Showing posts with label Bold Venture Press. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bold Venture Press. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Rex Brandon #02 - Jungle Allies

The second installment of the jungle adventurer Rex Brandon series by Denis Hughes (1917-2008) has been reprinted by Bold Venture Press. It’s called Jungle Allies and it was originally published in 1951 under the pseudonym Marco Garon.

Rex Brandon is a world-famous geologist and big-game hunter who runs expeditions into the deepest part of Africa’s great Congo basin. In this adventure, the Belgians have engaged him to survey the jungle for mineral resources. He began his journey with 19 African “bearers” carrying Rex’s shit through the jungle, but he’s now down to a mere 15 due to accidents and whatnot with more carnage to follow.

One night while setting up camp along the fetid banks of a muddy river, Brandon happens upon a stumbling and exhausted white man along the river’s crocodile-infested shore. Brandon assists him back to camp and learns that he is an American named Jeff Lambert who was part of an archaeological expedition.

Lambert explains that his entire crew of academic archeologists was killed, and a female journalist named Naomi was captured by a fierce lost race of deep-jungle Africans. Fun Fact: The ferocious tribe holding the white chick is guarded by trained killer gorillas. With a challenge like that and a caucasian chick in-peril, it doesn’t take much convincing to send Rex on a rescue mission.

Along the way, they encounter a rogue elephant, a Pygmy tribe, hungry crocodiles, an attack-hippo, spear-chucking hostiles and a gang of pissed-off gorillas. There’s a lot of fun action spread throughout this economical 115-page novel. The series order is also irrelevant. You can safely start with this installment, if so inclined.

Jungle Allies is an exciting and fun African adventure book. However, you’ll need to set aside all of your modern sensibilities and remind yourself that this novel was written in 1951 when the idea of a “white savior” among savage Africans didn’t raise eyebrows. But if you enjoy an inventive and fun Indiana Jones-ish pulpy adventure, you’re sure to have a good time here. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, July 7, 2023

Black Eye

According to publisher Bold Venture Press, Tony Masero was born in London, attended art school, and trained as a graphic designer. He eventually began illustrating book covers for the major publishing houses and agencies. Masero has created artwork for Dr. Who, Edge the Loner, Indiana Jones, and countless fanzines and paperbacks. Along with illustrating, Masero also writes men's action-adventure, crime-fiction, and western novels. My first experience with his literary work is Black Eye, published by Bold Venture Press in 2020.

In first-person perspective, Phil Black explains to the reader that he does favors for people. He served in WW2's Pacific Theater, and now hangs around San Francisco reading the paper, smoking, and gazing out the window. He has an old Marine buddy that camps out at the local bar, a guy nicknamed Gunny, that can quickly get the word from the street, the city's gossip, and the ins and outs of localized crime. So, it's no surprise when a beautiful woman named Linda crosses Black's path. 

Linda's husband served with Black in the war. Now, he's gone missing, she's filed a missing persons report with the police, and she wants Black to look into it. Semper-Fi and all of that. Black agrees to the opportunity and begins his search by scouring the man's boxing history, specifically finding his corner-man. With Gunny's help, Black weaves in and out of clues and amateur gumshoe tropes to learn that the man's disappearance connects to a heist made during the war.

On Iwo Jima, some of Black's unit were involved in heisting some treasures through an undercover operation. Later, the Chinese became involved, mostly with a Syndicate attempting to recover a sacred tablet. The book's first half is a violent, pulpy romp as Black attempts to locate the tablet and its owner while combating the nefarious individuals out to stop him. Surprisingly, the book's second half is sort of a different story that places the hero and Gunny in Argentina working with the FBI. This second half is more of a prison breakout as an espionage-styled adventure. 

Masero pays homage to plenty of mid-20th century crime-noir and men's action-adventure, but mostly his entertaining story is like something exploding right out of the pages of Black Mask. By placing the story in the late 1940s/early 1950s, his emphasis on style and pulpy characteristics really stands out. The violence wasn't over-the-top, but still offered enough brutality to keep the pages flying by. 

In some ways Masero's writing style, complete with the genre tropes we all love, reminds me of author Will Murray (Doc Savage). While not necessarily original, it still compliments the genre and offers fans exactly what they want – story and style. Black Eye has it all in spades and I highly recommend it. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Rex Brandon #01 - Death Warriors

In 1951 and 1952, British author Denis Hughes (1917-2008) wrote 12 novels under the pseudonym of Marco Garon starring international adventurer Rex Brandon. These were among the 50 titles Hughes wrote using a variety of pen names over the five year period between 1949 and 1954. Bold Venture Press is reprinting the series, starting with the first installment, Death Warriors, from 1951.

Rex Brandon is a geologist and big game hunter by trade, but a swashbuckling adventurer at heart. Death Warriors finds Rex summoned to the heart of savage Africa by a French colonialist in the fictional African nation of Mandibarza. Brandon’s mission is to locate an explorer who went missing in the jungle while he was searching for irikum, a rare mineral valued for its potential to produce atomic energy.

Using the guise of a big game hunt with a goal of shooting gorillas (which, I guess, was a thing in 1951?), Rex and his small expeditionary team set off into the jungle to locate the missing explorer and the irikum. The reader also learns that another search party with the identical mission previously became lost and never returned from the wilds. The previous mission included a beautiful woman named Coralie, and you’d correctly surmise that she will be the damsel in distress requiring saving at some point.

In the jungle, it quickly becomes clear that there are others in the woods - beyond the man-eating lions - who wish to thwart the expedition. Members of the party start disappearing, and supplies are scarce. There’s not a ton of action in the novel’s first half, but the Blair Witch Project vibe of the thick and menacing woods is certainly unsettling. Things go from bad to worse for Rex and his companions when the war-painted, jungle savages (of the “ooga-booga” variety) make their inevitable appearance halfway through the adventure.

If the novel’s first half is mostly setup (although not uninteresting), the second half moves quickly from one pulpy action set-piece to another. Rex and his sidekicks are forced to tangle with every flavor of African jungle menace you can imagine, and it’s a cartoonish blast building up to a conclusion that leaves Rex alive to experience the next 11 adventures in the series. 

Fans of Tarzan and Doc Savage will feel right at home with Rex Brandon. Based on this short novel, it seems that pulp-fiction from Great Britain in 1951 has a lot in common with American pulp-fiction from the 1930s. While Americans were turning a page to the gritty realism of 1950s noir, British readers were still enjoying square-jawed heroes rescuing women from the jaws of killer crocodiles in the darkest realms of Africa. Whichever your preference, we should all be grateful that there are outfits like Bold Venture Press keeping these works of pulp literature alive in the 21st Century. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE

Friday, October 28, 2022

Zorro: Zorro's Pacific Odyssey #01

Johnston McCulley's Zorro character first appeared in “The Curse of Capistrano” (aka “The Mark of Zorro”), a five-part serial that debuted in All-Story Weekly on August 9th, 1919. For decades McCulley authored stories starring the caped crusader. Spinning off the pulps, Zorro became a pop-culture phenomenon in international television shows and films. Additionally, many authors have taken turns writing Zorro stories and novels, including Susan Kite. The Indiana native authored a trilogy of Zorro novels called Zorro's Pacific Odyssey. The trilogy's first book, Zorro and the Outward Journey, was published by Bold Venture Press in 2022 as both a paperback and ebook. 

Don Diego de la Vega, son of the wealthy caballero Don Alejandro, lives in Mexican governed California in the early 1800s. By day, Diego displays a bit of cowardice to disguise the fact that he is the famed vigilante Zorro. After a series of attacks on prominent citizens perpetrated by terrorists, Zorro rescues a kidnapped child in the mountains. However, days later Diego is captured by the terrorist group, drugged, and then sold into slavery to a British ship headed to Singapore.

When Diego realizes what has happened, he is faced with his fate. The ship's Captain, a horrible individual named Beatty, explains that Diego is an indentured servant that has been purchased for two years of hard labor aboard the ship. When Diego explains the unfortunate incident of the terrorists, his background as an aristocrat, and the kidnapping, Beatty dismisses it as a fabrication. He soon realizes that Diego is quite different and places him as a trustee of the Spanish workers. Additionally, Diego is placed in care of the ship's Supercargo, a man named Bowman. Diego is fond of Bowman and the two quickly establish a father-son type of relationship.  

As the first of a three book series, it is clear that this book is simply the journey. Zorro is being transported from A to B and must contend with the nefarious elements of the ship's crew and his limitations as a slave. I love prison-styled stories and this one certainly fit that sub-genre of men's action-adventure. What makes this such a compelling narrative is the fact that Diego can't transform into Zorro to fight his way out of the situation. He's trapped in a small space without the ability to don a disguise or do battle with a sword (he does later, but I'm not spoiling your enjoyment here). The fact that Diego is ultimately the hero makes this a unique Zorro story. 

While Zorro on the high seas has been done before, Kite's version of this “fish out of water” adventure is very entertaining. It was also an emotional charge reading about the human condition - a panicked, desperate father hunting for his missing son. It was a really effective part of the whole story. There's also an expected cliffhanger that demands the reader to quickly buy the next book. Needless to say, my account has been debited and Bold Venture Press is shipping it out to me as I write this. Money well spent.

 Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Masked Rider Western #07 - Iron Horse Gunsmoke

Donald Bayne Hobart (1898-1970) began his career writing song lyrics and poems for romance magazines. His most popular literary work was the 19-year run of Whistling Waddy stories in Argosy. But, Hobart also wrote many novellas for the western pulp Masked Rider Western. My first experience with Hobart is his novella “Iron Horse Gunsmoke”, which appeared in Masked Rider Western, July 1938. The novella was also released as a paperback by Curtis Books in 1965 with a Steve Holland cover. Thankfully, Bold Venture Press has made many of the Masked Rider Western issues available today as affordable reprints. In their series order, this novella is in Masked Rider Western #07 (2022).

Wayne Morgan is the former cowpoke turned masked vigilante that fights the typical western criminals like outlaws, cattle thieves, and land barons. He rides a horse named Midnight and partners with a Native American named Blue Hawk.

In “Iron Horse Gunsmoke”, the bad guys are buried in a feud between the railroad and the ranchers. The C.W. Railroad is clanging steel across the dusty mesa as modern ingenuity tames the wild, wild west. Like all of the traditional beef ranchers, they are opposed to bringing in the trains. However, the two factions benefit from each other. Trains make the beef sell faster and can deliver supplies quickly. The railroad needs cargo to haul, thus the ranchers are valuable. Each gain something from the other. 

In an effort to create abrasion, elevate hostilities, and stall work, someone leading a team of masked raiders is inflicting casualties and damage to the railroad and the Bar O. Each party feels that the other is responsible, thus a war brews between these two industries. Hoping to settle the feud and find the culprit, Morgan goes undercover as a cowpoke for the Bar O. As a covert operative, the fast-draw, eagle-eyed gunslinger can hopefully save the day.

Like Norman Daniels, Johnston McCulley, Gunnison Steele, and Walter Tompkins, Hobart proves he can write a Masked Rider Western tale with the best of the pulpsters. There's a lot of over-the-top action, brawls, and tough-guy talk to sop up the story, which in itself is just a traditional pulp told numerous times with different characters. 

“Iron Horse Gunsmoke” never slows down, racing through the narrative from the opening run 'n gun scene through the book's finale. If you like western pulps, then you'll love what Bold Venture Press is doing with these classic Masked Western Rider novellas. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Friday, June 10, 2022

Murders Macabre

Norman Firth (1920-1949), known as the “Prince of Pulp Pedlars”, was a British author that contributed to small publishers like Bear Hudson, Utopian Publications, and Mitre Press. The diversified writer delved into multiple genres including crime, western, science-fiction, and horror. At one point, Firth accepted a commission to author 30,000 words a month of spicy stories for various magazines. Bold Venture Press has been working with Firth's estate to reprint some Firth's short stories that were originally published under pseudonyms. The first collection is called Murders Macabre, a 200 page volume that contains three short stories with an introduction by Firth's estate manager Philip Harbottle. 

"Terror Stalks by Night"

This story was originally published in 1945 by Bear Hudson under the pseudonym N. Wesley Firth. Bob Carter arrived in the tiny village of Riverton three days ago and has found himself incredibly bored. During a heavy thunderstorm, Bob pulls his car into a bus station to smoke a cigarette and reflect on his poor decision to visit such a dull place. A beautiful woman named Lucille quickly approaches Bob's car thinking he is a taxi. With a beautiful woman in his car, and nothing planned for the day, Bob casually asks “Where'd you want to go?”. Lucille explains that she is headed to a decrepit mansion called Rivers End to meet her remaining family members. It is here that her late aunt's will is to be read and the inheritance to be divvied out. Her aunt's stipulation was that all remaining family members had to be in the house at the same time for the reading of the will. When Bob arrives at the spooky mansion, Lucille goads him into going into the house with her. Inside, Bob and Lucille experience a long night of bloody, homicidal terror. A phantom with knives for fingers is stalking the halls and killing each family member one by one. With a corpse in the front doorway and the telephones down, the two are trapped with the killer. "Terror Stalks the Night" was absolutely amazing with its blend of violent savagery, eerie ambiance, and slight sense of dark humor from Bob, the stories central character. This was just a superb introduction to the author.

"Phantom of Charnel House"

This story was originally published as “Death Haunts the Charnel House” in 1946 under Firth's pseudonym of Jackson Evans. Six years ago, Wenton inherited a ton of money from his uncle's estate. With nothing to do but loaf around all day, Wenton thought it would be fun to become a ghost hunter. He placed an ad in the local paper and soon found himself extremely busy traveling the English countryside proving that most of the haunting and ghost appearances could easily be explained. Only a few cases seemed genuine, although Wenton still retained some doubt. His newest endeavor is Charnel Estate, a haunted habitat that features over 100 workers residing in the Charnel Estate village and working at the nearby factory. Only, rumor has it that the original Charnel Estate housed a murderer, a fiend that used harpoons to impale victims. Now that there's a new owner of Charnel Estate, the old murders have returned again. It is up to Wenton to find the murderer and determine if there's a supernatural aspect to the killings. Again, Firth does an amazing job with atmosphere and location, placing Wenton's investigation in the middle of a rural, foggy English village ripe with suspects and motives. The appearance of this “phantom” was terrifying, despite the very real possibility of the Scooby-Doo styled ending. Regardless, the suffocating tension, horror tones, and grisly murders were worth the price of admission. This was a fantastic story.

"The Devil in Her"

This story was originally published in 1945 under the pseudonym of Henri Duval. Dr. Alan Carter arrives at an English lodge to recuperate from the horrors he witnessed treating ill patients in third-world countries. The lodge is a family friend's place, a household that Carter frequented in the past. Once there, he begins to hear rumors of a witch prowling the moors killing livestock. Once Carter reunites with a former lover named June, he begins to think she herself may be the witch. Once the victims shift from animals to humans, Carter is thrust into the investigation to determine who the killer is and the motivation. The suspect list grows to include a therapist named Calatini, a rival that impedes upon Carter for the affection and love of June. There are plenty of slayings before the story's stirring finale. This was a solid story filled with suspicions, murder, re-kindled passion, and the tropes of an old-fashioned detective tale. 

I hope Bold Venture Press will continue compiling Norman Firth's short stories for future collections. I thoroughly enjoyed Murders Macabre as an introduction to this talented, seemingly forgotten author. If you love traditional horror and the weird menace type stories of Bruno Fischer, this is a mandatory addition to your reading collection. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Larry Kent #751 - Spanish Harlem

Larry Kent was a hardboiled New York private detective in a long-running series first published in Australia. Many of the novels were written by an American immigrant to Australia named Don Haring, including #751 Spanish Harlem from 1974 currently available from reprint publishers Bold Venture Press (paper) and Piccadilly Press (ebook).

The novel begins with PI Larry Kent being forcibly brought to see a gangster who runs the numbers game in Spanish Harlem. The racketeer’s teenage son has disappeared from a military academy in Georgia, and he needs Larry to find the boy. Kidnapping? Murder? Mob feud? No one knows.

Larry travels down to Dixieville, Georgia, where Greystones Military Academy stands. The missing boy - his name is Phillip - is the “best pass catcher” on the Academy’s football team, so the school is anxious to have him back in pads. Based on the description of the boy’s field position, I gather the author wasn’t much of a football fan himself. It doesn’t take long before Larry is being menaced by a parade of walking southern stereotypes who try to beat him and call him a “nigra lover.”

All roads lead to a racist domestic extremist group called the Sons of the South, who wear white sheets, engage in arson, advocate for sterilization of blacks, etc., etc., etc. Of course they have the local sheriff in their back pocket. Rescuing the missing boy is more complicated than you’d expect and plunges Larry into organized criminal politics among Black Harlem, Spanish Harlem and The Syndicate.

This is a middle-of-the-road Larry Kent novel. It’s not one of the great ones or one of the incomprehensible ones. It’s a bit generic and reminded me of a Mike Shayne mystery without much sex or action. The whole novel is pretty weighted down in racial politics, which became pretty tiresome given today’s never-ending discussions of race. By now, you know if this is your thing or not. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 96

The boys are back in town! On Episode 96, Tom brings you all of the action at the Windy City Pulp and Paper Con from Lombard, Illinois and reviews a vintage Robert Colby paperback called Kim. Eric examines the birth of the Sword & Sorcery genre with Robert E. Howard's Kull character. He also delves into the Lancer paperbacks, Conan, graphic novels and magazines. Listen on any podcast app, or download directly:

Listen to "Episode 96: Windy City Pulp & Paper and Robert E. Howard's Kull" on Spreaker.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

The Red Menace #01 - Red and Buried

Author James Mullaney was born in Massachusetts and has an M&M addiction. To help feed his appetite, he's sold over a million books. Mullaney contributed to 26 installments of The Destroyer and wrote a six-issue arc for Marvel Comics' Iron Fist. In addition, he authors an ongoing series about a private investigator named Crag Baynon. My first experience with Mullaney is his espionage title The Red Menace. At the time of this review, there are a total of five installments. The debut, Red and Buried, was originally published by Moonstone Books in 2013. Bold Venture Press bought the rights to the first two novels and have released them as gorgeous trade paperbacks with Mark Maddox artwork. I've always enjoyed 1970s action-adventure, so I jumped right in.

In the 1950s, Patrick “Podge” Beckett donned a mask and cloak and became a U.S. secret agent named The Red Menace.  Beckett worked for the M.I.C. (Manpower and Intelligence Coordination), a short-lived bureau that was a melting pot of information gained from the C.I.A., F.B.I., Army Intelligence, and other domestic and international espionage and police agencies. By the late 1960s, invisible walls had been structured and these bureaus no longer actively (or voluntarily) coordinated with each other, instead hoarding the intelligence within their own departments. Thus, the M.I.C. slowly became obsolete. 

Red and Buried begins with a prologue set in October, 1958. The Red Menace is in the Soviet Union stopping the plans of Motherland (Russian agency similar to the KGB) to create a biological weapon. Red Menace's chief rival is the Soviet's Colonel Ivan Strankov, the director of Motherland. By the end of the exciting prologue, Red Menace has won the battle and issued a threat to Strankov – don't ever come close to America again...or you'll be dead. 

The first chapter brings the narrative into the present day of July, 1972. Readers learn that after his departure from M.I.C., Patrick Beckett started a lucrative and successful security consulting firm. His days as Red Menace are a distant memory. Beckett now lives a comfortable, luxurious life at the beach. A young man arrives and introduces himself as Simon Kirk, the son of Beckett's old boss at M.I.C. Kirk is now running the department and explains that Beckett's old ally and friend has been killed by the Soviets in Cuba. He was on an assignment there working under the disguise of a fisherman when he located a hidden missile range. Kirk knows he can't get into Cuba, but he can possibly pitch a deal to Beckett. Here's the setup:

Beckett will take on an assignment for the M.I.C. and figure out what's going on in Cuba. But, he needs to be invited there personally. Kirk knows Beckett declines business opportunities from any Communist country. But, he suggests that Beckett propose a security consultation with a dictator in Uganda. After setting up security forces for Uganda, that nation will spread the word that Beckett has finally placed money before his personal ethics. Then, Fidel Castro's people will invite Beckett into Cuba to analyze their security measures. Once he is there, Beckett will have free reign to snoop around and find the missiles. Or, Castro will personally invite him to the launch pad to consult with the Soviets. 

All of this may seem convoluted, but it is rather simple. Mullaney places pure enjoyment and humor over technical nuances about 1970s weaponry. In doing so, he makes Red and Buried such a pleasure to read. Beckett's partner is Dr. Thaddeus Wainwright, a hilarious character that is sarcastic and intelligent. The pairing is similar to The Destroyer's Remo Williams and Chiun, an obvious influence on Mullaney's writing style and concept. The narrative is propelled by laugh-out-loud moments with Wainwright frequently ridiculing Fidel Castro's dictatorship. In terms of action, it's almost nonstop once the story gets rolling. Even in the slower parts, there are flashback sequences pertaining to Strankov's rise in the Soviet Union as well as prior Red Menace adventures. 

If you love modern pulp, then The Red Menace is a mandatory series for you to read. It's fresh, remarkably well-written, and incredibly entertaining. I can't wait to see where the series goes next. Highly recommended!

Friday, November 26, 2021

Railroad Stories #07: The Return of Casey Jones

As early as the 1800s, stories about the railroad industry have been a popular staple in pop culture. Those in need of an escape from everyday boredom often gravitated to the rails at the turn of the 20th century. The hobo lifestyle of seeing the country by riding the boxcars was a prevalent one, eventually becoming ingrained into the mainstream through songs, films and books. The most prominent magazine of railroad fiction was Railroad Stories. It was the first specialized pulp magazine to offer these types of stories and featured a variety of authors applying their expertise. 

Under license from White River Productions, Florida's Bold Venture Press has been publishing stellar collections of these vintage railroad stories for modern readers. Beginning in 2015, they began publishing trade paperbacks collecting stories culled from Railroad Stories and other magazines. Each of these volumes, mostly feature author E.S. Dellinger, but Vol. 4 is A. Leslie Scott, Vol. 7 is John Johns, Vol. 8 is Norman Brandhorst, and Vol. 10 is Don Waters. My first ride on the rails is Vol. 7: The Return of Casey Jones. It was published in 2019 and features five stories that have never appeared in paperback until now.

The book's lead story is “The Return of Casey Jones”, authored by John Johns and originally published in the April 1933 issue of Railroad Stories. The story begins with a young schoolboy named Jim Martin learning about the tragic death of his idol, the famed engineer Casey Jones. Years later, Jim's father dies and he is left to tend to his ailing mother. Jim is an engineer for the The Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad (CMStP&P). Like his idol, Jim is known as a fast runner and can make up time between meets. 

A lot of Jim's railroad buddies sign up for early action in World War 1. Jim is anxious to join the fight and use his engineering skills for his country. But, the doctors suggest that if Jim joins the military his mother may suffer another stroke. To protect her, he chooses not to enlist, which infuriates his peers. To complicate things further, Jim experiences a terrible train crash and is thrown from his cab. Suspecting that he jumped from his engine instead of holding tight, the town immediately ridiculed him for being a coward. He's disowned by his girlfriend and his railroad crew. But, after another freak accident, Jim has the ability to prove the town wrong. Thus, "The Return of Casey Jones" is a story of redemption. 

I really enjoyed this 70-page novella and found myself cheering Jim as his mountain of misfortune began a seismic shift. There were some technical aspects that I struggled with, but it didn't detract from the story. Jim's adversity and clash with the military and his town was engaging, and thankfully ended on a good note. In terms of action, the book recounts the story of Casey Jones, adding more action to Johns' narrative.

This story was also released as a film in 1935 by Monogram. This collection features a short article by Bold Venture Press co-owner/editor Rich Harvey about the film as well as information on the its star, Charles Starrett. 

Other John Johns stories in this collection are:

"Roads End" (Railroad Man's Magazine, Oct 1930)
"Smoke Gets in your Eyes" (Railroad Stories Magazine, May 1935)
"Emergency Run" (Railroad Stories Magazine, Decemer 1936)
"Running Signals" (Railroad Stories Magazine, November 1936)

Additional volumes:

Railroad Stories Vol. 01: Avalanche (E.S. Dellinger)
Railroad Stories Vol. 02: The Legend of King Lawson (E.S. Dellinger)
Railroad Stories Vol. 03: Gangsters of the Rails (E.S. Dellinger)
Railroad Stories Vol. 04: Civil War and Tales of Jagger Dunns (A. Leslie Scott)
Railroad Stories Vol. 05: Steam and Steel (E.S. Dellinger)
Railroad Stories Vol. 06: The Saga of Kiamichi Bill (E.S. Dellinger)
Railroad Stories Vol. 08: Colorado Midland (Norman Brandhorst)
Railroad Stories Vol. 09: Ballad of Redhot Frost (E.S. Dellinger)
Railroad Stories Vol. 10: Rolling Wheels and The Georgia Rambler (Don Waters)

Monday, October 11, 2021

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 95

On Episode 95, we explore author Steve Fisher's pulp titles like Captain Babyface, Sheridan Doome and Big Red Brennan. We also delve into Fisher's full-length novels and his transition into Hollywood. Tom reviews the new Stark House Press reprint of Lorenz Heller's 1959 novel Crime Cop. Eric gets Gothic-crazy in Sanford, Florida and talks about his shopping experience at the Daytona Beach Flea Market. Listen on any podcast app, stream below or download HERE

Listen to "Episode 95: Steve Fisher" on Spreaker.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Zorro #01 - The Curse of Capistrano (aka The Mark of Zorro)

Johnston McCulley (1883-1958) was a prolific author for the pulps. He created characters like The Crimson Clown, The Green Ghost and Black Star. On August 9th, 1919, All-Story Weekly presented the first of five installments of "The Curse of Capistrano" (aka "The Mark of Zorro"). It was the first appearance by the Western hero Zorro. McCulley kept writing Zorro stories for decades. The hero became a phenomenon of pop culture with TV shows, movies and graphic novels all dedicated to the masked man. 

In 2016, Florida's Bold Venture Press began reprinting all of the pulp adventures of Zorro. These have been compiled in 6 massive volumes. I'm staring with Zorro: The Complete Pulp Adventures Vol. 1. It contains an original serial "The Curse of Capistrano" plus two short stories, "Zorro Saves a Friend" (Argosy, 11/02/1932) and "Zorro Hunts a Jackal" (Argosy, 04/22/1933). In addition, two informative pieces are included regarding the series location as well as Zorro's appearances in cinema and television.

"The Curse of Capistrano" takes place in the early 19th century in California. This was before California joined the United States. As a result, the state was governed by Mexico. In the story, the Spanish missions and ranches are often terrorized by Mexican soldiers, notably Sergeant Gonzales and Captain Ramon. A masked man dressed in black and calling himself Zorro (The Fox) assists the people in their fight against the tyranny. 

When Zorro helps a young woman named Lolita, the story starts to tighten. Lolita's parents have requested that she locate a proper suitor to marry. Don Diego Vega, a wealthy man living with his father, attempts to swoon Lolita and asks if she will marry him. The problem is that Lolita has her eyes fixed on the dashing Zorro and now her heart is beating for him. However, Lolita doesn't realize that Vega is Zorro. When Captain Ramon forces himself on Lolita, Zorro comes to the rescue, further emphasizing her attraction for the lone hero. Later, Zorro comes to the aid of his friend Fray Felipe while also being hunted by the Mexican army. 

McCulley's story blends romance with action into a Western-style story. The dry and dusty Pueblo of Los Angeles is the perfect place, further enhancing Western themes. Zorro's mission to assist the downtrodden and fight government politicians is crucial to the plot. The first half was a bit slow but the second half was ripe with action, violence and a frantic pace as Zorro performs hit and run tactics through the city. It was interesting that McCulley doesn't reveal that Vega is Zorro until the end of the story. It's no surprise to the reader as there are so many clues that signal Zorro's identity.

If you are a dedicated Zorro fan or just a casual reader, this omnibus is essential reading. The thrilling adventures of this masked hero showcases everything we know and love about the pulps. Buy a copy of this volume HERE.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Ghost Bullet Range (aka Blood on the Saddle)

One of the most collectible pulp magazines of all time is the August 9, 1919 issue of All-Story Weekly. This publication featured the first of a five-part series called "The Curse of Capistrano". It was the first appearance of the wildly popular western hero known as Zorro. The character and story were created by Johnston McCulley (1883-1958), a World War I veteran from Ottawa, Illinois. Not only did McCulley create Zorro, but he excelled in the pulps by creating characters like The Crimson ClownThe Green Ghost and Black Star. Additionally, McCulley wrote hundreds of short stories and novelettes including Ghost Bullet Range. This novel first appeared in the September, 1942 issue of West. In 1944, Avon released the book as a paperback titled Blood on the Saddle. The book is now available in both softback and ebook version through Florida independent publisher Bold Venture Press.

Ghost Bullet Range features an experienced and highly respected trail boss named Phil Banniton. When readers first meet Banniton, he's in a firefight on the Kansas plains just outside of Dodge City. The fight stems from a quarrel the prior night over beer, poker and a gallon of testosterone. After Banniton won some money off of Sid Boyd, he becomes a target on the range. This gunfight is just an introduction to Banniton to insure readers that he's of the “admirable white-hat traditional western hero” variety. 

Later, one of Banniton's old friends shows up with a message. The Diamond W ranch, owned by Andy Walsh, is being bullied by a nest of land baron vipers. Banniton's reaction to this emotional message is mixed. Walsh raised Banniton and had groomed him as the ranch's successor. But the two had a falling out and Banniton resigned his position at the ranch. Banniton not only severed ties with Walsh, but also extinguished the romantic relationship he was having with Walsh's daughter Ella. Banniton still feels a sense of obligation to Walsh. Additionally, one of Banniton's best friends was murdered on the ranch. These emotions all play a part in Banniton's participation to defend the Diamond W.

McCulley's narrative moves at a brisk pace and is loaded with nonstop action. Banniton's investigation into who is killing off the Diamond W ranch hands is an interesting part of the story. As the body count grows, the only clue seems to be the vague words "spotted steer" that is often whispered by dying men. The trouble comes in waves as Banniton faces this mysterious killer, a rival ranch and a nemesis that's pressuring Walsh to sell the ranch cheaply.

There's nothing to really dislike about Ghost Bullet Range. As an early 20th century western, it contains all of the likable aspects of the genre - noble hero, savage range war, damsel in distress and the evil rival rancher. The spotted steer clue resulted in a rather disappointing revelation, but this wasn't a deal breaker. McCulley's propulsive pace placed these characters in many different locations throughout the story. As a reader, I never found myself confined to a saloon, ranch, prairie or house. The action is a spread out to deliver a more epic presentation.

If you like classic westerns, Ghost Bullet Range is sure to please. Buy a copy of the book and support independent publishing HERE.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Strictly Poison and Other Stories

Charles Boeckman (1920-2015) learned to play clarinet and saxophone through listening to records and studying fingering boards. His musical talent made it possible for him to play and write New Orleans jazz for 70 years. However, it was not his only occupation. Boeckman sold his first short story in 1945 and contributed regularly to Alfred Hitchcok's Mystery Magazine, Manhunt and pulps like Detective Tales, All-Story Detective and Dime Mystery. In the 1980's, he partnered with his wife Patti to write 25 love novels. 

In 2015, Bold Venture Press of Florida captured 24 short stories from the author in a massive volume entitled Strictly Poison and Other Stories. The book consists of four pages of commentaries by Boeckman shortly before he died. In addition, the publisher includes small cover pictures of many digest magazines and pulps that these stories are harvested from. I listed some capsule reviews from some of my favorite stories:

"Should a Tear Be Shed?" was originally published in 1954 by Malcolm's. It is a success story that focuses on the rise of a tap dancer named Lawrence Terrace Jr., a young man that suffered a brain injury when a truck ran him over. When a shyster named Jess Norvell catches Lawrence dancing by a bar jukebox, he puts together a scheme. First, he befriends Lawrence, then has an insurance policy placed on the young man for $50,000 (double indemnity for an accident) with himself as beneficiary. The next logical step is to get Lawrence accidentally killed. However, Jess' girlfriend, Candy, does not endorse the scheme and repeatedly tries to warn Lawrence that Jess is using him for financial purposes. Like any good story of suspense, Boeckman intensifies the tension with multiple attempts at murder. It's an explosive, though not surprising, climax. I loved the story and read it twice.

"I'll Make the Arrest" was one of Boeckman's most successful stories. It appeared in the very first issue of Manhunt (Jan 1953), one of the most highly-regarded digest magazines. The story was also adapted to the television program Celebrity Playhouse in 1956. This is an unusual story involving a police detective named Mike O'Shean tracking down the killer of a beautiful female celebrity. O'Shean has a particular need to locate the killer and, despite the title of the story, has no intention of arresting him. I love how Boeckman, in first person narrative, advises readers of O' Shean's motives: "I went down into the night and where it was dark and alone; I checked my gun because I was going to kill this boy who had strangled Pat." But, the author throws the obligatory curveball and it was a twist I didn't see coming. This was so unique and Boeckman delivered it perfectly with a smooth prose.

Boeckman's musical career contributed to "Run, Cat, Run", a 1949 story initially published in Dime Mystery. The story is about a trumpeter named Johnny Nickle fleeing a murderer. It's a suspensive tale about the musicians who appeared on a hit record called Jazz Date. Unfortunately, all the musicians on the album died mysteriously but Johnny. While frantically jumping from one town to another, Johnny manages to make ends meet by performing dive bars and jukes. But his luck runs out in Texas when a lady with a gun walks into his hotel room. Is she the killer? Or is she also running from a murderer? The story comes to a close on the shore of Corpus Christi Bay. I have always enjoyed novels and stories in the music industry and Boeckman used this aspect well. "Run, Cat, Run" was a real high point to me.

I wouldn't have the blog space to write spacious reviews on all of the high-quality stories included in this volume. Fantastic entries like "Ybor City" (1953 Manhunt), a gritty revenge story set on Florida's Gulf Coast or the wickedly humorous "Strictly Poison" (1945 Detective Tales) is worth mentioning. Even Jacksonville, Florida, otherwise known as the Paperback Warrior headquarters, plays host to the murderous terror of "Class Reunion" (1973 Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine). 

In the early 1950s, renowned writers such as Day Keene, Gil Brewer, Harry Whittington and Talmage Powell moved to Florida's Gulf Coast. Boeckman spent several weeks getting together with his colleagues at Day Keene's house to talk about the industry. I feel that Boeckman deserved to be there with crime-noir royalty. He was just a fantastic storyteller and had a knack for portraying broken and financially strapped characters in his story. Whether they were avenged, killed, successful or simply unlucky was in the imagination. Thankfully, Boeckman had it in spades.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, May 17, 2021

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 89

On Episode 89 of the Paperback Warrior podcast, Eric takes the reigns for an action-packed 45-mins of vintage paperback discussion. The show hits the road to visit an exciting pulp convention in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Also, a feature on the life and work of author and jazz great Charles Boeckman. Plus: shopping, Bold Venture Press, Theodore Pratt and a surprise visit! Listen on any podcast app, or download directly HERE

Donate to the show HERE 

Listen to "Episode 89: Charles Boeckman" on Spreaker.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Benedict and Brazos #01 - Aces Wild

Originally born in New South Wales, author Paul Wheelahan (1930-2018) began his career writing and illustrating comics like Captain Power, Sheena, Davy Crockett – Frontier Scout and The Panther.  By the 1960s, Australian comic publishing declined and Wheelahan joined Cleveland Publishing to begin writing western novels. From 1963 until his death, Wheelahan authored more than 800 novels using pseudonyms including Brett McKinley, Emerson Dodge and Ryan Brodie. My first experience with Wheelahan is his western series Benedict and Brazos. It was written under the pseudonym E. Jefferson Clay and ran 27 total installments throughout the 1980s. Since then, the series has partially been reprinted as ebooks by Piccadilly and glossy trade paperbacks through Bold Venture Press. The series debut, Aces Wild, is my first experience with Paul Wheelahan's work.

In the debut's third chapter, the reader learns that Duke Benedict was a Union Captain of Vermont's 10th Militia. Across Georgia's Pea Ridge was the enemy, Confederate Sergeant Hank Brazos. The Confederate’s mission was to escort a wagon containing $200K in gold into Mexico, a valuable treasury that was to eventually start a second Confederacy. At Pea Ridge, Brazos and Benedict face off only to find that they quickly become allies in fighting a bandit named Bo Rangle, the leader of a guerilla force calling itself Rangle's Raiders. After Rangle wins the fight, and steals the gold, Brazos and Benedict shake hands and go their separate ways.

After the war, Benedict becomes a sharp-dressed card sharp and womanizer. Brazos remains a burly brawler who saddle tramps from town to town. As destiny sees fit, the two run into each other in a hot-handed gambling town called Daybreak.

Wheelahan provides a number of narratives that entwine and capture the reader's attention. The first is that Bo Rangle has used some of the stolen gold to set-up a whorehouse governed by Rangle's lady-of-the-night Bellie. The second has a Christian woman's auxiliary hoping to eliminate Rangle's brothel through peaceful and political protesting. Third, a bounty hunter named Surprising Smith is leading a town posse after a trio of outlaws led by a vile villain named Sprod. With this crowded narrative, where do Benedict and Brazos fit?

Benedict is secretly searching for Rangle's gold while laying down some heavy swagger and charm with Rangle's flirtatious Bellie and Smith's luscious girlfriend. Brazos brawls his way through a few bar-room escapades and eventually meets up with Benedict and learns about his plan to find and recover the gold. Striking up a deal – sort of – the two work together to fight the outlaws and recover the gold.

The series' two main characters aren't necessarily the stars of the show. Often I found myself wondering just when the deadly duo were going to slap leather and gun down the baddies. In a rather abstract approach, Wheelahan prolongs the dialogue and set-up and allows some of the other action to play out in separate narratives. Eventually the duo gain some footing that culminates into the proverbial showdown, but it takes a little while to get there. It's clear that the author had plenty of irons in the fire with a busy narrative that has a little something for everyone. The through story originates with the missing gold and Benedict and Brazos deciding to ride off into the next books searching for Rangle and the treasure. That's the series premise and it's probably enough for readers to stick around to learn more.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Larry Kent #794 - Hello Dolly...Goodbye

By 1974, Australia’s sexy and violent Larry Kent series was reaching the end of its 800 installment run. In fairness, the first 500 or so were magazine novellas before the series switched to independent short paperbacks in 1965 while continuing with the same sequential numbering. The character of Larry Kent was an American hardboiled private eye similar to Mike Hammer, but he occasionally drifted into espionage work in the tradition of Chet Drum. Today we join Kent in a more traditional P.I. mystery called “Hello Dolly...Goodbye,” the 794th entry in the series. This one was written by an American named Don Haring who emigrated to Australia after WW2 to write a slew of the Larry Kent adventures before his 1981 death in Honolulu at age 58.

The short novel really starts out on the wrong foot as I had to read the first chapter three times to understand the setup. The writing was stylistically fine but extremely unclear. Here’s what I could figure:

Kent is engaged by an NYPD detective on behalf of the department to solve the mystery of two police officers who recently disappeared. One of the missing cops is the kid brother of the detective who hires Kent. That much is clear. The missing officers were investigating a list of names, but the relevance of the list is unclear. The client cop mentions that the list has something to do with a mob from Chicago “interested in aliens.” I assume they meant foreigners and not E.T. Kent also mentions the Secret Service, but there was no indication of why, and the agency is never mentioned again in the novel.

Another thing unclear to me was the era. This paperback was published in Australia in 1974 and takes place in New York City. However, on page one of the novel a character says, “This cop is a client...Write down in your clients’ book. Twentieth of May, eighty...” Does this book take place in 1980? The future? Everyone in the book used a 1940s vernacular and wears fedoras. There’s also a reference to Sonny Liston, an American boxer who competed from 1953 to 1970. I don’t know what to make of any of this, and I guess it really doesn’t matter. The paperback just felt very unstuck in time in addition to the opaque plot.

Anyway, Kent begins working his way down the list of names just like missing cops did. The first name is a famous television personality named Grant Kelso. Unfortunately, Kelso gives Kent the slip before anyone could explain the plot to me. Eventually, he learns that the list of names are all millionaires who belong to a fraternal organization called The Nations Club. Some members are tied into a group that is, in fact, moving people in and out of the U.S. in a scheme that was never entirely clear.

In the author’s defense, there are lots of great scenes in “Hello Dolly...Goodbye” in which Kent is either kicking ass or getting his ass kicked. The hardboiled P.I. patter is amusing and borders on parody at times. Moreover, the collaboration scenes between Kent and the police were also fun to read. Kent shoots and fights his way closer to the truth regarding the two missing cops, but the eventual solutions were rather unsatisfying.

I recently read Larry Kent #642: “Curves Can Kill,” from 1965, and it was awesome - one of the most satisfying private eye-espionage mashups ever. It was also written by Haring when he was clearly at the top of his game. The only thing I can figure is that the Larry Kent series was winding down by 1974, and Haring began just phoning it in to fulfill his contractual obligation because “Hello Dolly...Goodbye” is a total mess. However, I’m not giving up on Larry Kent because I’ve seen how good the series can be. Going forward, I’m going to avoid 1970s installments unless I get a solid tip on a particularly good one from that era.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Larry Kent #642: Curves Can Kill

Between 1954 and 1974, there were hundreds of novellas and paperback original novels produced in Australia starring hardboiled New York Private Eye Larry Kent. The series was published by the same company that brought the world the Carter Brown mysteries and packaged with salacious cover illustrations similar to the Hank Janson books. The primary authors were Don Haring and Des Dunn, but all the books were released under the house name Larry Kent. Piccadilly Publishing has been reprinting Larry Kent’s adventures as affordable eBooks while maintaining the original cheesecake cover illustrations. I’m starting the series with #642: “Curves Can Kill,” a 1965 installment written by Don Haring.

The character of Larry Kent started as a newspaper reporter in 1950 on a popular Australian radio drama called, “I Hate Crime.” The popularity of the radio show launched the novellas and eventually the novels. Kent’s character became a private investigator in the mold of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer. As time went on, the writers borrowed a page from Stephen Marlowe’s Chester Drum and Michael Avallone’s Ed Noon when the hero began accepting espionage assignments from the CIA in selected novels. A variation on this “private eye as spy” gambit is the storyline at work in “Curves Can Kill.”

The action opens with Kent tied to a chair being worked over by a Romanian goon wanting to know what Kent knows about “Z Detail.” Unfortunately for the wisecracking Kent, he doesn’t know much, so he must continue to suffer the abuse - from both fists and a switchblade - with no reprieve. It’s a brutal and violent opening scene that will play well for readers who like their pulp fiction more extreme than Carter Brown could ever offer.

Fortunately, we don’t need to sit through 120 pages of Kent being carved up with a switchblade. He is rescued and finds himself in the hands of Z Detail, an America-friendly private intelligence outfit with close ties to the CIA. The Z-boys want to hire Kent as a contract operative for the vast sum of $300 per week.

His first mission as a contract operative for Z Detail involves befriending a woman in New York. Kent’s version of befriending looks a lot more like a Carter Brown novel, and the swinging sixties attitude toward women is on full display. None of this would fly today, but that’s part of the fun of vintage fiction. Anyway, the woman has access to a secret that Kent needs to learn, and giving any more info away would spoil the fun for you. Suffice to say that all this eventually ties back to the Romanian goons who tried to filet Kent in the opening chapter.

This is one of those great books that kept surprising me with the quality of the prose and story. I had been misled to believe that the Larry Kent series was disposable fiction with a production schedule too aggressive to be among the outstanding works of pulp fiction. Instead, as I read “Curves Can Kill,” I found myself repeatedly muttering, “Wow, this is really good.” Fans of violent spy-mysteries with major twists and turns will love this book as much as I did.

There are some slow sections but no boring ones in this Larry Kent mystery-adventure. It all leads up to a shockingly violent bloodbath of a climax - one of the finest I’ve read in ages. Overall, I was very impressed by this paperback, and I’m excited to read some more. With over 800 installments, we are unlikely to run out of Larry Kent content in this lifetime. It’s great to discover a new series with an endless amount of content to enjoy. Highly recommended.

Purchase a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Man From W.A.R. Inc. #01 - Mission: Third Force

California author Michael Kurland is one of those guys who has published novels in several different genres. He wrote a successful series of mystery novels in the Sherlock Holmes universe starring Professor Moriarty. He also has a sizable back catalog of science fiction and alternative history titles spanning 1964 to 1990. Of greater interest to Paperback Warrior is his “The Man from W.A.R. Inc.” action series that lasted three installments from 1967 to 1969.

W.A.R. Inc. is Weapons, Analysis, and Research Incorporated, a for-profit American company that provides training and logistical support around the world to clients (mostly small nations) desiring greater stability. The hero of the series is W.A.R. Inc. employee Peter Carthage, who uses the skills he honed in U.S. Army Intelligence to fight evil for profit. “Mission: Third Force” from 1967 is the first Carthage novel in the trilogy.

The campus of W.A.R. Inc. contains a giant underground fortress beneath New Jersey farmland for drills and experimentation. The corporate lair is unimaginably high-tech...for 1967. The unintentionally hilarious descriptions of the equipment includes space age technology including “digital tape recorders” storing mountains of data. The “modem mercenaries” of W.A.R. Inc. are primarily research and development types as
well as consultants - not unlike the cadre of “Beltway Bandit” defense contractors we have today. The weapons developed in the company’s “dirty tricks” department are cool as hell and seem to be borrowing a page from the James Bond films.

Peter Carthage is one of three people in the firm with the title of “Expediter.” In this first adventure, he is sent to the fictional Southeast Asian kingdom of “Bonterre,” formerly a French colony in Indochina. The author basically took the colonial history of Vietnam and superimposed it over a Thai-style constitutional monarchy to conjure up Bonterre. Anyway, the country is experiencing instability caused by guerrilla insurgents from the kingdom’s northern province as well as the shadowy influence of a right-wing “Third Force” also seeking to topple the current government from within.

The Bonterre ambassador wants Carthage to train his armed forces in combat and intelligence to be used against the guerrillas while establishing a link between the insurgents and the traitorous Third Force. Carthage puts together a multi-disciplinary team of colorful fellow employees for the training engagement and spearheads the investigation into the Third Force himself.

The result is a ton of fun to read. Carthage is basically Sherlock Holmes in a third-world guerrilla warfare environment. He uses clues and deduction to unearth Third Force operatives among Bonterre’s military and government class. And when the time comes to kick-ass, he and his crew justify their hourly billing rate. It’s also a hilarious book, but not in the cartoonish way of the fake spy novels of the late 1960s. Instead, the author peppers the dialogue with clever wisecracks and sarcastic remarks from Carthage and his crew causing me to laugh out loud more than once. The novel also has a good sex scene but nothing particularly graphic.

Kurland’s writing and plotting is exceptionally well-done - although the climactic ending felt a little rushed. The story moves forward with vivid characters and no dull moments. I’m frankly surprised this series wasn’t a greater commercial success justifying more than three installments. In any case, I’m overjoyed to have acquired all three books in the series. Snapping up these paperbacks should be a no-brainer for any vintage adventure fiction fan. Highly recommended.

This book was discussed on the fourth episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast: Link