Friday, October 20, 2017

Forgotten Books: The Slave Runner - Gordon MacCreagh


Gordon MacCreagh is an author whose name I’ve seen on many pulps, but I’ve never read his work until now, at least not that I remember. He wrote a lengthy series about an American named King adventuring in Africa. The natives refer to him as “Kingi Bwana”, and he’s rumored to be a shady character, little better than an outlaw, a slave runner, and a smuggler. Of course, in Africa as anywhere else, things are not always as they seem.

The first Kingi Bwana story is “The Slave Runner”, from the April 1, 1930 issue of the iconic pulp ADVENTURE. MacCreagh takes the unusual tack of opening this debut adventure with rumors of his protagonist’s death. Supposedly, King’s charmed life has run out, and he’s been killed by a lion. I don’t imagine many, if any, readers actually believed that, even in the more innocent era of 1930.

MacCreagh spends quite a bit of time on two British officials in Kenya, a pompous deputy commissioner and a young, earnest consul. It’s the latter who first encounters King, the former who captures the American and accuses him of slave running because King is always in the same vicinity as a notorious Arab/Spanish slave trader. The deputy commissioner is convinced the two men are partners in the illicit enterprise.

MacCreagh’s style is a little old-fashioned, as you’d expect, but his prose reads very smoothly and is packed with details about Africa and its geography, politics, wildlife, social customs, and the attitudes of its people. He manages to do this without infodumps, so the pace of this first story moves along very nicely. There’s a long, suspenseful scene where King is penned up in a lion trap, only to have an actual lion come along and try to get to him. King’s escape from both the trap and the lion make for some good reading.

My only real complaint about this 25,000 word novella is that all the climactic action takes place off-screen, making the ending considerably less dramatic and more low-key than it could have been. King is a very good character, though, and Deputy Commissioner Sanford makes for an effective foil, reminding me of Inspector Teal in Leslie Charteris’s Saint yarns.

All the Kingi Bwana stories have been reprinted by Altus Press. I have all four volumes and will be working my way through them. Based on “The Slave Runner”, this is a good pulp adventure series, and I look forward to reading the rest of the yarns.


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Spicy-Adventure Stories, December 1935


Here's a pretty good example of why the Spicy pulps were sometimes sold under the counter. Of course, I would have just bought it for the stories, which in this issue are by Robert Leslie Bellem (one under his name and one as by Jerome Severs Perry), Edwin Truett Long (one as by Cary Moran and the cover story as by Clint Morgan), Victor Rousseau (writing as Lew Merrill), Ken Cooper, Arthur Humbolt, Arthur Wallace, and William B. Rainey. The sexy redhead on the cover wouldn't have had anything to do with me buying the magazine. That's my story . . . Seriously, though, I do enjoy the fiction in the Spicy pulps. They're formulaic, sure, but they're still fast-moving, plot-driven yarns with plenty of action and a little humor. Just the thing I'm looking for, sometimes.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Blue Ribbon Western, February 1946


Nice atmospheric cover on this issue of BLUE RIBBON WESTERN. That looks like the work of H.W. Scott to me, but I'm not sure I'm right. Inside are stories by Archie Joscelyn, who I've found to be a pretty reliably entertaining Western author under that name as well as his pseudonyms Al Cody and Lynn Westland; Lee Floren, one of his yarns featuring Buck McKee, which are generally some of Floren's best work; and Joe Austell Small, a fairly prolific author of Western pulp yarns but best remembered as the long-time editor and publisher of the magazines TRUE WEST and FRONTIER TIMES.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Forgotten Books: Never Say No to a Killer - Clifton Adams


I’ve read quite a few Western novels by Clifton Adams and enjoyed them all. NEVER SAY NO TO A KILLER is the first of his handful of crime novels that I’ve read, and it’s no surprise that I think it’s very good, too. Originally published under the pseudonym Jonathan Gant as half of an Ace Double, it’s being reprinted by Stark House Press as part of the excellent Black Gat Books line. I’m getting lazy (and short on time), so here’s the publisher’s description:

When Roy Surratt busts out of jail, he only has two things going for him: faith that his former cellmate, John Venci, will keep his promise to help him stay clear of the cops, and the supreme confidence in his own intelligence. After all, Roy knows he's got what it takes to succeed. And no one had better get in his way. So it comes as some surprise that the person who meets him after his breakout isn't Venci, but Venci's wife, Dorris. He didn't figure on having to deal with a woman. But he soon finds out that Venci is dead, that Dorris is sitting on a sweet blackmail scheme, and that he can have this town in his back pocket if he can just stay cool enough to take Venci's place. But Roy doesn't figure on Pat Kelso, girlfriend of his first mark. He has no idea how quickly the best laid plans can unravel.


What really made this book work for me is the pace. Adams was a real master at plotting his books so that one event flows naturally into another, and even though NEVER SAY NO TO A KILLER isn’t non-stop action, there’s always something happening to drive the narrative forward. Even when the protagonist stops now and then to ponder about philosophy, there’s always the sense that more trouble is lurking. This is a skillfully written book with a very effective air of impending doom. The narrator may be fooling himself, but he’s not fooling us.

It’s hard to go wrong with a Western by Clifton Adams, and clearly that extends to his crime novels as well. I think I have all of them, and I need to read another one soon. I give this one a high recommendation.


Monday, October 09, 2017

Now Available: Blaze! Spanish Gold - Ben Boulden


The only thing Kate and J.D. Blaze had in mind when they rode into the settlement of Unity, Utah, was celebrating their wedding anniversary. But then J.D. is forced to kill a corrupt deputy in order to save a woman’s life, and suddenly the Old West’s only husband-and-wife gunfighters are plunged into a deadly mystery involving a sinister albino, missing men, and a lost treasure in Spanish gold.

It’s action all the way as critically acclaimed author Ben Boulden returns with another exciting installment in today’s top Adult Western series!

Also, Ben's first Blaze! novel, RED ROCK RAMPAGE, is currently on sale for a limited time, so you can pick up a copy of the ebook edition for only 99 cents.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Tales, September 1939


Nice cover on this issue of DETECTIVE TALES. I think it might be by Tom Lovell, but that's just a guess on my part. No guess about the great group of authors inside, though: Norbert Davis, Cleve F. Adams, Philip Ketchum, Stewart Sterling, William R. Cox, Emile C. Tepperman, Ray Cummings, and Wyatt Blassingame. That's a bunch of top-notch talent.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: .44 Western Magazine, September 1946


I like the cover on this issue of .44 WESTERN, one of the long-running Western pulps from Popular Publications, and feel like I should know who the artist is, but I don't. He did a good job of conveying sheer desperation on the part of both men, though. Good covers make me want to write a story incorporating the scene, and this one certainly does. Inside the issue, there are stories by Wayne D. Overholser, Lee Floren, Ralph Yergen, M. Howard Lane, and several lesser known pulpsters.

Update: That cover is by Robert Stanley. I knew it looked familiar. As many paperback covers as I've seen by Stanley, I should have recognized his work!

Friday, October 06, 2017

Forgotten Books: The Hell-Born Clan - Phil Richards


Pursued by Sheriff Terry Reynolds, who is both the girl he loves and his most relentless enemy, noble outlaw Kid Calvert is shot and wounded by Terry while he and Dandy McLain, another member of Calvert’s Horde, are being pursued by a posse. Embittered by this, the Kid decides that if he’s going to be harried and hunted as an owlhoot, even though he only breaks the law to help people who need it, then he might as well start acting like a real owlhoot. But before he can do this . . .

The Kid finds an abandoned baby! Terry is framed as a crooked sheriff and is threatened by a lynch mob! A gang of rustlers led by the notorious bandido known as Brazito shoot up the town! A hunchbacked saloon swamper becomes a kill-crazy gunslinger! Herds of stolen cattle disappear into thin air!

Yes, it’s another crazed, breathless, over-the-top adventure of Kid Calvert and Calvert’s Horde from Phil Richards. “The Hell-Born Clan” is the longest and last and best of these breakneck yarns. It appeared in the August 1935 issue of WESTERN ACES, after a four-month gap in the series since the previous story “Senorita Death”. If you’re expecting some resolution since this is the final story, you won’t get it, but you will get an incredible amount of action as guns blaze and horses gallop almost constantly. Somehow in the midst of all that, Richards manages to put together a fairly coherent and complicated mystery plot. Sure, quite a bit of it depends on coincidence, and you’ll probably see the big twist at the end coming, but as far as I’m concerned, he makes it all work.

Over and above that, what runs all the way through this series is the doomed, epic love story between Kid Calvert and Terry Reynolds, the likes of which I haven’t encountered in any other Western pulp—and I’ve read a bunch of them. All the hard ridin’ and shootin’ is just window dressing for this tragic romance. That’s what sets the Kid Calvert stories apart, and what makes the collection of them from Altus Press one of the best books I’ve read this year.

At this late date, we’ll never know whether Richards was aware the series was coming to an end, or if he assumed that the Kid would ride again. But I’m really sorry there are no more of these to read. I hope the Kid and Terry finally found some peace and happiness together . . . but I think it’s more likely they died side by side, with guns blazing as they battled against evil-doers.


Monday, October 02, 2017

The Long Count - J.M. Gulvin


THE LONG COUNT is a fine new thriller by J.M. Gulvin, set in Texas during the Sixties. Texas Ranger John Quarrie, who carries a pair of Ruger Blackhawk revolvers and whose godfather was legendary Ranger Frank Hamer, is called in to investigate two cases: the apparent suicide of an elderly World War II veteran and a series of brutal murders carried out by a spree killer working his way across northeast Texas. I don’t think it’s giving away too much to say that eventually Quarrie’s investigation uncovers some surprising links between those cases. Gulvin’s plot has plenty of twists and turns along the way, though.

Quarrie is a very likable protagonist, the single father of a ten-year-old son who also winds up playing a part in the plot. He’s just flashy enough to be interesting and is also a smart, determined investigator. There’s a good sense of time and place (although as someone who grew up in Texas during the Sixties, I don’t think Gulvin quite nails it all the time) and plenty of good dialogue. Gulvin has a distinctive style that took me some getting used to, but he’s also a top-notch storyteller who kept me turning the pages. THE LONG COUNT is the first of a new series that reminded me at times of Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire books. Well worth checking out.


Sunday, October 01, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Wonder Stories, September 1930


It's a good thing giant spiders are afraid of flashlights (a well-known scientific fact), or else the girl on Frank R. Paul's cover for this issue of WONDER STORIES would be in a lot of trouble. There are several writers I've heard of in this issue: Nat Schachner and Arthur Leo Zagat, Captain S.P. Meek, and R.F. Starzl, and others who are unknown to me: Frank J. Bridge, Lowell Howard Morrow, and Edsel Newton. I haven't read a lot of science fiction from this era, and the stories I have read tend to be by authors who went on to have long careers, such as Jack Williamson, Edmond Hamilton, Murray Leinster, and Ray Cummings. I'd like to read more of the pre-Golden Age stuff. As usual, too many books, not enough time . . .