Monday, August 30, 2010

George and the Angels

(click to enlarge)

Shucks, I knew old George Washington was a great general, and probably an OK President. But was he more than that? So it seems. Last week we took a tour of the U.S. Capitol rotunda, and stared up at this fresco by Constantino Brumidi.

I'll let the official website of The Architect of the Capitol tell the tale: Brumidi depicted George Washington rising to the heavens in glory, flanked by female figures representing Liberty and Victory/Fame. A rainbow arches at his feet, and thirteen maidens symbolizing the original states flank the three central figures. (The word "apotheosis" in the title means literally the raising of a person to the rank of a god, or the glorification of a person as an ideal; George Washington was honored as a national icon in the nineteenth century.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Encore Review: Simon Lash, Private Detective by Frank Gruber

Frank Gruber mysteries are like snack food. You can quickly gobble one up and have another. There’s nothing really memorable about his style, but his plots are interesting and always pay off in the end. He sort of reminds me of Erle Stanley Gardner.

I’ve read all the Johnny Fletcher books, and liked them fine, but my favorite Gruber character is this guy - Simon Lash. Lash has one leg up on Fletcher because he’s a private detective, and another because he’s a book collector.

I suspect a little Nero Wolfe influence here. Given his way, Lash would stay in his library and read. He only works when his legman Eddie Slocum badgers him beyond endurance. Once Lash gets moving, he does some of his own detecting, but keeps Eddie hopping with even more assignments than Wolfe gives Archie.

The mystery itself is fine. It's full of clues and suspects and plot twists and all that jazz, but what makes this book really interesting is all the talk about Lash’s Western Americana collection. (Gruber, I’m sure you know, was also a western writer, and produced far more western novels than he did mysteries.)

Gruber says this about Lash’s library:
This was the only place where he really ever lived; during the hours when he lost himself in his hobby, the study of American frontier history. All the books were considered “Americana” by collectors and book dealers and as such most of them enjoyed the additional appendage of “rare.” Lash received the catalogues of every rare-book dealer in the country. He was one of their best customers.

Some of Lash’s books are referred to by title and author, others only by description. And in several cases, values (as of 1941) are noted. Here are the books as mentioned in the text:
- Lowe’s Five Years a Dragoon
- The Kansas Crusade by Eli Thayer
- Quantrill & the Border Wars
- The King Strang Mormon book, “worth a hundred dollars” (I was unable to identify this one)
- The McCoy Cattle Trade book
- The Cherokee Bible
- McClellan’s Own Story
- Dodge City, the Cowboy Capital by Robert Wright, one of the founders of Dodge, and one of men who hired Earp, but who spells the name Erb.
- The Vigilantes of Montana by Thomas Dimsdale,“easily worth $200” (Abebooks lists a second edition in fair condition for $975, and one near fine for $1250. The first edition, says a bookseller, is virtually unobtainable.)
- Wolfville Nights
- Clay Allison of the Washita, “worth $35” (No firsts listed on Abe, but a 1922 paperback edition, with a third of the spine missing and the cover nearly detached is offered at $447.)
- The Latter Day Saints Emigrants’ Guide, “last seen offered for twelve hundred” (A 1921 reprint of the 1848 edition is available for $400.)

At one point, Lash looks at the flyleaf of a copy of The Book of Mormon and perspiration breaks out on his forehead.

There are other western connections, too. Lash visits a ranch called “Robber’s Roost”, operated by a son of Billy the Kid. According to Billy's son, Billy himself stayed there shortly before he was killed. Johnny Ringo also spent time there, and was said by Billy to be a great reader. Other former residents, Lash is told, included Dave Rudabaugh and Butch Cassidy. The place was supposedly used by the Wild Bunch as a sort of post office.

I look forward to re-reading the other Simon Lash books: Buffalo Box (1942) and Murder ‘97 (1948).

Simon Lash, Private Detective was filmed (apparently on a meager budget) as Accomplice in 1946. Gruber wrote the screenplay.  (I own this poster, but it's too ugly to put on the wall.)

UPDATE: At the time I first posted this review I had never seen Accomplice. Soon after, I received DVD copies (each with unique bonus material) from two fine fellows named Brian Ritt and Art Scott. I liked the film much better than the poster - twice. Thanks guys!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Encore Review: 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.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Forgotten Books: Brand of the Cougar by Norvell Page

Before Black Dog Books publisher Tom Roberts began his current line of trade paperbacks, he published several dozen extremely fine little chapbooks of pulp material. Brand of the Cougar, from way back in the year 2000, is one of those.

The name Norvell Page is well known to fans of The Spider, Master of Men. Page wrote more Spider adventures than any other human, and most folks are glad he did. Page brought out the wild and crazy side of Richard Wentworth's character like no man before or since.

This volume collects two tales from Spicy Western, originally published under the pen name N. Wooten Poge, and one from Masked Rider Western. You also get some fine examples of that old spicy art.

The spicy stories have the usual allusions to sex. In the title story, our hero Cougar Charlie meets up with Nan, a babe from his past…

It was clear that she wore nothing except the sheer linen night-gown through which her flesh glowed pinkly. It was cut high at the throat, but her arms were bare, and the thin softness of the robe draped to every sweet line of her body. Her breasts lifted sharply against the caress. She shrank back and the soft linen molded to her extended thigh. Her eyes met Charlie’s and widened slowly. Her breath came quickly.

Cougar Charlie laughed. His hand leaped out and seized her wrist. With the same movement he jerked her into his arms, bound her helpless with them. The warmth of her burned through his clothing, the softness…

He could feel the quick surge of her breasts, hear the jerkiness of her breathing. He buried his face in the hollow of her throat. Nan shuddered and ran her fingers through his hair.

“Charlie,” she whispered. “Please, not now, Charlie!”

The stories also have bursts of violence worthy of The Spider. In "Hell's Backtrail," hero Slick Sherry is after a bad actor called Swede Anderson. When Swede draws on Slick . . .

The double blast of the heavy guns hammered the walls, seemed to split their fragile barriers apart. Deafened, Slick Sherry reeled aside, fanning the hammer with his thumb, driving more lead at the hulking bearded giant he had tracked down. The click of hammer on an empty cylinder he felt as an absence of sound.

He looked down at his gun, startled, darted an apprehensive glance toward the Swede. Not until then did he realize his lead had driven Anderson up against the wall and pinned him there while other bullets tore the heart out of him. His chest was a weltering mass. He fell forward with a jar that shook the building. 

Can't find a copy? Don't fret. Tom Roberts is planning a new trade paperback edition with a new cover and an additional story. Watch for it.

For more Norvell Page, I can heartily recommend the recent Black Dog volume City of Corpses, a collection of weird detective stories. I reviewed that HERE, and it's available on the Black Dog site HERE.

And some months back I posted a complete Page story from Spicy Detective called "Death Plays Knock-Knock." That's HERE. Check it out!

As usual, Patti Abbott serves up links to a lot more Forgotten Books over at pattinase.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Forgotten Music: Uriah Heep

One night in 1970, someone stuck a set of pro-quality headphones over my ears and handed me this album cover. One of the first songs I heard was "Dreammare."

This was pretty heavy stuff for the time, and I was an instant Uriah Heep fan. I stuck with them for four more albums, and some of my favorite tunes are featured below. Now I discover they went on to release a total of 22 studio and 12 live albums, the latest in 2009, and they're still going. Understandably, they've had a ton of personnel changes over the years, but the one constant - and the one guy still with the group - is guitar player Mick Box. Yikes. 40 straight years of Uriah Heep. Gotta wonder what kind of brain damage that guy has.

Dreammare (1970)

Lady in Black (1971)

The Wizard (1972)

Easy Livin' (1972)

Forgotten Music is a production of Scott Parker, and you'll find links to more of this month's selections HERE.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Encore Review: 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.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Encore Review: 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.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Encore Review: Six Deadly Dames by Frederick Nebel

Frederick Nebel has never received the credit due him. He was one of the major contributors to Black Mask during the glory years under editor “Cap” Shaw. Between 1926 and 1951 he contributed more than 50 stories to the magazine. His writing was lean, hard and unsentimental, making him one of Shaw’s favorites.

It’s a shame so little of his work has been reprinted. Six Deadly Dames, published by Avon in 1950, is one of only two collections of his short stories.  The other, The Adventures of Cardigan, featuring a very similar character, was issued by Mysterious Press in 1988. In 2008 The Big Book of Pulps scored a major coup by including a novel-length sequence of the first five stories in Nebel’s other major Black Mask series, featuring Kennedy (the reporter) & MacBride (the police captain).

Six Deadly Dames contains 6 of the 15 Donahue stories. (The page below is from one of those still uncollected, from Black Mask Sept, 1932.)  Like the Continental Op, Donahue is an operative for an interstate detective agency. Like Sam Spade, he's slightly tarnished, brutal when he has to be, and twists the law when necessary. The Cardigan book also collected 6 stories, these originally from Dime Detective, but 37 more are wasting away, as are over 30 Kennedy & MacBride stories.

Corresponding with Mrs. Nebel some years back, I asked if her husband had made an effort to get his stories published in books - particularly the first five Kennedy & MacBride tales, which seemed designed for just that purpose. She said he didn’t think much of his pulp work. He considered it dated and didn’t believe it merited collection. What he really wanted was to be a novelist, not a crime writer. To this end he produced three books, Sleepers East, But Not the End, and Fifty Roads to Town, all well received but today even more forgotten than Six Deadly Dames.

Another “Tough Dick” Donahue collection is long overdue. But it arrives, Six Deadly Dames will do. It’s a gem.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Victory at Yorktown: The Campaign that (just barely) Won the Revolution

We saw a 12-part series on the History Channel recently called The Story of US, which was a quick survey of American history with a lot of snazzy computer graphics, well-acted vignettes and commentary by a passel of celebrity “experts.” One of those experts was NBC news guy Brian Williams, pontificating on the never-say-die American character that saw us through the Revolution gave birth to a new nation.

Well, what I learned from Victory at Yorktown is that there were indeed such never-say-die heroes toiling selflessly to win freedom from British rule. But, there were way too few of them, and they comprised only a tiny minority of the American population. And “the campaign that won the Revolution” was not only funded by France, but actually won - before the famous Siege of Yorktown even began - by the French Navy.

Don’t get me wrong. George Washington’s role was truly heroic, and absolutely essential. And there were many other stoic patriots whose exploits remain unsung, but without the French intervention, the American Revolution would have fizzled like a wet firecracker.

But lest you think I’m giving the French too much credit, consider this… They weren’t doing it out the kindness of their hearts. They’d recently had their butts whipped in a long war the British, and were itching for payback. They saw our little revolution as a way to tweak England’s nose and hopefully gain a foothold in the New World. And whenever they needed more convincing, old Ben Franklin was there in Paris putting ideas into their heads.

By 1781 the war had been dragging on for five long years, and what little fervor the American public had mustered at the start was largely spent. While some members of Congress still had faith, Congress as a whole was impotent because the states refused to send money or soldiers to support the cause. The great majority of our citizens were simply keeping their heads down and minding their own affairs. Many saw the once-proud dream of freedom as a lost cause and felt that to further antagonize the British would only make things worse.

It was a damn near thing, and no mistake. Without George, Ben and all those Frenchmen, I’d likely be writing this review with a British accent.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Meet the Robinsons

Yes, we had that honor. California sophisticates Barbara and Richard Robinson (he of The Broken Bullhorn) graced the Beaver State with their presence this week, and Irene and I joined them for a traditional Oregon dinner at P.F. Chang's.

Believe it or not, Mr. R is every bit as nice a guy in person as he is on his blog. How is this possible? We suspect Mrs. R is a good influence on him. And to further strain your credulity, how about this? Rick and I spent close on to 15 minutes in a Borders store, without the calming influence of our wives, and neither of us bought a single book.

Sadly, the Robinsons will soon be back in LaLa land. We look forward to their return.

Friday, August 20, 2010

(Un)Forgotten Books: Roget's Thesaurus

I bought this book new when I was in college, and while I've never actually read it all, I've used it and handled it far more than any book I've ever owned. And I probably will until - as the book says - I breathe my last, croak, decease, depart, expire, fall (drop, sink, etc.) dead, give up the ghost, go to the happy hunting grounds, join my ancestors, kick the bucket, pass away, pass on, perish, succumb, lose my life, lay down my life, go West or make the supreme sacrifice. Thanks, Mr. Roget! Couldn't have said it better myself.

More (Un)Forgotten Books (this week from our tender years as 18-22 year-olds) await at pattinase.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Fistful of Legends: "One Day in Liberty" by Jack Giles

On February 13, 1866 the Clay County Savings Bank in Liberty, Missouri was robbed of $60,000, and one citizen was killed. It was the first daylight bank robbery in the United States. Some folks believed, and still believe, the job was done by Jesse James, Cole Younger and a crew of other former Confederate guerrillas. But was it really?

Jack Giles (alias Ray Foster) tells the tale from a new perspective, with his own cast of desperate characters. It’s a great twist on history, from a fine storyteller. Jack/Ray is the author of nine western novels (so far). His latest, Lawmen, was published by Black Horse in 2008 and Linford Western Library (Large Print) in 2009. He blogs at Broken Trails.

"One Day is Liberty" is one of the 21 tales between the covers of the Express Westerns anthology A Fistful of Legends. Got your copy yet? For more posts on A Fistful of Legends, click HERE.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bill Crider Blog-O-Books Strike Back!

When I posted these Bill Crider Blog-O-Books last January, I wasn't playing fair. I didn't tell you they were 100% phony. Most of you caught on anyway, of course, but the truth is I still think these would make great books, and all Bill (or some industrious editor) would have to do is scroll through his blog and pick out the choicest bits to fill each volume. And . . . I'll be pleased to donate this classy cover art and back cover hype free of charge. What do you say, publishers? Are you ready to rumble?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Reign of Iron: The True-Life Saga of the Monitor and the Merrimack

When I was the a kid, the most fascinating aspect of the Civil War (aside from the post-war adventures of Johnny Yuma, the Rebel) was the battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack.

In the years since I’ve looked at the war from different angles and gained an appreciation for other battles and other personalities, but one thing remains the same. Nothing grabs me like the first battle of the ironclads.

That may be partly due to James L. Nelson, a historian who is also a fine fictioneer. I’ve read a couple of his pirate mysteries, so I was well aware he could tell a good tale. But the story laid down in Reign of Iron is one of those stranger-than-fiction adventures, which makes it even more compelling.

To introduce the contestants . . .

The Merrimack was a steam-powered wooden warship partially destroyed in the early days of the war. The Confederates salvaged her hull and engines, topping her with iron plating and 10 big guns. On completion, she was renamed the C.S.S Virginia, but is still known to history as the Merrimack

The U.S.S. Monitor was built from scratch on a revolutionary new design, and referred to, with much derision, as a “floating cheesebox.” Few people believed she could float, much less fight. She had only two guns, fixed in a revolving iron turret. Work on the Monitor did not begin until the Merrimack had been under construction for four months.

Though both sides had spies, no one knew just when either ship would be ready for action. Incredibly, both ships arrived at Hampton Roads, the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay, on the same day. Unfortunately for the North, Monitor was several hours too late to prevent Merrimack from destroying two of the Union’s most powerful wooden warships. The following day, the Monitor and the Merrimack hammered each other with iron at close range for over four hours while thousands of soldiers from both sides lined the banks to cheer them on.

Reign of Iron is the story of the men who designed them, built them and fought them, and how they changed the course of naval warfare. This book gets two giant ironclad THUMBS UP.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Friday, August 13, 2010

Forgotten Books: ACTION STORIES by Dent, Nebel & others

Long before our current wave of fine pulp reprint publishers (Black Dog Books, Altus Press, Adventure House, Nostalgia Ventures and others) arrived on the scene, a number of bold pioneers blazed the trail. One of those pioneer outfits was Odyssey Publications, who did most other work in the late 70s and early 80s.

I don't know who exactly was behind Odyssey Publications, or how many books they published, but I know they put out at least 11 "uniform editions" (Action Stories was number 11), along with Duende magazine and a couple of booklets about Doc Savage. And I know that Will Murray was a major player, writing articles for and introductions to the books. Each of the "uniform editions" I've seen is a perfect-bound trade paperback with bright white paper and crisp reproduction. The stories are in facsimile, so you get all the original titles and artwork. Very cool.

Action Stories is one of several volumes intended as a "best of" collection (others featured stories from Oriental Tales, Golden Fleece and Strange Tales. Action Stories (the magazine) was a Fiction House pulp published from 1923 to 1950 as sort of a wannabe Argosy. As such, their stories ran the gamut of adventure-related genres. You Robert E. Howard fans will no doubt recognize it as the newsstand home of Breckenridge Elkins, the pride of Bear Creek.

This collection is a good representation."Exiles of the Dawn World" by Nelson Bond (the cover story), is "The truly startling story of a Twentieth Century Adam and Eve hurtled back through the ages of Time to the noisome, steaming birth of the world." And that's just the beginning. There's a tale of pirates in the China seas, a story of the foreign legion, a western, a visit to a lost city in Africa and an adventure in the Afghan hills.

For me, the headline stories are those by Lester Dent and Frederick Nebel. "The Devil's Derelict," Will Murray tells us, was Dent's fourth published story, from 1930. Nebel's "The Coast of Hate" likely appeared a bit earlier, because by 1930 he was a regular in Black Mask, and most of his adventure writing was behind him. Predictably, both tales are crackling good yarns, and worth the price of admission on their own.

For those of you keeping score, the Action Stories not named above are:
"Captain Cut-Throat" by Albert Richard Wetjen
"Murder Sands" by John Starr (possibly Dan Cushman)
"The Lion Goddess" by John Wiggin
"Hermit House" by Theodore A. Tinsley
"Emperor of the Three" by Jack Smalley

Persons seeking this volume are advised to employ the Advanced Search function on Amazon or Abe. Along with the title, enter Odyssey Publications as the publisher, and up it comes. Though prices have gone up a bit since 1981, they're still about the same as comparable pulp reprints published today.

Visit pattinase for more of this week's Forgotten Books!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Art Gallery: Daffy Dill



These are two of the many DFW covers featuring smart-mouthed reporter Daffy Dill. To read a complete Daffy story, "A Dirge for Pagliaccio," click HERE.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

"The Great Whydini" by David Cranmer

David Cranmer has done it again. He's given us another crackerjack story, this time a tale of love, lust and sudden death on the new online crime magazine ALL DUE RESPECT.

The Great Whydini is an escape artist in the tradition of the guy pictured here. But what happens when his unfaithful wife and former best friend decide they've had enough of his ego? To find out, click HERE and let David Cranmer (he of BEAT to a PULP and Education of a Pulp Writer) entertain you.

ALL DUE RESPECT is a mag with an intriguing mission statement: We are interested in crime fiction. That means fiction about crime. Not solving crime. Not bemoaning crime. Fiction about people who are criminals and maybe a little bit about why they are criminals, so long as you don't go Dr. Phil on it. Check it out!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Writerly Advice from Hemingway, Vonnegut, Poe & friends

KURT VONNEGUT:  Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.

J. D. SALINGER: An artist’s one concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else’s. 

HUNTER S. THOMPSON: If I’d written all the truth I knew for the past ten years, about 600 people - including me - would be rotting in prison cells from Rio to Seattle today. Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism.

EDGAR ALLEN POE: The death of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world.

TONI MORRISON: The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar, is the test of their power.

CHINUA ACHEBE: Art is a constant effort to create for himself a different order of reality from that which is given to him. 


ERNEST HEMINGWAY: There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

MARCEL PROUST: If a little dreaming is dangerous, the cure for it is not to dream less but to dream more, to dream all the time.