I’m a longtime Musketeers fan. I read The Three in junior high, discovered in Twenty Years After high school, and liked every movie I’ve seen
since, including the ones starring the Ritz Brothers and the Brat Pack. The
recent three-season BBC series was one of my favorite TV productions of all time. (I
also grokked on Richard Sale’s Revolutionary War version of the tale, “The
Rogue,” discussed HERE.)
So, I admit I was predisposed to enjoy this sequel by H.
“The King of the Pulps” Bedord-Jones. So I read it. And what happened? It was
every bit as good as I’d hoped, and I just enjoyed the hell out of it. And I’m
pretty sure I’d be saying that even if I didn’t have Musketmania.
Bedford-Jones, who cranked out reams of adventure fiction in
multiple genres, sited Dumas as one of his major influences, and it’s plain to
see that this book was a labor of love. That action here takes place four or
five year after the first book, featuring most of the major characters who
survived the story. It also provides a nice bridge to Dumas’ first official
sequel, Twenty Years After, and lays
the groundwork for the sequel to that one, The
Vicomte of Brageleonne.
But most important, it provides the reader a great time.
Athos, Porthos, Aramis and d’Artagnan are just plain fun to hang out with, and
it’s a shame Dumas, Bedford-Jones or someone else (like maybe Rafael Sabatini
or even Richard Sale) didn’t write more about them. (Bedford-Jones did follow
up the novel with The King’s Passport,
in which d’Artagnan meets Cyrano de Bergerac, and that’s a good thing, but it’s
not quite the same).
Bedford-Jones displays the sort of humor that made the original
novel so much fun:
“I must warn you, monsieur,” he stated, “that I have been
taking lessons from the Italian fencing-master of the Prince of Wales, in
“And I,” said d’Artagnan, “have been killing those who give
lessons. En garde, monsieur!”
After killing the guy, d’Artagnan feels regret,
He had been successful in his mission. The document was
destroyed, the queen was saved—but d’Artagnan felt no exultation. On the contrary,
he vowed that upon returning to Paris he would have ten masses said at the St.
Sulpice for the repose of the soul of Comte de Riberac, who had been a gallant
gentleman. Upon reflection, however, he changed this vow to one mass only; for
one would undoubtedly be as efficient as ten, and at one-tenth the cost.
We owe Mr. Altus Press, Matt Moring, a great debt for bringing
this—and many other Bedford-Jones classics—back to life.
The best thing about the Carl Burns series is that the hero is really Bill Crider himself. In "Professor Carl Burns" (note that the initials CB are the inverse of BC), we see Bill in an alternate universe, in which he remained in academia instead of seeking fame and fortune as a wordsmith.
In this 2004 novel, the fourth and latest in the series, Bill and Burns read the same books (Ross Thomas’s Yellow Dog Contract and Charles Willeford'sThe High Priest of California & Wild Wives) have the same interests (Old Time Radio, and The Shadow in particular), listen to the same music (Warren Zevon’s “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” Kerry Newcomb and Buddy Holly), and drink the same soda (Dr. Pepper). And I'd be willing to bet that Bill once drove the same dark green '67 Plymouth with a black top, and the same Toyota Camry "of a nondescript sandy color" owned by Burns. But the sameness goes much deeper, into character and attitude and the way the two of them view life with a whimsical and appreciative eye.
More autobiographical moments:
Burns’ idea of philosophy is “Who knows what evil lurks in
the hearts of men?”
Burns wears a T-shirt with “a picture of a sickly green alligator on it.”
“Burns didn’t like country music that sounded like pop
tunes, he didn’t understand the appeal of rap, and thought most of the R&B
music sounded like people moaning in pain.”
“Burns got in his Camry and dug a pen and a piece of paper
out of the console. He never liked to be far from writing materials.”
References to Pop Culture: a Rifleman cap
gun, Lash LaRue, Elvira the Mistress of the Night, Al Capp, Bruce Willis, a
Mickey Mouse watch, a 3-D Three Stooges comic, Starsky and Hutch, Elmer Fudd
and Daffy Duck, Marlon Brando, Jimmy Cagney, Dragnet, Alan Arkin in “The
In-Laws,” Dirty Harry, Lincoln Logs, Georgia O’Keeffe, baseball cards, Malibu
Barbie, Star Wars figures and Elvis’s Christmas Album.
Literary allusions: Francis Macomber, Natty Bumppo, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Edgar
Allan Poe, The Scarlet Letter and Othello.
The Ten Best Western
Movies of All Time: The Searchers, Red River, Rio Bravo, Stagecoach, She Wore a
Yellow Ribbon, Rio Grande, Fort Apache, The Magnificent Seven, Shane, Unforgiven
and Ride the High Country (that’s eleven, but who’s counting?), with an
honorable mention to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.
The murder victim is Matthew Hart. (Matthew S. Hart was the
house name author of the Cody’s Law western series. Four books in that series were collaborations between Bill and James Reasoner).
Other private jokes no doubt abound, most of which I
ain’t privy to. But it’s easy to see that Hartley Gorman College is named after Bill's friend Ed. And one of the murder suspects is an accurately described Steve
Stillwell, another alumnus of DAPA-EM, whose fictional dead son was named “Taylor,” after
a friend. That friend, we can be pretty dang sure, is West Coast mystery man
And then we come to Chief of Police Boss Napier. This, of course, is a true-to-life portrayal of Cap'n Bob Napier, complete with snappy repartee, devil-may-care grin, lady-killing
ways, Pepsi drinking habit and toy soldier collection. Bill, you see,
has been exposed to Napieriana for close to forty years, in the pages of DAPA-EM,
at uncounted Bouchercons, and more recently in the western apa OWLHOOT, and such
close association has clearly taken its toll on his psyche.
Cap'n Bob will tell you this is actually the Boss Napier series, but that just ain't so. Burns/Bill is present on every page, while Boss/Bob pops in and out like the Trickster character he is.
A few Boss Napier highlights:
“If I catch you meddling around in this murder case,” he tells Burns, “I’m going to take you out to a quiet little spot that I know and work you over with my bullwhip.”
“Napier was a manly man whose idea of political correctness
was tithing to the National Rifle Association.”
He wears low-cut black cowboy boots, a western-cut gray suit
and a ten-gallon hat.
Burns calls him as “Mr. Sensitivity.”
At Napier’s house, Burns sees a David & Goliath playset.
One of the few (if it exists) that Cap’n Bob probably doesn’t have. Later, we
get to see a Civil War playset, one of the Cap’n’s favorites.
In Dead Soldiers, you get all that, plus a murder mystery and a whole lot of
Is that a great deal, or what?
Here's the complete album from 1963, a follow-up to PONDEROSA PARTY TIME! (you can hear that HERE). I like this one a lot less than the first, but it is a Christmas album, so I guess that's to be expected.