Monday, May 31, 2010

DRAGON GAMES: A new thriller by Stephen Mertz

I’m no fan of the Olympics. When it comes to sports on the world stage, give me the World Cup every time. But this new thriller by Stephen Mertz showed me the Olympic games that really count - the behind-the-scenes, life-and-death struggles between rival security forces.

At the 2008 games in Beijing, that battle is three-sided. In one corner we have our chief protagonist, ex-secret serviceman Tag McCall, a man loyal to his country, his lover and his ideals. In another - Tag’s boss Dan Price, who has his own secret and deadly agenda. And opposing them both is the extremely astute and extremely ruthless Major Yang of the Chinese Internal Security Bureau.

When Price’s plan is nearly exposed, he’s forced to murder one of his own operatives, along with two of Yang’s officers, beginning a chain of events that pits Yang and Tag McCall against him - and against each other.

Amidst all the intrigue, we meet a cast of intriguing characters, including two American gymnasts and their feuding coaches, a crazed redneck seeking to take out Muslims in a blaze of glory, a Chinese general eager to defect with his family, and a mysterious dominatrix who may be more dangerous than anyone.

Mertz juggles all these characters and more, each with their own subplot, as tension mounts and the stakes grow ever higher. Scenes shift quickly from one crisis to the next, and before you know it you’ve no choice but to plant yourself in a chair until all the plotlines intersect in an Olympic-sized climax.

The games themselves make a great backdrop for the action, and are handled so convincingly I wonder if the author was in Beijing while writing this.  Maybe when the games move to London in 2012 I‘ll be watching. But I'm definitely hoping Stephen Mertz and Tag McCall will be there so they can bring us the real story.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Raymond Chandler & Ray Milland: Pearls Are a Nuisance

When I first read this story - lo, so many years ago - I didn't like it much. It's probably safe to say it was my least favorite Chandler story. I was pretty hardboiled then, and this story wasn't. It was so unlike Chandler's other work that I couldn't figure why bothered writing it. But thanks to this radio version I finally get it. It's a satire. And a damn good one.

This episode of the long running radio drama Suspense was first broadcast on April 20, 1950.

Pearls Are a Nuisance Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

NOTE: If you hit the PLAY button and get nothing but "connecting", you may have to refresh the screen. Sorry, but this show is worth the nuisance!

After hearing this, I wouldn't be surprised if you want to read the story. I know I did. Luckily, it's readily available, in just about every edition of the Chandler collection The Simple Art of Murder. The collection shown here also includes Chandler's essay on crime fiction (the title piece) plus "Spanish Blood", "I'll Be Waiting", "The King in Yellow", "Pickup on Noon Street", "Smart-Aleck Kill", "Guns at Cyrano's" and "Nevada Gas".

Friday, May 28, 2010

Forgotten Books: SECRET AGENT X-9 by Dashiell Hammett & Alex Raymond

Maybe this one's not really forgotten, but since the latest edition was published 20 years ago, it's at least neglected. You've no doubt heard of the strip. Hammett plotted and wrote the dialogue for most of 1934, while Raymond continued the artwork for another year. I don't know who actually named the character, but the concept seems to have come directly from William Randolph Hearst, who wanted "the toughness of a detective like (Dick) Tracy with the the mystery of a secret operative like (Dan) Dunn."

With a team like Hammett and Raymond, you know this is great stuff. The only question is . . . do you buy the green edition (Nostalgia Press 1976), the red edition (International Polygonics Ltd, 1983) or the 1990 book (which I have not seen) published by Kitchen Sink?

Here's the lowdown on the two I have. Both books have the first continuity, a long story sometimes known as "You're the Top". Both also contain the much shorter second and third stories, "The Mystery of the Silent Guns" and "The Martyn Case". But that's where things get tricky. According to William F. Nolan, Hammett left the strip during the run of "The Martyn Case", having already submitted a plot for the next story, "The Torch Car Case".

The green book skips "The Torch Car Case" and jumps ahead to "The Iron Claw Gang" and "The Egyptian Jewel Case", two stories in which Hammett apparently had no hand.

The red book gives us "The Torch Car Case", then skips "The Iron Claw Gang" and "The Egyptian Jewel Case" to present "The Fixer", a story scripted by Saint creator Leslie Charteris.

And there's more to consider. The introduction to the green book, while not lengthy, is excerpted from a critique by Bill Blackbeard, who certainly knows his comic strip stuff. The red book has a longer and more fact-packed intro by Nolan, who surely knows his Hammett.

Which are you leaning toward, the green or the red? Well, here's one more consideration. The green book does a better job of reproducing the strips, which are uniformly sharp. Taken on its own, the red book looks OK, but side-by-side with the green the artwork looks a bit muddy.

The Kitchen Sink edition is said to be oblong (like the green book), and 206 (30 pages more). So maybe it has an extra story. Anyone know?

These books won't lay flat enough to scan full strips, but I managed to snag a few sample panels from the green book. You may, of course, click to enlarge.

The lowdown on this week's selection of Forgotten Books awaits you at George Kelley's blog.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Forgotten Music: The Vocal Stylings of Nick "The Rebel" Adams

What? You didn't know Nick Adams was a singer? Well, maybe he wasn't. But he did release three 45s - a total of six songs - back in the neighborhood of 1959, and I present them here for your consideration. For marketing purposes, no doubt, each disc had one tune with "Rebel" in the title. The flip sides of two were also Civil War related. Surprisingly, the B-side of the third is decidedly un-Rebelish.

Nick's voice aside, these are good well-produced songs. The instrumentation is fine and the background singers first-rate. With today's technology they probably could have made Nick sound as good as Frankie Laine. As it is . . . well, you be the judge.

The label for "Johnny Yuma, The Rebel" credits Andrew J. Fenady, the show's creator and screenwriter, as a co-writer on the song. The lyrics, I presume. I was surprised to see that "Tired and Lonely Rebel" was co-written by Dorsey Burnette. Surprised, because I find it the weakest of the Rebel-related songs. And Burnett took full credit for "It Could Have Been Different", which is a real turkey. Burnette penned some fine tunes back when, including "Tall Oak Tree". Tsk, tsk.

A tip on playing these songs: If you listen to a song all the way to the end, you should have no problem playing another. BUT, if you stop one before the finish, the system can get touchy. It may say "Connecting" and never actually connect. If that happens, just refresh the page and you should be good to go. 

Johnny Yuma, The Rebel (Markowitz-Fenady) by Nick Adams

Born a Rebel (S Ross-J Haskell) by Nick Adams
Born a Rebel - Nick Adams.mp3">
Tired and Lonely Rebel (Dorsey Burnette-Joe Osborn) by Nick Adams
Tired and Lonely Rebel - Nick Adams.mp3">
Bull Run (S Silbert-R Freed) by Nick Adams
The Battle of Bull Run - Nick Adams.mp3">
The Ballad of Scatter Gun Hill (Livingston-Adelson) by Nick Adams
Scattergun Hill - Nick Adams.mp3">
It Could Have Been Different (Dorsey Burnette) by Nick Adams

I wish I could report that The Rebel series is commercially available on DVD. Not so, though you can find some decent homemade efforts on eBay. There is, however, a novel (of sorts) by Andrew J. Fenady. I must advise you it reads like a synopsis of several episodes of the series, but for those needing a Johnny Yuma fix, it should do the trick.

For links to more of this month's Forgotten Music, visit Scott Parker's blog. We'll have more on the last Thursday of next month. Why not join us?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Meet Nero Wolfe - Again

Yesterday I posted the good-looking 1-sheet and a couple of lobby cards from this 1936 film. If you missed it, it's HERE. Today, some stills I acquired somewhere along life's freeway - offering a look at Fritz, the kitchen, the office (I see beer bottles but no red leather chair) and one of the plant rooms.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Meet Nero Wolfe

I posted a snapshot of this 1-sheet poster some months back, but wasn't too happy with it. So when my step-daughter was in town over Christmas, I corralled her into taking some shots with her fancy camera (Thanks Tracy!).

I'm still waiting to see this 1936 film, based at least in part on the first Wolfe novel, Fer-de-lance. It's reportedly not-too-true to Wolfe and Archie, but a decent movie nonetheless. One attraction is a young Rita Hayworth, then billed as Rita Cansino (but not on the poster).  There's a pretty good piece on this flick on Wikipedia. Next week I'll post some posters from the 1937 film version of The League of Frightened Men.

Not acquainted with Nero Wolfe? It's never too late. Between 1934 and 1975 Rex Stout wrote 33 novels and 39 short stories, and I've enjoyed them all more than once. In fact, just thinking about them makes me want to start the series over again. It just so happens that the first two books are now available in one handy volume.

Monday, May 24, 2010

LEGEND 6: "Bloodhound" by C. Courtney Joyner

Jim Bishop sweeps out the jail cells, cleans the rifles, fetches whiskey for the sheriff.  But when the sheriff hands him a badge and sends him after a brutal killer, Jim is determined to succeed.

Trouble is, the killer is an Apache - and just maybe something more than a man. Near death in the desert, Jim finds help from a most unexpected source - and discovers he is just maybe something more than a deputy.

C. Courtney Joyner weaves a compelling tale of grit, guts and self-discovery that takes Jim Bishop (and you, lucky reader) to the edge of the unknown.

Joyner is a screenwriter, director (and even a part-time actor) with an impressive list of credits on IMDb. His book The Westerners: Interviews with Actors, Directors, Writers and Producers was published in October. Among the many folks he talks to are Elmore Leonard, Glenn Ford, Warren Oates, Virginia Mayo, Andrew V. McLaglen, Andrew J. Fenady and Harry Carey.

“Bloodhound” is one of the 21 new tales of the Old West awaiting you in the Express Westerns anthology A Fistful of Legends. I happen to know that his book graces the shelves of such discriminating readers as Miss Laurie Powers, Mr James Reasoner, Prof. Bill Crider, Owlhoot Richard Prosch and Cap’n Bob Napier. Why not yours?

What has gone before:
Legend 1: Dead Man Talking by Derek Rutherford
Legend 2: Billy by Lance Howard (Howard Hopkins)
Legend 3: Lonigan Must Die! by Ben Bridges (David Whitehead)
Legend 4: The Man Who Shot Garfield Delany by I.J. Parnham
Legend 5: Half A Pig by Matthew P. Mayo
Legend 19: Cash Laramie and the Masked Devil by Edward A. Grainger (David Cranmer)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

"Long Shot" - The FIRST Candid Jones story by Richard Sale

Here's part 3 of our second 3-part salute to Richard Sale. On Friday I reviewed Sale's second novel, Is A Ship Burning, and yesterday I posted three Detective Fiction Weekly covers in a Candid Jones Cover Gallery.

Candid was Richard Sale's second busiest series character. I'm not sure how many stories he appeared in. I believe I have eight featuring Candid alone, plus two team-ups with Daffy Dill.  If anyone has a list of all the Candid stories, I'd sure like to see it.

By the time Candid made his debut in this January 9, 1937 issue, Daffy Dill had already appeared in at least 16 adventures. Thanks to a list compiled by collector Monte Herridge, I now know that Daffy starred in at least 55 stories (plus the two team-ups).

Why was Daffy more popular? Well, he was just daffier, I guess. Daffy's way with words is more distinct, sometimes bordering on the outlandish, while Candid is a more traditional hardboiled narrator. That's not meant as a criticism, because Sale does a fine job here. I offer the comparison only as an explanation for why Candid toiled in Daffy's shadow. If you haven't met Daffy, you should check out the story I posted a while back, "A Dirge for Pagliaccio".

Be advised: No pulp magazines were harmed in the production of this post. This story came to me twenty some years ago just as you see it, the pages already removed from the mag. I was buying a lot of pulps with Sale stories at the time, and some kindly dealer threw it in as a bonus.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Friday, May 21, 2010

Forgotten Books: Is A Ship Burning? by Richard Sale

Reading this book immediately after last week’s Mr. Strang was an exercise in culture shock. Mr. Strang was all melodrama and bullets in the center of the forehead (both essential elements in a Carroll John Daly story).  So I had to shift my brain into another gear when, on page 3 of Is a Ship Burning?, the narrator started showing off his Latin and dropping names like Nietzsche, Carlyle and Schopenhauer.

Is a Ship Burning? really isn’t that kind of book, but young novelist Richard Sale (26 when this was published in 1937) was trying to cover all the bases.  This book delivers action, adventure and romance in roughly equal amounts, with just enough discussion of the human condition to make literary minds feel smart.

Our narrator is John Banion, communications officer aboard a luxury cruise ship. Since the dust jacket pictures a ship on fire, and Sale’s prefatory note says, “The S.S. San Marino is not the model of any ship which suffered similar disaster,” there’s never much doubt about what’s going to happen. What makes it interesting is watching how it comes about and what it does to the characters we come to know.

The title comes from a telegraph message received from another ship 40 miles away.  They see a glow in the sky and ask if a ship is burning. This is the moment our cast of character realize they are in serious trouble.

For the first 2/3 of the book I found this compelling reading. Sale sucked me right in and I read almost the entire book in a day. Toward the end, when several survivors are sprawled on a raft cooking in the sun, I was less enthused, but can’t really blame that on the author. It’s just a thing with me. I don’t like reading about people trapped in snowstorms - or breaking their legs while alone in the woods - or lost in the desert - etc., etc. Some folks obviously find drama there, but such stuff makes me snooze.

(You'll note that some obligingly soul signed the name "Richard Sale" on the title page of my copy. All I know for sure is - it wasn't me.)

While exercising his literary muscles between hardcovers, Sale was busily churning out 400-odd mystery and adventure stories for the pulps.

Coming Sunday: I’ll reprint the first in Sale's popular Candid Jones series from Detective Fiction Weekly. Candid is a private dick turned newspaper photographer, and employed by the same paper as his pal Daffy Dill.  And tomorrow: A Candid Jones cover gallery.

Previous Richard Sale posts here on the Almanack:
A brief look at the Daffy Dill and the pulp cover for “Dancing Rats”.
A Forgotten Books review of Not Too Narrow … Not Too Deep.
A complete Daffy Dill story, “A Dirge for Pagliaccio”.
An episode of the TV show Yancy Derringer.
An early short-short story called “10 O’Clock”.

I eventually hope to review all of Sale's novels in order of publication.

Not Too Narrow ... Not Too Deep, 1936
Is a Ship Burning? 1937
The Rogue, 1938 (serialized in Argosy, no book edition)
Cardinal Rock, 1940.
Sailor Take Warning (aka Home is the Hangman), 1942
Lazarus No. 7 (aka Death Looks In), 1942
Passing Strange: A Story of Birth and Burial, 1942
Destination Unknown (aka Death at Sea) 1943
Benefit Performance, 1946.
The Oscar
, 1963
For the President's Eyes Only (aka The Man Who Raised Hell), 1971
The White Buffalo, 1975

For links to more of this week's Forgotten Books, visit George Kelley!