Thursday, June 25, 2015

Cahill United States Marshal by Joe Millard

Cahill United States Marshal is the paperback novelization by Joe Millard based on the screenplay by Harry Julian Fink and Rita M. Fink and published by Award Books in 1973 to capitalize on the film starring You-Know-Who. Millard was good and his other novelizations for such films as For A Few Dollars More and Chato’s Land are well worth your time. Cahill United States Marshal is straightforward with most of the material as it appeared in the film, although there are enough differences to indicate that some changes were made before the film was completed. J. D. Cahill is a tough old marshal carrying a sawed-off shotgun and two Colts. His two teenage sons went and did a foolish thing by assisting Abe Fraser in robbing a bank. Getting involved in a bank robbery when your father is a U.S. Marshal isn’t a bright move, and now J. D. Cahill has to set things right. The ending offers different dialogue than the film but the theme of fatherhood and understanding right from wrong is consistent. Terse prose and a bit edgy, Joe Millard could write a good Western. Definitely pick up any old paperbacks you find with his name on them. As for the film, it’s not considered one of Duke’s best but I enjoyed it. I saw every John Wayne film in a theatre upon its release from 1960 on. Cahill United States Marshal has the great Neville Brand as an Indian named Lightfoot and George Kennedy as Abe Fraser and even a solid Charlie Rich song. Yeah, it’s a bit corny, but I think Cahill United States Marshal holds up better than some. This paperback is perfect for John Wayne collectors and fans of well-written horse operas in general. The cover photo is from that fantastic opening sequence where he rides into an outlaw camp by himself and says, “Any of you want to surrender?” There was nobody quite as cool as John Wayne.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Johannesburg Conspiracy by William Murray Graydon

The Johannesburg Conspiracy is probably the most important book yet published by Black Dog Books. Collecting 46 stories and one novel featuring Matthew Quin, a famous trapper of wild beasts and wildlife agent for Karl Hamrach and Company, this book is a reminder of the lost worlds that can only be rediscovered thanks to author William Murray Graydon. The tales collected herein are works of fiction, but within these stories readers will span the globe and experience some startling adventures. Included is an introduction and bibliography by Georges T. Dodd, Ph.D which offers relevant background information. The stories themselves are quite good, although written in a leisurely and properly mannered style. Many of them are quite short and feel like partial vignettes. The stories involve Quin’s efforts and escapades at tracking and capturing various animals. His  adventures often put him a great peril, but some of the early stories are character studies and tall tales. Quin is all over the map. In “How I Lost My Elephant” he’s in Burma; in “The Black Panther From Hamburg” he’s in London (his home base); in “The Mystery of the Wrecked Circus Train” he’s in New York. You’ll find him in Montana and Arizona and, of course, Africa. By far, the highlight is the novel, In Wildest Africa published in 1910. This is the only full length Matthew Quin novel that Graydon wrote. None other than Theodore Roosevelt makes an appearance. The plot is straightforward. While on safari Quin discovers that his enemy, Tib Muhammed, is plotting to attack Roosevelt who is on a safari of his own. This plot is based upon an historical event. Roosevelt spent a year hunting in Africa and published his memories of these events, African Game Trails, the same year that In Wildest Africa was published. As for Tib Muhammed, this nefarious fellow met Quin in the Sexton Blake story, Sexton Blake in the Congo (1907). William Murray Graydon reportedly wrote several hundred Sexton Blake stories between 1905 and 1930. Graydon makes reference to Sexton Blake in chapter two of In Wildest Africa, thus connecting two once popular but now nearly forgotten fictional characters. The lost worlds of William Murray Graydon are quite fascinating if you take the time to explore them. Sexton Blake, a pulp magazine pastiche of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, and trapper Matthew Quin would be forgotten if not for publications such as The Johannesburg Conspiracy and the current pulp revival. Concluding with In Wildest Africa, this collection was highly enjoyable. This book is sub-titled “The Collected Adventures of Matthew Quin” and the stories were published in such magazines and newspapers as The Hartford Courant, Boston Daily Globe, Budget Story Books, and Morning Oregonian between 1894 and 1913. Quin strikes me as the type of character that Michael Caine might have played effectively early in his career. I have never previously read anything by William Murray Graydon and was only vaguely familiar with his name because of the Sexton Blake connection. Thanks to this book I can easily understand his appeal. Congratulations to Tom Roberts and Black Dog books for publishing this historically significant and fascinating collection.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Legend’s Legacy by Mike Gaddis

Some books need to be held in your hands and appreciated. You need to smell the paper and trace your finger across the illustrations. You need to feel its weight in your hands and hear the pages swish when you turn them. No digital download, no electronic version, just the real book itself. This superbly written and designed book is published by Sporting Classics, the only magazine next to Gray’s Sporting Journal that I read with regularity. Mike Gaddis has written for those magazines and a host of others, too. He is an outdoorsman, hunter, fisherman and all-around sportsman. And he’s a hell of a writer. The pantywaist crowd doesn’t read great books like this, which is their loss. They have enough trouble comprehending the bloated thrillers promoted by the big publishing firms. I’ve never met Mike Gaddis, but his books are on my shelf with those by Tom Davis, Theodore Roosevelt, Sigurd F. Olson, Peter Hathaway Capstick, Guy de la Valdene, Robert Ruark, Leon “Buckshot” Anderson, and Robert F. Jones. Literature doesn’t begin or end with Hollywood stories or whatever padded to excess hardback thriller is being touted this week by the New York crowd. Reading Great Literature is about seeking the top shelf or the forgotten tome in a dusty corner; or perhaps the bottom shelf where rests a hunter’s journal or a fisherman’s guide to handmade lures. Mike Gaddis writes books that are as alive as your memory of a favorite childhood summer, painted with bright colors, nostalgic but exciting. Legend’s Legacy reminded me why I love reading. Organized as 31 “chapters” each section is an essay or reminisces unto itself, all loosely connected. With illustrations by Dan Burr, each chapter offers a heartfelt memory, revisits old friends, seeks out a good fishing spot, or follows one of his treasured dogs on a hunt. Gaddis writes rich, textured prose, and tackles the many timeless themes of life. He is a philosopher as much as a writer and hunter. The prose fairly races across the page with raw emotion, sharp recollections, and self-confidence. A beautifully designed hardcover that belongs in every home or library, Legend’s Legacy by Mike Gaddis is my pick for this summer’s best reading experience.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Third Gate by Lincoln Child

I am a devotee of any Egyptian mummy story. This affliction is the result of watching The Mummy starring Boris Karloff on the late show as a kid. I especially enjoy it when the mummy gets up and walks about and puts his hands around someone’s neck and strangles them to death. Geez, that’s just cool. It doesn’t happen in Lincoln Child’s excellent The Third Gate but it’s still a nifty thriller. The Third Gate does involve a newly discovered Egyptian tomb and the events leading up to opening that tomb and the disastrous aftermath. I couldn’t put this book down. Jeremy Logan is an historian and Enigmalogist, or interpreter of the bizarre and unexplained. Ethan Rush has contacted him to assist in determining the cause of some unfortunate circumstances at a secret Egyptian site believed to be the tomb of King Narmer. Once on site, Logan goes through the process of getting to know the staff and attempting to validate or denounce any supposed supernatural occurrences. Suffice it to say, he comes to believe an evil presence is at work at Narmer’s tomb which is located beneath over thirty feet of muddy swamp. Lincoln Child utilizes all of the elements you expect in a story involving an undiscovered Egyptian tomb and it works wonderfully well. The second half of the book is pure action and suspense. Lincoln Child and his frequent co-author Douglas Preston are responsible for the famed “Pendergast” series of mysteries in addition to stand alone novels of their own. I recommend them all. The Third Gate is of recent vintage (2012 and available in paperback), Jeremy Logan’s next adventure, The Forgotten Room, has just been published in hardcover.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Last Campaign by Thurston Clarke

“Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago:
to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.
Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer
for our country and for our people.”

- Robert F. Kennedy, speaking in Indianapolis on April 4, 1968,
two hours after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

For those that remember, or better yet, for those few left that care....this haunting and heartfelt book by Thurston Clarke documents the presidential campaign and final 82 days of Robert Kennedy’s life. It is not an easy book to read for those of us that lived through those turbulent times and had invested so much hope in the future. I have never changed my opinion that the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., followed by the assassination of Robert Kennedy, all but destroyed any hope this country had for a prosperous future. Unfortunately, our subsequent history may have proven that to be true.

Having seen John Kennedy during a campaign speech in 1960, an event filmed by my mother with a Kodak Super-8 movie camera, I was raised in a household that believed in Camelot. I was a little boy, and my strongest memory of the event was the intensity of the crowd. Kennedy himself seemed nice enough, but I was too young to fully comprehend what I was seeing. We weren’t in love with the Kennedy family as much as we were in love with the ideas they represented. JFK’s assassination and the subsequent presidential bid by his brother are all vivid memories, no matter that I witnessed them on a television screen. Thurston Clarke opens his book with the speech fragment I reproduced above. It sets the tone for the book. The research is solid and Clarke’s attitude toward his subject is respectful if not biased in favor of Robert Kennedy, and that’s fine by me. I am on record stating that biographies should be written by people that care about their subject matter.

Robert Kennedy had changed in the years since his brother’s death. Further, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy were never close friends, but they respected each other, and there is evidence both were seeking a common ground. Kennedy was disenchanted with the Vietnam conflict, and deeply troubled by the ethnic prejudice that was and still is a part of the American experience. If these two men had been allowed to live I have no doubt they would have worked together and made lasting, positive change for the country. I’m not saying they would have agreed with each other, but they were capable of working together. The Last Campaign is a chronicle on why that never happened. I have no doubt that Kennedy would have won the Democratic nomination and eventually have become president. His fate may be the fate of too many in this country, and that makes The Last Campaign mandatory reading.