Showing posts with label Steeger Books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Steeger Books. Show all posts

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Ki-Gor - And the Secret Legions of Simba

The Winter 1939-1940 issue of Jungle Stories featured the fourth Ki-Gor story, “Ki-Gor and the Secret Legions of Simba”. If you aren't familiar with the character, you can read reviews of the first three Ki-Gor stories HERE. The idea is that Ki-Gor grew up in the jungles of Africa after his father, a Scottish missionary, was murdered by natives. Ki-Gor, in his mid-20s, comes to the rescue of a downed female pilot named Helene and the two become lovers. In the third Ki-Gor story, “Ki-Gor and the Giant Gorilla-Men”, the story ends with both the series hero, Helene, and their friend George, being rescued in Africa by a British expeditionary ship. 

On the north shore of Long Island, New York, Helene's parents are anxiously awaiting the return of their daughter. Globally, news reports have run rampant of Helene's discovery in Africa and her rescue by the British. Like a fish-out-of-water story, Helene brings Ki-Gor to the civilized world to introduce him to modern efficiencies. But, as one can imagine, it is all strange and very uncomfortable for Ki-Gor. He opts to be flown back to his home in Africa while Helene agrees it is best if she remains in modern society. 

When this story was written, the entire planet was thrust into World War II, and this story has that “current affair” element. Ki-Gor agrees to return to Africa to spy on a dictator named Julio (the villain from the second Ki-Gor story “Ki-Gor and the Stolen Empire”) and then report it back to British intelligence. The idea is that Julio is assisting the Axis Powers in festering a relatively large military campaign built to destroy the garrisons of French and British forces in the Cameroons. 

While “Ki-Gor and the Giant Gorilla-Men” is my favorite of the four stories I've read so far, the “and the Secret Legions of Simba” is the least enjoyable. There is a tiny bit of aviation-action added to the mix, which removed me too far from the jungle adventure the stories are built on. Additionally, the author attempts to inject too much into the story, making it a fast-paced convoluted idea that never really works. While I enjoyed the story, there are far better Ki-Gor offerings to come I'm sure. This story serves as a bridge between stories in the timeline and helps reunite both Ki-Gor and Helene at the end. 

You can read this story along with five other stories, all in chronological order from 1938-1940, in the Altus Press omnibus Ki-Gor: The Complete Series Volume One. Buy a copy HERE.

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Ki-Gor - And the Giant Gorilla-Men

We continue our examination of the Jungle Stories pulp published by Fiction House from 1938 to 1954. The reason is simple – the fantastic Tarzan clone Ki-Gor, who was featured in all 58 issues as the lead story. The house pseudonym was John Peter Drummond, but the real writers were a revolving door of staff and hired pens. The best way to read these Ki-Gor stories is the excellent omnibus editions published by Altus Press, starting with Ki-Gor: The Complete Series Volume 1

“Ki-Gor and the Giant Gorilla-Men” was featured in the third issue of Jungle Stories, which released in 1939. 

The story begins with Ki-Gor hunting on the edge of the Congo jungle. He's desperate for meat, but must fight a lion to save his kill. Bringing it back to his girlfriend, Helene (read my prior reviews HERE for her story), the two enjoy their cozy fireside dinner on the tundra. But, their enjoyment is short-lived when a giant gorilla approaches the fire and snatches Helene. 

This action-packed story contains a propulsive plot development as Ki-Gor races to save Helene from the mysterious gorilla. However, as Ki-Gor quickly discovers, there is an entire army of giant gorillas bent on making his life a living Hell. As Ki-Gor struggles in savage hand-to-hand combat with the gorillas, Helene keeps getting further and further away. This is really where the story excels and the author's uses a frantic pace, laced with a much-needed sense of urgency, to present the jungle savagery to the reader.

Ki-Gor meets an American black man named George Spelvin on his rescue mission. George was an American Pullman porter and ship's cook who just happened to step off into Africa while on a trip. Through perseverance, and a lot of luck, the Cincinnati native was able to become a Masai chief, a sort of tribal leader among the black natives. George brings a unique dose of humor and goodhearted fun to the story, and becomes a series mainstay in future issues. 

Of the Ki-Gor stories I've read so far, this one is by far the most descriptive. The author saturates the pages in a dense, nearly unholy atmosphere as the two heroes ascend through tall, mist-shrouded mountains where the sky is nearly unseen. These deep tombs of forest and jungle provide an atmospheric landscape that is disturbing and unsettling. The visuals of these two men facing impossible odds while tracking through a foreign land to battle giant gorillas was just awe-inspiring to me. I loved the descriptions of these places, the breathtaking escapism, and most importantly, the heavy-handed action wallop the story delivers. While the villain is really bizarre and brought the story down a notch, it wasn't all in vain. I loved the storytelling and the promise of what happens to Ki-Gor and Helene next. Highly recommended! 

Buy a copy HERE.

Friday, December 22, 2023

Ki-Gor - And the Stolen Empire

I enjoyed my first experience with pulp jungle hero Ki-Gor in his debut appearance, “King of the Jungle”, from the Winter 1938 issue of Jungle Stories. This story is captured in a large omnibus containing the first six Ki-Gor stories, Ki-Gor the Complete Series Volume 1, published by Altus Press. Returning to the African jungles, I swung into the action again with the second Ki-Gor story “Ki-Gor and the Stolen Empire”. It was published in the Summer 1939 issue of Jungle Stories under the house pseudonym of John Peter Drummond. It remains unclear to me who the real author was. 

“King of the Jungle” was a slower-paced origin story explaining that Ki-Gor was brought to the African jungles as a young boy by his Scottish missionary father. Unfortunately, his father was killed by a tribe of natives and the Ki-Gor grew into manhood by surviving in the jungle. A woman named Helene crashed her plane in the jungle, so Ki-Gor comes to her aid and the two become friends.

“And the Stolen Empire” is a much different story, heavy on action and heroics while speeding by a rapid pace. While clearly a Tarzan imposter, that doesn’t necessarily mean this story was inferior. I loved it just as much as the Tarzan novels I’ve read.

In the story, Ki-Gor and Helene are taken captive by a white dictator named Julio. Through a variety of criminal empires, Julio has amassed a great deal of wealth and power. In expanding his business operations, the crime-lord created a huge African military complex aptly called Africopolis. From this central point, Julio and his fanatics can conquer huge swaths of territory while strongarming numerous tribes to join his growing army. 

Like an Edgar Rice Burroughs page-turner, the action centers around catch and rescue as both Ki-Gor and Helene are captured twice by Julio’s military might, both times escaping into the jungle to find support. Their allies arrive in the form of hundreds of chimpanzees led by an Egyptian who established a secret paradise in Africa known as Memphre. It all sounds rather confusing, but ultimately it is two factions – one peaceful in Memphre and another more hostile and savage in Africopolis.

There’s not much more a pulp fan can ask for as the heroes (Helene every bit the hero as Ki-Gor) are thrust into lightning-quick adventures in rugged mountain fighting, firefights, prison breaks, and animal attacks. I love that Helene shows off her shooting skills with the Lee-Endfield, creating an enjoyable dynamic duo. Ki-Gor’s physical fighting prowess is complimented well with the more modern efficiencies of Helene’s sniper attack. The addition of the chimpanzee army was a lot of fun, as well as the mystery surrounding the hidden jungle city of Memphre. In some ways it reminded me of Tarzan discovering Opal. 

As if I needed more motivation in devouring these Ki-Gor stories, “And the Stolen Empire” just launched me into the realms of Ki-Gor superfan mania. I can’t wait to jump into the next installment, “Ki-Gor and the Giant Gorilla-Men”!

Buy a copy HERE.

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Ki-Gor - King of the Jungle

Jungle Stories was published quarterly by Fiction House, a pulp division of Glen-Kel Publishing, from 1938 to 1954 – 58 total issues. These magazines each featured a lead novel starring a Tarzan clone named Ki-Gor. The house pseudonym for the stories was John Peter Drummond (except the first credited to real author John Murray Reynolds), but the actual authors were Dan Cushman, James McKimmey, Stanley Mullen, Robert Turner, and W. Scott Peacock. 

My introduction to this prolific jungle hero is “King of the Jungle”, the very first Ki-Gor story. It was originally published in the 1938 Winter issue of Jungle Stories and later collected in the omnibus Ki-Gor: The Complete Series Volume 1 by Altus Press. 

Pilot Helene Vaughn is flying across equatorial Africa when she loses her engine. The female pilot is quick to release all of her fuel in preparation for the treetop crash, thus avoiding a deadly explosion on impact. She awakens after the crash and begins a walk through the dense jungle foliage in hopes of finding anyone that can help her. When she's stopped by a jaguar, a six-foot bare-foot man with blue eyes and long hair comes to her rescue, fighting the jaguar and stabbing it to death with a steel knife. This is Helene's introduction to Ki-Gor, King of the Jungle.

The brawny hero takes Helene back to his cave and speaks some broken English with her. Later that night, the two fend off a vicious attack by the Wungubas, a fierce African tribe that have warred with Ki-Gor for years. When the two successfully survive the onslaught, Ki-Gor takes Helene to a small abandoned cabin. It is here that the hero's origin story is revealed through a diary entry and photograph.

Ki-Gor's real name is Robert. He was the son of John Kilgour, a missionary who came to this part of Africa in 1917. On a mildewed piece of notebook paper, Helene reads that Chief Kranta of the Wunguba tribe grew unfriendly with Kilgour's work in the region. On the diary page, Kilgour describes Kranta as "...there seems to be evil back of his beadlike eyes." Piecing this together with what Kil-Gor explains, it is revealed to readers and Helene that John was killed by the Wungubas around the time that Robert was seven or eight years old. Kil-Gor has survived in the jungle for over 20 years.

"King of the Jungle" has a fragmented narrative that doesn't allow a lot of character development or growth. But, it is the first story and I understand the series improves over time. I really enjoyed the story for what it was and found that Ki-Gor's relationship with Helene could spark some future interest. I also love this fiery feud with the Wunguba tribe and the hero's ability to use a special blend of mystical "powder" to provide dreamlike visions for Helene. This addition has an E. Hoffmann Price feel to the character. 

Obviously, there are a ton of Tarzan imitators. Just like there are tons of James Bond, Conan, Mike Hammer, and The Shadow imitators. The borrowed idea of a white man surviving the death of a parent in an exotic jungle doesn't steer me away. I enjoy a good jungle romp and these Ki-Gor stories certainly seem to provide that. If you love that type of presentation, then this is a mandatory read.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Vee Brown - The Complete Cases #01

Vee Brown starred in 18 violent mini-novels between 1932 and 1936 in the pages of Dime Detective Magazine. The stories were authored by Carroll John Daly, the inventor of hardboiled crime fiction and his popular Race Williams character. Steeger Books has released two volumes of Vee Brown novellas comprising the entire series run. I sampled two of the stories from the first compilation to get a taste for the character. 

Vee is a violent gun-toting police detective who is also a mild-mannered and educated Tin-Pan Alley songwriter of sentimental tunes — a secret side-hustle that brings the supercop tremendous wealth. Think Cole Porter or George Gershwin with a taste for justice and criminal blood. The Vee Brown stories are narrated by a newspaper reporter named Dean Condon who shadows Vee on the job and writes about his adventures for the paper.  

“The Crime Machine”

I started at the beginning with the first Vee Brown adventure - a short story called “The Crime Machine” from 1932. 

As the novella opens, reporter Dean Condon is preparing to meet Vee and ride-along with him for a newspaper article. Condon is nervous because Vee has earned a reputation as the most relentless hunter and killer of criminals on the police force. When Vee and Condon meet face-to-face, they make the connection that the two knew one another back in college as passing acquaintances. 

Because “The Crime Machine” is the series intro, it exists to establish the Holmes-Watson relationship between the crime-fighter and his sidekick documentarian - a dynamic that persists throughout the entire series. As such, the plot is rather thin - like a TV series pilot episode. 

On their first outing together, they are hunting Killer Regan, who shot up a theater during a robbery murdering a female cashier. Vee’s orders from the District Attorney’s office is to produce Regan dead or alive. On the prowl, Vee is stealthy as The Shadow — seeming to disappear while infiltrating the criminal’s lair with a perpetually-amazed Condon in-tow. 

There’s plenty of tough talk and violent pulpy action to enjoy - as well as the big reveal where Condon learns that the deadly hero is also “The Master of Melody” who publishes popular sheet music under his given name of Vivian. Despite the simplicity of the plot, the short-story was a total blast and left the reader hungry for more. 

“The Price of Silence”

The ninth Vee Brown adventure is “The Price of Silence", the final story in Volume One of the Steeger Books collection. It’s a 50-page novella from 1933 published when Daly had hit his stride with the series. 

The story opens with the crime scene investigation of a wealthy woman stabbed in the chest in her own home while her husband slept upstairs. Because it’s 1933, a police inspector comments that such things are to be expected in the city’s Italian neighborhood, but not in the victim’s upscale community. 

Fortunately, the killer left behind a calling card identifying himself as “The Black Death” which seems like a decent lead for Vee to launch his investigation. He quickly deduces that the victim was likely a blackmail victim who failed to pay off her tormenter resulting in death. 

Vee quickly identifies a suspect for the murder - a society dandy behind a gang of racketeers handling the dirty work of shaking down the blackmail victims. Vee’s plan is to squeeze the henchmen with death threats until they identify their boss. 

As the narrator, Condon finds himself at the center of the action when he is held captive by the thugs awaiting Vee’s return. When they reunite, Vee and Condon follow leads through a rather convoluted mystery plot leading to the exciting confrontation you always knew was coming. 

I enjoyed these two Vee Brown stories enough to continue with the series in the future. Steeger Books have released a second volume compiling the final nine novellas. I’m looking forward to checking them out. Recommended. Get your copy HERE.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Steve Midnight #01 - The Dead Ride Free

Before breaking into movies and television, pulp author John K. Butler (1908-1964) wrote nine novellas in Dime Detective Magazine starring a mystery-solving cab driver named Steven Middleton Knight, AKA: Steve Midnight. The stories have been collected into two attractive volumes by Altus Press, and I read the series debut, “The Dead Ride Free,” from May 1940.

Our narrator Steve Midnight was a wealthy playboy who lost it all during the Great Depression. He’s working as a cabbie for the Red Owl Cab Company in Los Angeles one cold night when a tall guy wearing a turban wants to be taken to Topanga Canyon. Steve immediately recognizes the fare as an old vaudeville magician named Zohar the Great. It’s been 20 years since Steve saw Zohar sawing a woman in half, and now he’s in the back of Steve’s taxi.

Zohar asks Steve to load a large parcel into the cab. After Steve agrees, he learns that the parcel is a locked coffin weighing about 150 pounds. Zohar explains that the casket houses a mummy from 1300 BC - a prop for his act. Upon arrival at Zohar’s shack, the magician offers to show Steve the mummy. However, upon opening the coffin, the men find the body of a freshly-dead woman with a dagger protruding from her chest.

For reasons best explained in the novella’s narrative, Steve is left to solve this mystery without the help of the police or the shady magician. There are some pretty cool curve balls thrown into the mystery’s plot, and Steve is a fine character to serve as our guide over the course of 50-pages.

Overall, “The Dead Ride Free” is a solid 1940s pulp mystery, but nothing earth-shattering, hardboiled or revelatory. I enjoyed the story and will revisit the collection when I’m in the mood for this particular flavor of comfort food.

Get your copy HERE

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The Dean #01 - Stranger's Kill

Ohio native Merle Constiner (1901-1979) was a successful author of westerns and crime fiction who began his career in the pulp magazines and transitioned successfully to paperback novels in the 1950s. One of his most enduring characters was con-man/private eye Wardlow “The Dean” Rock who appeared in a series of novellas in Dime Detective Magazine between 1940 and 1945. Altus Press has compiled several of these stories into one volume as The Complete Cases of The Dean, including his first adventure, “Stranger’s Kill”, originally from August 1940.

The Dean stories are narrated by his sidekick, Ben Matthews in the same manner that Watson narrates the Sherlock Holmes stories or Archie Goodwin tells the Nero Wolfe tales. For his part, everyone’s first impression of The Dean is that he’s a screwball and a crank living with Ben in a slum while pretending to be a fortune teller who can divine your future from the bottoms of your feet. He’s also an amateur detective maintaining a good working relationship with the police chief.

As we join The Dean and Ben in “Stranger’s Kill,” an arsonist has been plaguing the city for six months targeting grocers, delis, and other retail stores. The Dean offers his services to the fire insurance company to catch the arsonist within six days for a $20,000 fee. The body of the insurance company’s CEO was found strangled in one of the fires, so this is more than a normal firebug.

The Dean’s detecting methods are mostly the same kind of deduction utilized by Sherlock Holmes, but he’s willing to run down leads in the street with Ben and get his hands dirty. He’s also a funny guy with A+ wisecracks along the way. By 1940, Constiner was a solid writer and his prose is smooth, never choppy, with logical, well-paced plotting. Unlike Carroll John Daly’s Race Williams stories of violence and vengeance, The Dean is a more gentlemanly mystery solver who puts together intricate puzzles over the course of 60 pages per story.

Like many pre-1950s mysteries, “Stranger’s Kill” has far too many characters and far too little action. It’s a well-crafted mystery, but it was a bit dull and ultimately failed to grab me. I’ll probably read another novella sometime in the future because I enjoyed both the character and Constiner’s writing style, but the story mostly left me cold.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, December 18, 2020

The Complete Cases of Inspector Allhoff - Vol. #01

Between 1938 and 1945, pulp author D.L. Champion (1903-1968) wrote 30 stories starring a psychopath crippled detective named Inspector Allhoff. The stories are basically a dark and twisted variation on Nero Wolfe or Sherlock Holmes stories as well as a precursor to paraplegic TV detective Ironsides.

Altus Press/Steeger Books has compiled several of the stories in two separate volumes with vivid cover art from the original Dime Detective Magazine stories. I bought a copy of Volume 1, and it contains 10 Allhoff novellas - each story about 40 pages long with an introduction by pulp historian Ed Hulse.

Here’s the setup for this twisted series:

Three years before the first installment, Inspector Allhoff was a top Manhattan cop - the best mind in the department. During a raid on a mob hideout, Allhoff was shot and crippled because of a screw-up by a rookie patrolman named Battersly. The young officer is forced to live with the fact that he is responsible for Allhoff being rendered a double-amputee.

Stay with me because it gets better:

The NYPD doesn’t want to lose Allhoff’s investigative talents, so they quietly keep him on the payroll and set him up in a decaying apartment near the police station. They assign Allhoff a partner to run down the leads devised by the crippled genius to solve difficult crimes and mysteries. The partner? Former patrolman Battersly, the man responsive for Allhoff’s crippled condition. It would be an understatement to say that the relationship between the two men is strained. The psychologically-damaged Allhoff is sadistic and cruel to the young officer, and Battersly is wracked with guilt for the mistake he made years earlier. Despite this dysfunctional pairing, impossible crimes get solved.

The stories are narrated by an older cop named Simmonds who also assists Allhoff with paperwork and bears witness to the tortuous cruelty directed at Battersly. Imagine if Sherlock Holmes was an embittered legless lunatic who solved crimes while psychologically torturing Watson at every opportunity, and you get the idea behind the Allhoff series.

In the first story “Three Men and A Half” (1938), the setup for the series is laid out nicely by Simmonds for the reader. A visiting homicide detective from Chicago seeks Allhoff’s help with a vexing murder case disguised as a suicide. Allhoff dispatches Simmonds and Battersly to gather evidence from the crime scene and bring it to Allhoff’s apartment. Some impressive deduction combined with a clever bluff smokes out the killer when all the suspects are gathered to hear Allhoff’s accusing monologue. It’s a good Sherlock Holmes-styled mystery but not action-packed at all.

By necessity, Allhoff is essentially an armchair detective, so the rare pulpy violence is left up to Battersly and Simmonds who manage the fieldwork. This works well because D.L. Champion was an excellent writer - way better than must of his pulp cohorts. The mysteries he devised for the Allhoff stories are clever and well thought-out.

“Suicide in Blue” from 1940 was the tenth published Allhoff mystery and the final story in this first collection of cases. There has been a spate of murders lately among people who previously received extortion letters. The police commissioner requests Allhoff’s help in uncovering the truth about these mysterious killings. The solution to this one was pretty darn smart.

If you can stomach an unpleasant wretch of a main character, you’ll probably really enjoy the Allhoff stories. They’re not action stories, but the deduction-based mysteries are smart and well-written. Once again, the reprint publisher did a great job resurrecting a lost character series, and the world is a better place for it. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE