Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Lucy

Combine a bloody action thriller about a gang of Korean drug smugglers with ruminations about human intelligence and cerebral capacity, throw in Scarlett Johansson as an unwilling drug mule who gets superpowers when a bag of experimental drugs starts leaking inside her, and you have LUCY. This movie was written and directed by Luc Besson, which means it'll be nice to look at, have some nifty action sequences, and will strain your suspension of disbelief so much your brain will probably need an Ace Bandage after you watch it. All that said, I found it an enjoyable enough way to spend an hour and a half.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Now Available: Death and the Naked Lady/The Lady and the Cheetah - John Flagg (John Gearen)


DEATH AND THE NAKED LADY

Mac McLean, successful international singer, boards the DauphinĂ© on his way to New York, unaware that his patron, Georges Fournier, has just been murdered in Paris. But death is also on the passenger list of the luxury liner as it makes its way across the Atlantic. It starts innocently enough when McLean finds a case under his bed filled with Fournier’s precious jade figurines. Everyone seems interested in these statuettes. Lady Harcourt, playing around on her husband Albert, is intrigued when she finds them under McLean’s bed. The unsavory Gonzales makes it clear that he wants them. So does Joseph Pasquela. But why does a man so rich ask McLean to spy on his wife Elisabeth, formerly the Naked Lady of the Folie Bergère? And why does movie star, Lili Fenwick, keep showing up in his stateroom? When death makes an appearance, it is not entirely unexpected.

FACES TURNED AGAINST HIM

Bert Mason’s wife Myra has disappeared. Was she cheating with Milt, as everyone says? Bert laughs them off. Milt wouldn’t cheat on his wife. Not Lillian. Then they find Myra’s body...

THE LADY AND THE CHEETAH

After a bogus interview is published, everyone thinks that Rafferty Valois is an international man of adventure when, in fact, he is simply an out-of-work newspaper man. But that doesn’t stop him from accepting a job from the Countess Becellini to retrieve a packet of stolen letters for her. The Countess is trying to make sure nothing comes between the marriage of her daughter Bianca and the deposed King of Movania, soon to be reinstated to the throne. But there are others who want the letters, and are prepared to offer Valois large sums for their deliverance—Bianca’s grandmother for one, “the bitch of Rome;” and Carlo Cattoriere, a deported gangster who has other plans for the former king that involves his niece, Maria. They all think Valois such a clever man that surely he can find them for him. Because if he doesn’t, his life won’t be worth a damn.

As you can see from the cover, I wrote the introduction to this collection of two novels and a short story by John Flagg, and good yarns they are, too. If you're a fan of the Fifties Gold Medals and haven't read these, this volume is highly recommended.

The Communion of Saints - John Barlow


When good and evil come home...

Following the murder of his father, John Ray is getting his life back on track, and putting the criminal past of his family behind him. But when Shirley Kirk of the West Yorkshire Police asks him for a favour, he's sucked into a mystery that is as confusing as it is devastating. Discreetly.

John soon begins to uncover a complex mystery involving blackmail, kidnap and murder. But why are the police really asking for his help? There are people on the Force still out to get John Ray for his past misdemeanours. And they are not the only ones who know about his family's past.

A novel set in the city of Leeds, THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS is novel about innocence, vengeance, and the power of good and evil. It is the third crime thriller in the John Ray / LS9 series.

I read and enjoyed the first book in this series several years ago, and I liked this one quite a bit, too. The plot has some nice twists, and John Ray is a flawed but sympathetic protagonist. The best thing, though, is John Barlow's writing, which is really smooth and skillful. An excellent British thriller and well worth reading.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Fire of Asshurbanipal - Robert E. Howard


It's traditional for fans of Robert E. Howard's work to read something by him on his birthday. This year I picked one of his stories that I hadn't read in a good number of years, "The Fire of Asshurbanipal". What a wonderful yarn it is, too. You've got a lost city in the desert, ancient and abandoned and sinister. You've got a skeleton sitting on a throne clutching an enormous red gem supposedly forged from the fires of Hell itself. You've got two brave adventurers, American Steve Clarney (I'll bet he's a Texan, although the story doesn't say so) and his Afghan sidekick Yar Ali, who are after the gem and pursued by a gang of Bedouin outlaws who want revenge. Oh, and did I mention that the gem is supposed to be cursed? And that this story is connected to the infamous Cthulu Mythos? Throw in one of my all-time favorite pulp covers, the work of J. Allen St. John, and you've got an excellent way to spend the evening and pay tribute to the great Robert E. Howard.

Bob's Birthday


Today is the 111th anniversary of Robert E. Howard's birth in Peaster, Texas, about twenty miles as the crow flies from where I'm sitting. CONAN THE USURPER, bought brand-new in 1967 at Barber's Bookstore in downtown Fort Worth, was my introduction to his work. I know now that there's 'way too much de Campian meddling in this book, but I wasn't aware of that then, and anyway, I was 14 years old and look at that great Frazetta cover! Look at that giant snake and all those cool monsters and skeletons in the background! What more does a 14-year-old boy need on a paperback cover? (Well, maybe a scantily clad McGinnis babe, but that's a different post.) Anyway, happy birthday, Bob, and thanks for all the great reading over the years.

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Short Stories, October 25, 1935


Another good-looking issue of SHORT STORIES with a fine Mountie cover by Frank Spradling and stories by the all-star line-up of H. Bedford-Jones, Clarence E. Mulford, Harry Sinclair Drago, L. Patrick Greene, Hapsburg Liebe, S. Omar Barker, and Richard Howells Watkins. SHORT STORIES was always a high quality pulp.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Attention Span

I don't seem to have the attention span to read anything longer than a novella these days. I have some Forgotten Books posts about novels already scheduled, but other than that there may be a lot of posts about anthologies, collections, and pulp "novels" that are actually closer to novellas. I'd already just about given up on reading anything longer than 400 pages, although I'd manage one now and then. Now even a book that's 60-70,000 words seems like too much to tackle. I read on one for a couple of days and get burned out. I've been through stretches like this before, don't know what causes them or how to break out of one, but this time it seems to be settled in for good. At least I'm still reading and I have plenty of shorter stuff on hand. Does this happen to anybody else?

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Lariat Story, May 1941


An issue of LARIAT STORY with a good cover and stories by a couple of my favorite authors, Walt Coburn and Eugene Cunningham, plus other yarns by prolific and well-respected Western pulpsters Art Lawson and Dee Linford. There's a story by John Starr, too, but that was a house-name so there's no telling who wrote it.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Forgotten Books: Devil's Manhunt - L. Ron Hubbard


DEVIL'S MANHUNT is another collection of L. Ron Hubbard stories from the Western pulps, and not surprisingly, it's quite entertaining for an old Western pulp fan like me. Actually, these are stories from a particular Western pulp, since all of them originally appeared in FAMOUS WESTERN, one of the Columbia pulps edited by Robert A.W. Lowndes.

The title story, from the February 1950 issue, is yet another variation of Richard Connell's iconic story "The Most Dangerous Game". A young prospector in Arizona strikes gold but is captured by two outlaws who plan to make him work the claim until all the gold is exhausted and then hunt and kill him for sport. The desperate hero comes up with some clever ways to turn the tables on them and wage a fight for survival. This is a really nice tale with plenty of suspense and a satisfying ending.

"Johnny, the Town Tamer" is from the August 1949 issue, has as its protagonist a young rancher from Texas who rides into a Kansas cowtown to settle a score and recover some money stolen from his foreman the year before. It's a clever yarn, and with its Texan hero wreaking havoc in a Kansas town, aided by a big, bearded, buckskin-wearing sidekick, shows some definite Robert E. Howard influence.

Finally, from the December 1949 issue of FAMOUS WESTERN, comes "Stranger in Town", the tale of a young puncher framed for a stagecoach robbery and several murders who is pursued by a lawman with a sinister secret of his own. The showdown comes in the town where the fugitive has settled down.

These are excellent stories, more hardboiled and mature than some of the earlier pulp fare, and typical of the increase in quality of the Western pulps during the post-war years. Because of that, DEVIL'S MANHUNT is my favorite of the Hubbard Western collections I've read so far. It's well worth reading for Western fans.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Now Available: The Digest Enthusiast, Book Five


A new volume of THE DIGEST ENTHUSIAST is out, which means plenty of good reading for fans of digest magazines such as myself. For me the highlights of Book Five are a lengthy interview with Bill Crider, my oldest friend in the writing business; Gary Lovisi's review of the fine noir novel HONKY TONK GIRL by Charles Beckman, Jr.; and a couple of articles/checklists by Peter Infantino, one covering the relatively obscure crime digest JUSTICE, the other an extensive look at a magazine I've read a great deal about but never seen, MAGAZINE OF HORROR, edited by Robert A.W. Lowndes. I've long been interested in Lowndes' ability to put out some pretty entertaing pulps on tiny budgets, and he did the same with this digest. There's also a summary by DIGEST ENTHUSIAST editor/publisher Richard Krauss of a 1949 WRITER'S YEARBOOK article by Lowndes about writing fiction for the pulps. Great stuff all around, and highly recommended.