Friday, November 30, 2018

Route 14

My dive often began in darkness, and when the temperature was well below zero. The windshield is a pane of ice. My breath makes cold fog that swirls in front of me. I check the temperature gauge and flip on the heater. The fan whines and cold air circulates inside the frozen Nissan interior. My gloved hands are already numb. I let the car warm-up for fifteen minutes. By then, the ice on the windshield has just begun to dissipate. I get a peak outside at the frozen, dark world that is my home.

Illinois is not a friendly state in the winter. It is cold and forbidding, hostile and unloving. I long for spring, and a drive in sunlight, trees swaying in a warm breeze along route 14 which I have been driving across daily for the better part of two decades. Route 14 is a dismal stretch of asphalt that curls from the prairie in McHenry County down through the Fox River Valley and into Chicago. Route 14 is a microcosm for America. It should never be viewed as anything except a microcosm because it represents everything that is good and kind and true about the United States; and it represents the ugly destructive beast that is also part of our national character.

In the winter, Route 14 is an arctic zone; mounds of plowed, gritty snow shoved into heaps in parking lots and at intersections. The color is predominantly gray. For two years I have been snapping photographs and taking notes about Route 14 in my effort to understand this highway. Chicagoland is the crossroads of the Midwest, just as St. Louis is the gateway to the West. The suburban sprawl that intercuts the prairie and former marshlands is home to over four million people. The nature of those four million people is open for debate. For some, this would appear to be four million unhappy, poorly educated people often living hand to mouth. For others, this would appear to be four million generally prosperous people making a go of it. The truth lies somewhere in between opposing viewpoints.
I am always aware of the sky. It covers us with a blanket of moody colors; sometimes bright and sometimes hard and slashing with an oppressive tone. I am also acutely aware of the numerous empty storefronts, the lingering result of America’s economic crisis. Where once we bemoaned the proliferation of unsightly strip-malls alongside our highways, now we bemoan their inability to support the fractured constructs of commerce and industry. In 1818, the population of Illinois was approximately 35,000. Today, the city of Crystal lake boats a population edging on 40,000. The land here with trail that once lead to Fort Dearborn had been a rolling expanse of swampy marsh, oak savanna and various conifer. Many of the marshes had an odor, leading the Indians to call this “land of the skunk;” or according to some historians, Chicago is derived from the Indian word “chicagoua” which is the name of a garlic plant. Vile smells have always been a part of Chicago’s history, most notably with the infamous cattle slaughterhouses and stockyards. Today, the most prominent odors emanate from City Hall for the last sixty-plus years.

From a topographical perspective, Crystal Lake is part of the upper prairie that is still rich, productive farmland stretching all the way west to the Mississippi River. But heading east, you exit the prairie and enter the Fox River Valley, where every resident suffers the identical daily goal of getting out of the Fox River Valley. Of course, getting out of Illinois is also a goal. As of December 2017, and consistent four years running (pun intended), record numbers of people have left Illinois where high taxes, corrupt legislators, and high crime have become routine. The Chicago Tribune reported on December 29th, 2017 that in 2017 Illinois lost a net 33,703 residents, “dropping the state to the 6th largest, below Pennsylvania.” Staying is unappealing.
Residents in Lake County and McHenry County that work in Kane County or Cook County, their daily goal is crossing the Fox River. Getting out of the Fox River Valley is the solitary goal of morning commuters. Traffic bottlenecks in Fox River Grove. The Fox River is 202 miles long, and this winding, unpleasant bridge section is wall to wall automobiles at 6:00 AM. The small bridge and heavy traffic create all the congestion one could hope for.
           
Once I cross the river I still have to navigate the ghost prairie highway, where the poor condition of the asphalt serves as another blatant reminder that the Illinois Department of Transportation pockets more toll money that it will ever use to improve Illinois roadways. Of course, that topic is off limits with politicians and never investigated by journalists. Crossing the river itself offers but a glimpse of river life; a boater’s summer paradise of riverside bar-hopping and alcoholic excursions. The Fox River is, however, unappealing in every way, a polluted waterway where anglers cook and eat their catch at their own risk. Decades of industrial waste have been poured into this river which nurtures a sturdy if not radioactive breed of catfish that will, according to legend, rot your intestines faster than exposure to plutonium.
           
Seven Angels Crossing in Fox River Grove lies in the shadow of Bettendorf Castle. It was here, on October 25, 1995, that a school bus was struck by a Metra Union Pacific train, killing seven students. The crash occurred at the intersection of Algonquin Road and US Highway 14. There is a small memorial for the children near the site. The cause was attributed to both a judgment failure by the driver, and the insufficient warning light design of the track system. This is a generic summation on my part of a complicated and tragic set of circumstances. The phrase “Seven Angels Crossing” is of colloquial origin and I have never seen a print reference for it. It is, quite simply, the name locals use when referring to the site of this tragedy.
Bettendorf Castle, located at 418 Concord Avenue in Fox River Grove, overlooks this part of Northwest Highway. The castle rests on a bluff and is obscured by spindly trees and unkempt scrub. Built by Theodore Bettendorf, he wanted to build a version of the Vianden Castle in Luxembourg, and he began the structure in earnest after the first World War. By the early 1950s, the structure included turrets, a drawbridge, towers and even a moat. He took him over thirty-six years to complete the castle which now stands as a point of contention for agitated neighbors who consistently protest the location as a venue for weddings of other public gatherings. The McHenry County Historical Society have at least acknowledged the castle’s cultural importance with a plaque. I have never met the current owners, but I am impressed by their ongoing efforts at restoration and in making the castle accessible to the public.

Driving toward Barrington is fraught with peril during winter. The cold wind helps the snow pile up and ice easily forms along the parched and cracked highway. This is often white-knuckle driving. Fools and drunkards have died along here, as evidenced by the roadside crosses. Everybody is in a hurry to make time and get to work. Safety precautions are thrown to the dogs. I have lost track of the number of mangled cars I have seen and accidents I have witnessed.
At the outskirts of Barrington, I arrive at another desultory stretch of banks, car washes, fast food restaurants and pharmacies. If you blink, you’ll miss the sign just before the McDonald’s restaurant that announces Langendorf Park. There is no park worth mentioning, just an innocuous building, but there was a park here in 1934 when Lester Joseph Gillis, better known as Baby Face Nelson, engaged in a furious gunfight with FBI agents Herman Hollis (the agent believed to be responsible for the shot that killed John Dillinger just weeks earlier), and agent Sam Cowley. Hollis and Cowley were killed, and Nelson was mortally injured, dying later in a safe house on Walnut Street in Wilmette. Nelson’s body was left wrapped in a blanket in front of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Skokie. Today, this gunfight is known as “The Battle of Barrington,” and photos taken at the scene in 1934 show a wooded area that bears no resemblance to the conglomeration of buildings that occupy the space. The Barrington Park District building sits on the site, and there is a plaque on a boulder at the base of the flagpole. A nearby golf course is the only hint that this was once a sparsely populated area. Scant yards away, the dumpster behind the McDonald’s restaurant offers its aroma of decaying food complemented by the ever present buzzing of flies.

The next goal is to put Barrington behind me and that means crossing Lake-Cook Road. I pass Lake Barrington without a glance; an unattractive pond swarming with bird feces. This last bit before Palatine is white knuckle driving in the winter. Palatine is an old neighborhood, pleasant and traditional, and overcrowded. The neighborhoods are tranquil in the summer, with manicured lawns and carefully tended shrubbery where the occasional burst of red or yellow flowers adds a homespun feeling to the streets, like someplace you might see in a Norman Rockwell painting. I pass Rugport, an iconic business that has survived longer than most restaurants.
Arlington International Racecourse opened in 1927 and remains a pre-eminent horse racing venue. From here on route 14 slips into a long stretch of quaint homes and old money, where the only movement you’ll see on a summer’s day is some frumpy old gal walking a poodle on a pink leash with bells. Here, at last the Arlington Racecourse elicits memories of betting on the horses and drinking beer from tall glass steins, watching the gold digging dames in their tight dresses and clacking heels wriggle it for the crewcut money-men, and giving off an aura of desperation.

This was my exit point. Exits are like endings in stories; that place where the story concludes and another one begins.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Adventures of Captain Graves - Available Now!


“Last night I dreamed that Victoria Ransom’s corpse floated to the surface of the South China Sea, her mouth clotted with kelp, her eyes shining like two silver coins. She was emotionless and unrepentant; a trinket the sea had given back for some beachcomber to find on a fog-shrouded morn. Her sheer nightgown clung to her obscenely, outlining every once delectable curve.”

In 1936 Captain Elliot Graves took his schooner, The Reaper’s Scythe, to the South China Sea. With a contract to obtain marine specimens for New York’s Natural History Museum, and a reputation for trouble, Graves and his crew are caught up in a treasure hunt on the island of Sumtoa that will test their mettle and pit them against a dangerous adversary. This whirlwind adventure is available now on Amazon!

Here's what people are saying about the book-

PETER BRANDVOLD, Best-Selling Western author: "…a terrific old-fashioned pulp novel by Thomas McNulty, which reads just like something I might have found in Argosy or one of the other great adventure pulps of yesteryear. A real page-turner with good-lookin' wimmen and a great two-fisted hero. Highly recommended! …It’s better than the old pulps! Great premise, terrific two-fisted action!...

ROB COSTELLO, Amazon Reviewer: "Beautiful women, rugged men, tall ships, and treasures. McNulty paints a tale of intrigue and adventure in the South Seas. Modern pulp fiction doesn't get much better than this. I had a hard time putting this one down."

JOHN, Amazon Reviewer: "Tom McNulty has once again proven himself a master of this high-octane action writing."

Story by Thomas McNulty
Cover Art by Ted Hammond
Interior Illustrations by Ed Catto

                                        Click HERE to Order on Amazon!
Courtesy of Ed Catto

Friday, November 23, 2018

Art Matters by Neil Gaiman


Neil Gaiman advertised this via social media to sell autographed copies so I naturally ordered two. Featuring four prose poems in essay form, Gaiman extrapolates the importance of art: “The world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before.” Illustrated by Chris Riddell, this is a great book to read out loud to a young person. This book can easily be a starting point for a discussion on creativity and I’m sure elementary school-age children will react excitedly to the ideas presented here. Adults will like it, too, and maybe even some of them will stop hating because of it. Books can do that, and that’s the whole point. Gaiman suggests it’s okay to make mistakes, too, because we can learn from mistakes as well. Neil Gaiman is the rare breed of author who reaches out to a wider audience with musings and practical advice like this little book. Highly recommended that you add this to your home library and use it often with children as a read-out-loud shared experience. In Gaiman’s own words: “Be bold. Be rebellious. Choose art. It matters.”

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Some Look Better Dead by Hank Janson


As always, three cheers for cover artist Reginald Heade whose mastery of the female form graced the cover of many paperbacks. First published in 1950, author Hank Janson was really Stephen Frances and the Hank Janson pseudonym is legendary in the UK. Like Sexton Blake, that UK detective and James Bond style adventurer, the Hank Janson stories are not as well known here in the States. I think they’re fantastic, and I have bought many of the reprint editions by Telos which reproduce the lovely Reginald Heade covers. Some Look Better Dead is one of the better Hank Janson tales, saucy but grim. Hank Janson is also the main character, a reporter for the Chicago Chronicle, and when attending a fashion show he gets tangled up in a web of sexual obsession, deceit and embezzlement. With an introduction by Steve Holland, the Telos reprint series of the Janson novels is a great alternative for readers who like hardboiled fiction in the style of Mickey Spillane. Holland is also the author of a non-fiction account The Trials of Hank Janson which covers the obscenity trial of author Stephen Frances in 1954. The Trials of Hank Janson makes for riveting reading. The Hank Janson novels are short, and I think Some Look Better Dead barely hits 40k words. That’s okay, it’s a brisk ride. The stark sexuality (without being too explicit), hard-boiled patter, and tough guy attitude lend a nice tone to Some Look Better Dead. Spice up your Holiday with one of the Telos Hank Janson reprints.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Spin Your Web, Lady! By Richard and Frances Lockridge


I occasionally encounter one of the Lockridge mysteries here and there, usually in poor shape and lacking the dust-jacket. They are unknown to modern readers, and even in my childhood their fame was ebbing. Yet in the 1940s and 50s they were a best-selling duo, primarily known for the Mr. and Mrs. North detective series, of which Spin Your Web, Lady! is a spin-off featuring Captain Heimrich. Richard and Frances Lockridge published twenty-two Captain Heimrich mysteries and twenty-six Mr. and Mrs. North mysteries. Spin Your Web, Lady! is the second Captain Heimrich novel and was published by J.P. Lippincott in 1949. My copy was saved from a dumpster and reeks of mold. A modest cleaning helped and I saved the dust-jacket by slipping it into the Mylar sheets. The writing of these novels was all done by Richard Lockridge with his wife, Frances, contributing the plots. Richard Lockridge was a solid writer, a product of his time, which was an America that flourished after the industrial revolution to become a hard-boiled campaigner for manifest destiny. Spin Your Web, Lady! is delightful, with a little bit of noir and lots of tension. The tale begins with John Burden on a holiday visiting friends in a fashionable countryside location where bar life is the focus. The first chapter is a set-piece of mood and characterization, quite leisurely going from a hot train to the bar, and after that the chapters roll into murder and deception, and even a bit of romance. Multiple characters, a red-herring or two, terse dialogue all ensue while Captain Heimrich unravels the complications. You don’t read books like this quickly; you let it unravel and you enjoy it when the players smoke and drink and talk about things.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Superboy # 150, September 1968


The Neal Adams cover for this classic Superboy issue is one of his best. It’s frightening and bold and made me want this comic book more than anything else. The story was written by Frank Robbins and penciled by Bob Brown and inked Jack Abel. Both Brown and Abel contributed some great artwork to DC Comics and both are underrated. Jack Abel’s inks, both for Brown and also for Curt Swan, added a sharp quality to the panels. The story is about an invader from space – Mr. Cypher – actually a group of robots who threaten to take over Smallville. This is an off-beat tale, but not unusual for the Superboy title in the late 1960s. This was a great era for Superboy stories, and the Neal Adams cover adds to this issue’s allure. Bob Brown’s artwork resembles Curt Swan’s visuals enough so that the series maintained a fairly consistent look. Author Frank Robbins was also a noted artist and his stories and artwork remain highly regarded by fans. He worked as a writer on Superboy from 1968 through 1972. His work on Superboy was concurrent with his dual responsibility as writer/artist on Detective Comics. The first 200 Superboy comics are considered the best, with this issue clocking in as a fondly remembered and collectible entry.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Silver Age Legion of Super-Heroes, Vol. One


DC Comics has reprinted the early Legion of Super-Heroes stories before, but their on-going dedication to sequential full-color reprints from the Golden Age through the Silver Age now includes all of the original tales in order, with the intent of reprinting the entire 1960s canon. That’s big news. I have previously covered the Golden Age Superman and Batman ongoing reprints, and I am also collecting the trades on The Flash, Green Lantern and Supergirl. This first volume for the Legion is a treat. Fifteen of the stories collected here were written by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel with the remaining stories penned by Otto Binder, Edmond Hamilton and Robert Bernstein. The artwork is by John Forte, George Papp, Jim Mooney, Curt Swan, Al Plastino, George Klein and Sheldon Moldoff. The Legion of Super-Heroes were incredibly popular during the 1960s, and these stories are among the best, imaginative comic book tales ever published. With these stories you are introduced to not only the Legion, but Supergirl, Krypto, Lex Luthor, time travel, prehistoric monsters, weird villains, romance, teen angst, and truth, justice and the American Way. At the centerpiece of these stories is Superboy – the adventures of Superman when he was a boy – a concept that DC Comics executives later foolishly dismissed and eliminated, and which has remained a point of contention (if not pure anger) among Silver Age fans ever since. The stories here are reprinted from Adventure Comics, Action Comics, Superboy and Superman and in the order they first appeared. The series took off quickly by the early 60s and developed into a truly great sequence of science fiction adventure tales. This is a great collection.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Midnight Guardian: Hour of Darkness by John Bruening


This fantastic novel clocks in at 407 pages which is long for any New Pulp Fiction story, but it needs to be long. Author John Bruening has created a world of heroes and villains that is entirely inspired by the classic pulp fiction and comic book heroes of yesterday, and manages to make this world vibrant and exciting. It’s not that far removed from our world, but the best adventure stories never are. The high quality prose, attention to detail, historical background and unforgettable characters distinguishes this novel as the best of the New Pulp Fiction literary movement. In fact, the market is saturated with excellent New Pulp titles and something of a Pulp Renaissance is underway. That’s all the more reason to pick-up The Midnight Guardian: Hour of Darkness by John Bruening. This is a story about Jack Hunter, assistant District Attorney and his efforts at bringing the crime boss Nicky Diamond to justice. How Jack Hunter becomes the hero called The Midnight Guardian is at the heart of the tale, in true pulp fiction fashion. The world building is superb, the characters vibrant, and the prose exquisite. There is not a wasted word in this book. I took my time reading it, savoring the paragraphs, reveling in the imaginative world of 1936, and envious of the author’s notable prose mastery. I was never bored and the story never flagged. I consider this the best example of an adventure novel on the market, no matter if you are interested in “New Pulp” or not. I understand a sequel is in the works, and I’d be disappointed if there wasn’t. The Midnight Guardian is published by Flinch Books with stunning cover art is by Thomas Gianni. Highly recommended!

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Tales of the Wandering Collector, Part Two

Tales of the Wandering Collector, Part Two
or
How To Fill Up Your Man Cave

In the first part of this essay, I mentioned there are as many reasons to begin collecting as there are people. I’m going to expand on that a bit more. I am primarily a book collector who follows one simple rule – I collect what I like. Since I like a great many things, I have a diverse and what I believe is a fascinating collection of rare books, magazines and comic books. The largest single-author collections I have are the works of Ray Bradbury, Mickey Spillane, L. Ron Hubbard, David Gemmell, Roger Zelazny and Zane Grey alongside such contemporary writers as Guy N. Smith, Peter Brandvold, James Lee Burke, Robert Crais, Douglas Preston, and Lincoln Child.
And lots more. Ian Fleming, Robert E. Howard, Ernest Hemingway, and Edgar Rice Burroughs are all authors whose work I value. My comic book and paperback collections are out of control. That’s all simply the tip of the iceberg. This blog is an indication of the sheer volume I own. I have signed editions, and in some cases personal letters or documents, many of which are locked in my safe with a loaded gun. Never mind the details. Here is a rundown on some of the reasons why people collect, and why I feel collections are vital to a prosperous culture.
·        Knowledge: collecting engages your mind and helps you develop and maintain organizational skills, historical knowledge, cognizant thinking and gets you active. The wealth of knowledge you accumulate becomes part of your mind’s vast repository of ideas, which nurtures creativity. Collecting can also help with stress reduction and foster a sense of accomplishment.
·       History and Nostalgia: This is a key one because collecting is a personal statement where you are saying “This is important and I want it always near me.” To say that something is so important that you are willing to spend time and money keeping it near you is profound. History matters, and understanding history is vital in helping to build a better future.
·     Social Connections: The sharing of knowledge and exchanging ideas is pleasurable, and by interacting with like-minded collectors you are constantly evaluating, revising and planning which keeps your mind using all of its gears at once. The best collectors are never lazy, they get up and move and make contact with people.
·        Investment Value: Your collection will have a monetary value that can benefit you financially. Being aware of and nurturing the value of your collection is mandatory.  As of this writing, there is a growing interest in paperback collecting for men’s adventure titles from the 60s and 70s, and I’ve witnessed extraordinary price increases on certain titles. Being aware of such trends shouldn’t be underestimated. Know your market.
I was introduced to certain literary classics by publishers like Airmont and Whitman. Naturally, I have a nice collection of Airmont and Whitman books. Given that, let’s pause a moment and consider nostalgia. Whitman was successful by co-joining with television trends in the 50s and 60s and these books are collectable to long-time readers who recall them with fondness. Nostalgia, of course, is a non-critical function of memory wherein we recall past times when we were happy. The key here is happiness. To be happy is the primary goal of all of humanity. However, because recalling a book fondly from your past is linked more to an emotional response than critical thinking, there are those who denounce nostalgia as a useless subjective exercise.
Some Whitman favorites

I will argue that is true only for a small percentage of readers, and in fact, I believe that thanks to nostalgia, many readers have learned to nurture their critical thinking ability, and that people can and will readily explain why certain books they recall fondly are important, not only because they are reminded of happier times, but because they have made the effort to study those books and can easily outline a book’s literary merits. In short, nostalgia encourages literacy.
Building a collection goes hand in hand with building a Man Cave or Girl Cave as the case may be. A Man Cave is your Fortress of Solitude like the one Doc Savage and Superman have. It can be anywhere, and it can have anything in it that you like. The choices are all yours. My Man Cave is an interesting place, at least to me. I have stacks of magazines like Easy Rider and Famous Monsters of Filmland, Western paperbacks, Mac Bolan paperbacks, The Bantam 1960s and 70s Doc Savage paperbacks, the Western adult series The Gunsmith and Longarm, Nick Carter paperbacks, rare movie posters and lobby cards, music CDs, and guns and ammunition. I am within reach of coffee and the occasional pint of something stronger. My only complaint is that my cave is too small.
Finally, there comes a sense of satisfaction in acquiring a title that had long been desired. I have numerous such books, some are high value books signed by literary giants, and some are simply personal favorites. I have about a dozen signed books that will one day fetch my heirs a pretty penny at auction. Other books have but nominal value but are important as objects of nostalgia.
Collecting signed editions is always rewarding
The quest is everything. I long for a dimly lit, dusty antique shop or second-hand bookstore. There is no better feeling than to find a treasure, and to relax later in some cushiony arm chair with a glass of Irish coffee at hand, and to finally start reading...and then turn the page.

Copyright ©2018 by Thomas McNulty
Cover scans from the author’s collection - 
Sorry books shown here are NOT for sale
Also of interest:

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Revenger by Frank Leslie


The Franke Leslie brand of Western action stories is the perfect diversion on an autumn afternoon. Five Star/Gale hardbacks are also the perfect format for these hard-boiled Western sagas. Revenger includes the first two stories in this ongoing series, A Bullet for Sartain and Death and the Saloon Girl. Mike Sartain is a New Orleans boy where he learned how to handle himself. Think of him as the Western version of Mike Hammer. He’s tough, he likes beautiful women, he knows how to handle a gun, and he fights like a wildcat. In A Bullet for Sartain he sets out to learn why there’s a death sentence on him, and the trail to the truth is filled with gunsmoke, dead bodies, and the occasional beautiful dove. Like I said, exactly what I needed on an autumn afternoon. In Death and the Saloon Girl, Sartain is summoned to help a dove named Belle Higgins, and Sartain is pulled into yet another duplicitous adventure where the hot women and blazing gunfights go hand in hand. For the uninitiated, Frank Leslie is a pseudonym for Peter Brandvold, the toughest, meanest, prolific writer of quality action-packed Westerns you’ll ever read, and truly a nice guy. This combination of Five Star hardbacks and Brandvold’s testosterone laced prose has set the standard for Westerns. Five Star also just released Six in the Wheel which includes two more Sartain adventures, The Bittersweet War and Gold Dust Woman. Guaranteed to set your pulse racing, the Frank Leslie/Peter Brandvold titles are gut-churning, knuckle biting Western classics. Next time you hear someone complain the Western is dead, lead them toward one of the Five Star Brandvold titles, and tell them to prepare to have their asses kicked.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Sunset Pass by Zane Grey


Published in 1931, Sunset Pass might best be described as a Romance novel that happens to be a Western. The comingling of romance with his Western settings was hardly unusual for Grey who was always a romanticist. With Sunset Pass the focus is on romance for the first half of the book. There are several endearing features to this novel that I find commendable for fans of traditional Westerns, or for readers seeking something new and exciting. First, the quality of the writing is excellent, and generations of Grey’s fans will attest to his acute ability to create sympathetic characters, epic landscapes, and thrilling plots. The title evokes a nostalgia for faraway locations, a fondly remembered place where all things good happen. Grey never wastes a descriptive moment in his novels, and Sunset Pass is no exception. He plunges into the imagery with enthusiasm:

“Beyond the grassy levels and mounds the Pass changed to a verdant floor, only here and there showing a glint of open parks, like lakes of gold set in a forest. The walls leaned away, less rugged and rocky. From the league-wide forested floor, then, the Pass restricted to one-third that width and began its magnificent step by step, up and up, to open into the golden foothill country. The white stream fell and paused and fell and paused again, as if loath to plunge into the purple gorges. Magic lights of gold and lilac and rose, transparent as the rainbow, gathered strength, and spread from rays and streaks to a mantle that slowly dimmed the outlines of the lower reaches.” (p. 91)

In this context, Sunset Pass is as magical as El Dorado, a veritable Garden of Eden nestled among the green valleys and rugged back-country of the American West. The narrative offers us True Rock, or Trueman Rock who returns to Wagontongue to settle past misunderstandings, only to discover that much has changed. Upon meeting Thiry Preston he falls in love, and hires on with her father to be near her. Here the idyllic landscape and blush of young love is immediately tainted by Thiry’s brother, Ash Preston. Grey makes it clear that Ash has an unhealthy desire for his own sister. He’s fanatical in protecting her, and shielding her from the wanton gaze of any cowhand. Although Grey never blatantly refers to Ash’s desires as incestuous, it’s obvious that he wants Thiry all to himself. This is the first conflict that weighs heavily on True Rock. But there is more happening at Sunset Pass, including the fact that Thiry’s father, Gage, is getting wealthier each year. Rock soon discovers the family is harboring a terrible secret and the family cattle business involves rustling. The conflict is heightened by Rock’s quest to hold and keep Thiry’s love while reconciling the circumstances that put him at odds with her family. In typical fashion, Rock is a fearless cowpuncher who knows how to handle a gun. The ensuing gun battles are violent, swift and bloody.

Grey, alongside many of the pulp writers from the era, has been accused of writing “purple prose,” an inflammatory epithet meant as a divisive critique for the sweltering images and hard-boiled emotions that nudge the prose across the page. The armchair critics can have their say, because a century-plus of readers have embraced the purple prose and sentimentality as a vital component of the narrative structure, and these elements help make Zane Grey’s tales a deeply personal, rewarding experience.

Sunset Pass is a solid book. I think of it as a working man’s book, one of many tales that Grey cranked out to entertain his readers. Some of the meaningful dialogue between Thiry and Rock struck me as being in tune with a Jazz Age sensibility that was pushing aside the boundaries of stuffiness associated with the Victorian era. Grey skillfully depicts their passion while keeping it clean and handling mature topics with a sense of decency.

I count Sunset Pass among my favorite Zane Grey novels because the idealization of the American landscape, and the plot device of good struggling against evil, all combine into a romantic tale with timeless qualities and strong emotions. Although Grey was immensely popular, he did not have the Western Romance market to himself. Grosset & Dunlap mass produced his books along with those of B. M. Bowers, William MacLeod Raine, Max Brand, Clarence Mulford, Charles Alden Seltzer, and Jackson Gregory, several of whom are now forgotten writers. Grey’s work has endured a century, and as I write these words Forge Books have been reprinting many of his novels in paperback.

I own three copies of Sunset Pass, (including a signed copy purchased at an auction) and all are the Grosset & Dunlap 1930s reprints; the cover art is by Stocktan Mullard (?), about whom I know nothing. The boards on two of these reproduce the first Harper & Brothers edition with artwork by Mullard. The next Grosset & Dunlap printing eliminated the endpaper art. I have no doubt that at some point in the future I’ll find another edition and buy it.