Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Richard Prosch creeped me out . . .

. . . in a good way, with his new story "Stringtown Road" over at BEAT to a PULP. This one involves a girl with Farrah Fawcett hair, a guy with Burt Reynolds shades and chains, and a dark highway duel between a Ford Pinto and a Ford Galaxy. 

I suggest you bop over there (meaning HERE) and let him creep you out, too. 

Mr. Prosch, whose Internet home is HERE, is the author of several fine eBooks and a good number of stories, most set in his own bailiwick, the wild western plains of Missouri. Some of that stuff, like Devils Nest, Branham's Due, Holt County Law and Buffalo Wolves, is set in the Old West, while Meadows Ford Blues is not. Do not fail to check 'em out, HERE!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Paul Cain. Norbert Davis. Steve Fisher. Theodore Tinsley. Available today in BLACK MASK eBooks!

We take this time out from our regularly scheduled Overlooked Film to celebrate a big day in Black Mask history. Mysterious Press, in cooperation with Open Road Media and Keith Deutsch of, introduce a new line of eBooks featuring some of the best stories from the magazine.

The three books above feature one story apiece. They’re all great ones, and I’m pleased to see them back in print, but I'm most excited about the book below, Jerry Tracy, Celebrity Reporter, by Theodore Tinsley. This massive eBook features 25 stories - the complete run of the series - and every tale is packed with wit and humor.

But first, the single-story books. Each is an outstanding example of Black Mask storytelling, and each excels in a different way.

The style of Paul Cain’s “Pigeon Blood” is nowhere near as tough as his iconic novel, Fast One, but the protagonist, an extra-legal attorney named Druse, is as hardboiled as they come. This time, Druse’s case involves a string of pigeon blood rubies that may or may not be genuine, the attractive socialite who owns them, her stuffy husband, and a gambling hall owner with guns at his disposal. Druse turns them on their heads, grinds them up and delivers a solution he finds satisfactory - and lucrative - to himself.

Red Goose” is a fine example of the cockeyed humor routinely delivered by Norbert Davis. Hollywood gumshoe Ben Shaley has a put-upon personality much like that of Davis’s most famous detective - Doan, of the Doan & Carstairs books. In this, the first of two Shaley tales to appear in Mask, he’s sent after a stolen painting of a goose, and barely comes away with his life - which is more than can be said for others involved in the affair.

Steve Fisher wrote the screenplay for my all-time favorite mystery film, Lady in The Lake, and all of his work makes me sit up and take notice. He was at his best with first-person narration, and “You’ll Always Remember Me” is a prime example. This story, a chilling look into the mind of a young sociopath, is more noir than hardboiled.

Now onto the main attraction, Jerry Tracy, Celebrity Reporter . . .

Prior to this, I knew Theodore Tinsley only as the author of several Shadow novels, written as “Maxwell Grant” while Walter Gibson was out to lunch. Though I have a few of his Jerry Tracy stories in Black Mask, I'd never bothered to read one. This 25-story collection is a real eye-opener, revealing Tinsley to be an extremely gifted hardboiled storyteller - with a unique and quirky style.

Our hero, Jerry Tracy, is a smart-mouthed columnist who dishes the dirt on Broadway for his newspaper the Daily Planet. Yep, the Daily Planet, and this series began in October 1932, six years before the first appearance of Superman. (For the record, Supes first went to work for the Daily Star, but the paper soon underwent a name change, and this while the Tracy series was still running in Mask.)

Though the Jerry Tracy stories are told in third person, this is extremely close third person, so we’re often privy to Tracy’s thoughts. It was a shocker for me to discover that Tracy’s thoughts read like a cross between the narration of Dan Turner and Daffy Dill. Now that’s entertainment. Jerry Tracy displays his quirky personality in his spoken dialogue, too, addressing everyone as “Bum,” employing the universal greeting “Hawzit,” and being generally inventive with the English language.

As I mentioned, this began in 1932, a full year and a half before Robert Leslie Bellem introduced Turner in Spicy Detective, and Richard Sale brought Daffy Dill to life in Detective Fiction Weekly. I have to wonder if either of those writers were influenced by Tinsley.

The dialogue makes the stories fun, but it’s the stories themselves that pack the real punch. While Dan Turner's adventures are all style and no substance, these Tracy tales are the real deal, putting Tinsely almost on a parr with Richard Sale. I haven’t had time to read all the stories in this book, but the half-dozen I’ve finished have heart and meaning, and even manage to comment on the human condition. In mystery stories from the thirties, that’s saying a lot - even for stories that appeared in Black Mask.

Jerry Tracy, Celebrity Reporter sells for slightly more or less than ten bucks, depending where you buy it. That may seem high for an eBook, but in this case it’s a bargain. If this were a print volume, it would run over 1000 pages, and this is quality stuff. The 25 stories are presented in chronological order, following Tracy’s eight-year run from start to finish. Outside of dishing out thousands for the original magazines, there’s no way we’d ever be able to read this stuff. And as a bonus, we're treated to an insightful overview of Tinsley's career by Boris Dralyuk. Thank you Mysterious Press, Open Road and Keith Deutsch!

As previously announced, these four volumes are only the kick-off. A new eBook will follow each month. I'm already looking forward to the next.

You'll find where-to-buy info HERE.

All drawings and paintings from Black Mask Magazine are copyright © 1923 to 1953 by Keith Alan Deutsch as successor-in-interest, and conservator of all copyrights to the original publishers and copyright registrars: Pro-Distributors Publishing Company, Inc, and Popular Publications Inc.  All copyrights © renewed 1951 to 1981.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

BLACK MASK goes digital! eBooks coming soon . . .

Here's the official press release:

Black Mask magazine, launched in 1920, built its reputation on fostering, and later inspiring, some of mystery’s most beloved hardboiled writers, including Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Carroll John Daly, Theodore A. Tinsley, and Paul Cain. 

These tough, grim, but ultimately noble stories of private eyes and crooks represent an extremely powerful slice of American fiction. Road Media is thrilled to announce that Black Mask stories will be available in digital format beginning August 27, 2013.

Paying homage to the original magazine, stories will be released monthly, commencing with works by Black Mask masters Norbert DavisSteve Fisher, and Paul Cain, as well as an omnibus of stories by Theodore A. TinsleyJerry Tracy, Celebrity Reporter. All works feature new cover art, as well as brand-new introductions. 

Ordering info HERE.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Forgotten Books: CONAN AND THE EMERALD LOTUS by John C. Hocking (1995)

When I posted some Conan pastiche covers earlier this week (HERE), James Reasoner called my attention to this one by Mr. John C. Hocking, which I had never read.

I’ve been struggling of late to find a book I really enjoy. The Sun Also Rises didn’t fill the bill. Neither did Anna Karenina or Philip Jose Farmer’s The Dark Heart of Time. Brian Wynne (Garfield’s) The Bravos was better, but didn’t quite scratch my itch.

But after riding with Conan on his quest to eradicate the Emerald Lotus, I’m finally back in the groove. This is a thoroughly enjoyable romp through the Hyborean Age. The only bad news is that this is Mr. Hocking’s only published Conan novel.

The back cover shouts TRAPPED IN A WEB OF WIZARDRY!, and that’s a fair description of the story. Conan finds himself tangled in the affairs of three sorcerers (one good, one bad and one very bad) and needs every bit of his courage, strength an skill to fight his way out.

The trouble starts when a two-bit Stygian sorcerer stumbles upon the secret of the Emerald Lotus and is suddenly possessed of more power than all the wizards of the Black Ring combined. The Emerald Lotus gives its users great power, but is also the most addictive and malignant of drugs. The Stygian uses it to enslave two Khemish rivals, and our man Conan gets caught up in the three-way battle.

What sets Conan and the Emerald Lotus above the Sword & Sorcery herd is Mr. Hocking’s ability to bring each character vividly alive and allow them to interact and change. The real story here is not sword vs. sorcery, but of people with differing agendas and  opposing wills. I particularly enjoyed the growing - and very genuine - friendship between Conan and mute Khitan warrior who accompanies him and two lissome ladies (one a sorceress and the other just lissome) into the dreaded Stygian desert.

The author makes no attempt to ape the style of Robert E. Howard, but what flows from his pen (or word processor) seems naturally suited to the Conan's world. And somehow he manages to make the implausible magic spells seem possible. As a bonus - and I was especially pleased by this one - he does not resort to making Conan do battle with a giant snake.

According to Wikipedia, Mr. Hocking “spent two years writing a second Conan novel, Conan and the Living Plague, under contract with Conan Properties, which was ‘sufficiently pleased with the book that they wanted to use it to attract a new publisher for Conan and try to break into hardcover.’ Publication of it and a third Conan novel Hocking had started were canceled due to a change in ownership of Conan Properties.”

Damn. That’s too bad. But after nearly twenty years, Conan’s popularity is as strong as ever, and it seems high time for the property owners to consder a new round of original novels. We can only hope. (And if some future publisher decides to reissue Emerald Lotus, they're welcome to use this blurb: Kicks Anna Karenina's butt!)

Meanwhile, John Hocking has not been idle. He was co-editor of the 2007 crime anthology Detroit Noir, and won the 2009 Harpers Pen Award for Sword and Sorcery fiction for his story “The Face in the Sea,” from Black Gate 13. And, if this photo is any indication, he's been eating quesadillas.

More Forgotten Books at pattinase. Next week, the Forgotten Books links will appear right here on the Almanack. Y'all come back, now.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Overlooked Films: PERRY MASON solves The Case of the Curious Bride (1935)

I haven’t read this book in a coon’s age, so can’t say how faithful the film is. But this movie, the second in the series, is at least more faithful to Gardner’s vision than the first, The Case of The Howling Dog (reviewed HERE).

Perry’s sprawling law firm, with its herd of associates and score of secretaries, is gone. This time we see only his private office, with Della guarding the gates. Filling in for Paul Drake is a pug called Spudsy, played by Allen Jenkins (Sgt. Holcomb in the first film), who provides both investigative services and comic relief. With Warren William in the lead, though, comic relief is not really necessary. He keeps his tongue planted firmly in-cheek, and wields it freely. Paul Drake is paid a little lip-service, just so viewers know the filmmakers were aware of him. On the phone with Spudsy, Perry calls him Mr. Drake, to which Spudsy responds, “You know I don’t like to be called Mr. Drake.”

Perry makes eyes at his new Della.

I was perfectly happy with Helen Trenholme as Della in Howling Dog, but was equally pleased with Claire Dodd in this one. Warren William seems able to generate chemistry with all of his female co-stars.  D.A. Claude Drumm, tormented by Perry in the first movie, is strangely absent from this one.

The film opens on San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, looking much the same as it does today (or at least last year, when I was there), with Perry picking out lobsters. In a distinctly uncanonical move, this movie depicts Perry as a gourmet cook - and one of the best in the world (the writers borrowing from Nero Wolfe, perhaps?). As Perry tears around town in his roadster, we’re treated to many familiar views of the hills, the streets and the Bay.

The pre-murdered Flynn.

One of Perry’s old girlfriends turns up, recently married, worried that her previous husband may be less dead than she thought. This makes her a “curious bride.” She’s right, of course, but only temporarily. Her ex promptly turns up defunct, and she’s suspect number one.

Like many movies of the period, this one found a way to include a dance hall number. Perry and Spudsy pay a visit to a burlesque theater, where one of the suspects sings, accompanied by a bevy of scantily-clad dancers.

Unlike Howling Dog, this was directed by Michael Curtiz, who was responsible for two of my top ten favorite films - Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood, and such runners-up as Casablanca, The Sea Hawk and Santa Fe Trail. And like four of those films, Curious Bride includes an appearance by Errol Flynn. I saw his name in the credits, so I was watching for him, but didn’t spot him until the last five minutes. The reason: He played the murder victim, and we didn’t see him alive (in flashback) until the killer finally confessed.

Curious about the rest of this week's Overlooked Films? Find them at Sweet Freedom.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Forgotten SPICY DETECTIVE Stories: Dan Turner - Hollywood Detective in "Veiled Lady"

It would seem that at least a zillion adventures of Dan Turner, Hollywood Detective have been reprinted over the past forty-odd years. But I'm pretty sure there are still a few hold-outs, and "Veiled Lady" might be one of them.

Actually, Dan's total number of adventures probably lies somewhere between two and three hundred (I think), not counting the comic book stories. His pulp career lasted sixteen years, which pales next to Race Williams' thirty-two year run, but for sheer number of stories, Dan was the busiest hardboiled detective of time. He was also the only hardboiled dick to get his own pulp magazine.

"Veiled Lady" appeared in the October 1937 issue of Spicy Detective. For more free Dan Turner adventures, I suggest you pay extended visits to (HERE) and (HERE).

This post is dedicated to Misters Art Scott and Richard Robinson, who assisted in mysterious ways.

Experience more Forgotten Books at pattinase!