There's got to be an interesting story behind that cover. Despite having a groan-inducing pun as a title, the lead story by Frederick C. Davis is probably pretty good. Davis never disappoints. The rest of the line-up in this issue of TEN DETECTIVE ACES is pretty strong, too: William Campbell Gault, Robert Turner (under his own name and as Glenn Wood), Joe Archibald, Norman A. Daniels, and David X. Manners.
BIG-BOOK WESTERN wasn't the iconic pulp that DIME WESTERN and STAR WESTERN, its Popular Publications stablemates, were, but it was a good solid magazine for a long time. By 1952 many of the big names were gone. I've never heard of the author of this issue's lead novel, William Bender Jr. In fact, the only one of the authors I'm really familiar with is Talmage Powell, who's best known for his hardboiled mysteries. One of the other authors, Richard H. Nelson, was really William L. Hamling, who was on the verge of a successful career as a magazine and book publisher. There's also a reprint from the August 1940 issue of DIME WESTERN of a story by Stone Cody, who was really Thomas Mount.
That's about as
generic a title and bland a cover as you're ever likely to see. Ah, but inside
are nine stories by Eugene Cunningham that originally appeared in FRONTIER
STORIES in 1927 and '28. Generic they may be, in the technical sense of the word ("characteristic of or relating to a class or group of things"), but not bland by any stretch of the imagination. Instead they're colorful, action-packed, and very entertaining.
The hero of these yarns is a young Texas Ranger named Stephen Ware, often
referred to rather awkwardly in the first few stories as "Ware's
Kid", since his father Bill Ware was also a Texas Ranger. In the course of
these tales, Ware justifies his admission into the Rangers by rescuing the
kidnapped daughter of a rancher; tracks down a fugitive killer, then decides
the man is innocent and sets out to find the real murderer; tames a couple of
wild towns; rounds up some horse thieves; crosses the border into Mexico to
capture an outlaw; solves some stagecoach robberies; and even resolves
a domestic drama (with bank robbery added). Ware isn't the most nuanced
character, but his adventures sure are fun.
For me, the key to Cunningham's appeal (along with his fast-moving prose and
hardboiled attitude) is the authenticity of his work. Like Walt Coburn, he was
writing about a time and place that was within the memory of people they knew
as youngsters. The Wild West was only a generation removed from the early pulp
writers, if that. Some of the plots may be exaggerated for dramatic effect; the
setting and the attitudes of the characters aren't. I've become a Eugene
Cunningham fan late in my pulp-reading career, but I really enjoy his work and
TRAILS WEST gets a high recommendation from me.
Here are the stories and their original appearances in FRONTIER STORIES:
"Beginner's Luck", February 1927
"The Hermit of Tigerhead Butte", March 1927
"Wanted—?", May 1927
"The Hammer Thumb", June 1927
"The Trail of a Fool", July 1927
"The Ranger Way", August 1927
"Blotting the Triangle", September 1927
"Ware Calls It a Day", October 1927
"Spiderweb Trail", January 1928
There's also a fine biographical introduction by Cunningham's daughter, Murney
Cunningham Call. This is a volume well worth having if you’re a pulp Western
(This post originally appeared in slightly different form on July 28, 2007. For me, it was an overlooked movie even then.) We missed this movie when it came out a few years ago, so when we came across a copy of the DVD at the library we decided to go ahead and watch it. It’s a near-future scientific thriller about how the earth’s outer core stops rotating for some reason, which causes the electro-magnetic field around the planet to start dissipating, which is going to lead to all sorts of disasters and ultimate destruction unless an intrepid team of scientist/adventurers can bore down to the earth’s core in a special vessel made of Unobtainium (to quote Dave Barry, I am not making this up) and restart the core’s rotation by setting off a series of nuclear explosions. Now, Mr. Wizard I’m not. But if that plot description sounds pretty far-fetched to you, well, it does to me, too. This is definitely a movie that requires a large amount of suspension of disbelief. If you can shrug your shoulders, though, and say, “Okay, I’ll buy that”, it’s fairly entertaining. Lots of special effects and lots of dialogue like “We’re approaching the core/mantle interface!” Aaron Eckhart is a brilliant, ruggedly handsome scientist. (Brilliant scientists in movies are always ruggedly handsome, although it’s acceptable for them to have brilliant scientist sidekicks who are semi-nerdish. Unless of course the brilliant scientist is female, in which case she’s intelligent-looking but still hot.) Hilary Swank is the former astronaut who pilots the ship going to the earth’s core. She’s very capable and intelligent-looking -- but still hot. As for the rest of the crew . . . well, you can pretty much figure out what’s going to happen to them. Which is another problem that THE CORE has. If you’ve ever seen any other movies in the near-future scientific thriller genre, or read any books like that, you’ll know everything that’s going to happen ’way before it does. There was one minor twist near the end that I didn’t see coming, but I should have. Despite my sarcasm, I did enjoy this movie. It’s silly and predictable, but there are some nice lines of dialogue and I was able to accept the spirit of the whole thing. I was a little disappointed that they went all the way to the Earth’s core and back, though, and didn’t stop even once in Pellucidar.
In Denver, a shotgun blast brutally ends a man’s life and sets in motion a deadly chain of events that threatens Joshua Dillard, drifting detective and former Pinkerton agent. Hired by a beautiful woman to untangle the mystery of her brother’s murder and bring the killer to justice, Joshua’s investigation takes him to the raw and dangerous mining town of Silverville, where he finds a web of deception, greed, lust, and violence. Aided only by an eccentric hermit, Joshua will need all his cunning and gun-skill to avoid being blasted to oblivion himself! Inspired by the classic Sherlock Holmes novel THE VALLEY OF FEAR, veteran Western author Chap O’Keefe spins another exciting tale filled with action and plot twists galore. Rough Edges Press is proud to welcome O’Keefe and his popular series character Joshua Dillard. This edition is newly revised by the author and includes an afterword about the origins of the novel. BLAST TO OBLIVION is sure-fire entertainment for Western and mystery readers alike!
The cover on this issue of STARTLING STORIES is by Earle Bergey--but most of you already knew that, didn't you? I know his work was controversial at the time, but I really enjoy it. And inside this issue are stories by Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Jack Vance, John D. MacDonald, A.E. van Vogt, Frank Belknap Long, and Robert Moore Williams. Edited by my old editor and mentor, Sam Merwin Jr. I like having that link with pulp history.
Another gun-totin' redhead on the cover of a Western pulp. Sure must have been a lot of them around in the old days. By 1955, the Columbia Western pulps were holding down the fort almost by themselves. I think only RANCH ROMANCES remained from any of the other publishers. FAMOUS WESTERN still had some decent authors writing new stories, though, in this case Lauran Paine, Lee Floren, and A.A. Baker. A far cry from the glory days of the pulps but probably still worth reading.
Will Carney didn’t set out to get a reputation as a gunman,
but that’s the way things have worked out. He drifts through the Southwest,
looking for a place where he won’t have to use his gun. He’s in Tombstone at
the time of the famous shootout at the O.K. Corral, but although he knows most
of the participants (he sits in on a poker game in the Oriental Saloon where
Doc Holliday regularly plays), he manages to avoid getting involved in that
violent confrontation. However, when he kills an hombre who’s trying to attack
a young woman, he winds up with the dead man’s powerful family after him and
decides it’s time to move on. Unfortunately, he rides north to a settlement
where an old acquaintance is trying to take over and wants Carney to throw in
with him. Complicating things, an Apache medicine man has convinced a number of
warriors to leave the reservation with him and set off on a series of bloody
raids. And then Betsy Gaye, the girl Carney rescued back in Tombstone, shows up,
and so does the brutal patriarch of the family that wants him dead . . .
That’s the setup of THE GUNSHARP, a Gold Medal paperback original novel from
1967 by William R. Cox, a prolific contributor to the Western and detective
pulps who went on to a long, successful career as a paperbacker, most notably
by taking over the Buchanan series under the house-name Jonas Ward after series
creator William Ard died and there were a couple of fill-in novels by Robert
Silverberg (finishing a manuscript Ard started) and Brian Garfield. Cox wound up
writing more Buchanan novels than anybody else, and he had a series of his own
about a sheriff named Cemetery Jones. He also wrote a Gold Medal Western
entitled BIGGER THAN TEXAS in 1963, which holds a special place in my heart
because it was the first adult paperback I ever bought, plucking it off the
spinner rack in a drugstore in Goldsmith, Texas, while we were there visiting
relatives. I have a replacement copy of that one and plan to reread it one of
But back to THE GUNSHARP . . . There’s a nice hardboiled tone to this one that
becomes almost noirish as it seems that Carney has a new problem everywhere he
turns. Cox also does a good job with the Arizona landscape, and a long scene in
which Carney and Betsy are pursued by the Apaches through a nighttime
thunderstorm and flash flood is excellent. The supporting cast, including a
married couple with problems of their own who run a hotel and café, is
interesting. My only real complaint is that a little too much of the action
takes place off-screen, so we get people talking about what happened instead of
seeing it for ourselves. But there’s not enough of that to slow down the book
too much, so for the most part things roll along quite nicely.
Cox was never in the top rank of either Western or mystery writers as far as
I’m concerned, but he was always a solid second tier author, dependably
entertaining. THE GUNSHARP is worth reading if you come across a copy like I
did. Mine came from Recycled Books in Denton, like last week’s Forgotten Book,
and is in excellent shape except for that blasted sticker the store stuck on it
and a little damage to the spine, both of which you can see in the scan.
(This post originally appeared in slightly different form on September 13, 2006, exactly 10 years ago. For me, it was an overlooked movie even then. As you can see, I wrote shorter movie posts back in those days.) Somehow we missed this swashbuckler when it came out back in the Nineties. I've written so many historically-based, soap-opera-like novels that sometimes when I'm watching a movie like this, I get a definite feeling of "been there, wrote that". I liked it anyway. Good scenery, good photography, and some fine sword fights. Between the poor sound recording and the Scottish accents, we had to turn the captions on to keep up with the dialogue, though. (That was the start of us using the captions on almost everything.)
I became acquainted with Robert F. Dorr only in the past
couple of years, through Facebook, e-mail correspondence, and one enjoyable
phone conversation. He passed away earlier this year. Best known as a military
historian specializing in aviation topics, he wrote scores of stories and articles for
the men’s adventure magazines. I read some of those magazines as a kid (when I
could sneak ’em into the house), so I may well have encountered Bob Dorr’s work
back in the Sixties and Seventies, but since I didn’t pay much attention to the
authors’ names, I can’t really say whether I did or not. (As an aside, I did
notice the names of two authors back then: Wayne C. Ulsh and Roland Empey. Ulsh
went on to write several paperback thrillers, and Roland Empey turned out to be
Walter Kaylin, one of the most prolific and respected men’s adventure magazine
writers. There’s an excellent collection of his work available from the same
good folks who put together the book I’m writing about now.)
But to get back to Bob Dorr . . . Earlier this year, The Men’s Adventure
Library and New Texture Books (basically Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle, the
editors of this volume) published A HANDFUL OF HELL, a collection of some of
Robert F. Dorr’s best stories from the men’s adventure magazines. They range
from Dorr’s debut story, “The Night Intruders”, the story of a Korean War
bombing mission first published in REAL, August 1962, to “I Fought Burma’s ‘Red
Flag’ Terrorist Killers”, from BLUEBOOK, March 1972. Most of the stories are
set during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam war, but there are a
few non-military adventure yarns as well.
Some of these stories are only lightly fictionalized accounts of actual
incidents, while others are completely made up. But what you’ll notice
immediately is the air of complete authenticity that runs through all of them.
Dorr’s fiction is so realistic that it might as well be based on true stories.
There’s also a great deal of empathy for the American fighting men featured in
them. They’re not superheroes. They’re average guys, with individual strengths
and weaknesses, just trying to do the best they can in very harrowing
situations. Dorr’s style is vivid and clear, making it easy for even a
non-military, non-flying reader (like me) to understand and appreciate what’s
going on. There are no wasted words. These stories get moving right away and
never slow down. They hit like a punch in the gut—and that’s a good thing, to
my way of thinking.
I’m sorry I didn’t get this book read and this review posted before Bob passed
away, so he could have known how much I enjoyed and was impressed by it. It’s a
great collection, one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I give it a
very high recommendation. (If you’re going to pick up a copy, I’d go for the
hardback edition, which contains bonus stories and material, not to mention
being a very handsome volume.)