Jul 192014
 
Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         


The Thriller Library #538: Rough House: A Norman Conquest Story, by Berkeley Gray. 27 May 1939.

Dixon Hawke Library #549: The Purple Doom of Doctor Krantz, [Anonymous]. 14 December 1940.

The Sexton Blake Library S3 234: The Green Caravan, by Rex Hardinge. February 1951.

   The British pulps came out of a similar tradition as those in America, and like the American brand walked a schizophrenic tightrope between adult and juvenile fiction. Sexton Blake, Nelson Lee, Dixon Hawke, all came from the boys’ papers popular at the turn of the century and well beyond.

   Edgar Wallace, Leslie Charteris, John Creasey, Berkeley Gray all came from a slightly more sophisticated branch, though Creasey and Gray (Edwy Sealey Brooks) both wrote adventures of Sexton Blake.

   Brooks wrote well over six million words of Blake material, creating Waldo the Wonder Man, who threatened to overwhelm Blake in his own book, before he was forced out because of age, at which point he created Norman Conquest and Inspector Ironside and became even more popular, writing well into the nineteen sixties, at least one Conquest adventure completed by his wife and son.

   The British pulp The Thriller, edited by Monty Haydon, who discovered Charteris and Creasey, featured not only the more adult writers, but serials from the American pulp The Shadow, Sax Rohmer, and the dean of the British pulp creations Sexton Blake. Peter Cheyney came out of The Thriller, and a long list of familiar names with him, some of who saw their careers fade and returned in the 1950‘s to penning Sexton Blake adventures like Rex Hardinge and Hugh Clevely (Maxwell Archer, who got one film outing, and the Gang Smasher, who was unique because his assistant was a Jewish pawnshop owner).

   It seems as if you can’t elude Sexton Blake in fiction or fact.

   All of these short tales run some sixty or so pages, coming in around thirty five thousand words. All appeared in inexpensive paper editions, either in The Thriller, or digest size paperbacks.

   They are reviewed in order of publication from the 1930‘s to the 1950‘s.

   Norman Conquest, 1066, the Gay Desperado (before the word Gay was made impossible to use in any but a sexual sense) at one time ran with a fast crowd, the Saint, Blackshirt, the Toff, and the Baron, and in the United Kingdom he ran very close though he never quite made it to American shores.

   In The Durable Desperadoes William Butler Vivian wrote fondly of Conquest, and I have to agree. His adventures have energy, speed, violence, a hint of sex in perpetual virtual live in girlfriend Joy ‘Pixie’ Everard (think Simon Templar’s Patricia Holm but Norman eventually marries his).

   Gangsters, mad scientists, master criminals, spies, fifth columnists, just about all fell to Conquest’s outlaw ways. He even made it to the screen in the person of Tom Conway for one late but half decent film outing.

   In Rough House Conquest is at his toughest, in a Saintly mode with more than a hint of Bulldog Drummond at the edges.

   “Conquest? Did you say Conquest? Norman Conquest? Good heavens, I wonder if he’s the impudent rascal I believe he is? What would a man of his stamp would want in this house?”

   What Conquest wants is to warn Lord Chalston that a criminal in a rubber mask one Toowoomobo Dick wants Lord Chalston dead, and Conquest suspects it’s because Toowoomobo Dick under that rubber mask is:

   “See my friend, I am the true Lord Chalston,” said Dick deliberately. “An aristocratic English peer with the face and skin of a black savage!”

   To be fair to Gray, he does at least make a case that Dick might have some reason to feel cheated out of what is rightfully his just because his mother had a distant grandfather with black skin and it showed up on her baby, but that doesn’t excuse murder or the wax effigies he makes of his victims. Dick is more than a little insane.

   Racial stereotypes hung on in British popular fiction much longer and were much more of an issue than in American popular fiction, largely because the English were much less homogenous than their American cousins and foreign much more noticeable. Being a class based society didn’t help. As late as the 1950‘s a character in a Sexton Blake adventure (The Voyage of Fear by Rex Hardinge) is an Italian described as “touched by a tar brush.”

   Norman naturally goes a little ballistic when Joy/Pixie is kidnapped right under his nose and as usual charges right in, with less than spectacular results. In fact Joy has to rescue him:

   Drawn as if by irresistible magnetism she turned again to the effigy of Norman. She could not keep her eyes off of it. She went closer, fighting an urge to turn on her heels and run. It was something about the figures eyes — she caught her breath painfully. These eyes were not glass. They were not the dead eyes of a waxwork. They were alive. They looked at her with intelligence and urgency.

   “Norman,” cried Joy chokingly.

   Even Norvell Page never entombed Richard Wentworth in wax. Of course she saves Norman, and he does for Lord Chalston in his own inimitable 1066 (get it, the Norman conquest) Gay Desperado way no doubt putting yet another gray hair in the head of Sweet William, his long suffering friend and adversary at Scotland Yard.

   World War II posed a problem for rogues and gentleman adventurers. It wasn’t all that glamorous flitting about England in the blitz. Peter Cheyney managed all right with Slim Callaghan and Ettienne McGregor and turned to his best work in spy novels, but the Saint had to sail for the states to fight saboteurs (can you imagine the Saint in uniform?).

   The Toff served in intelligence but all his adventures were home based affairs battling things like black marketeers, Norman Conquest fought Nazis at home when not ignoring the war completely, and the Baron was a sergeant manning a telephone for the RAF in a note typical for that grounded series. But Sexton Blake was in it tooth and nail, and where Blake went Dixon Hawke was sure to follow.

   The most important thing to note about Dixon Hawke is that young Kenneth Millar, Ross Macdonald, was a fan, and the Hawke books are fun, but they are much closer to the comics than even the hero pulps.

   The Purple Doom of Doctor Krantz has Hawke penetrating the Nazi high command as said Doctor Krantz. The opening sets the tone.

   “Donner and blitzen,” he cursed. What a night and what a country. Only the pig dog British would build a prison in such a place.

   By which remark Herr Gustav Stonberg revealed his utter lack of a sense of humour, for, as one of the leading members of the German Secret Police, the dreaded Gestapo, he had been responsible for building some of the worst concentration camps in Germany.

   At least you know where you are. This is wartime England and subtle was not needed in the pulps. Never fear though, Dixon Hawke outwits Himmler himself, makes a daring escape with his friend Clavering, and gets shot down in a German plane by the RAF before he is rescued with the goods. “Good old Dixon Hawke …” as his boy pal Tommy (since Sexton Blake’s Tinker every hero needed a youthful assistant) says.

   The Purple Doom of Doctor Krantz reads the way a good B wartime programmer plays, it even resembles the Raoul Walsh Errol Flynn flag waver Desperate Journey a bit with a touch of John Buchan’s Greenmantle thrown in (the bit where Hannay is in WWI Germany in disguise), as well as Manning Coles’ Tommy Hambledon in A Toast to Tomorrow and Drink To Yesterday. It’s closer to a Big Little Book or a juvenile than the pulps, but it is still fun, if not for the same reasons as slightly more mature fare.

   Who doesn’t like to figuratively flip the bird to Hitler and Himmler?

   The Green Caravan by Rex Hardinge is a Sexton Blake post-war adventure, and it is not for little boys. Philip Neal wants to marry beautiful English rose Mary Young, but the tormented Neal, who had a bad war in a ‘Nazi horror camp,’ was drawn to the gypsy woman Belle Hampton, she of the bulging bosom and flashing eyes, for darker needs. Now he can’t get rid of her, and the best solution seems to be murder.

   The perfect murder! He realised that many men have tried to achieve it. Many have paid for their failure the full penalty demanded by the law. But what of those who succeeded? Nobody knows how many of them there have been. And if others succeeded why shouldn’t he?

   Not the sanest of people this Philip Neal, and the bodies start falling like flies, random victims killed by three bullets from three guns without warning. Mary Young is scared and turns to Neal’s rival Ben Rorke. Ben survives a trap, and now Neal must be rid of him before he figures out who the killer is. So why not blow up the entire end of the hospital Ben is in?

   …pack the dynamite — light it with a short fuse — then with the crossbow, from some convenient spot, fling the arrow with the dynamite into the room where Ben lay.

   He misses Ben again, but suspecting the second attack on Ben was not coincidence Sexton Blake, called in on the case with Inspector Coutts of the Yard, has the word spread that Ben is dead and moves him to London. Blake is convinced the murders are not the work of ‘what the Americans call a psycho.” He sees a ‘deliberate plan” behind the crimes.

   Ben leads to Mary who leads to Belle with whom she had a violent confrontation, which leads to Philip Neal who has the means and the brains to rig the clever traps the killer uses, but there has to be a motive. Even with evidence and motive they couldn’t charge Neal or convince a jury (unusual for the detective to bother with details like juries in any mystery), and the obvious victim, Belle Hampton, is as yet untouched.

   If you don’t smell a trap coming, you haven’t been paying attention reading these and watching television and movies all these years.

   “He is caught in his own trap,” he (Blake) snapped, “which is fitting considering the death he gave to innocent people — but he isn’t dead. He is not escaping the hangman that way.”

   Though one would imagine John Mortimer’s Rumpole, John Dickson Carr’s Patrick Butler, or Sara Woods’ Antony Maitland could get him off on an insanity plea pretty easy with say the help of solicitor Arthur Crook or Joshua Clunk. He’s obviously loony.

   The Blake books from this era and into the sixties are often very good with writers like W.A. Ballinger, Rex Hardinge, Hugh Clevely, Jack Trevor Story (The Trouble with Harry), and other relatively familiar names penning them.

   They are still pulp, still series pulp at that, and hardly up to the level of most American paperback and digest fiction of the era, but they follow a long tradition and there is nothing to be ashamed of here. They have colorful covers, they are well plotted, there is variety, and they are well written.

   No wonder they were still doing Sexton Blake movies and television series well into the 1960‘s.

   So, three British pulps from three different eras, all fun to read, all fluff, but good fluff, and all uniquely British in style and outlook. Fans won’t let Sexton Blake die and there are sites devoted to him. You can find actual e-books of Thriller, Blake, and a few Dixon Hawke books on line along with Nelson Lee, Falcon Swift, and Waldo the Wonderman, and the covers are still attractive to look at and worth collecting. (Steve Holland at Bear Alley has done a couple of handsome Blake anthologies.)

   The past never really dies, somebody just collects it.

Note:   All three of these stories (and many others) can be downloaded and read online at Comic Book Plus.

 Posted by at 2:32 am
Jul 012014
 
COLLECTING PULPS: A MEMOIR, PART ELEVEN –
Frank Robinson, 1926-2014
by Walker Martin


   I’ve just learned that Frank Robinson died on June 30, 2014. Another of my old pulp friends that I will miss and one less of the collectors who used to actually buy the pulps off the newsstands in the thirties and forties. Frank was born in 1926 and was 87 years old at the time of his death.

   Frank wore many hats, and I’m not talking about the hat that he always wore. He was an SF author, a writer of mainstream action fiction, an editor for the men’s magazines such as ROGUE, CAVALIER, PLAYBOY, a speechwriter for Harvey Milk, who was shot and killed in the 1980′s, a member of the San Francisco gay community, and finally at the end of his life, a movie actor. (He had a bit part playing himself in the movie, MILK.)

   However, though I was aware of all the above, I knew him only as one of the most intense and fanatical pulp magazine collectors that I have ever known. He was a “condition collector” and probably the top such collector among pulp collectors. Frank just didn’t collect nice condition pulps; he collected magazines that were often in perfect condition with white pages and glossy, new looking covers and spines. This is getting harder and harder to do because the pulp era is now many decades in the past, the last ones dying in 1955. (There are a couple of exceptions such as RANCH ROMANCES.) Some of the beautiful magazines that Frank collected are now close to a hundred years old.

   I first came into contact with Frank in the early 1980′s when he wrote me about some of his wants. We corresponded for many years and traded pulps back and forth. Not an easy thing to do because Frank only wanted perfection. He had what other collectors called “the wall of pulps” and they were all in fine or mint condition. His SF magazines were probably the best condition set in existence and his WEIRD TALES were a thing of beauty.

   During our correspondence, it was only natural that the subject of Pulpcon would arise. I urged him to attend the annual convention which was usually held in the Dayton, Ohio area. He eventually went to many of the conventions in the 1980′s and 1990′s and was finally awarded Pulpcon’s highest honor, the Lamont Award, at Pulpcon 29 in 2000.

   When I think back on our many conversations at Pulpcon, I cannot recall a single non-pulp related discussion. All we ever talked about were book and pulp matters. Wait — I do remember once showing him an original pen and ink illustration from a SF magazine that was used on one of his stories, but that was just about as far afield as we ever strayed.

   And that was how I liked it. Pulpcon was like a big book and pulp party, as if you had died and had gone to heaven. No families, no problems, forget your worries and just dive right into a gigantic room full of old magazines and books. I once had a friend who carried on an affair with a motel maid during the convention. When he told me about it, I was puzzled. Why, was my response. Sex could be pursued the other 51 weeks of the year. Why bother during Pulpcon?

   Frank felt the same way. Usually he could be found sitting behind a table comparing pulps and upgrading his magazine collection. You couldn’t miss him with his trademark golf cap and sonorous, deep voice. Pulpcon once had a guest that had worked at Ziff Davis as Frank had back in the forties and when he heard The Voice, he immediately knew who it was and yelled, “Why it’s that kid from the mailroom!”. He didn’t recognize the face but you could never forget Frank’s voice.

   Great collectors compile great collections not just by buying them but also by helping other collectors. I’ve run into this a hundred times with old-time collectors over the years. Here are some examples where Frank attempted to help me with my collection:

   1. During our correspondence, Frank asked me for my want list. At the time I was collecting just about every major pulp title except for the love, sport, and aviation/war magazines. Therefore it was several pages long and handwritten. He found several of my wants and we traded back and forth. A couple months later, I received in the mail a neatly typed manuscript. It was my handwritten want list that Frank had typed and without errors. It must have taken him hours to do it.

   2. Upon hearing that I had 112 SEA STORIES and only needed 6 issues for a complete set, he said he was willing to let me have his issues if he had the ones I needed.

   3. I was once talking about how I had various parts of the famous October 1912 Tarzan issue of ALL STORY but I was missing some pages. He offered to try and put together a complete issue if he could manage it.

   4. Since that didn’t work out, once Frank was at an auction on the east coast, and called me at work. He wanted to know how high I was willing to bid on the Tarzan issue and he would bid and get it for me. Unfortunately I was only prepared to go as high as $5,000 and someone else got it. But this is another beyond the call of duty or friendship action.

   As Frank got older, I guess he finally reached the point that we all eventually get to. He decided to find another home for his great collection. One of the great magazine auctions of several decades was held by Adventure House a couple years ago. It was simply called The Frank Robinson Collection auction and of course all serious collectors started to squirrel away money, borrow and rob the family bank accounts, lie to their non-collecting spouses, and otherwise act in ways that would be frowned on in polite society.

   I knew that most of the Robinson collection would be beyond my means because of the premium that we put on nice condition pulps. Fortunately I had most of the magazines already in lesser shape. But I did want something from the Frank Robinson Collection for my own collection and in memory of our friendship. I was fortunate to get several WESTERN STORY MAGAZINE issues from the early twenties in beautiful condition. But even these white paper artifacts cost me a lot more that I had thought they would. Each issue cost me over $100. A friend of mine got caught up in a bidding war and paid over $900 for a magazine that was worth less than a hundred.

   So I knew I was in dangerous territory. For instance the WEIRD TALES set went for over a quarter of a million dollars. But as all collectors know, you can always get more money, but rare books and pulps are not so easy to find. All collectors make mistakes. One of mine was selling my set of the 71 issues of PLANET STORIES for a thousand dollars several years ago. True, my set was not that great condition but I missed the garish, good girl art covers and the space opera. The letter columns were of great interest and fun to read.

   I decided to get the PLANET STORIES set at the Robinson auction. I knew they would go high, maybe cost more money than I would want to spend. I had sold my beat-up set for peanuts, which came to $15 each. What would the best condition set in the world go for? I knew the copies were perfect, white pages, bright, newsstand fresh covers and spines and that new pulp smell. They were new, 60 to 70 years after being printed!

   Even at $100 each the set would cost $7100 and I knew such condition would force the bidders to go higher that $100 each. It sure did but after the dust settled, I was the proud owner of the greatest set of PLANET STORIES in existence. Not just in the world but in existence! If you are a serious book or magazine collector, then you know this feeling. At first I figured I paid too much, but maybe not because I soon was offered my money back plus a set of PLANET STORIES in nice shape if I would sell the Robinson copies. I refused of course.

   Shortly after the above events, I went to the Windy City pulp show in Chicago. Doug Ellis had invited a few art and pulp collectors out to his house for lunch before the start of the convention. I was wandering through looking at the pulp art when I heard the sound of snoring on a couch in the basement. I went over and there was Frank Robinson laying flat on his back, sleeping. With his hat on! I stress the hat because Frank always had the golf hat on and even swam with it on according to reports. Well, now I knew that he even slept with the hat on.

   I didn’t say anything, but in a daze I went upstairs and said to Deb and Doug, “What’s cooler that having pulps from the Frank Robinson Auction?” “Having Frank himself as part of your collection!” Well of course he was just visiting, and I went back downstairs and looked at him again. This time he woke and without a second’s hesitation, said “Hi Walker” and proceeded to talk about pulps. I told him I had a special stamp and ink pad made and I was going to stamp each issue of PLANET STORIES on the cover and contents page the following statement: FROM THE FRANK ROBINSON COLLECTION.

   Of course I would be crazy to do that but I have been called crazy before. The magazines are so perfect that I’m afraid to handle them and I certainly can’t read them without degrading the condition. However, I solved my problem by buying back my beat up set that I had sold for $1,000 a dozen years ago. This time it cost me $1,700 to get them back. Now I have two sets of PLANET, one to read and one as a shrine to the memory of Frank.

   My last conversation with Frank was a couple years ago. I was looking at some WEIRD TALES that looked perfect and were up for auction. I heard that distinctive voice say, “Hey Walker, look at the paper inside.” I did and it was browned and brittle. We grinned at each other.

   RIP Frank.

 Posted by at 1:05 pm
May 292014
 
Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         


TALBOT MUNDY – The Mystery of Khufu’s Tomb. First published as “Khufu’s Real Tomb” in Adventure magazine, October 10, 1922. First book edition: Hutchinson & Co., UK, hardcover, 1933. First US edition: D. Appleton-Century Co., hardcover, 1935. Several other reprint editions exist. (Follow the link to an online edition of the pulp magazine version.)

   Talbot Mundy’s career was as strange as anything he wrote, and that is no small statement. A con man and adventurer in India he came to the United States, nearly died, saw the light, and reformed by becoming a writer, almost immediately penning a number of classics such as Rung Ho!, The Eye of Zeitoon, and Hira Singh. He shot to the top of the list of Haggard and Kipling successors and stayed there until his death, his work a staple in the pulps, particularly the grand old pulp icon, Adventure.

   His King of the Khyber Rifles was twice filmed, a bestseller, and even adapted by Classics Illustrated, and his novel Jimgrim, or King of the World is considered by many, myself included, the greatest achievement of the adventure pulps.

   Jimgrim featured one of Mundy’s series heroes (Tros of Samothrace, the Greek trader and opponent of Caesar and Cleopatra, is his other great creation), the American Captain James Schyler Grim, in the service of His Majesty’s Secret Service in the Middle and Near East. With his ally and friend Jeff Ramsden, his Sikh friend Naryan Singh, his Indian Secret Agent companion Chulander Ghose, and a small army of Mundy’s other heroes (Athleston King and Cottswold Ommony among them) he battles to keep the Middle East, Palestine in particular, from exploding.

   All of that fairly standard British Raj rah rah rah save for one fact: Talbot Mundy was no admirer of the Empire and stood for self-rule in India and the Middle East. It was a unique view of the world for an adventure story writer in that era. There is little racism or jingoism in Mundy.

   Later in life Mundy became obsessed with the philosophy of Theosophy, a semi-mystical religious movement out of Madame Blatavasky and the Golden Dawn. That would have ruined a lesser writer. In Mundy’s case it inspired his finest novels and most loved tales, Om: The Secret of Ahrbor Valley, The Nine Unknown, The Devil’s Guard, Full Moon, and Jimgrim.

   The change in his work showed first in the Jimgrim tales in Adventure, where Grim and company left the British Army and Secret Service behind and took up with American millionaire Meldrum Strange who financed their adventures from there on. And what adventures they were, a search for what happened to all the coins minted in the ancient world (they were hidden beneath the Ganges by the Nine Unknown), a war of good and evil on the roof of the world where the Black Lodge is challenged by the White, and the final novel of the series, Jimgrim, in which the world must be saved from a fanatical madman, leading to a finale that still stuns the unsuspecting reader today and never fails to bring a tear to my eye.

   In the transition period from the heyday of the series to the later deeper novels Mundy’s best is the Jimgrim adventure The Mystery of Khufu’s Tomb.

   It begins when engineer Jeff Ramsden is nearly run off a road on the Geiger Trail near Virginia City by Joan Angela Leich, the kind of headstrong heiress who was common in fiction of the time. Joan and Jeff are old friends though, and she has nearly gotten him killed before.

   She’s tall — maybe a mite too tall for some folks’ notions– and mid-Victorian mammas would never have approved of her, because she’s no more coy, or shy, or artful than the blue sky overhead. She has violet eyes, riotous hair of a shade between brown and gold, a straight, shapely little nose, a mouth that is all laughter, and a way of carrying herself that puts you in mind of all out-doors. I’ve seen her in evening dress with diamonds on; and much more frequently in riding-breeches and a soft felt hat; but there’s always the same effect of natural-born honesty, and laughter, and love of trees and things and people. She’s not a woman who wants to ape men, but a woman who can mix with men without being soiled or spoiled. For the rest, she’s not married yet, so there’s a chance for all of us except me. She turned me down long ago.

   That’s Joan all over, and a welcome breath of femininity she is in Mundy’s masculine world. She is also guaranteed trouble, and here is no exception. This time she has gotten involved with one Mrs. Isobel Aintree, a fatale femme with a cobra’s bite that Ramsden and Grim have battled before. Joan needs help concerning a purchase made while in Egypt during a revolution (the more things change …) where she “…went and bought a lot of land that everybody said was no good because it was too far from the Nile.”

   Now a man called Moustapha Pasha (“…there are men of all creeds and colours, who can mouth morality like machines printing paper money, but who you know at the first glance have only one rule, and that an automatic, self-adjusting, expanding and collapsing one, that adapts itself to every circumstance and always in the user’s favour. This man was clearly one of those.”) wants the land and won’t take no for an answer, but Joan is too stubborn to ever yield.

   Just what is on that land that Mrs. Aintree wants it and Moustapha Pasha is willing to bribe Ramsden to betray Joan to the tune of one million dollars (1920‘s dollars at that)? Mrs. Aintree wants it so bad she marries Moustapha Pasha. The answer must be in Egypt, and anywhere east of the Pillars of Hercules there is no better man to have on your side than Jimgrim, so Joan hires Meldrum Strange’s team to help her.

   As usual Grim knows more than might be expected:

   The men who are interested are keeping it awfully quiet among themselves, but Narayan Singh and I have overheard some talk, and the figure they name would make the Federal Reserve Board blink — fifty million pounds, or say two billion dollars!”

   “Let’s hope it’s true!” said I.

   “Let’s hope it isn’t true!” Grim answered. “Any such sum of money as that would turn Egypt into Hades! If it’s there it means civil war, whoever gets it!”

   Two billion dollars and the fate of Egypt, just the sort of thing Grim lives for.

And they are off with the help of a Chinese astronomer, Chu Chi Ying, and it is no real mystery what lies beneath Joan’s land.

   “…when they got to the so-called King’s Chamber it was empty. There never had been anything in it. Khufu was supposed to be buried in it, but he wasn’t. He was the richest Pharaoh Egypt ever had. He must have been, or he couldn’t have built the Pyramid. Where was he really buried, and what did he do with his money?”

   So if Khufu, Cheops, money is not in the Great Pyramid of Giseh, where is it? Want to hazard a guess?

   Our band of heroes must deal with enemies on all sides and excavate the treasure that Khufu flooded under Joan’s land without drawing too much attention. Mundy never made things easy for his heroes. You may even wish he had, because the danger, sweat, set backs, short-lived victories, and sheer impossibility of the task will leave the reader almost as stretched as the heroes.

   And it can only get worse, as Grim battles the forces of Moustapha Pasha and Mrs. Aintree above ground while Jeff and Joan are trapped underground avoiding death traps laid by the determined Khufu, and up against blind mutated giant albino crocodiles.

   Long before Indiana Jones, Clive Cussler, and James Rollins Mundy’s heroes were knee deep in the kind of adventures readers today savor. Today’s heroes rely on relentless action though, and while there is no shortage of action and movement, Mundy’s heroes use their brains first, then their brawn.

   That is one reason Mundy remains not only readable, but fresh and entertaining to read when so many others have been passed by. It isn’t hard to see the influence he had on Robert E. Howard, Philip Jose Farmer, and Fritz Leiber as well as a generation of adventure writers. His name still triggers images of exotic locales and high adventure in the wild places as much as Rider Haggard before him.

   I’ll give Mundy, via Ramsden, the last perfect words:

   In Singapore, in a little side street that runs down toward the quays, there lives a Chinaman named Chu Chi Ying, who teaches no more “fat-fool first mates” how to pass examinations for their master’s ticket, but smiles nearly all day long and amuses himself by making marvellous astronomical calculations. He seems to have an income quite sufficient for his needs, and a portrait of Joan Angela hangs on the wall just inside the doorway of his house. Go and look, if you don’t believe me. On your way, consider the stuffed, blind, white crocodile in the Gezivich Museum, Cairo.

   I don’t see that adventure today is in any better hands.

 Posted by at 11:28 pm
Apr 302014
 
WINDY CITY PULP CONVENTION 2014 REPORT
by Walker Martin


   As many of you may know I love going to pulp conventions and I’ve been attending them since 1972. I have a maniacal desire to read and collect old books and pulps. I realize it may be an addiction and a vice but it doesn’t seem to hurt my health or finances like drinking, drugs, gambling, or chasing women. Well at least it didn’t hurt me until this convention.

   For the last few months my legs have developed a pain which bothers me while sitting and sleeping. I’m often awakened at night by the pain and I’ve yet to find a comfortable position to sleep. I’ve seen different doctors and pain pills don’t help that much. A nerve doctor said maybe my back problems was the cause and I have scheduled further x-rays and MRI’s. But the main thing the medical profession agreed on was that I would not be taking any 15 hour trip to Chicago. (Airplanes are a problem because of claustrophobia and limited bags to bring back pulps.)

   Needless to say, being the insane collector that I am, I ignored all medical advice and on Thursday, April 24, I was in a car heading from Trenton, NJ to Morristown, NJ, where I was one of five collectors who had rented a big van. After an hour in the car, and even before getting to the van, I was in distress and reminding myself that I was a book collector and reader and nothing was going to stop me. I had to keep saying this to myself several times during the trip, which I now refer to as Death Trip 2014.

   But somehow, 15 hours later, I limped into the Westin hotel near Chicago and thought only about going to my room and having a stiff drink, pain pills or no pain pills. But in my room, the usual desire to meet other collectors and talk about books and pulps, kicked in and I went to the hospitality room. Once there, I stationed myself against the wall near the refrigerator where the beer was and I proceeded to drink, thinking By God, I made it.

   And I’m glad I did because I met a man who runs one of the very best pulp blogs. Sai lives in India and administers a blog called Pulpflakes. A great name for a great website and it’s all about pulps, the authors, the editors, the artists, the magazines. This was Sai’s first pulp convention.

   Another interesting person was Mala Mastroberte, the queen of the pulp pin-ups. Ed Hulse had the great idea to have her at his BLOOD n THUNDER table and perhaps it was too great an idea. I heard more than one collector refer to table not as the BLOOD n THUNDER or Ed Hulse table, but as the Mala table. Mala was a big hit and fortunately she had her boyfriend to watch over her because some collectors are all about the books and they don’t know how to act around women. Nothing worse than a leering bookworm. I ought to know.

   But don’t feel too sorry for Ed Hulse because he stumbled across the find of the show. Shortly after the convention opened he bought several long comic book boxes of ALL STORY. Most seemed to be priced at $5.00 and included several Edgar Rice Burroughs issues. Most were from 1917-1920 and there were over a hundred. I need one issue from this period and since I only need a total of 4 to complete my set, I was naturally very excited and figured the issue had to be there.

   Since we were all busy the first few days of the convention, there was no time to look through the magazines until Sunday afternoon. With great anticipation I watched as the magazines were sorted into years and then into months. The issue I need is dated July 7, 1917 and I noticed there were 11 months well represented from 1917. But one month was completely missing. You guessed it. No July issues at all.

   There is nothing more embarrassing than seeing some old guy sobbing because he needs a pulp. I managed to control myself and slunk off to the bar to drown my sorrows. I can deal with leg pain but not with missing out on my book wants.

   A good friend of mine told me about his find. He bought over 50 WEIRD TALES from the 1930′s for only like $25 to $45 each. I couldn’t believe such good luck and almost had him convinced that something must be wrong with the issues, perhaps pages excerpted or poor condition. But no, the magazines were ok.

   At this point I’d like to talk about the importance of attending these conventions, not only Windy City, but Pulpfest and the few one day shows that are held. I realize there are valid reasons for not attending, such as poor health and lack of money. But I’ve always forced myself to figure out someway to attend because I find so much not only in the dealer’s room but through friends and contacts. For instance I managed to get the several lots I wanted in the auction. If I had stayed home because of my leg problem, I never would have gotten them.

   And the conventions revive your interest in collecting, which I seriously believe is one of the joys of life. I actually feel sorry for non-collectors and people who call collectors the dreaded “hoarder” name. (There is a big difference in meaning between “collector” and “hoarder” but that’s another subject that many non-collectors simply do not understand at all.)

   Collecting has helped increase my desire to keep living, otherwise I might just pine away and eventually waste away like many of my non-collecting friends. I would have to say collecting books and pulps is the grandest game in the world and one that can give your life meaning.

   Now you might ask what did I get after all the trouble described above? Well, one problem with living a fairly long life is the chance that you might start to run out of things to collect. I guess at one time or another, I’ve collected just about every major pulp, digest, and literary title, including many slicks. I never bothered with the love, sport, and aviation genres but I’ve been involved with most other titles.

   So my wants are getting kind of esoteric and bizarre. A few issues here and there to complete sets. A few pulp artists or magazine cover paintings. Many years ago I used to collect the hero pulps but I sold them all. But the auction listed several lots of the SHADOW digests. They had most of the issues from 1944-1948, a total of 40 in all.

   I was interested in these issues because the magazine became more of an adult crime magazine during the post war years. Returning WW II vets did not give a damn about the Shadow but the back up stories and novelettes were of interest. I managed to be the high bidder on all the Shadow digest lots, a total of 10 lots. The average price came out to only $21 per issue which was far lower than the $50 -$80 prices that I saw in the dealer’s room.

   Another item I desperately wanted was a preliminary sketch by artist Lee Brown Coye. The finished piece of art in FANTASTIC, February 1963, I think is stunning and I noticed the preliminary drawing was very detailed and close to the finished art. Again, I was the winning bidder at $650.

   Speaking of the auctions, there were two that lasted several hours during the evening. The Friday auction was mainly from the collections of the Jerry Weist estate and the Robert Weinberg collection. The Jerry Weist items were mainly very nice condition SF magazines and the Weinberg collection included some stunning SF correspondence, cancelled Munsey and Popular Publications checks and all sorts of interesting items.

   The original manuscript of C. L. Moore’s “Black God’s Kiss,” which appeared in WEIRD TALES, October, 1934, bought the highest amount of money I’ve ever seen at a pulp convention auction: $4,500 plus the $500 buyer’s premium. That’s $5,000 for an iconic, unique item.

   Some other authors represented by checks and letters were L. Ron Hubbard, Farnsworth Wright, Henry Whitehead, Abraham Merritt, Austin Hall, Homer Eon Flint, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Murray Leinster, Isaac Asimov, Fred Pohl, Otis Adelbert Kline, George Allan England, Algis Budrys, Eric Frank Russell, and others too numerous to name.

   The Saturday night auction was made up of over 100 lots listing most of the issues of the SHADOW magazine. Most issues went for reasonable prices. Following the SHADOW auction there were almost another 100 lots listing various pulp magazines but there also was a Frank R. Paul illustration from FANTASTIC NOVELS which went for $800.

   The Windy City show is not just the dealer’s room and auction, though that’s what most collectors are interested in. There also was a very large art show with quite a few pulp paintings and illustrations from the collections of Doug Ellis and Deb Fulton, Robert and Phyllis Weinberg, and others. Ed Hulse put on his usual fine film show which lasted all day and even after the auction in the early morning hours. The themes celebrated the 95th birthday of BLACK MASK and WESTERN STORY.

   There were two panels after the dealer’s room closed. The first one was on a subject that was very much needed but had often been ignored over the years at Pulpcon. The Western Pulps panel was comprised of Ed Hulse, Walker Martin, and Tom Roberts. In about an hour we tried to make up for lost time and discuss major elements of this important topic. Which of course is impossible since there were scores of western titles and it was the biggest selling genre by far except for perhaps the love pulps.

   I gave my opinion concerning the best western pulp magazines, all of which I have collected over the years. The biggest of all was WESTERN STORY, 1919-1949 with over 1250 issues. I need about 11 issues including the first one and I’ll never be able to complete the set but I have hopes of getting it down to single digits.

   The second best and some would say even better than WESTERN STORY, was definitely the Doubleday issues of WEST during 1926-1934. During this 8 or 9 year span the magazine was often published on a weekly and bi-weekly schedule and had all the good authors. It was sold to another publisher in 1935 and continued on for many years but not at the Doubleday level. Third and fourth best would be DIME WESTERN and STAR WESTERN and some feel they were the best westerns published by Popular Publications.

   We now live in a era that has no western short fiction magazine and this is hard to believe when we look back to the 1930′s and 1940′s when the newsstands groaned under the weight of these titles.

   There were many interesting western writers and some of my favorites are Luke Short, W.C. Tuttle, and Walt Coburn. Coburn had a drinking problem and this showed in some of his work but when he was feeling good and sober, he was one of the best because he grew up on a working cowboy’s ranch and knew how the men dressed, talked, and rode. Black Dog Books will soon be publishing a collection of Coburn’s fiction from WESTERN STORY. Keep an eye out for BULLETS IN THE BLACK by Walt Coburn. Introduction by the great James Reasoner.

   My old friends of 20 or 30 years ago would have said that I have committed sacrilege by not including Max Brand. Max Brand collectors used to be all over the place at Pulpcon, collecting the pulps, binding the stories into home made books, writing articles and talking about him. In fact, if they were still alive I would not dare say anything negative about Brand. Not if I wanted to keep their friendship. They loved Max Brand and for over 50 years I’ve tried to love him also. Some of his work I like and some I hate. I now would have to say that Max Brand wrote too much and too fast and that’s going to hurt him as far as being remembered.

   The Second panel was on Saturday night and discussed Hammett, BLACK MASK, and the Detective Pulps. Moderated by John Wooley along with such experts as Ed Hulse, Digges La Touche, and Bob Weinberg. I was so jealous about not being on this panel that I tried to pick a fight with Digges by yelling at him, “So You’re the expert on Earle Stanley Gardner!”. But I didn’t have enough to drink to be drunk enough, so they ignored me.

   Bob Weinberg did make one interesting statement about the cover art of DIME DETECTIVE being better than the covers of BLACK MASK in the 1930′s. Maybe the late thirties yes, but when Paul Herman, another BLACK MASK art collector, and I heard this, we started muttering that though we love and have covers from DIME DETECTIVE, the early 1930′s covers of BLACK MASK are amazing. Joe Shaw made sure the cover artist captured the tough, hardboiled, atmosphere of the magazine.

   The funny thing is that someone told Bob Weinberg about my disagreeing with him. Later on, he approached me and told me I was wrong, and how could I say such a thing, etc. But this just shows why Bob and Paul and I, are pulp art collectors. To collect cover art you must be opinionated and passionate about the subject. Otherwise you don’t collect original art at all.

   The program book, which is compiled and edited by Tom Roberts, is excellent. About 50 pages on the detective pulps, another 50 pages on the western pulps, and 50 pages on art and film. I’m certain you can get a copy from Black Dog Books.

   On Sunday, I talked with Doug Ellis about the attendance. He said they broke 500 for the first time ever (the most the old Pulpcon ever had was 300) and had 150 dealer’s tables. I spent the entire three days limping around the room and the place was always busy. The old Pulpcon used to have periods where it looked deserted but you don’t see this at Windy City or Pulpfest.

   So, on Monday morning, in a steady rain, we just barely crammed in all our treasures into the great white van. There were a couple times I almost said to stop the van, so I could get out, but we made it back to Morristown in about 14 hours. I was so exhausted that I wondered if I could make it to the car for the ride back to Trenton. We transferred all the boxes to Digges’ car and were ready to go. I told myself, look I just made 14 hours, I can make another hour or so. Then Digges told me the car battery was dead and the car would not start.

   At this point the details are a sort of blur for me. I remember standing in the dark and thinking what now? If it was up to me, I’d still be standing there. Fortunately Ed Hulse’s sister let us come into her house even though it was late and gave us coffee. She even called her Triple A and had them jump start the car. So off we finally went.

   Now the big question is will I be able to make to Pulpfest, August 7, 2014? Collectors, you better believe it!

 Posted by at 6:51 pm
Mar 242014
 

BNT Guide to Pulp FictionInterested in selling at PulpFest 2014? If your specialty is pulp magazines, vintage paperbacks, first edition hardcovers, original art, series books, dime novels, men’s adventure, true crime, digest, or slick magazines, Big Little Books, B-movies, serials and related collectibles, old-time-radio shows, or Golden and Silver Age comic books, then PulpFest is for you.

The people who attend PulpFest are primarily interested in pulp and genre fiction as well as pulp and paperback art. So it’s a great place to sell science-fiction books, mystery and detective fiction, adventure or western fiction, original artwork, and more. And it doesn’t have to be old! Publishers such as Adventures in BronzeAge of AcesBattered Silicon Dispatch Box, and Murania Press do well selling their pulp reprints and related materials as do resellers such as Mike Chomko, Books and Martin Grams. Likewise, new pulp publishers and authors such as Dick Enos, William Patrick Maynard, and Ron Fortier and Rob Davis of Airship 27 have found PulpFest to be a great event to market today’s pulp fiction.

PulpFest 2014 will have over 100 six-foot tables in its 15,800 square-foot dealers’ room. Wall tables will cost $80 and island tables will be $70. Dealers will also be required to purchase regular three-day memberships for themselves and for any helpers accompanying them to PulpFest. For those dealers who will be staying at the Hyatt Regency ColumbusPulpFest is pleased to offer a third table free for every two tables that they rent, a tremendous savings. That’s buy two and get one free to thank such dealers for helping to defray the convention’s substantial costs by staying at the host hotel.

Our dealers’ room will be open at 10 AM on Friday, August 8th, and remain open until 5 PM. We’ll also have hours on Saturday and Sunday, August 9th & 10th. Please visit our convention hours page for more details. And don’t forget about our early-bird hours on Thursday evening, August 7th, from 6 PM to 10 PM, when dedicated fans of  pulp and genre fiction will enjoy an extra four hours of shopping.

So what are you waiting for? Start planning now to attend as a PulpFest 2014 dealer and join hundreds of pulp fiction fans at the pop-culture center of the universe! You can register by clicking on the link below for a download of our 2014 dealer newsletter & registration form.

PulpFest 2014 Dealer Newsletter & Registration Form

If you’d prefer to register via email, please send all of the information requested on our dealer registration form to Jack Cullers at jack@pulpfest.com and complete our survey by clicking here.  Remember, we’ll be holding a random drawing for three free memberships to PulpFest 2014 for those who respond to our survey questions.

The front cover to Ed Hulse’s The Blood ‘n’ Thunder Guide to Pulp Fiction was designed by Chris Kalb, a talented illustrator who also put together the PulpFest website way back when. This must-have, non-fiction guide to pulps and pulp fiction was published in 2013 by Murania Press.

Sep 212012
 
I've been compiling the new issue of Ruudinsavu (= Gunsmoke), the official magazine of the Finnish Western Society. I've been dreaming about the issue dedicated to the Zorro phenomenon, to the movies and comics and other stuff that's been made about him. It seems like it's now coming true, with me writing the article on Johnston McCulley who originally invented the character and wrote the first stories about him.

McCulley wrote four novel-lenght stories about Zorro, but weirdly enough only the first seems to have been published in book from. Can this be true? And the first one, originally "The Curse of Capistrano", later published as The Mark of Zorro, the title of the Douglas Fairbanks film of 1920, is now available only in the POD edition from Wildside Press. (It's okay, but it has an ugly cover, with McCulley's name written wrong ("McCully") and the book has some formatting and scanning errors.) How can this be? McCulley died in 1958, so his work is technically still under copyright - except seemingly for The Mark of Zorro, since I don't think Wildside Press is paying anyone anything for the rights of book. Is there a problem with McCulley's heirs? I notice Googling around that there's been talk about the collected Zorro short stories coming from Black Dog Books, but so far nothing.

Back to the actual book. "The Curse of Capistrano" was published in All-Story Weekly in 1919, making Zorro one of those long-living heroes originated in the pages of a pulp or other fiction magazine, just like Tarzan or Sherlock Holmes. The story was fast made into a movie and hence the book was getting to be known as The Mark of Zorro.

The book is entertaining, and though it's dated in many ways (Zorro never kills anyone, except one guy in a duel and that's perfectly alright for everyone concerned), it's still a quick read. McCulley uses a highly sophisticated style, one he probably thought suits the early 19th century Spaniards, and at times it's a bit too funny - unintentionally. The book's also staged like a play, with far too few scenes for action and too many of them take place indoors. There are some good battle scenes to make up for the staginess. The basic gimmick - that Zorro and Diego Vega are one and the same guy - is basic knowledge to everyone now, so the book loses one of its advantages at first sight.

I'd really like to read the other McCulley Zorros, but it seems it's almost impossible, unless I pay some real money for the old pulps they were published in. (Make sure to note these Zorro tie-ins from Sandra Curtis that to my knowledge have never been published in English.)

The weird things don't end here, by the way: McCulley's Zorro was never published in Finnish. We've had only the movies and the Disney TV show and Steve Frazee's novelization of it.

Other Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott's blog here.
 Posted by at 9:01 pm
Sep 172012
 

This week, our friends at Marvel publish the Classified Edition of Incognito, collecting, with bonus material, the first two volumes of the acclaimed, hard-boiled series that Joe Hill describes as “what the albums of the Black Keys are to rock and roll and the pictures of Quentin Tarantino are to film.”

Hill’s essay on INCOGNITO follows. Go check out INCOGNITO now! We’ll have more from Brubaker and the INCOGNITO series as the week continues.

I hate it when comic creators get bitching and moaning about how their art form doesn’t get the respect it deserves, isn’t honored the way theater or painting or mainstream literature is honored, and all that blah-de-blah-de-fucking-blah.

Oh, go cry a river somewhere over your twenty-year-old copies of Maus and leave me alone.

Then there are these card-carrying boys of Fanboy Nation who want to establish a “read-comics-in-public” day, to make comics seem more socially normative.

Fuck that.

I don’t want comics to be respectable. I don’t want everyone proudly looking at them in public. I want reading comics to feel dirty and unhealthy and transgressive, to feel like sin, like a visit to the whorehouse, or a secret fight club, or maybe both at the same time.I don’t read comics, I do comics, like shots, four-color grain alcohol slurped out of the White Queen’s dainty navel; afterwards she can slap me around  a little and tell me how she’s going to punish my wrongdoer. I didn’t put my money down for a moving literary epiphany. I dropped my cash to see badass women cavort in fetish costumes while fighting evil, to watch brutal men strangle monsters with their bare hands, to see a city block leveled (if not a whole city), and to have a front-row seat as malformed monsters of evil are sliced in half by their own death ray machines.

Don’t get me wrong. I am often engaged, enthralled, and moved by the redemptive experience of high art, as it is found in films like “Rules of the Game,” a book like Malamud’s “A New Life,” or a comic like “Fun Home.” It’s just that I don’t seem to be compulsively drawn to that kind of thing. What really gets my pulse jacked are stories of grime and punishment, lawlessness and disorder, the bad and the ugly(hold the good).

Stories of this ilk grab me like a magnet grabs iron shavings. The creators of such work are blood-slicked  MMA fighters, in a world where to fight at all is increasingly seen as barbaric, and embarrassingly out of step with the times. If I was a more sensible man, governed by more sensible, forward-looking notions, I’m sure I would invest my time in better mannered, more tasteful art forms. But my deepest enthusiasm has always been reserved for the creators that speak to my nerve-endings.

I suppose it’s a failing; I have always had compassion for the wrong people.

*

Speaking of the wrong people, let’s talk about Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips.

INCOGNITO: BAD INFLUENCES is their latest crime of passion, but it is only one outrage in a five-year spree that dates back to their first creator-owned book together, CRIMINAL: COWARD. I recommend the entire CRIMINAL and INCOGNITO library without reservation. CRIMINAL and INCOGNITO are to comics what the albums of the Black Keys are to rock and roll and the pictures of Quentin Tarantino are to film. That is to say, they are willful efforts to explore a given medium at its most primal, most unthought state; to get down to the id of a particular kind of art. The id of film is, no doubt, the American grindhouse cinema of the 70s; the id of rock is Muddy roaring that he’s got his mojo working; the id of comics may be viewed in the blood-spattered crime and horror books of the early fifties, and here it is again, unadulterated and pure, in the work of Brubaker and Phillips.

I hasten to add that these are not coy, artificial, wink-wink attempts at homage. INCOGNITO is not the kind of work that operates from homage, a parasite living on nostalgia and borrowed time; it is the kind of elemental work people pay homage to twenty years on down the road.

BAD INFLUENCES is the second book in the story of Zach Overkill, a nearly indestructible man who spent years using his powers to get rich, get laid, and lay waste (Didn’t read the first book yet? Stop where you are. It’s not that you can’t read this book if you didn’t bother with book one. It’s that you shouldn’t. Go and get it, read it and come back).

Only one thing could endanger our (anti-)hero: growing a conscience. Zack is never going to be on the side of the angels, but in the course of his two-fisted travels, he catches a bad case of humanity, and is never quite able to shake it. While searching for Simon Slaughter, a former hero, who went deep undercover among the bad guys, and who has apparently gone native, Zack finds his own soul…and isn’t very happy about it. It was, frankly, a whole lot more fun whoring and kicking-ass, in the days before he learned how to think. In this way, Zack’s inner struggle is a perfect analogy for the comic business as a whole: is it better to work for a noble, elevating, occasionally boring goal…or to get away with murder?

Ed Brubaker’s answer to that important, even necessary question is right here in this book. I don’t want to give anything away, or to speak for him, but it’s probably worth noting: Ed didn’t name his protagonist Zack Overthink.

At a pivotal moment in the story, Zack catches himself feeling bad for all the outlaws he’s crossed and destroyed, and ruminates: Maybe my problem is I have compassion for the wrong people. Caring about, rooting for, and getting off on the dirty dirty lives of the bad guys…that’s just sick.

Oh, you too?

Joe Hill

New Hampshire, April, 2011

May 172012
 

(By Michael)


                                    “Rip me! Rip me!”
                                                – Cora, The Postman Always Rings Twice


Ophelia:            Rip me. [Hamlet rips her blouse.] Again . . . again. [He does, he does.]

Crack.

Hamlet:             That was either my sixteenth-century fingers, or your sixteenth-century bodice.

Ophelia:            My bodice, baby! Rip me! Rip me!

Hamlet:             I already did. I already did.

Ophelia:            You’re so hot. Let’s kill my dad..

Hamlet:             Polonius?

Ophelia:            He’s a perv and talks like an Elizabethan.

Hamlet:             So do you.

Ophelia:            I know. Rip me. [Hamlet rips her bodice.] I saw him in my bedchamber fingering my knickers.

Hamlet:             Oh man, I’ll stab him in the arras.

Ophelia:            The ass?

Hamlet:           The arras – the curtain. I’ll stab him when he’s hiding behind the arras.

Ophelia:            You talking Elizabethan?

Hamlet:             Yeh.

Ophelia:            That’s why you’re italicizing?

Hamlet:             Uh huh.

Ophelia:            Grrr. Rip me.

Hamlet:             Wait – Here he cometh.

Ophelia:            Grrr.

Hamlet:             What the hell? That’s mom’s bedchamber. What kind of kinky-ass . . . Hey, yo! Polo! Wassup with the Peeping Tom? You peeping on the queen-my-mother, my-father’s-brother’s-lover?”
           
Polonius [Clutching his heart]:               Sire, I assure thee –

Hamlet [Drawing his sword]:                 I’ll assure you.

Polonius:           Neither a borrower nor a lender be.

Hamlet:             You talking like Ben Franklin, old man?

Polonius:           Be thou familiar but by no means vulgar.

Hamlet:             Wait a minute – That’s Elizabethan.

Ophelia:            Rip me?

Polonius:           Beware of entrance to a quarrel –

Hamlet:             Enough!

Polonius:            – but being in, bear it that the opposed may beware of thee.

Hamlet:              ENOUGH!

Polonius:           This above all –

Hamlet [Running his sword through Polonius]:    A rat!

Polonius [Dying]:          To thine own self be true.

Ophelia: [Regarding her fallen father]:    You killed him.

Hamlet:             Yeh.

Ophelia:            That’s hot.

Hamlet:             Yeh.

Ophelia:            Rip me.

Hamlet:             Later, babe. Right now, I got an uncle that needs killing.

            Exeunt.
             










Apr 142012
 
A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini


PAUL CAIN Fast One

PAUL CAIN – Fast One. Doubleday Doran & Co., hardcover, 1933. First appeared in serialized form in non-consecutive issues of Black Mask magazine between March and September, 1932. Bond Mystery #10, digest paperback, 1945. Avon #178, pbbk, 1948; Avon #496, ppbk, 1952. Southern Illinois University Press, hardcover, 1978. Popular Library, paperback, “American Fiction” series, 1980. Black Lizard, paperback, 1987.

   The hardest of the hard-boiled writers for Black Mask in the early 1930s was unquestionably Paul Cain (Peter Ruric). His style, as pulp authority Ron Goulart has noted, at times “becomes as sparse and clipped as that of a McGuffey’s Reader.”

   In an afterword to the Southern Illinois reprint edition, critic Irvin Faust says that Cain “hasn’t the time or patience for excess baggage. He picks up his literary scalpel and scrapes away conjunctions as if they were bad merchandise… He digs into the page with a hard sentence: simple, declarative, exact.”

PAUL CAIN Fast One

   Fast One is Cain’s only novel. (He was primarily a screenwriter and is responsible for such films as One for the Money, Grand Central Murders, and Mademoiselle Foi.)

   It was written on a bet and its various sections first appeared in Black Mask as five self-contained novelettes prior to book publication. It is unrelentingly grim and stark and brutal, to such an extent that it becomes uncomfortable to read; one begins to feel a kind of breathless despair well before the end.

PAUL CAIN Fast One

   The “hero” is Gerry Kells, a mysterious loner, a criminal who insinuates himself into the Los Angeles underworld and wreaks havoc on its denizens and on others who happen to get in his way. The dust jacket blurb on a 1978 reissue by Southern Illinois University Press says about Kells:

    “Only the strong prosper in the world of the Depression. Seemingly amoral, Kells does prosper. He strikes to survive, kills without conscience, without time for conscience. But he never becomes a mere killing machine. His integrity, his humanity, abides in a code demanding that he pay for all services: those rendered for him, those rendered against him. He pays with a two-sided coin-loyalty, revenge. He spends money freely, and those who cross him die hard.”

PAUL CAIN Fast One

   Cain knew his Los Angeles and he knew the ways of its Prohibition and post-Prohibition underworld. The portrait he paints of both, and of Gerry Kells, makes Fast One an important and compulsively readable novel, despite that feeling of breathless despair it engenders.

   The only other book by Cain is Seven Slayers (1946), a collection of seven of his other Black Mask stories, all of which are in the same tough vein and all of which are excellent samples of pulp writing at its best.

         ———
   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

 Posted by at 7:18 pm
Apr 112012
 
Reviewed by Walker Martin:


PAUL CAIN – The Complete Slayers. Edited and with a biographic essay by Max Allan Collins and Lynn F. Myers, Jr.   Centipede Press, hardcover, March 2012.

PAUL CAIN The Complete Slayers

   Recently I was very impressed by a collection of hardboiled literature and we discussed it here on Mystery*File. I’m talking about Frederick Nebel’s The Complete Casebook of Cardigan. Around the same time, a second collection was published, this time by Paul Cain (no relation to James Cain). The book is titled The Complete Slayers and has created a buzz on the internet and in some discussion groups.

   Paul Cain’s career was far shorter than Frederick Nebel and except for one short story in 1949, all his fiction appeared during the period between 1932 and 1936. At least three major newspapers have reviewed the book, one did not like it and the other two loved it.

   In The Wall Street Journal, Lee Sandlin bluntly states, “Cain wasn’t any good.” However in The Washington Post, Michael Dirda, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his reviews, gives the collection a very favorable review and stresses Raymond Chandler’s quote about Paul Cain’s style being “some kind of high point in the ultra hard-boiled manner.”

PAUL CAIN The Complete Slayers

   He then finishes his long review by saying, “There’s absolutely nothing to criticize about the knockout stories inside the book…” The Los Angeles Review of Books also gives it a favorable long review and discusses “The grim hardness of a neglected noir master.”

   I’ve been a long time admirer of Paul Cain and first read his work in Black Mask back in the 1970′s when I was picking up back issues for only a few dollars each. Of the 20 stories in this collection, 17 of them first appeared in Black Mask. Five were combined and published as Cain’s only novel, Fast One.

   I reread the novel a couple times over the years and now with this collection, which reprints the novel in its original magazine form, I feel I can safely say that Fast One definitely deserves to be on any list of the 10 best hardboiled novels.

PAUL CAIN The Complete Slayers

   On a recent panel at PulpFest in Columbus Ohio, the topic was Black Mask and the consensus was that Paul Cain was one of the very best writers for the magazine, after of course, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Exactly how editor Joseph Shaw discovered Paul Cain is still a mystery but we can recreate some of the details of what must have happened.

   In 1930 Dashiell Hammett stopped writing for Black Mask. He had been writing for the magazine for several years and had just about created the hardboiled detective. I say just about because some scholars also credit Carroll John Daly. He left not because of any disagreement but simply because the movie industry in Hollywood paid far more money.

   Shaw even sent Hammett a check for $500 as an advance on another story, but this money was now just pocket change since Hollywood was paying more than this every week.

PAUL CAIN The Complete Slayers

   In an attempt to replace Hammett, Joseph Shaw got Frederick Nebel to start writing a series about another agency detective called Donahue. There were over a dozen of these novelets, which will soon see publication as Tough As Nails (Altus Press). Then in 1932 he discovered Paul Cain, and it’s obvious that Cain was encouraged to write in the Hammett, tough hardboiled style.

   The first story by Cain appeared in the March 1932 issue of Black Mask and was called “Fast One” The first novelet of a series that would eventually be published as the novel, Fast One.

   It stars Gerry Kells and relates the complicated plot of how Kells gets involved in gambling and corrupt politics. The story is very bleak, very violent, very fast.

   Kells gets his face carefully kicked, sapped on the head, shot in the leg, an ice pick in the back, and finally a car crash. If you are looking for a clean cut hero with a happy ending, then this is not the book for you.

PAUL CAIN The Complete Slayers

   His girlfriend Granquist has no first name and is a drunk. Again, not your typical pretty, young heroine of most novels. In fact I consider her to be one of the most believable gangster girlfriends that I have read about.

   Then in 1933, Shaw discovered Raymond Chandler as the hunt to replace Hammett continued. In 1936 Joseph Shaw left Black Mask over a salary dispute and he had such a big influence that several writers also quit the magazine.

   When he left, so did Paul Cain, Frederick Nebel, and Raymond Chandler. Lester Dent also stopped writing for the magazine. He only wrote two hardboiled stories but he might have written more with Shaw’s encouragement. The magazine became quite different after Shaw left, certainly less hardboiled.

   The Complete Slayers is published by Centipede Press in a special 500 copy edition, signed by the editors and the artist, Ron Lesser. The cover price is $75 but I see that amazon.com still is discounting it at $47.

PAUL CAIN The Complete Slayers

   This book is definitely worth the price. There are 622 pages, a biographical essay about Cain’s life, a 13 page color section of book and magazine covers, and each story has an introduction. The dust jacket cover is a knockout showing a scantily dressed blond, casually pointing a gun at some guy lying on the floor.

   There is one incorrect statement in the biography that has to be pointed out. The editors state that after Shaw left Black Mask in 1936, Daisy Bacon took over as editor. Daisy worked for Street and Smith and was responsible for the astounding success of Love Story, which was the biggest seller of all the pulp magazines. I’ve heard circulation reports of 600,000 a week.

   She eventually became editor of Detective Story in the 1940′s but at no time did she ever edit Black Mask. The lady who took over after Shaw was Fanny Ellsworth(1936-1940). Then Ken White became editor in 1940 when Popular Publications bought the title.

   If you like hardboiled fiction or the tough Black Mask style, then this collection is a must buy. It gets my highest recommendation.

PAUL CAIN The Complete Slayers

 Posted by at 11:20 pm