Monday, November 30, 2009

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Art of Raymond Chandler: Finger Man




A number of Raymond Chandler's works made their first paperback appearance in Avon books, and the covers were always stunning. This one is by Lionel Gelb. Finger Man and Other Stories (yeah, I know the cover says "The", but on the title page it's gone), published in 1946, includes the title story and "Smart-Aleck Kill" from Black Mask, "The Simple Art of Murder" from Atlantic Monthly, and "The Bronze Door" from Unknown. The text of "Finger Man" and "Smart-Aleck Kill" in this volume may differ from other versions now in print. Chandler is said to have revised several of his stories for the 1950 hardcover collection The Simple Art of Murder.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sam Spade: The Stopped Watch Caper




Some extra-nice bits in this episode from April 10, 1949. Effie's sister Buffy fills in because Effie is visiting her sick friend, actress Lurene Tuttle (who, of course, plays Effie). And later we meet a character doing a perfect impression of Peter Lorre. "Thank you, Jimmy Stewart," says Spade. All this and a detective story too.

The Stopped Watch Caper Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4


Previous episodes in the Almanack archives:
The Apple of Eve Caper
The Prodigal Daughter Caper
The Battles of Belvedere Caper
The Vaphio Cup Caper
The Betrayal in Bumpass Hell Caper
The Bow Window Caper
The Adam Figg Caper
The Calcutta Trunk Caper 

(click to enlarge)


Friday, November 27, 2009

Forgotten Books: Homicide Johnny by Steve Fisher


This book wasn’t quite what I expected.

I amassed a lot of Steve Fisher novels twenty years back, when I was deep in the throes of hardboiled mania. I’d seen Lady In The Lake (with that incredible Fisher sceenplay) several times and scuttlebutt said he was a great hardboiled writer. But near as I recall, I never got around to reading one of his books.

Enter Homicide Johnny. Interesting title. Excellent cover. Originally published in 1940 by “Stephen Gould”, this was (I think) Fisher's fifth novel, right before I Wake Up Screaming.

I expected hardboiled. Well, it is - a little. But only in the attitude of our hero, small town homicide detective Johnny West. (Why such a small town needs a homicide specialist is never addressed, but we’ll let that go.) The prose is nicely crafted, even eloquent in spots, but never what I would call tough.

I expected sharp, memorable wise-guy dialogue, something on par with my favorite line from Lady in the Lake, where Robert Montgomery says to Audrey Totter, “Imagine you needing ice cubes.” Well, the dialogue is sharp, breezy, and sometimes playful, but it never sizzles. Johnny's investigative partner is town librarian Penny Lane (yep, no fooling), and the repartee between the two is sometimes reminiscent of The Thin Man. But I finished the book this morning, and couldn’t quote you a single line. 

I expected more thriller than mystery. Nope. This is an old-fashioned no-nonsense mystery. Every character we meet has a motive for the murders. When they’re caught in lies, they cover up with new lies, maintaining their suspect status right until the end. In the last chapter, when Johnny tells Penny he's almost figured it out, we get a one-page reminder of who the eight suspects are and what they’re doing right before Johnny’s big reveal. On the next page Johnny tells Penny (and the reader) that all the clues are out there and if she (they) were paying close attention the murderer should be obvious. Then, once the killer is exposed, Johnny talks for seven straight pages explaining to the murderer exactly what happened and why - stuff the killer already knows, of course, but the reader doesn’t. By today's standards, it's less than sophisticated.

About the cover: A fine job (as always) by Rudolph Belarski, but not quite true to the story. There is a hot blonde in the book, but she never takes off her starchy white nurse uniform. And there’s a scene where librarian Penny Lane pumps several bullets into an attacker in a basement, but her hair is the color of mahogany, and bare shoulders and heaving bosom are hardly her style. Nor is there any reason to believe it is unduly, uh… chilly in the basement.

If I’ve made Homicide Johnny sound like a bad book, I apologize. It was a quick read and I enjoyed it. I expect you’ll enjoy it even more, because you’ll know what to expect. A brand new paperback reprint is available on Amazon from a publisher called “Black Mask”, about which I know nothing. Amazon also offers a kindle version for $3.19.

Check out the list of this week's other Forgotten Books on Patti Abbot's pattinase.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Guest Blogger: Allen Wiener, co-author of David Crockett in Congress




Editor's Note: I got to know Allen Wiener via email while he was working on his previous project, Music of the Alamo, with Alamo Journal editor Bill Chemerka. Well, now he has another book out, co-authored with James R. Boylston, on another subject dear to my heart - Davy's career in Congress. I haven't seen the book yet, but I certainly intend to, and I asked Allen to tell us about it. Over to you, Allen.

Crockett in Context

One of the things that drove me to do a book on David Crockett was my dissatisfaction with earlier works on the Tennessean. Most of them paid disproportionate attention to his brief involvement in the Creek War in 1813, his even shorter time in Texas and death at the Alamo, and his hunting adventures. Although he spent most of his adult life in politics, those years have typically been given short shrift and were superficially presented, confusing and inaccurate. Crockett was typically seen as a clueless bumpkin who did not understand political issues or process, mindlessly stubborn and easily manipulated by Whig politicians. It was as if nothing he did in politics made any sense.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. Crockett had a clear understanding of politics and the legislative process. He knew all about deal-making and alliance building, but he showed one trait uncommon to most career politicians -- he put the interests of his constituents above all else, including his political fortunes and the demands of his party. But this could only be seen if the issues Crockett dealt with were understood in the context of his time. He served during the rise of Jacksonian popular democracy, which spread suffrage and opened elected office to more citizens than had been the case under the more elitist Federalists. His contemporaries were Andrew Jackson, the first non-Federalist president, fellow-Tennessean James K. Polk, who became Jackson’s point man in Congress, and Martin Van Buren, founder and organizer of what would become the Democratic Party, Jackson’s second vice president and his hand-picked successor.

These anti-Federalist leaders aimed their appeal squarely at the “common man,” long disenfranchised and subjected to the rule of eastern elites since the country’s birth. Their priorities were to eliminate corruption from government, reduce the central government’s power and spending, and legislate for the general good, not special interests. However, once in power, they showed favoritism toward their own cadre of elites and cronies and often acted against the best interests of the common folk in the name of reducing government interference. And they had zero tolerance for anyone in their party who did not move in lock step with them.

Although Crockett agreed with many broad Jacksonian goals in principle, he had never allied with Jackson in Tennessee politics. He began to oppose the president’s policies when he saw that they were often detrimental to his constituents, mostly poor farmers, despite Jackson’s populist rhetoric. Crockett locked horns with Polk over land reform and opposed Jackson’s cruel Indian removal policy as well as his destruction of the Second Bank of the United States, which dried up badly needed credit that was essential to small businesses and farmers. Crockett viewed Jackson's assertion of presidential power as a threat to the Constitution and the union. Unlike Jackson and Polk, he favored internal improvements because better transportation facilities aided commerce and benefited business. He understood that only the Federal government could manage the job and that the fears of states’ rights advocates, who opposed any exercise of Federal power, were shortsighted and counter-productive. His opposition made him a pariah among Jacksonians, who prized blind loyalty more than integrity.

In each of his four bids for reelection, Jackson’s forces did all they could to unseat Crockett, but he still managed to win two of those contests and, when he lost it was by narrow margins, demonstrating his own appeal and the degree of anti-Jackson sentiment in his district. Crockett’s actions, thus, make perfect sense and should be applauded. He often proclaimed his refusal to buckle to party pressure, insisting that his first duty was to the people “whose servant I am,” a view rarely adhered to -- then or now.

Editor's afterword: Visit the official Crockett in Congress website for more info, links to booksellers and a complimentary read of the first chapter. And tell them Davy sent you.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Story With No Name Part 17 by Peter Averillo



Walt Arnside is back, and he's pissed.

Peter Averillo, one of the 21 authors featured in the soon-to-be-released Express Westerns anthology A Fistful of Legends, has turned in a fine, gritty new addition to this round-robin saga.

Read Part 17 now at Open Range.
Parts 1-16 are conveniently collected at The Culbin Trail, featuring work by such folk as I.J. Parnham, Chuck Tyrell, Jack Giles, Chuck Martin, James J. Griffin, Joseph A. West, Robert S. Napier, Richard Prosch, Paul Dellinger and me.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Take that, NaNoWriMo!

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Seven days to go.

As of this moment, I’m 200 words ahead of schedule and looking at a downhill dash to the finish.

Week 3 was way smoother than Week 2. Yeah, I had a couple of major plot questions to work out, but my wife and I went to dinner again (this time during happy hour) and by the time we finished I had the answers.

Still, I barely averted another crisis when my fingers were working faster than my brain. I’d planned a major twist for the middle of Act III, where a supporting character switches sides. Somehow I blew right through that scene, realizing only later that the wrong character had made the jump - and the rest of the plot now hinged on them both having new allegiances. This took some furious brainstorming, but it worked out, and the scene is now stronger.

And I’m finding it easier to get my rhythm. I normally have to chug out two or three hundred stodgy words to clean the pipes, but it now takes only a couple of sentences.

How all this will carry over to the rewrite stage, I don’t know, but I’m hopeful. Maybe I’ll set a 30-day limit on that too.

Before starting this project, I polled members of my critique groups to see if any cared to join me. Only one was tempted, but she had other commitments. Another, mystery writer Doug Levin (he of EQMM Jan 2008 and an issue TBA), suggested my time might be better spent writing a mess of short stories. The more I ponder that idea, the more I like it, so sometime soon I’m hoping to stage my own personal ShoStoWriMo, and commit to cranking out 10 or 15 stories, or maybe 30 flashes. Thanks, Doug!

Monday, November 23, 2009

The TV Show I Loved: Davy Crockett



Yeah, I know. It's a no-brainer. When Patti Abbot put out the call for folks to muse on this subject today, I knew this show would have to be the one. I loved a lot of others too, of course, and could just as happily have picked Zorro, or Maverick, or The Swamp Fox. But this, is, after all, Davy's Almanack, and he hangs around peering over my shoulder at everything I write. He'd make life a living hell if I denied him this honor.

Besides, Davy's was the first show that captivated me so thoroughly, and I reckon it's had the longest lasting effect. Yes, I still say "reckon" and "ain't" on a regular basis, and while those words were certainly not invented by Davy or Disney, it was this show that drove them so deep into my vocabulary that they ain't never coming out.

Another thing that stuck with me was Davy's attitude, and his motto: Be sure you're right, then go ahead. Davy relied on his own common sense. When told what to do, he'd do it - providing it made sense. But if orders or social conventions didn't jibe with his notion of common sense, he'd just grin and ignore 'em. And though I've sometimes struggled with the grinning part, I believe I have the ignoring down pat.

This show had everything. Action, adventure, humor, and a catchy theme song tying it all together. And there were so many great scenes: Davy trying to grin down the bear. Davy facing down General Jackson's cannon. His half-horse, half-alligator speech to Congress. Swinging his rifle as the last defender of the Alamo. Making Mike Fink eat his hat.

For all the effect it had on the culture of the time (1954-55), I'm still amazed it only lasted five episodes. In fact, Disney only planned to make three, finishing with Davy's last stand at the Alamo, but the public acclaim (and merchandising craze) was so powerful they brought him back from the dead for two more episodes. To further satisfy demand, the first three episodes were pieced into the feature film Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier (1955) and the last two became Davy Crockett and the River Pirates (1956).

And the song! In 1955 alone, the Bill Hayes version made #1 on the Billboard charts, Fess Parker's version (the second of four he recorded) made #5 and Tennessee Ernie Ford made it to #7. I don't know how many times it's been recorded, but it must be close to a hundred. I have over 60 versions myself.

The Kentucky Headhunters did a great video rendition inspired by Beatles films, which you can watch on YouTube. I'd post it for you here on the Almanack, but it says "Embedding disabled by request", which I find pretty pissy. Instead, here's old Fess singing it himself:

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Lester Dent in Black Mask: Angelfish




Lester Dent has been the subject of talk on Ed Gorman's new improved blog the past couple of days, and Ed speaks of Dent's fine Black Mask story "Angelfish". Well, I don't have many issues of that mag from its golden age, but I do have the Angelfish ish, and I think it's pretty cool that Dent got the cover.

The artist took a few liberties here. Oscar Sail dresses all in black, while this guy has blue trousers and a green shirt. Still, this is based on a scene from the story. Private eye Sail visits his client in her hotel room (not on a boat, as seen here), where she's in bed with the covers pulled up around her neck. When he pulls the covers down, he discovers she's tied up.

Dent's two Oscar Sail stories were his only sales to Black Mask. There undoubtedly would have been more had editor Joe Shaw not left the magazine soon after their appearance.

"Sail" from Nov. 1936, can be found in The Hard-Boiled Omnibus (edited by Shaw, 1946 & 1952), Tough Guys & Dangerous Dames (1994), and EQMM 11/53 (as "V Marks the Spot").

"Angelfish" was reprinted in Ron Goulart's The Hardboiled Dicks (1967), and The Hard-boiled Detective (1977), along with EQMM 6/47 and the EQ Anthology 1966 (as "Tropical Disturbance").

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sam Spade: The Apple of Eve Caper




Sam is back in another rip-roaring adventure, this time from June 19, 1949. If you don't have time to listen on your computer, take a tip from Gary Dobbs: Download the episode to your Ipod and listen in your jalopy - or anywhere your brogans take you.

The Apple of Eve Caper Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4


Catch up on previous episodes here:
The Prodigal Daughter Caper
The Battles of Belvedere Caper
The Vaphio Cup Caper
The Betrayal in Bumpass Hell Caper
The Bow Window Caper
The Adam Figg Caper
The Calcutta Trunk Caper

(click to enlarge)


Friday, November 20, 2009

Forgotten Books: Dead at the Take-Off by Lester Dent


Lester Dent’s career has enjoyed a resurgence of late. I expect he’s smiling down - or up - from wherever he now resides. Nostalgia Ventures has put dozens of his Doc Savage novels back in print, with many more to come, and he’s finally getting the credit instead of “Kenneth Robeson”. Heliograph issued a collection called Lester Dent’s Zeppelin Tales. Black Dog Books has published three volumes of The Lester Dent Library: Dead Men’s Bones (air adventures), The Skull Squadron (air war), and Hell’s Hoofprints (westerns). And most recently - and no doubt most satisfying to Mr. Dent - Hard Case Crime released his unpublished novel, Honey in his Mouth.

But there are still forgotten Dent novels. Six appeared in book form during his lifetime. The first of these, published under Doubleday’s Crime Club imprint in 1946, was Dead at the Take-Off.

The hero of this one is Chance Molloy. Sounds like a good name for a P.I., or maybe a gambler. Nope. This guy is the once-rich and still powerful owner of an airline company. His chief antagonist is a corrupt U.S. Senator, Senator Lord (who is described as having godlike power). The backstory is that Molloy has invested up to his eyeballs based on the belief the army will sell him transport planes after the war. But Senator Lord, owner of a competing airline, has employed dirty tricks to nix the deal. As a result, Molloy’s despondent brother (and partner) commits suicide. Molloy is prepared to use any means necessary to expose Lord, avenge his brother and save his company - even if that means using Lord’s innocent daughter against him.

What follows is a complex plot with a wide cast of characters, many of whom are also quite complex. Though there are a number of stock characters too, this is not a Doc Savage novel. It’s the real thing. Point of view shifts frequently, much more frequently than is common in today’s fiction. There are enough character arcs to make your head spin, but Dent handles it them all with ease.

There are at several subplots going at once. The romantic subplot alone could power a whole book. Both the captain and co-pilot are in love with the stewardess, who happens to be Molloy’s ex-girlfriend - and her soon-to-be-ex husband is aboard plotting revenge. Meanwhile, Molloy is falling for the Senator’s daughter. But as crazy as everything gets, Dent wraps it all up in the end.

The main reason I read this, and the main reason I enjoyed it, is Dent’s style - an easy blend of smart, hardboiled prose and dry humor. I have the second (and last) Chance Molloy book, Lady to Kill, in my to-be-read pile.

An unintentionally interesting aspect of this book is the picture of commercial airline travel circa 1945. Instead of proceeding immediately to the airline terminal, passengers purchase tickets at the company’s office in downtown New York, where billiards, ping pong and reading materials are available in the lounge. They are then ferried by limousine - at their own expense - to the airport.  On boarding the plane, they are allowed to smoke, bring their own liquor, and even carry guns. They’re seated in compartments of four seats each, as in old railway cars, and the seats fold down into beds. The restrooms are spacious lounges, with two toilets on the side. Ah, the Golden Age of air travel.

NOTE: I read the Crime Club edition, but without a dust jacket the cover is less than picturesque. The Ace Double version was retitled High Stakes. Why? Maybe to fit better on the spine with the flipside, Nightshade by John N. Makris.


Look for the list of this week's other Forgotten Books on Patti Abbot's pattinase.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Start the day with "The Saint"

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This is one of the coolest TV themes ever, and never fails to get my juices flowing - especially when performed by Roland Shaw. But I can't hear it anymore without recalling Gary Dobbs' hilarious piece, How to Emulate the Saint on a Limited Budget. If you missed it the first time, it ain't too late.

"The Saint" by The Roland Shaw Orchestra

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What's Up in the Wild Wild West



THE STORY WITH NO NAME
Ray Foster (aka Jack Giles) has posted Part 16 of this round-robin western on Broken Trails. Nice job, Ray! The previous installment and links to the whole shebang can be found here.

A FISTFUL OF LEGENDS
Express Westerns' follow-up to the fine anthology Where Legends Ride is now at the printer and a publication date will be set very soon. A Fistful of Legends will feature 20 outstanding new tales of the West, plus one by me. Watch for the big announcement from editor Nik Morton.

SHORT WESTERNS ON THE WEB
Short-Barrel Fiction, the online western mag fired up early this year by Gnubill, has a cool new story by Charles D. Phillips. Matthew Pizzolato's The Western Online came along in September and already has five stories up, the latest by Kenneth Mark Hoover.  Now there's Duke Pinnell's new Frontier Tales Magazine, with fiction by Dusty Richards and Ellen Gray Massey. And a recent issue of David Cranmer's Beat to a Pulp featured cowboy star Buck Jones and his pal Bela Lugosi in a tale penned by James Reasoner.

PEOPLE ARE TALKING
Richard Prosch ran a two-part interview with Wild Bill Crider on Meridian Bridge, the first part focusing on Bill's classic novel Ryan Rides Back. Gary Dobbs (aka Black Horse author Jack Martin) was interviewed here by Avril Field-Taylor. Gary himself interviewed Black Horse writer Ed Ferguson (Lee Walker) on The Tainted Archive. And Steve M has an interview with super-prolific Australian western writer Keith Herrington on Western Fiction Review.

BEST IN THE WEST
For a daily dose of what's best in the West, now, then or in between, do not fail to visit Laurie Powers at Laurie's Wild West.

RIDE WITH THE OWLHOOTS
The Old West APA (amateur press association) OWLHOOT is open to new members. Founded in 2003 by Cap'n Bob Napier, OWLHOOT is a quarterly publication featuring wide-ranging discussions of all things West: Books, movies, TV, pulps, history, OTR, comics, music and more. And it's done the old fashioned way - in print. Each member prepares four or more pages of material, prints copies and mails them to Cap'n Bob, who assembles the issue and mails it back. The current roster includes: Fred Blosser, Bill Crider, Paul Dellinger, Frank Denton, Dale Goble, Jim Griffin, A.P. McQuiddy, Richard Moore, Bob Napier, James Reasoner, Duane Spurlock and Thom Walls (all gents to ride the river with), and me. If you're interested in joining this wild and woolly crew, shoot me an email and we'll talk details.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Johnny Cash, Johnny Yuma and Ricky Nelson??


You've all heard Johnny Cash sing "The Rebel - Johnny Yuma". But Johnny also wrote and recorded a second Rebel song, sometimes known as "Johnny Yuma - The Rebel" and sometimes "The Ballad of Johnny Yuma".

But here's the weird part: Cash actually wrote the song, originally titled "Restless Kid," for Ricky Nelson to sing in the film Rio Bravo. When Dimitri Tiomkin nixed it for the movie, the track appeared on the 1959 LP Ricky Sings Again, and Cash recycled the tune as a new Yuma song. Here are video presentations of all three:





Monday, November 16, 2009

NaNoWriMo Strikes Back!




Well, just when I thought I had this NaNoWriMo beast tamed, it snuck up and bit me in the butt. I’m behind again, though only by a day.

One problem is my eyeballs. They just don’t want to stay open and stare at a computer all day. Before I start drafting, I like to sit down and figure out what’s going to happen in each scene. This sort of brainstorming involves a lot of talking to myself via computer. And while it gets the job done, it means that by the time I actually start writing my eyes are already half fried. Blogging takes its toll too, of course, but there’s no help for that. I’m addicted.

The other hangup is the plotting. What's always mattered most to me as a reader are great characters and a strong, rhythmic narrative voice. My favorite series reflect this: Spenser, Rumpole, Breckenridge Elkins, Conan, Nero Wolfe. Plot has always been a mysterious thing.

A 50,000 word novel seemed like a great place to get a handle on plot, so I’m struggling to confine myself to a strict four-act structure. I’m still convinced this is a good idea, but the sucker keeps wiggling around as I write, forcing adjustments as I go. At this point I know exactly what happens at the end of Act II (1700 words away), but Act III has only a beginning and an end.

On the plus side, I seem to be building some writing muscles. I’m forcing myself to work at times I otherwise wouldn’t. The other night I dashed off 700 words while running back and forth to the stove to brown hamburger and make a pot of macaroni and cheese to put it in. Both the 700 words and the vittles turned out pretty good, too. I’m hoping the subtitle of next week’s recap is The Writer Rides Again.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

HOLLYWOOD DETECTIVE: The Case of the Poisoned Puppet


Most issues of Hollywood Detective had a Dan Turner comic story along with the prose adventures. Why they made him look like a grown up Jimmy Olsen I'll never know. This one is from May 1943, the same issue as 'Shakedown Sham'.







 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, November 14, 2009

SAM SPADE: The Prodigal Daughter Caper




This week's caper comes to you direct from August 28, 1949.  Be sure to shop eBay, your local antique store, or your grandfather's medicine cabinet for Wildroot Cream-Oil.

The Prodigal Daughter Caper Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4


Still Playing:
The Betrayal in Bumpass Hell Caper
The Battles of Belvedere Caper
The Vaphio Cup Caper

(click to enlarge)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Johnny Cash sings "Bonanza"

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Lorne Greene stopped by to sing this for us some weeks back, and I mentioned the vocal version had also been recorded by Johnny Cash. Well, David Cranmer was (sort of) singing a Cash tune the other day, right here, and it reminded me this was still on the to-be-played list. So here he is, ladies and gents, The Man in Black crooning the ballad of the Ponderosa boys.

"Bonanza" by Johnny Cash

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Forgotten Books: SINFUL WOMAN by James M. Cain


This book surprised me in two ways. First, that a James M. Cain novel had appeared as a paperback original. And second, that any Cain novel could be considered a Forgotten Book, even by someone with a memory as faulty as mine.

“A Brand New Novel”, the cover proclaims, and a little research showed this to be no lie. This saddle-stitched digest from 1947, also known as The Avon Monthly Novel No. 1, is indeed the true first edition. The first hardcover was a Tower Books cheapie issued soon after.

So why is it forgotten? Well, it can’t be called great Cain. But it is fast, entertaining and (to me) a thoroughly satisfying read. And it is, after all, Cain, whose worst is better than many writers’ best.

Most of the Cain I’ve read was in first person, at which he was a master. Sinful Woman is told in breezy third person by an almost omniscient narrator, and Cain was clearly having fun with it.

The title role belongs to movie starlet Sylvia Shoreham, whose soon-to-be-ex husband (a penniless, conniving Baron with a silly accent) threatens to marry her clinically insane sister to retain control of her film career. Sylvia is not really very sinful. True, it’s discovered she spent time in a variety of motels with a variety of men, but none of this happens onstage, and no one much cares.

The male lead is Sheriff Parker Lucas, who dresses like Tom Mix and talks like Gary Cooper. Other major players include Dmitri, the tasteless money-grubbing producer who controls Sylvia’s contract; Tony, a gambling house proprietor who dresses like an undertaker; and George M. Layton, a go-getter life insurance agent on fire to protect his company’s interests after Sylvia’s is “accidentally” shot and killed at the gambling house.

If you think this cast sounds a bit over the top, you’re right. Cain based the novel on a play he’d written in 1938 called 7-11, which was quite likely a farce. Near as I can tell, the book was never made into a movie, which is a shame, because it seems perfectly suited. Cain’s working titles for the novel were “At the Galloping Domino” and “Sierra Moon”, both of which are more appropriate to the story. I suspect the more marketable title, Sinful Woman, was Avon's idea.

Though the plot revolves around the Baron’s murder, I can't really call this a murder mystery. No one is too interested in discovering who did it. They’re all promoting whatever wacky explanation meets their own interests. Nearing the end, when a Grand Jury convenes at The Galloping Domino to determine cause of death, I was thinking we’d never learn what really happened, and decided it didn’t matter. Watching the twists and turns of the plot and characters was enough for me.

But Cain came through after all, delivering a surprising solution - and happy ending - to the case. In a long string of bizarre notes, perhaps the most bizarre of all comes on the last page, when our male and female leads both announce they're enlisting in the army. This was, after all, 1947, and even novelists and paperback publishers had to do their part.

Below: The 1948 rack-size Avon paperback, which I suspect sold even better than the digest.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

DEATH COMES to The Story With No Name: Part 15 by James J. Griffin




This is it. The grisly demise of one of our beloved (or not so beloved) characters. Read on, and see what Ranger Jim Griffin has done to alter the landscape of this epic saga.

Previous installments, penned by the likes of I.J. Parnham, Jack Giles, Chuck Tyrell, Jack Martin, Joseph A. West, Robert S. Napier, Richard Prosch, Peter Averillo, Paul Dellinger and Evan Lewis, can be found here:
Parts 1-10 on The Culbin Trail
Part 11 on Open Range
Part 12 on Charlie's Tokyo West Blog
Part 13 on Broken Trails
Part 14 on Davy Crockett's Almanack

Who's next? Care to try your hand?

Part 15 by James J. Griffin

Arnside gave up the idea of using that rifle when at least twenty more Apaches topped the dunes, surrounding the erstwhile Camel Corps. In the Indians’ midst rode another figure, dark-eyed, with black hair and beard. A flat-crowned, broad-brimmed hat, with an enormous feather perched jauntily in the band, topped his head. The man’s appearance was almost exactly the same as an engraving of the pirate Jean Lafitte Walt had seen back in New Orleans.

Surrounded by the Indians, he rode his Andalusian stallion up to the apprehensive group.

“Who are you, and what are you doin’ with these Apaches?” Walt demanded.

“I am Esteban Escobar Bourbon. These Apaches are my bodyguards,” he announced, his eyes glittering. “You seek the ship of my great-grandfather. My family has been bound to guard the ship and its secrets for three generations now, against all interlopers. You also shall not succeed where others have failed.”

One of the Apaches separated himself from the rest, approached Arnside, and clubbed him on the side of his head. Walt crumpled to the sand.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
                     
When Arnside came to, he was alone… alone, stripped naked, and staked out, rawhide thongs biting into his wrists and ankles. For some reason he couldn’t fathom, a rawhide strap ran across his hips, holding them firmly in place. He opened his eyes, blinking against the harsh sun.

“At least they didn’t slice off my eyelids,” he murmured. “Reckon they couldn’t find an anthill, neither. Not that it’s much comfort.”

As his vision cleared, Walt realized, to his horror, he wasn’t exactly alone. Silas Bartlett was also there. He’d been skewered through his belly by an Apache’s lance, which held him pinned to a giant cactus, ten yards beyond Arnside’s feet. Bartlett hung there like some macabre scarecrow, his eyes bulging with terror. Arnside’s old partner wouldn’t be coming back to life a second time. Walt’s guts roiled when a zopilote buzzard landed on the lance’s shaft, to pull a chunk of flesh from Bartlett’s face. Others joined it, tearing at the corpse. Bile rose in Arnside’s throat at the scavengers’ ghastly banquet. He forced his eyes shut and lay unmoving. One of the bolder buzzards dropped next to Walt and tore at his ribs. When Walt screamed, the ugly bird flapped away, squawking in protest.

Shortly, the zopilotes had reduced Bartlett’s body to the bones. They remained perched in the cactus, beady eyes watching Arnside with infinite patience.

The sun rose higher, baking Arnside’s flesh. An intense burning between his legs forced him to once again open his eyes. For the first time, he spotted the mirror angled into the cactus just above Bartlett’s skull, a lady’s mirror with an elaborately carved handle and frame. Walt recognized that mirror as belonging to Lola. Rays of sunlight reflected off the mirror, down to a magnifying glass stuck in a mound of sand. The magnifying glass concentrated the beams directly onto Arnside’s groin.

“No Apaches rigged up that contraption,” Arnside moaned. “Hadda be Bourbon’s doin’.”

He writhed in agony. Those rays were frying his balls like Rocky Mountain oysters. When he attempted to shift his groin, he couldn’t move it one inch. Now he understood the reason for the strap over his hips.

With a scream, Arnside tried to pull himself upright, knowing the effort was futile. A sharp pain stabbed into his left breast.

Preoccupied with the buzzards feasting on Silas, and the sun roasting him alive, Arnside hadn’t noticed the thing causing this pain, until now… A Texas Ranger’s badge, its pin driven deep into his skin.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Satan Hall 4: Satan's Kill


A word of advice. Don't ever sneak into Satan Hall's apartment and try to kill him in his sleep. Johnny tried it, here in this 1932 issue of DFW.

He stepped two spaces forward; he pressed the button of the flash; he laid the nose of the heavy automatic almost against Satan’s head. But he held the flash so that Satan would see the gun.

Green eyes opened and seemed to stare straight into Johnny’s eyes, and there was nothing of fear in them. Just the same cold, cruel, sinister eyes that had looked at Johnny down at Hickey Moran’s place. And for the first time in his life, Johnny knew fear. The hand that held the gun trembled. He thought only of firing that gun, killing Satan - blotting out those sinister deadly eyes and getting away.

His right hand moved; his right index finger flexed, and there was the single roar of the gun. A roar that vibrated through the room. But there was no sudden dart of orange blue flame; no smell of burning powder, just the roar of a heavy automatic. And a man died.

Guess who died? Guess who sleeps with a .45 under the covers?

More illustrated adventures of Satan Hall coming soon.

SOMEONE WILL DIE. GUARANTEED.




Yes, Mr. James J. Griffin, author of tomorrow's installment of The Story With No Name, promises that one of our main characters WILL DIE. But who? Slick gent Silas Barnett? Naughty-but-nice Lola? Sheriff-turned-vigilante Zack Roden? Our hero Walt Arnside? I don't know, but I'm itchin' to find out.

The deadly Part 15 of this round-robin adventure will appear right here on the Almanack. Come on back tomorrow, and bring a hankie.

To catch up on last week's installment, and find links to the previous 13, CLICK HERE.

Monday, November 9, 2009

NaNoWriMo: Hell Week or Honeymoon?




Week One was a little of each. Not quite as bad as Hell Week at the old Kappa Sigma fraternity house - sleep-deprived, starved, dehydrated, hectored, harangued and thoroughly mindf***ed. Not as good as the week my wife and I honeymooned in Great Britain, bouncing like pinballs from Portsmouth to Gretna Green to Hay-on-Wye and getting our first gawks at London. But it had some of the highs an lows of each, and left me almost as exhausted.

The first two days were the honeymoon, with the words flowing free and clear and well over quota. Then on Day 3 my Left Brain kicked in, yelling "Whoa!", and I spent a couple days in Hell, tossing out my original plot, adding and subtracting characters and scrounging for ways to raise the stakes. Finally came out of it when my wife and I went to dinner and I laid out the problems I'd yet to solve. The talking helped a lot and she had some great ideas, and next day I was burning the keyboard again.

It's easy to write 1700 words a day. The trick is writing words that advance the plot and build character and foreshadow events and all that other stuff necessary to turn them into a story. For inspiration, I have a post-it on my monitor reading WWJRD? And everytime I get lazy or discouraged or bewildered or braindead I glance at that and think What Would James Reasoner Do? And the answer is always pretty much the same: He'd plant his Levi's in the chair and pound the keys until he'd kicked the problem in the butt. So that's what I've been doing.

Other than my wife and JR, my only companion on this journey has been Booksteve, he of the always entertaining blog Booksteve's Library. Thanks, Steve! I made the mistake of going to the NaNoWriMo site and allowing emails from other participants in my region. Portland, it seems, has 2,457 participants and a good percentage of them spend their time dashing out vapid emails and planning late night write-ins instead of actually writing. My box was so clogged I longed for the good old days, when all I got were offers for Viagra and congratulations on winning the lottery in Lower Slobbovia.

So now it's Week Two, and though I know what dramatic events will take place at the Mid-Point, I have very little idea what will happen in the 12,500 words I'll need to get there. Luckily, I have that WWJRD? note telling me what to do about it.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Lust of the Lawless - a Complete SPICY WESTERN by Robert Leslie Bellem


Most readers of "Adult" westerns assume the concept was born back in the 70s with series like Slocum (think about it) and Longarm, the guy with the long erect cigar between his teeth. Truth is, they were around as early as 1936, when Spicy Western Stories was born. And Robert Leslie Bellem, creator of Dan Turner, Hollywood Detective, was one of the mainstays of the field. "Lust of the Lawless" is from the eighth issue, of June 1937.

A note about the cover: "Lust of the Lawless" was not actually the cover story. That honor went to "Hero of Coffin Creek", one of the long-running series of Buckner Grimes stories by Robert E. Howard's pal E. Hoffman Price (and obviously inspired by, but vastly inferior to, REH's Breckenridge Elkins tales). Price's stories are not bad (well, not really really bad), but Bellem's are usually better.

Unless you're a world-class squinter, the best way to read these pages is probably to right click on each and open it larger-than-life-size in a new tab. Have a Spicy day.

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Saturday, November 7, 2009

SAM SPADE: The Battles of Belvedere Caper




Last week's episode, you may recall, had echoes of The Maltese Falcon. Well, this one does too, with a character clearly inspired by Casper Gutman. "The Battles of Belvedere Caper" was originally broadcast May 1, 1949. Enjoy.

The Battles of Belvedere Caper Part 1

Part 2

Part 3


These episodes are still playing:
The Betrayal in Bumpuss Hell Caper
The Vaphio Cup Caper

And when you're done listening, please pay a visit to The Rap Sheet, the blog that helps you get ahead socially and on the job (and also cures dandruff). Sam swears it's the next best thing to Wildroot Cream-Oil.

(click to enlarge)