficult task of being large-scale
space operas about interstellar war between humanity and a race of insect-like
aliens, while at the same time being very effective small-scale personal
stories about religion and human/alien interaction. They form the first part of
a full-length novel coming out this fall, THE CHAPLAIN'S WAR. I have an ARC of
that and plan to read it soon.
The rest of the book is rounded out by "Exanastasis", a far-future
tale about the survivors of humanity returning to an Earth where computer
intelligences are all that still exist, and "Ray of Light", which was
nominated for both the Hugo and the Nebula Awards as Best Novelette in 2011. It
deals with the aftermath of an alien-orchestrated natural disaster that forces
the few survivors of humanity to live in habitats at the bottom of the ocean.
This may well be my favorite story in the whole book. It's certainly the most
Torgersen also intersperses a number of essays about his writing career among
the stories, and that's the sort of thing I always enjoy. I think this is a
really fine collection and some of the best science fiction I've read in recent
years. This one is going to be a strong contender for my Top Ten at the end of
the year. Highly recommended.
Boy, that cover by Hubert Rogers really sums up the appeal of ADVENTURE, doesn't it? I love the general fiction pulps with their variety of genres. And what a line-up of authors in this issue: Bedford-Jones, Tuttle, Chidsey, and Raine, among others, all for one thin dime. The readers really got their money's worth with this one.
A nice action-oriented cover and a good bunch of authors in this Western pulp from the always dependable Popular Publications: Ed Earl Repp (sure, a lot of his stories were ghosted, but I don't care), veteran pulpsters Frank C. Robertson, Lee E. Wells, Ralph Berard (who was really Victor White), and Bruce Douglas, an author whose work I need to read more of.
Lauralee Brannam just wants to bake her son's favorite pie for his birthday, which happens to fall on Christmas Eve. But then a wounded stranger shows up on her Texas ranch, and his fateful visit leads to violence, tragedy, and redemption in this stirring Western tale.
Livia's 12,000 word novella "Charlie's Pie", which won the Peacemaker Award for Best Short Fiction from the Western Fictioneers this year, is now available individually at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords, as are the other stories from the Prairie Rose Publications anthology WISHING FOR A COWBOY. I'm biased, of course, but I really like "Charlie's Pie" and when I read it my first thought was that it would have been right at home in a 1950s issue of RANCH ROMANCES, when the magazine had gotten considerably more hardboiled than it was in its early days. Check it out! (Yeah, there's a half-naked cowboy on the cover, but it's one tough yarn, let me tell you.)
Frank Castle is
an almost completely forgotten author these days, despite the fact that he
wrote quite a few hardboiled Westerns and crime novels for Gold Medal during
the Fifties and Sixties. He also ghosted a few of the Lassiter novels under the
house-name Jack Slade, as Lynn Munroe has established in an excellent overview
of the series on his website.
The only book I'd read by Castle before now was one of those Lassiter novels,
but I was in the mood for a vintage Western and Castle's MOVE ALONG, STRANGER
was handy. It was a good choice, as this is an entertaining yarn. Scott Corbin
is a former outlaw who has spend the past eight years in the Texas penitentiary
at Huntsville. When he gets out he travels to a silver mining town in Arizona
Territory where he plans to go into partnership with an old friend who owns a
When he gets there, though, he finds plenty of sinister stuff going on. Outlaws
have been holding up the silver shipments. A ruthless competitor is trying to
run his friend out of business. Strange riders are moving around in the night.
The mine superintendent has been murdered recently, shot in the back. The town
marshal is an old enemy of Corbin's who would like nothing better than to see
him dead. Oh, and Corbin's former lover is there, too, now married to his
younger brother who it appears has fallen in with the gang responsible for the
With all that going on, it seems like Corbin would have plenty on his plate
without falling in love with the daughter of the local judge and trying to root
out the criminal mastermind who's pulling everyone's strings behind the scenes,
but Castle doesn't believe in making it easy on his protagonist. Corbin takes
quite a beating before everything is in place for the final showdown, which is
both lengthy and effective, with some really well-done shootouts.
Castle's prose is nothing fancy. The appeal of this book is the fast pace and
the way he juggles the various plot elements and even springs a few welcome
surprises. The noir element is strong, as much of the action takes place at
night and no one can really be trusted. Based on this one book, I wouldn't
place Castle in the top rank of hardboiled Western authors such as T.T. Flynn,
Luke Short, Lewis B. Patten, Dean Owen, Gordon Shirreffs, and a number of
others, but I enjoyed MOVE ALONG, STRANGER quite a bit and found Castle to be a
solidly entertaining storyteller. I have a few more of his books and certainly
plan to read them.
First of all, I've never been a big fan of role-playing
games. I don't have anything at all against them, mind you. I only played once,
but I had a good time. However, over the years I've read and enjoyed quite a
bit of gaming-related tie-in fiction, and Dan Wells' novella THE BUTCHER OF
KHARDOV certainly falls into that category.
This is based on a game called Warmachine (I think; I got a little lost on the
publisher's website), which takes place in a universe that's a combination of
steampunk and late middle ages historical fantasy. The characters have
primitive firearms, although they still fight with swords, lances, shields,
armor, etc. But they also have giant fightin' robots powered by a combination
of steam engines and magic. Now I don't know about you, but I find that pretty
By flashing back and forth through the life of a warcaster—somebody who can
control those robots, called warjacks, with his mind—THE BUTCHER OF KHARDOV
tells the story of a notorious massacre that takes place in an otherwise minor
border skirmish between two of the countries in this universe. This is the
first thing I've read by Dan Wells, and he's got a good hand with the action
scenes, as well as characterization, and does a really good job on the setting.
Too often with game-related fiction, you almost have to be an expert on the
source game to understand what's going on, but that's not the case here. I'm
not real fond of the technique of jumping around in the timeline of a story (I
admit, I'm more of a Point A to Point B to Point C kind of guy), but it's not
too distracting here and I still got caught up in the yarn Wells is spinning.
THE BUTCHER OF KHARDOV is nominated for a Hugo Award this year in the Best
Novella category, the first piece of tie-in fiction to achieve that honor, as
far as I know. I'm not sure I'd vote for it, if I were voting, but I really did
enjoy it a lot and think it's well worth reading just as an epic fantasy
novella even if you have no interest in the game. There are quite a few stories
and novellas set in the same universe, and I plan to check them out.
We've got an actual cliffhanger cover on this issue of TOP-NOTCH, illustrating a story by Erle Stanley Gardner, the only author in this particular issue whose name I recognize. But I suspect the other stories were entertaining anyway, as I've read a number of stories originally published in TOP-NOTCH that were good. I haven't read any of Gardner's Speed Dash stories, but I ought to.
Sort of an unusual cover by H.W. Scott on this issue of WESTERN STORY, commemorating the 500th anniversary of Coronado's exploration of the American Southwest. Inside, however, is the usual top-notch line-up of authors: Luke Short, Harry F. Olmsted, Bennett Foster, S. Omar Barker, Seth Ranger (Frank Richardson Pierce), George Cory Franklin, and Harry Sinclair Drago. Mighty good reading for your dime, I suspect.
Sergeant Mike Duval's brother Johnny
dies in his arms during a battle in Korea, and his last request is that when
Mike gets back home, he'll look after Johnny's new wife and baby daughter. Mike
promises, of course, and due time he returns to Chicago to honor his pledge to
his dead brother. But things aren't quite that simple. You see, Johnny's wife
turns out to be on Death Row, awaiting execution for the robbery and murder of
a wholesale diamond dealer she picked up while working as a prostitute. And the
little girl, along with a fortune in stolen diamonds, is nowhere to be found...
This is another fast-paced, extremely hardboiled novel from veteran pulp and
paperback author Day Keene, who has become one of my favorite authors over the
years. This one was published as half of an Ace Double in 1953, and as usual,
Keene really piles the troubles on his narrator/protagonist. Mike Duval is
convinced that his sister-in-law isn't guilty of murder, and as he tries to get
to the bottom of everything he runs afoul of brutal cops, ruthless gangsters,
and assorted dames who are no better than they have to be. He's shot at, beaten
up, and has to escape from police custody to find out the truth.
It all makes for an entertaining whirlwind of a book with a decent twist at the
end and some welcome touches of humor, but overall the plot is a little thinner in this one than in most Day
Keene novels I've read. That may explain why it was published by Ace rather
than Gold Medal, where Keene was one of the stalwarts. It's probably a little
short for a Gold Medal, too. Despite that, I enjoyed DEATH HOUSE DOLL quite a
bit. It's got a great title, a good cover on the original edition, and it's
available as an e-book from Prologue Books. This one's not in the top rank of
Day Keene novels, but it's well worth reading.
This novelette from the July-August 1937 issue of TERROR TALES is a prime example of a pulp storytelling mantra I still follow myself: If you're going over the top anyway, you might as well go 'waaay over. "Revels for the Lusting Dead" is also reminiscent of 80s horror movies, with a heroine who's constantly being menaced and screaming as she runs away from one unholy threat after another. In addition to that, you've got your creepy old inn with a clerk whose description might as well be that of H.P. Lovecraft his own self, a cemetery right across the street (convenient for corpses to come out of yawning graves and lay siege to the place), naked girls in hanging cages in a crypt, a black-hooded guy with a whip... This is almost a textbook example of a Weird Menace story, and it gallops along in a highly entertaining fashion. It's well-written, too, and Zagat provides a couple of plot twists that, while not exactly jaw-dropping, are still pretty nice. I just had a great time reading this one.
The set-up of ELDERWOOD MANOR, the new novella by
Christopher Fulbright and Angeline Hawkes, is a classic one in horror fiction:
protagonist returns to his creepy, tragedy-haunted childhood home, where things
get even creepier and more dangerous.
Fulbright and Hawkes bring this tale to life with some fine writing, a brooding
sense of overpowering doom, a nice pace, and the addition of the protagonist's
four-year-old son to the mix, a character who rings absolutely true. The
setting, the Ozark Mountains in the dead of winter, is a welcome change from
some of the more traditional locales for stories like this. I also like the
fact that the protagonist doesn't make a lot of dumb decisions just to keep the
plot moving along. Some of his choices may be a little questionable, but
they're also believable given the circumstances.
I've become a fan of this writing duo over the past few years. Writing both
together and alone, they turn out a consistently entertaining mix of horror and
adventure fiction, and everything I've read by them has been different from
what I've read before. ELDERWOOD MANOR is another fine addition to their body
(This post originally appeared on January 12, 2010.) I’ve been trying to catch up on some older movies, and the plot of this one from 1946 sounded intriguing: a GI comes back from combat in the South Pacific with amnesia, a fact that he conceals from his doctors. Everybody tells him his name is George Taylor. When he gets back to the States he sets out to discover who George Taylor is. His only clue is a fragment of a letter from a woman who’s angry with him for breaking up with her, but he soon finds another, a letter addressed to George Taylor from someone named Larry Cravat, telling him that a bank account has been opened in his name. So the first step in finding out his true identity is to find the mysterious Larry Cravat. You see the big twist coming already, don’t you? You will if you watch the movie, too. But that won’t spoil it for you, because the fun is in watching everything play out in pure film noir fashion, as Taylor’s quest gets him involved with vicious mobsters, small-time grifters, a pretty torch singer, missing millions, and of course a murder for which the cops blame him, so he has to track down the real killer and clear his name before he can be arrested. The Gold Medal writers who came along a few years later had to have watched this and dozens of similar movies. Sporting a pencil-thin mustache that looks a little silly today, John Hodiak makes an earnest but somewhat goofy protagonist. He’s well-supported by a great cast, though, including Lloyd Nolan, Richard Conte, Sheldon Leonard (in only one scene but really fun to watch, as always), Harry Morgan (likewise), and the ubiquitous Whit Bissell. SOMEWHERE IN THE NIGHT is a pretty minor film but still entertaining. If you like noirish thrillers from the Forties and haven’t seen it, you ought to give it a try.
Like MYSTERY MONTHLY, which I wrote about several weeks ago, when I saw the digest magazine ESPIONAGE on the magazine rack at one of the local grocery stores, my first thought was that here was another market I could send some stories to. The mid-Eighties were a dry time for me as far as writing goes. I ghost-collaborated on a couple of men's adventure novels with a friend of mine. I wrote short stories and letters for the porno digests (and was damned glad to get those 40 or 50 buck sales, too). I wrote novel proposal after novel proposal in a variety of genres, all unsold and lost now, except for one or two. I was still a year or so away from getting the job writing Westerns for Book Creations Inc. that eventually allowed me to become a full-time writer. So I immediately wrote a slew of spy stories and bombarded the magazine with them. Never even came close to selling any of them, of course. They all came flying back with form rejects. I don't know if any of them were actually any good or not. They're all lost, too. But I still picked up the magazine when I found it and read the stories, and most of them were pretty good. This issue includes stories by Dan J. Marlowe, Ron Goulart, Edward D. Hoch, Michael Bracken, Bill Knox, and John Lutz. That's a top-notch line-up. The other issues I read were good, too. Several of them feature stories by Joe Lansdale. Despite its quality, the magazine lasted only a year or two, victim of the fact that even in the mid-80s, people just didn't read fiction magazines much anymore.
OUTRAGE AT BLANCO It’s True Grit meets Gran Torino in a blazingly original crime novel from Bill Crider, an Edgar and Shamus finalist and a two-time winner of the Anthony Award On a bloody day in 1887, death came to Blanco, Texas. Before the sun went down, the livery stable was torched, an outlaw gang robbed the bank, two men were killed, and young newlywed Ellie Taine was raped. One of the dead was the man who planned the robbery – the son of dying, legendary Texas Ranger Jonathan Crossland – the other was Ellie’s husband, an innocent bystander. The dead don’t know fear. Ellie is dead inside. She takes a gun and rides out after the desperadoes, cold-blooded and fearless, determined to kill the men who ruined her life. She’s joined by Jonathan Crossland, who only has days left to live… but would rather die in his saddle making amends for his son than rot in his bed. Together, Ellie and Jonathan set out on a mission of vengeance and justice, one that neither of them expects nor hopes to survive. “In the hands of Bill Crider, noir seems as atmospheric and doomful as ever,” Publisher’s Weekly "Bill Crider is one of the most unpretentious and versatile pure entertainers in the mystery field." Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine
TEXAS VIGILANTE The powerful sequel to Outrage at Blanco, Edgar & Shamus Award nominee Bill Crider’s startlingly original western crime novel Six months ago, Ellie was a newlywed, working the dry land in 1880s Texas. Then the desperados came. They raped her and killed her husband, leaving her for dead. But she hunted them down and, along the way, found an inner strength and relentless determination that no man can match. Ellie thought the killing was over…that she’d put her guns away for good to run a ranch that she’d inherited from a legendary Texas Ranger. She was wrong. A prison wagon is on its way to Huntsville when one of the prisoners, ruthless killer Angel Ware, engineers a bold escape. Now free, and blaming his sister Sue for his arrest, Angel and a gang of three other escaped murderers track her and her family down to Ellie’s ranch. Angel and his gang mount a bloody attack and take Sue’s young child with them. There’s a posse on its way, but Ellie Taine isn’t going to wait. She saddles her horse and loads her guns, prepared to enforce the only justice she can rely on...her own. “As clean and sharp as a fine Bowie knife. Crider’s prose slices through conventions and expectations,” –Booklist I read the original editions of these books and think they're excellent. They're probably my favorites of all the Westerns Bill has written and two of my favorites of his books, period. They're now available again in e-book and print editions from Brash Books. Check 'em out!
DIME DETECTIVE certainly gave BLACK MASK a run for its money as the best of the hardboiled detective pulps. In this issue you've got Carroll John Daly's Race Williams, a classic story by Raymond Chandler, and a story by one of the top pulpsters, Frederick C. Davis. Plus a pretty distinctive cover, too. There's a good reason people collect DIME DETECTIVE.
A pretty good cover and for the most part a bunch of writers I haven't heard of in this issue of FIGHTING WESTERN. Ray Townsend is a familiar name on Western pulp TOCs, and Lew Merrill was really long-time pulpster Victor Rousseau. Karl R. Kasky wrote only a handful of stories, but he sold them to different publishers so there's a pretty good chance that was his real name. John Kane smacks of a house name to me, and Paul Hanna definitely is. But I'll bet it was a fairly entertaining issue anyway.
With a title like THE BITCH and
an author like Gil Brewer, you'd expect that this novel would have a femme
fatale in it, and you'd be right. In fact, it sort of has two.
The narrator and protagonist, Tate Morgan, is a private detective who works for
his brother Sam's agency in Tampa. He's hired by a rich man to find out if the
guy's beautiful young wife is cheating on him. We've all read enough of these
novels to know how that's going to turn out. Of course she's cheating on him—with
Tate. Whose life is complicated by his own beautiful wife who keeps pressuring
him to make something of himself instead of being content to work for his
brother. So given all that, when the agency gets the job of guarding a big
payroll for the company that belongs to Tate's client, it's no great stretch to
figure that payroll is going to be heisted in an inside job.
Brewer never lets things play out exactly the way you'd expect, though. Sure,
Tate winds up on the run from both the cops and the crooks with a satchel full
of money, accused of murders he didn't commit, but there are some nice twists
along the way. As usual, Brewer does a great job with the tropical setting and
with capturing the sweaty desperation that grips most of the characters in this
fast-moving novel. His writing seems really sharp to me, with a lot of lines
that are pure hardboiled poetry.
This book was published originally by Avon in 1958 and seems to be one of the
more scarce Gil Brewer novels. It's currently available in an e-book edition
from Prologue Books and is well worth reading for fans of noir crime novels.
From the November 1936 issue of SPICY MYSTERY comes
"Zombie" by Carl Moore, who was really prolific pulpster Edwin Truett
Long, as Jeff Shanks explains in his introduction. Long is best known for his
mystery series featuring Doc Harker, a traveling snake oil salesman who also
solves crimes. I know several people who are fans of the Doc Harker series, but
I've never gotten around to reading any of them myself. In fact,
"Zombie" may well be the first thing I've read by Long. I found some
things to like in it, and some things more, well, problematical.
As for the good stuff, "Zombie" is pretty well written. Set on a
plantation in Haiti, it's very atmospheric and the pace moves along quickly. It's
a romance, in a way, about the triangle involving the plantation owner, the
native girl with whom he's gotten involved, and his fiancée who's arriving from
the States. The native girl takes offense to the fact that the plantation owner
is planning to end their affair, and she turns to voodoo to have her revenge on
Not surprisingly, there's quite a bit of the casual racism of the times in this
one, maybe more than in the others I've read so far. Normally this doesn't
bother me much because I don't believe in holding fiction from the past to
modern standards, but Long goes a little overboard even for the time period. I
also didn't care for the way the story played out. I thought the author was
headed one way with the plot but he wound up doing something else. Usually I don't
quibble about that—hey, it's the author's story, he can do whatever he wants—but
this time I think he missed some good opportunies for plot twists that he set
up and then didn't do anything with. That bothers me a little.
All that said, "Zombie" is certainly a readable story and I liked
more about it than I didn't. It's just not as good as most of the other stories
I've read so far in ZOMBIES FROM THE PULPS.
Dead man flying! Ex-stuntman and private detective Rock Dugan faces the toughest challenge of his career. How was his wealthy client murdered while flying alone in a sailplane, in full view of all the suspects in the case? How will Rock survive when gangsters and crooked cops want him off the case? Which of the beautiful women involved in his client's murder can be trusted—and which may turn out to be deadly? SOME DIE HARD is legendary mystery and thriller author Stephen Mertz's first novel, originally published in paperback more than thirty years ago and long out of print. Part hardboiled private eye yarn, part classic novel of detection (with a locked-room mystery unlike any other), SOME DIE HARD is pure entertainment, and Rough Edges Press is proud to make it available once again. This edition includes a new afterword by the author. "One of my favorite writers . . . a born storyteller . . . Enjoy!" --Max Allan Collins "Stephen Mertz writes a hard-edged, fast-paced thriller for those who like their tales straight and sharp." --Joe R. Lansdale Excerpt: There was something about him right from the start. We nodded to each other the way strangers will on a bus, but there was more to it than that. He was sizing me up with eyes that were nervous but didn't miss a thing, and he seemed to make up his mind about something before he actually took the seat. I didn't think much of it at the time and that was the only point when we made eye contact. After that it was like I wasn't there. He had other things on his mind. He was somewhere in his early fifties, thin and wiry, with a look that said life that given him a hard time. He'd hung on, but the struggle showed. It showed in the lines which Time had etched into his narrow face and in the perpetual squint of those nervous eyes that now darted up and down along the rows of passengers, seeming to catalogue everyone's position and tuning in instantly on every unexpected movement. The one time on the trip that someone came back to use the head, my seatmate tightened up to the point where I could almost smell his fear. The bus made good time out of Langdon Springs and after awhile he somehow managed to calm down a bit. But a bit wasn't enough. There was still just enough of that undercurrent of nervous energy about him to be noticeable, and dissettling. For the most part, though, I was able to ease him out of my mind, thanks to Erle Stanley Gardner. I'm a mystery fan, have been since I was knee high to the Hardy Boys, and I'd brought along a Perry Mason paperback that I'd somehow never got around to. Everything Gardner ever did is topnotch and this one was no exception. The Colorado scenery seemed to fly by. It was three-forty when we pulled into the Denver metro terminal. There's a particular type of fatigue that travel breeds and, as I slipped the book into my coat pocket, I realized that it had me in its grip, but good. The fatigue, that is. I felt woozy, groggy. But Duffy's Shamrock Inn, a very good, very Irish little restaurant, is just across from the depot. There was still time for a drink and dinner before the supper crowd hit, and I'd be good as new. So as the bus pulled to a stop and the wiry guy beside me got up on his feet, I reached overhead for my suitcase and that's all I was thinking about: Duffy's, food and home. The mass of boxed-in humanity inside the bus moved snail-like toward the front door; toward the friends, families and various welcoming parties that milled about on the sidewalk and loading apron outside. My erstwhile traveling partner was in front of me. I was bringing up the rear. The semblance of calm which he'd worn through roughly the last half of the trip had given way to the nerves again by the time I-76 joins I-25 north of the city for the freeway assault into downtown. The wiry man was a tensed bundle of nerves. The tension was ready to explode. I couldn't ignore it any longer. We were moving past the driver's seat now, down the steps. The crowd outside and below had begun dispersing, returning to the pace of their everyday lives. The man before me took two paces from the bus. Then he saw them. They'd been loitering beside a mirrored cigarette machine, about ten yards to our left. They were dressed casually. Two guys passing the time of day. But their eyes had been on every face alighting from the bus. They saw the man, and the man saw them, at the same time. They pulled erect and moved forward. The one on the right was hellaciously huge, with a mean pockmarked face. They might have been cops but I didn't think so. The man in front of me surprised me at first. I thought he'd be ready if trouble came. But the first thing he did after he saw them was to turn around and try to make it back into the bus. He thudded into me and for a moment I could see his lean face, pulled and frozen with panic. Then he regained his senses. He took off running along the side of the bus. Away from the two men. To my left, the two guys also broke into a run. They whipped past me. They were pushing and shoving people out of their way as they took off after the first man. I heard myself sigh. Okay, Dugan. Forget about Duffy's, food, and home. I dropped my suitcase and I started running, too. I came out through the front entrance right on their tails.
SOME DIE HARD is available in print and e-book editions from Amazon, and in e-book editions from Barnes & Noble and Smashwords.
I've been reading good things
about Joe Abercrombie's fantasy novels for several years now, and I've finally
read one of them, his latest, HALF A KING, which differs from the others in
that it's a YA novel. But more about that later.
HALF A KING is the story of Prince Yarvi, son of the King of Gettland, who was
born with a disfigured left hand and none of the skills that go with being a
king. But he finds that position thrust on him when his father and older
brother are murdered and sets out to wage war against the neighboring country
blamed for their deaths. This does not turn out well, and Yarvi goes from being
king to being a slave to an eccentric ship's captain. Despite his
circumstances, Yarvi vows to himself that he'll return to his own country someday
and set things right.
This being a coming of age novel, lots of stuff happens to Yarvi, mostly bad.
But he perserveres and finally finds himself in a position to fulfill his vow,
only to find that not everything is what it seems, which is a thread running
through the whole story. Abercrombie manages to work things out in unexpected
but satisfying ways, for the most part.
I really enjoyed this novel. We had just finished watching the third season of
GAME OF THRONES on DVD, so I guess I was in the mood for more gritty fantasy.
HALF A KING is plenty gritty, enough so to make me question that business about
it being a YA novel. There's no sex, but there's some cussing and lots and lots
of graphic violence. Heads roll, as Joe Bob Briggs used to say. It's not quite
as grim and dark as GAME OF THRONES, but it's in the same neighborhood. It also
shares a grounding in reality with GRRM's series. There are even less fantasy
and supernatural elements in HALF A KING, none at all, in fact, other than the
This is a very well-written book with an excellent pace. My only complaint is
that some of the plot twists are telegraphed maybe a little too much. But
overall it's one of the best books I've read this year and a strong contender
for my Top Ten list at the end of the year.
(This post originally appeared on August 27, 2009.) This is another one of those movies that’s been on TV many, many times, and somehow I never watched it until now. Based on a novel by James Jones, it’s the sort of small town melodrama/soap opera that Hollywood did so well during the Fifties. Frank Sinatra plays Dave Hirsch, a former GI returning to the town where he grew up. He’s also a writer with a couple of unsuccessful novels and some short stories under his belt, and judging by the hard feelings some of the townspeople bear toward him, one of those novels was autobiographical and not very flattering about his hometown and its citizens. Naturally, Dave’s return stirs up all sorts of emotional turmoil, especially after he becomes friends with a professional gambler called Bama, played by Dean Martin. Shirley MacLaine is around, too, as a sweet but not very bright redhead who attaches herself to Dave. The usual sorts of complications ensue – jealousy, infidelity, frigidity, dark secrets, knife fights – and things wrap up in a manner that surprised me, anyway, even though it’s not some sort of huge twist or anything like that. SOME CAME RUNNING is really a product of the Fifties. People smoke constantly, and when they’re not smoking, they’re drinking, or talking about drinking. Really, booze is the subject of a lot of discussion in this movie. It’s also about half of a really good film, too. The scenes that center around seedy nightclubs or back-room poker games are great, with hard-driving saxophone music in the background and an atmosphere dripping with doom and sleaze. Then the romance scenes come along and are so schmaltzy they almost seem like they’re from another movie. Another drawback is that the occasional bursts of violence aren’t staged well and aren’t very convincing. But then, Vicente Minelli was never really known as an action director, so I suppose that’s to be expected. And to get really nit-picky, Dave’s manuscripts that figure into the plot are bound like movie scripts, a mistake that Hollywood always seems to make. Not only that, but at one point he sends off a story to THE ATLANTIC, and a few weeks later he gets a letter of acceptance, a check, and the issue of the magazine in which the story is published, all at the same time. But despite all that, Frank is good, Dino is great as the easy-going Bama, and the rest of the cast does a fine job as well. I don’t think this is anywhere near a great movie, but it is a good one and well worth watching.
We've all seen the post-apocalyptic Statue of Liberty bit in various places (yes, I'm looking at you, you damned dirty apes), but this is a pretty good example of it by Hubert Rogers. And what do we have behind that cover? Oh, just two stories by Robert A. Heinlein (well, one of them is a serial installment under his Anson McDonald pseudonym), Theodore Sturgeon, Nelson S. Bond, P. Schuyler Miller, and Robert Moore Williams. Just another day at the newsstand in 1941.
This pulp featured three novellas in each issue, much like TRIPLE WESTERN. I really like that length story, so I'm sure I would have enjoyed it. This particular issue of BEST WESTERN NOVELS includes stories by L.P. Holmes, one of my favorites, Lee Floren, not one of my favorites but still capable of being entertaining, and Ralph Berard, who was really Victor White, and I've read very little by him. I like the title of his story, though: ".45 Fever".
Can I tout one of my own books as a Forgotten Book? It's not as mercenary as it sounds, as I'll explain below. But since this is the Fourth of July, I thought it might be appropriate to talk about PATRIOTS, a series of historical novels I wrote for Book Creations Inc. set during the days just before the Revolutionary War, under the pseudonym Adam Rutledge. SONS OF LIBERTY is the first book in that series, and as you might expect it concerns the founding of the group of the same name, as well as the Boston Tea Party. As usual with most of the books I did for BCI, PATRIOTS was also a family saga, as brothers Daniel and Quincy Reed and assorted friends and relatives deal with their own soap operatic problems along with all the historical incidents in which they take part. During the course of the series (six books in all), the plots feature the Battle of Bunker Hill, rescuing the cannon from Fort Ticonderoga, Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys, and everything else I could find in the research books to put in there. It was also an espionage series, as one of the main characters was part of the spy network set up by Benjamin Franklin. There were lots of dastardly villains, parties in Beacon Hill mansions, seductions, kidnappings, and battles, all of it culminating in the signing of the Declaration of Independence at the end of the final book, an event where I managed to get all my fictional characters together after having them scattered through various plotlines. It was great fun to write, and I hope to read. It was also responsible for an incident that still makes me chuckle. I was waiting in line at a fast-food place one day when the books were still coming out, and a woman I'd never seen before came up to me and said in an exasperated tone, "Are Daniel and Roxanne EVER going to get back together?" Roxanne, you see, was Daniel's girlfriend and had been kidnapped by one of the villains, and in true soap opera fashion I managed to stretch out that storyline over several books. As it turns out, the woman was in the restaurant with a friend of hers who knew me, and she had pointed me out and explained to her friend that I was the guy who wrote that series of books she'd been reading. (Daniel and Roxanne finally did get back together, so you don't have to worry about that.) I think PATRIOTS is a pretty entertaining series. I would have continued all the way through the war if Bantam had given BCI another contract, but that didn't come about. But at least it does come to a pretty satisfying ending, something that's not true of all my series. The six books are: SONS OF LIBERTY, REBEL GUNS, THE TURNCOAT, LIFE AND LIBERTY, CANNON'S CALL, and STARS AND STRIPES. All of them are long out of print, so if you want to read them you'll have to find used copies. (That's why I said posting about the series isn't as mercenary as it might seem.) If I had the rights to them I'd have had them available as e-books long before now, but BCI owns the series and seems to have no interest in bringing them back, so they're stuck in limbo like the other 50 or so books I wrote for them. But that's all right. I'd just like for them to find a few more readers. And I hope it's a fine Fourth of July for all of you reading this, whether you celebrate the holiday or not.
Jack D'arcy was one of the
pseudonyms of prolific pulpster D.L. Champion, who created the long-running
pulp series The Phantom Detective, which took a lot of its elements from an
earlier Champion story, "Alias Mr. Death" (if I'm remembering my pulp
history correctly, which is never a sure thing these days). Champion wrote a
bunch of the early Phantom Detective novels, and I've read a bunch of them and
enjoyed them. I didn't know he'd written Weird Menace stories, although that
doesn't surprise me. His novelette "The Grave Gives Up", from the
August 1936 issue of THRILLING MYSTERY, is the first of that genre by him that
I've read, and I liked it quite a bit.
The story opens with the protagonist, Gordon Lane, getting a phone call from
his fiancée pleading for help. The catch here is that said fiancée was killed
in a car crash two weeks earlier. Lane, who works for the county attorney's
office, is able to get the call traced, and when he discovers that it came from
the caretaker's house in the cemetery where his late fiancée is buried, we're
off to the races as he tries to get to the bottom of this macabre mystery.
Nobody's going to be very surprised by the outcome of this story—the main
villain might as well be wearing a sign—but it's certainly a lot of fun getting
there. The pace never lets up, and there are plenty of creepy scenes described
in breathless, semi-hysterical prose. Champion was very good at this sort of
over-the-top pulp storytelling, which is also common in his Phantom Detective
novels. This is another strong entry in ZOMBIES FROM THE PULPS!, and at the
halfway point of the collection I can honestly say that there hasn't been a bad
story in the bunch. I've enjoyed all of them and look forward to reading the
Peter Brandvold's Lou Prophet
series returns, now being published by his own Mean Pete Press. The first novel
under this imprint and the 12th overall in the series, THE DEVIL'S
AMBUSH, is out now, and as Brandvold fans know to expect, it's a fine, gritty
Western action yarn.
This tale opens with bounty hunter Prophet and his sometimes-partner, the
beautiful Louisa Bonaventura (also known as The Vengeance Queen) being lured
into an ambush at a deserted fort. Louisa is wounded in the shooting and needs
medical attention, and Prophet's efforts to save her life lead him to the town
where the bushwhackers have fled.
When he gets there, he finds that it wasn't outlaws who ambushed him and Louisa
but rather some of the town's leading citizens. In a plot twist reminiscent of
the novels of Lewis B. Patten, Box Elder Ford turns out to be a settlement
where everybody has a secret and nobody is to be trusted, including the
sensuous and seductive Verna McQueen.
The pace is a little more leisurely in THE DEVIL'S AMBUSH than in some
Brandvold novels, but that seems to be deliberate as he creates a slow-burn
sort of atmosphere that results in a great deal of suspense. Also, you know
that eventually all hell is going to break loose, and so it does in a long,
spectacular gun battle that's very effective.
Lou Prophet is as tough and likable a protagonist as ever, and Louisa
Bonaventura is one of my favorite Brandvold characters. There's nobody in the business
today who's better at this sort of hardboiled Western novel, and THE DEVIL'S
AMBUSH is very entertaining proof of that. Highly recommended.
(This post originally appeared on October 26, 2009.) I graduated from high school in 1971, which means I’m a little older than the characters in this movie that takes place on the last day of school in 1976. The emphasis is on that year’s juniors, who will be seniors the next year, and the eighth-graders who will be the incoming freshmen. To make the film resonate even more with me, it takes place in Texas and was filmed in Austin. Those of you who know me now probably won’t be surprised to hear that I wasn’t one of the cool kids in high school, nor was I a stoner. But I knew plenty of both sorts and everybody in between. I’ve been to a lot of the same sort of places and witnessed the same sort of stuff as you’ll find in DAZED AND CONFUSED – although some of the rituals, such as paddling the incoming freshmen, never went on at all in the town where I grew up. There’s not much plot in this movie. The characters just sort of amble along. Things happen to them, of course, but in most cases they don’t add up to much. With a couple of exceptions, the characters are all the same at the end of the movie as they were when it began. Of course, that’s somewhat realistic. Dramatic changes in people’s lives sometimes do happen suddenly, but for the most part change is a long haul, an evolution rather than a sharp turn. Admittedly, part of the fun in watching DAZED AND CONFUSED for the first time at this late date is looking for people who went on to become more famous for their roles in other movies and TV, like Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, and Adam Goldberg. I looked for Renee Zellweger (“Girl in blue pickup”, as she’s credited on IMDB), but never saw her. The soundtrack is also great, especially for people who grew up in that era. In the spirit of full disclosure, several of the people who were watching this movie with me didn’t care for it at all. ("That's two hours of my life I'll never get back" was one comment.) I thought it was great and thoroughly enjoyed it. Maybe that was because I felt like I knew everybody in it. I’d never go back to my high school days, mind you, but it was nice visiting them for a couple of hours.