Sunday, September 30, 2018

Night-Pieces by Thomas Burke

Originally published in 1935, Night-Pieces is a collection of eighteen short tales, all set in London. These are weird, often supernatural tales with unexplainable circumstances, and sometimes gruesome happenings. They are not blatantly gruesome in the manner of splatterpunk fiction, but rather they contain a lingering sense of fear that swiftly grows into a shocking denouement. For example, the first tale, “Miracle in Suburbia,” a fellow named Joe is confronted by a stranger who asks a favor of him – to take back from a man something he stole, and to bring it to him. Further, the stranger convinces Joe that he is under his power and cannot be harmed in any way. The man proves his power by brandishing a blade and striking Joe with it, but he is unharmed. Confident of his success, and eager to make money, Joe sets out to retrieve the man’s stolen property. Again, Joe is struck by a blade, this time across his neck, and yet he is unharmed. Some days later, one of Joe’s friends hears about a local man who blew himself up in some experiment, and suddenly Joe’s neck wound is...well, you understand. These are really short vignettes, stark and gloomy. “Yesterday Street” is about a man who returns to his boyhood neighborhood and inexplicably encounters three childhood friends he has not seen in decades, forever young, only to learn later they all died recently in separate accidents on the same day. This tale reminded me of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone episode, “Walking Distance.” Thomas Burke (1886-1945) is generally forgotten today, but Night-Pieces was influential on many writers who came to prominence after World War II. There is more than a bit of Old London present here, too; the London of gas lamps and foggy alleyways. Burke’s writing is strong, the characters well-defined. This is a London where you dare not look behind you when you’re out for a walk, and be careful of any bric-a-brac you fancy in some shop near Piccadilly Circus. The vengeance of the god Imbrolu is a terrible vengeance. And that man sitting across from you in the pub just might be a ghoul of some type. The current edition from Valancourt Books reproduces the original dust-jacket art by Hookway Cowles.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Guy N. Smith Illustrated Bibliography by Shane P.D. Agnew

As a lifelong book collector and avid reader I’ll attest to the importance of bibliographic reference works. They are vital to our understanding of an author’s work, while simultaneously serving as a cultural checkpoint for society’s trends, motifs and habits. For example, I have indulged in collecting bibliographic works relating to actor Errol Flynn, author Zane Grey, and many of the pulp fiction writers from the 30s and 40s. Previously I might have said that Peter Valenti’s Errol Flynn: A Bio-Bibliography was the best one I’d encountered by a single author – until now. Shane Agnew has produced a bibliographic reference work that is breathtaking in its scope, offering a magnificent presentation, and loaded with historical details and insight. This is an awe-inspiring work, profusely illustrated and carefully constructed. The alphabetical listings are broken into sections – novels, children’s novels, omnibus, chapbooks, graphical, anthology, magazines, periodicals, newspapers and more. I was fascinated by the Polish, Russian, Finnish, German and other European editions of Guy’s horror novels. Guy commands a global audience. This section alone about his horror novels has inspired me to dig a little deeper and fill in some gaps. I own 48 of these, and there’s so much more. Guy’s The Wood and The Sucking Pit are among the finest (and scariest) horror novels ever written, and certainly my favorites. I am quite enamored with The Lurkers, Bloodsport, The Slime Beast, Dead End and naturally, the famous Crabs novels. His voluminous chapbooks, magazine and newspaper work is all documented and stands as a testament to Guy’s hard work. Of special interest is his erotic output – or glamour work – which naturally sparked my interest, raised an eyebrow (!) and may yet send me searching e-bay for a few choice items. With cupcake lit like “Gamekeeper’s Delight” from Carnival in 1975, “Sex Witch” from In-Depth in 1974, or “Tan her Buttocks” from Sex Games in 1975, you’ll be happily kept busy checking the dusty secondhand bookstores for copies of these morsels. Equally fascinating is his periodical work for Shooting Times, Gamekeeper and Countryside, Countryman’s Weekly, Country Life, and Scotland’s Magazine, and London’s Mystery Selection to name a few. Of Guy’s non-fiction books, I am fortunate to own Gamekeeping and Shooting for Amateurs, Tobacco Culture, Managing & Shooting Under Ten Acres, and Midland Gun Company- A Short History. There’s obviously much more. What I came away with was a deeper appreciation for Guy N. Smith’s talent, his earnest endeavors and the diversity of his work. In many ways, Guy defies categorization. Although he’s best known as a writer of supernatural thrillers, there’s no subject that he hasn’t attempted and mastered. Shane Agnew has done a magnificent job at collecting this material and compiling it into an easy-to-read accessible format. The fantastic cover picture is by Chris Hall, and as a bonus the book includes a new werewolf story by Guy titled “The Beast in the Cage.” This is a must-have reference guide. Kudos!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Shy Stegosaurus of Cricket Creek by Evelyn Sibley Lampman

Kids love dinosaurs. I certainly did in 1967 when I bought this book through the school’s Scholastic Books ordering program. A charming fantasy about two twelve-year olds, Joey and Joan, who go hunting for dinosaur bones at Cricket Creek with their friend professor Harris. They encounter a talking stegosaurus and name him George. Of course, the professor doesn’t believe them about George, but that all soon changes. What surprised me in re-reading it all these years later was the level of mature ideas the author included in the fantasy. Originally published in 1955, Evelyn Sibley Lampman uses the fantasy to touch on grown-up ideas for young readers, all of which is obviously intentional. The 1967 Scholastic edition reproduces the original drawings and cover by Hubert Buel. I googled Evelyn Sibley Lampman and learned from on-line references that she often tackled sensitive subjects in her novels. In fact, Lampman was an award winning author, highly respected, and whose bibliography offers a variety of adventuresome tales for young readers. The Shy Stegosaurus of Cricket Creek is well-written, and I recall as child being quite fond of the book. Even today, the ending surprised me, because the story doesn’t wrap up with a pretty bow, but instead George decides to move on and find another place to hide because the encroachment of civilization is unpleasant for him. I found reference to a sequel, The Shy Stegosaurus of Indian Springs, which I have never read. I am familiar with two other titles by Lampman that I read in my childhood but sadly don’t own, The City Under the Back Steps and Captain Apple’s Ghost. Some of Lampman’s books are still in print, including The Shy Stegosaurus of Cricket Creek.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Spider: The Doom Legion by Will Murray

That powerhouse pulp master Will Murray is at it again, this time with his debut Spider novel. Among the greatest pulp characters from the 30s and 40s, The Spider ranks up there with Doc Savage and The Shadow. The Spider: The Doom Legion also features Operator 5 and the government agent known as G-8. The Spider: The Doom Legion is outstanding. The story is nearly non-stop action from start to finish. Will Murray has the uncanny ability to write as well as Norvell Page, Walter B. Gibson and Lester Dent without making it seem like a pastiche. A strange meteorite crashes into Central Park and its glowing rays turn men into living zombies. Investigating the meteorite, Richard Wentworth AKA The Spider, soon encounters enemies of all types, and the pace heats up as fast as the glowing eyes of the living dead. These opening chapters are a tour de force of action with Wentworth sprinting about Central Park in his Halloween costume, Robin Hood. There’s a Spider imitator on the loose as well, and Wentworth is soon defending himself from accusations of murder. The body count is high and many of the deaths are grisly. This book is a real Halloween treat, with a fantastic cover painting by Joe DeVito. Murray’s current string of New Pulp Fiction are set in the same time period as the original stories, and he has skillfully retained the flavor and excitement of the pulp era. Altus Press continues to challenge the conventional publishing model by issuing high quality original adventure stories with deluxe painted covers and thereby making every book an instant collector’s item. None of the New York publishing industry weekly releases with their bland photo-shopped covers can compare to any of the Altus Press titles by Will Murray with covers by Joe DeVito. The Spider: The Doom Legion should be at the top of your shopping list.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Article on Galaxy Press Audiobooks

For those of you interested in classic Pulp Fiction like I am, Galaxy Press sent me this informative link to an article which explains some of the behind-the-scenes talent needed to create their audiobooks. I’ve listened to these and found them exciting. I was particularly fascinated by the comments from Paul Wertheimer, a leading sound mixer in the movie industry, which shed some light on the extraordinary detail that goes into making these audiobooks. 

Friday, September 7, 2018

Roy Rogers and the Rimrod Renegades by Snowden Miller

This 1952 Whitman hardback appeared not long after Roy switched to television. The Roy Rogers Show ran on television from 1951-1957 and there was no decrease in the marketing blitz for Rogers. His name and image guaranteed a sale on comic books, magazines, lunch boxes, puzzles, coloring books, and toys. Roy Rogers was a fixture in American homes. The Whitman books were well done, and I collect them when I encounter them. The author is Snowden Miller about whom I know nothing except he wrote at least five Roy Rogers books for Whitman. The book is illustrated by John Ushler. The Whitman library is a reminder at how Americans once promoted reading to school kids with enthusiasm. Based out of Racine, Wisconsin, Whitman Publishing courted an active, profitable relationship with Hollywood agencies throughout the 1960s. Many of the Whitman books are now sought after by collectors. Roy Rogers and the Rimrod Renegades is typical fare; Roy is asked to look into a series of rustlings and murders around Rimrod, and soon encounters all of the “thrills and excitement” that young boys crave. This one felt a tad longer than it should have been, but the writing is solid and I see no reason why the Roy Rogers titles and other Whitman books couldn’t be reissued to help promote reading among young people today. I think kids would get a kick out of this stuff. It’s a lot different – and far more interesting – than some of the convoluted gobbledygook you find on the shelves for young readers these days. There are no political issues here, or forced agendas. Just Roy and Trigger riding around in the Old West, and even if it’s the Mythical Old West, it’s still a fun place to visit. Yippee-Ki-Yay, Roy, you were always the best.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Superman Giant 1 & 2

In July of this year, Wal-Mart and DC Comics announced they will begin selling four titles exclusively through the Wal-Mart chain of stores. These 100-page comics sell for $4.99 and the titles are Superman, Batman, Justice League and Teen Titans. DC’s partnership with Wal-Mart is unique. Most comics books are sold via on-line subscriptions or through the occasional comic book store, which are no longer as prevalent as they were thirty years ago. The Wal-Mart deal is putting comic books back on the racks in a move designed to attract new readers, fulfil the public’s desire for accessibility to comics, and make lots of money for everyone. The comics themselves will only be distributed via Wal-Mart, and other retailers are excluded from these titles.

That news has not been greeted warmly by comic shop owners. The immediate problem began when the first issue of these titles hit the racks in Wal-Mart. They were almost immediately bought up by collectors; and subsequently e-bay was inundated with copies listed at outrageous prices, in some cases $20.00 each and higher. Things have settled a bit since then, but my Wal-Mart connections have shed some insight on the distribution process. Wal-Mart department managers can replenish the 24-pack monthly supply at any time, and in fact, the higher volume stores have done exactly that. Here in Illinois, it is not unusual to see issues 1 and 2 readily on display.

The books are not rare, and the print run is high, although I don’t have an exact figure. This fact is contrary to what after-market sellers are saying on e-bay who are referring to these titles as rare. Again, the Wal-Mart DC comics are not rare, and they never will be. These titles can be re-ordered from DC upon demand by Wal-Mart. I expect the initial monthly supply will continue to be bought up by collectors, and then the Wal-Mart team will simply replenish them from the back-room 24-pack supplies.

As for the books themselves, most of the 100 pages are reprints. There is one new story at the beginning of each. The Superman story was good, and having read the reprinted material before, I ignored the rest. However, of interest going forward writer Tom King and artist Andy Kubert will unveil a 12-part Superman story arc called “Up in the Sky!,” and Brian Michael Bendis will begin writing chores on the Batman title. So Superman Giant # 3 and Batman Giant # 3 will be of interest to readers.

The books have a nice, slick look, and so far the reprinted material have been quality stories from the recent past. Publicly, at least, the initial commitment between Wal-Mart and DC is over year, and what agreement, if any, after that is unknown. The four titles are released incrementally the first and last week of each month. Overall, the books really are of interest to collectors rather than the general public, and younger readers will be turned off by the fact that every story is “continued next issue!”

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Stagecoach to Purgatory by Peter Brandvold

Lou Prophet is back, without a doubt one the best characters in Western fiction. Prophet stands alongside Cuno Massey, Ben Stillman, Dag Enberg, and Gideon Hawk as a leader in Peter Brandvold’s gallery of lawmen, outlaws, gunslingers, bounty hunters and womanizers. These guys are all tough, violent men and pissing them off is never recommended.  Lou Prophet has been around a long time now, and I never get tired of him. I have a nice stack of the original paperbacks, the Five Star hardbacks and now this new one from Pinnacle. We get two stories here, Last Stage to Hell and Devil by the Tail. The stories are prefaced by a bit by newspaperman Heywood Wilden Scott who has tracked down the old lawman and asked him to tell some stories. We get a portrait here of Prophet in his old age, “a big, one legged man with a face like the siding of a ruined barn, at times grunting and bellowing blue curses...” Each story is an action-packed delight, full of mayhem, murder, raucous womanizing and hot lead smoking the air rather gleefully, all thanks to Brandvold’s intent to write grand Western epics that smell like gunpowder from start to finish. Brandvold is one of a kind, and his Westerns are great. None of the imitators come close to the Brandvold brand of whiskey laced gunplay, saucy women, and villains so nasty they’ll scare you from their first moment to their often agonizing last moment. I was fortunate to receive an advanced reader’s copy signed by Ole Mean Pete hisownself, and I’ll never part with it. Saddle up for an unforgettable ride to purgatory!