Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Reviews: Mouthpiece and Trouble on His Wings

The lastest releases from Galaxy Press are two great pulp classics!
Here are my reviews!

Review: Trouble On His Wings by L. Ron Hubbard

In this exciting pulp classic from 1939, Johnny Brice is working as a flyer and photographer for World News publications. He’s a typical brash young man, intent on making a dollar and willing to take chances. Constantly putting himself at risk is second nature to him. Determined to get the first newsreel footage of disasters as they happen, he goes so far as to parachute into the ocean in order to get picked up by a rescue ship on its way to save the survivors of a burning vessel. Then one day he inadvertently saves the life of a beautiful girl, and as you would expect from a piece of pulp fiction the plot heats up from there.

Trouble On His Wings is one of many air-adventure stories penned by L. Ron Hubbard, himself a barnstorming pilot in his youth. This is one of his longer stories from the 30s and what a wonderful tale it is. Johnny Brice is identical to the male lead characters in Hubbard’s best fiction; immediately likeable, handsome and resourceful. I’m particularly fond of Hubbard’s air-adventure tales because his love of flying and adventure comes across in the writing. His characters speak to the joy of flight and the grand sweep of landscape below them: “She watched the country unroll below them, small ripples of pleasure going through her at the variety of colors of the checkerboard earth, of the dollhouse towns, always with their guardian church spires...” Such strong writing makes reading Trouble On His Wings all the more pleasurable. You can see and feel the action of the story.

And what would a great pulp fiction story be without a little romance? Trouble On His Wings is flavored with a blossoming romance as Brice takes note of his beautiful rescued passenger as they fly across the country: “Her honey-gold hair was delightfully real.” But naturally their fate is undecided as Brice begins to think the girl, who refuses to tell him her name, has jinxed him. His best efforts at getting newsreel footage are crushed time and again with a string of incredible bad luck. The girl may be beautiful, but he can’t shake either her or the trouble that keeps coming his way. Written in eleven thrilling chapters Trouble On His Wings is a robust and heartfelt adventure. The plot takes a few turns and twists that will keep readers guessing as they whip through the pages.

This was such a fun book to read. I was swept along myself on this cross-country thrill ride. Readers will be rooting for Johnny Brice and “Jinx” to not only work out their problems, but survive the inexplicable poor fortune that plagues Johnny at every turn. What you get with every story by L. Ron Hubbard is a dedication to the characters, the plot and a devotion to the readers who are expecting the best, and then receiving the best. Books like Trouble On His Wings can be enjoyed again and again along with the entire 80 volume series.
Review: Mouthpiece by L. Ron Hubbard
Galaxy Press continues its juggernaut monthly reprints of L. Ron Hubbard’s classic pulp fiction with Mouthpiece, a 1934 story originally published in Thrilling Detective. This short crime suspense tale brings to mind the gangster films of the 30s starring Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney and George Raft. It was the era of J. Edgar Hoover’s war on crime when the exploits of bank robbers John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd both captivated and frightened a nation. In this splendid story Mat Lawrence returns to the city to investigate his father’s death. From the opening paragraphs we are treated to Hubbard’s excellent prose. The city here is described as “this world of sound and steel.” Such deft, imagistic flourishes always add another level of quality to Hubbard’s pulp fiction. In another passage a revolver held to a man’s head becomes “a round, hard snarl.” This is classic American hard-boiled pulp fiction. Mouthpiece is short, but satisfying. Hubbard’s knack for creating likeable characters and believable, fast-paced plots is readily evident in Mouthpiece.
Mouthpiece also features three other great crime suspense stories from golden age. The second story, Flame City, involves a certain Detective-Sergeant Tom Delaney and his investigation into some mysterious fires. Told in three short chapters, the middle section even features a “man-trapped-in-a-locked room” which so often was a staple plot device for pulp writers. Hubbard’s take on this familiar ploy was to infuse the scene with taut prose and raw action. Brutal without being gory, Hubbard’s characters are street-toughs with a keen intellect and the savvy required to extricate themselves from trouble. And there’s always trouble in one form or another.
In the third story, Calling Squad Cars, police radio operator Jim Collins is framed by gangsters and sets out to clear his name. Collins is a typical Hubbard hero. When Collins is trapped by the gangsters “It suddenly came to him that he was weaponless, save for his two fists and his wits.” My favorite of the selections, Calling Squad Cars pits an average man against impossible odds. Collins uses both his fists and his wits to good effect.
The final entry, The Grease Spot, is about a mechanic named Bill Milan who picks up car crash reports via radio and drives to the crash scene to offer his services as a way of making money. The cops don’t like it so much but it’s not illegal. Then one night Milan arrives before the police and he’s forced to drive some gangsters to safety. The ensuing action is thick with tension as Milan struggles valiantly to turn the tables on a gangster named Carbonelli.
The four stories presented in Mouthpiece are prime examples of the pulp era’s best fiction. Hubbard’s stories are a joy to read. In reading these stories I was reminded why fiction is called “creative writing” when they teach it in colleges and universities. Hubbard’s creative talent shines in every story. It doesn’t just rain in stories like these; instead a character looking out at the street will pause and note “the rain which skittered across the black pavement.” And if a car passes by the “tires sang over the wet asphalt.” A car’s wrecked taillight will shine “like a wet ruby.” Such colorful prose, resourceful characters, action and adventure are all the highlights of L. Ron Hubbard’s pulp fiction. Mouthpiece is another gem readers will want to pick up fast.

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