Friday, August 31, 2012

Forgotten Books: MR. SIXGUN by Brian Wynne (Brian Garfield)

Thanks to Open Road Media, many of Brian Garfield's novels - both mysteries and westerns - are back in print as eBooks. I'm all for that, because even though I've read many of those books, they're well worth reading again.

So far, the Jeremy Six series, which begins with Mr. Sixgun (1964) and runs through seven more novels, is NOT on Open Road's reissue schedule, but my fingers are crossed. I like series characters, and there seem to be all too few of them in western fiction (except in the so-called adult western series, which are a different sort of animal).

Anyway, Jeremy Six is one of my favorites, and it was a pleasure to get reacquainted by rereading Mr. Sixgun. Six is the marshal of the fairly typical fictional western town of Spanish Flat. The town has the normal complement of good folks and bad folks, some of whom keep to their own side of the tracks - and some who don't. There's a wide selection of saloons and bawdy houses, from sophisticated to sleazy. And there are some of the stock characters we've come to expect, like a good-hearted madame with whom Six carries on a sort of Matt & Miss Kitty relationship.

So the setup is pretty basic. What makes the series special is Garfield's lean, tough prose - and his talent for depicting good men gone bad and bad men trying to redeem themselves. One such character is the focus of Mr. Sixgun: a notorious gunfighter (and sometimes gun for hire) named Ben Sarasen. Six and Sarasen stand out above the rest of the citizenry like wolves among mutts, and the tension between them flows through the whole book.

The rest of Garfield's Jeremy Six books are: 2) The Night it Rained Bullets, 3) The Bravos, 4) The Proud Riders, 5) A Badge for a Badman, 6) Brand of the Gun, 7) Gun Down (not Gundown, that's a different book), and 8) Big Country, Big Men. BEWARE: Gunslick Territory, another Jeremy Six novel published under the Brian Wynne name, was not written by Garfield.

More Forgotten Books at pattinase.

Thursday, August 30, 2012


Here's good news. Just in time for its 50th Anniversary, one of my favorite old westerns is returning to TV. Mark your calendars, because the INSP Network will feature The Virginian in a day-long marathon on September 22, then add the show to their growing Saddle-Up Saturday lineup on September 29.

The Virginian premiered on NBC in September, 1962 and ran for ten years, chalking up 249 episodes. It will now run exclusively on INSP.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

FIGHT CARD #1: Felony Fists by Jack (Paul Bishop) Tunney

Have you jumped on the Fight Card bandwagon yet? Well, this is a great time to do it. The series is only nine months old, but it’s going like gangbusters. There are already nine books available, with many more on the way, and there’s even a spin-off series or two in the works.

The place to start, naturally, is at the beginning, and that’s Felony Fists, penned by Paul Bishop (who co-created the series with Mel Odom). And Felony Fists is a hell of a fine start.

Our hero in this one is Patrick "Felony" Flynn, an L.A. street cop and amateur boxer, who’s destined for greater things both in and out of the ring. The action takes place in 1954, with mobster Mickey Cohen working to consolidate his power, and an elite crew of detectives called the Hat Squad working to bring him down. Patrick Flynn boxes his way into the fray and finds himself on a path that just might take him all the way to the heavyweight championship.

Felony Fists is Rocky meets The Untouchables - the perfect blend of hardboiled crime fighting and two-fisted ring action. And Paul Bishop’s hard-hitting prose is perfectly suited to the task. This is a crime novel that makes you want to stand up and cheer.

Best of all, it’s only the beginning, so you (and I) have a lot more Fight Card action to look forward to. “Jack Tunney,” the house name used for the series is apparently a mash-up of Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney, two of the greatest heavyweights of all time, and Paul and Mel have recruited a crew of writers who are sure to honor the name. Those involved so far (in alphabetical order) are Eric Beetner, Gerard Brennan, Henry Brown, Jeremy Brown, Wayne Dundee, Mike Faricy, David Foster, Heath Lowrance, Kevin Michaels and Bob Randisi. Yikes.

You and I have a lot of reading to do. And we’re going to enjoy it.

Visit the new Fight Card website HERE.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Overlooked Films: Cimarron (1931)

Looking at the first hour and fifteen minutes of Cimarron, it's easy to see why it won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1931. But members of the Academy must have either left the theater early or put their blinders on, because the last 45 minutes are worthy of a Golden Turkey Award.

Based on what I assume was a popular novel by Edna Ferber, Cimarron is the story of Yancey Cravat (yes, he almost always wears a tie), an attorney and newspaper editor with a wild and woolly past. The film opens with the great land grab of 1889, when President Harrison opens up a patch of Oklahoma Indian land called the Cimarron Strip to white settlement. This makes for a spectacular opening scene (see lobby card below), in which a cast of hundreds go tearing across the prairie to stake their claims.

Yancey Cravat (Richard Dix) gets snookered out of the land he wants, but that doesn't stop him from gathering up his wife and son (along with a stowaway slave for comic relief) and moving to the brand new boomtown of Osage Township. Osage is a tent city of 10,000 souls, with only a few buildings. Mrs. Cravat (Irene Dunne) quite naturally hates the place.

Over the rest of the first hour and fifteen minutes, Yancey plays a big part in helping repress the criminal element and civilize the town. And there are some fine scenes. In one, because the town is without a preacher, he's asked to deliver the sermon at the first Sunday service. He does so, but in mid-sermon he lays down his Bible and announces that one of the attendees is guilty of murder. When the murderer takes a shot at him, Yancey pulls two sixguns and blasts away over the heads of the worshippers. End of problem.

Richard Dix making like Ben Hur.

Richard Dix makes an odd hero. He looks the part, but like almost everyone else in the film, he was a veteran of silent movies and had learned to do most of his acting with his eyes, face and body language. Though most of the other actors seem to have their silent habits under control, Dix can't resist bouncing around and mugging for the camera - and combined with his outrageous Southern accent, he comes off like a cartoon character. Amazingly, this performance still managed to garner him a nomination for Best Actor. 1931 must have been a slow year. 

By the time four years have passed, the Cravats have a baby daughter, Yancey is publishing the town newspaper, Osage is relatively civilized, and his wife is finally content. And that's where the movie goes sideways. 

President Cleveland announces another land grab, this time in the Cherokee Strip, and Yancey can't resist the call. He vanishes from the scene for five years, not even bothering to write, and returns after the end of the Spanish American War to announce he's been Rough Riding in Cuba with Teddy Roosevelt. There follows an overdramatic courtroom scene, in which Yancey defends a Madame, and he hangs around town for another fourteen years, but his story is effectively over. 

From the moment Yancey heads for the Cherokee Strip, the focus of the film shifts to his wife Sabra. She takes over the paper, raises the family and is eventually elected to the U.S. Congress, while her hubby just fades from the picture. The moral of the story seems to be that Yancey was the explorer/adventurer type who helped America expand, while Sabra was the stable sort necessary to nurture the country and make it grow. Ho hum. The role of Sabra earned Irene Dunne a Best Actress nomination. Again, it must have been a slow year.

The direction throughout is top-notch, reminding me of the later work of John Ford. But the job was done by Wesley Ruggles (another Award nominee). The cast is loaded with talented character actors who add wit and charm to almost every scene. As far as I'm concerned, Ruggles and the supporting cast were the real stars of the film.

Poster Notes: Both the window card (above) and the 1-sheet poster (at bottom) are false advertising. There is no scene in which Dix and Dunne engage in a wild wagon ride. And there's no scene where Dix gets his shirt ripped open. Heck, he almost never even removes his cravat.

Dix doing his Doc Savage impression.

Overlooked Films is a SWEET FREEDOM thang.

Monday, August 27, 2012

THE CASTRO DIRECTIVE: a butt-kicking history lesson by Stephen Mertz

For me, the best way to study history is to read a novel.

Stephen Mertz’ new eBook, The Castro Directive, is a case in point.

When it comes to a subject like the Bay of Pigs disaster, my ignorance knows no bounds. I’ve always had the niggling suspicion it would make for interesting study, but not interesting enough to wade into a dry, stuffy history book.

Then along came The Castro Directive, an action-adventure novel that makes the event come alive. I’ll never think of the Bay of Pigs as dry and stuffy again. Heck, there’s even a good chance I might read a history book about it.

The official hero of this novel is Sergeant “Graveyard” Morgan, a fearless Ranger-Commando who always gets the job done, and doesn’t care whose toes he steps on to do it. Morgan is a fairly typical adventure hero, and if the story focused exclusively on him, The Castro Directive would be a fairly typical adventure novel.

Instead, Morgan is used sparingly, and we meet a large cast of interesting characters. Some of those are also heroes, and some are villains, but most are just people, warts and all, who get caught up in extraordinary events.

Among those with warts are JFK and his brother Bobby, and Fidel Castro and his pal Che Guevara. It’s clear Mr. Mertz had fun using these guys as characters, and that fun comes through to the reader. JFK is particularly interesting. We see him working hard, but he also plays hard - pursuing his Playboy lifestyle - and relaxes inbetween with a James Bond novel.

We also see events through the eyes of a lot of little people on both sides of the conflict. In Cuba, we meet revolutionaries, counter-revolutionaries, freedom fighters and hapless villagers. In the U.S., we have cops, CIA operatives, spies, Cuban resistance leaders, reporters, and hapless family members.

Through all those points of view, the big picture emerges. We get a feel for what pre-Castro Cuba was like under the oppressive Batista regime, and how Castro’s revolution victimized many of people it was intended to liberate. We see Kennedy struggling to do the right thing, but hampered by CIA bungling and his own fears of public and world opinion. And we see the freedom fighters, betrayed and sacrificed for political expediency.

And along the way, of course, we get to see Graveyard Morgan kick a little butt. So while the whole operation was a Lose-Lose for everyone except Fidel and Che, it’s a Win-Win for us readers: An entertaining history lesson - and butt kicking too.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Forgotten Books: CONTRABAND by Cleve F. Adams (and Robert Leslie Bellem)

You’re probably familiar with the term “cannibalization.” It’s normally used to describe the process Raymond Chandler used to construct his first four novels - by combining pieces and plots from his earlier pulp stories.

Well, Cleve F. Adams, who was Chandler’s friend, used the same technique to put together most of his novels. Contraband no doubt would have been one of those, but when his health began to fail, he hired his friend Robert Leslie Bellem to do it for him. (We know this thanks to Mr. Steve Mertz, who interviewed Adams’ widow Vera and got the lowdown.)

To fans of both authors, like me, this makes Contraband an especially interesting book.

I had hoped to compare Contraband the novel with “Contraband” the pulp novelette and provide some examples of places where Bellem added to Adams’ prose, but that proved tougher than I thought. The problem is that the novel was clearly constructed from at least three novelettes, and the title story, from the Sept. 9, 1939 issue of Detective Fiction Weekly, is the only one in my possession.

In using the “Contraband” novelette, which comprises the middle third of the novel, Bellem pretty much left Adams’ prose alone. He used whole chapters, scenes and paragraphs, usually changing only characters’ names.

Why those names needed changing is a mystery. The hero of the novelette is U.S. Treasury agent James Flagg, who Adams used in an unknown number of pulp stories, and again in the 1941 novel The Black Door. In the Contraband novel, Flagg’s name was changed to Reed Smith. Was this Adams’ idea, or Bellem’s? We’ll probably never know.

It’s pretty clear that the first third of Contraband used an earlier Flagg story (perhaps the first Flagg story), in which he meets a spoiled heiress and suspects her of smuggling drugs from Mexico. This leads nicely into the material from the “Contraband” novelette, in which Flagg returns to Mexico to investigate a father-daughter team suspected of smuggling. The third portion of the novel, which takes place back in the States, pays a lot of lip service to the earlier smuggling plots, but is actually a pretty straightforward murder mystery. I wouldn’t be surprised if that third piece was based on a non-Flagg story featuring one of Adams’ many private detective or police characters.

Bellem’s main role here seems to have been to weld the stories together by overlapping scenes and characters. This works pretty smoothly through the first two-thirds of the book, but grafting the third story to the others seems to have presented more of a challenge. Reed (Flagg) Smith’s pursuit of the treacherous smuggler babe somehow morphs into the tale of a cop turned killer.

If  you’ve read Cleve F. Adams, you know he had one the most distinctive styles in the genre. (If you haven't read Adams, there's a complete story HERE.) Bellem managed to imitate that style pretty well, because he’d had a lot of practice. Under the pen name Jerome Severs Perry, he’d written stories about an Adams-like character called Little Jack Horner for Hollywood Detective and its sister magazines. So for the most part, it’s tough to identify portions of the novel that are pure Bellem.

Bellem does show his hand, though, when it comes to sex. Adams’ characters do a fair amount of rough kissing, but other than that, the subject never comes up. Not so with Bellem. He’d written dozens of titillating tales for the Spicy pulps, and later produced the two sleaze novels The Sex Ladder and Doctor of Lesbos.

So in the third portion of Contraband, when he’s trying harder to bring Adams’ plot lines together, Bellem allows the characters (both men and women) to discuss the subject more freely than Adams would have been comfortable with. This seems out of place in an Adams novel, but because the book was published in 1950, I suppose it was more in tune with the market of the time.

Here’s a plea: Can anyone out there can identify the other two stories used to build the novel? I’d also appreciate info on any other Jim Flagg stories you’re aware of. The only other one I have is “Passage For Satan” in the Sept. 14, 1940 issue of Argosy.

Forgotten Books is a pattinase Presentation.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

LET THE DEVIL SLEEP: a new novel by John Verdon

I learned something this week: John Verdon is a hell of a writer. I read Let the Devil Sleep in two days, which is saying a lot, because it's a BIG book, running 449 pages. It was just damn hard to stop.

This is Mr. Verdon's third novel, and third in the continuing adventures of retired NYPD homicide detective Dave Gurney. And now, God help me, I'm going to have to find and read the first two, Think of a Number and Shut Your Eyes Tight.

Let the Devil Sleep begins with Gurney at home, lamenting the gunshot injury that ended his career, when he's asked to help a passionate young journalist with a TV project. Ten years earlier, you see, a killer calling himself the Good Shepherd blasted six people off the highway and was never caught. The journalist, a young lady named Kim Corazon, plans to interview the families of the victims to examine the toll the killings have taken on their lives.

Gurney isn't much interested until it appears someone is trying to scare he and Kim off the project, and the FBI is stonewalling all attempts to get details of their failed investigation. When he's pushed, Dave Gurney pushes back, and pushes hard. He's soon committed not only to assisting Kim, but reopening the ten-year-old Good Shepherd case, and finding out where the FBI went wrong.

We meet some great characters here: Another ex-cop driven more-than-half mad by his obsession with the Shepherd. A psychoanalyst whose stellar reputation is threatened by the reopening of the case. A couple of detectives who still value truth over propriety. And family members of the Shepherd's old victims, some angry and some despondent, but all still struggling to brings their shattered lives back into balance.

Let the Devil Sleep is above all a mystery novel, but John Verdon's explorations into Dave Gurney's character and relationship with his wife, his son, and his fate make this a powerful novel as well.

Bottom line: I'm now a Verdon fan. I'll be eagerly awaiting his next book.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Overlooked Films: The Black Rose (1950)

You'd be hard-pressed to find a film packed with more adventure than The Black Rose. It starts in England, 200 years after the Norman Conquest, with Saxons and Normans still at each others' throats. Our two Saxon heroes, Tyrone Power and Jack Hawkins, find it advisable to vamoose, and decide to pay a visit to Cathay (their name for China).

First stop is the land of the Crusades, where they join a caravan delivering gifts to Kublai Khan, the grandson of old Genghis. Commanding the caravan is the bombastic Mongol warlord, Orson Welles, who's out to conquer the world, starting with China.

The storyline, I'll admit, is a bit weak. Power and Hawkins flail about for a good reason for going to Cathay, but never seem to find one. Once they get there, they sort of find a reason to return (to bring back the eastern secrets of gunpowder and printing) but even that is pretty wishy-washy. But with all the great scenery  - the castles, the desert, the Great Wall and the palaces of China - the journey makes up for what the story lacks.

The co-stars help, too. Orson Welles, dressed up as a Mongol, is still Orson Welles, and chews up the landscape. Robert Blake, three years after his last performance as Little Beaver, is a rascally Arab servant boy. And Michael Rennie, as King Edward of England, is playing Klatu with a crown. Every time I saw him I expected Gort to march out and disintegrate somebody.

The "Black Rose" of the story is Cecile Aubry, a 21-year-old French actress who looks like a toothy, 15-year-old version of June Allyson. She actually has nothing to do with the story - or the adventure - and exists only for the obligatory romantic subplot. This was her first American film, and also her second-to-last.

One surprise: This was a big-budget 20th Century Fox film, but they cut corners on the lobby cards. The film was shot in Technicolor, but instead of using color photos for the cards, they added color to black and white stills. The effect is pretty cheesy. Each card retains elements of black and white, and the colors don't match those in the film. Fox also took some large liberties with the 1-sheet poster (above) and the title card (below). Each shows Tyrone on a horse, clutching a lissome babe. In the film, he rides a camel, and doesn't clutch the babe (if you can call her that) until the final scene.

More Overlooked Films at SWEET FREEDOM.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

VIN OF VENUS: Damn, that was fun!

Yep, that was my reaction when I finished reading this eBook by Paul Brazill, David Cranmer and (mostly) Garnett Elliott. My next reaction was: Damn, what’s going to happen next?

Yep, I’m hooked, and already looking forward to the next book.

There are so many good things going on in Vin of Venus that it’s hard to decide what to mention first. And it’s hard to say all the things I’d like to say without spoiling the many surprises that make it such a fun read.

The concept is brilliant. Vin is a guy who wakes up in a Polish hospital with his memory gone. His left arm and left leg are missing too, and an unearthly jeweled bracelet seems welded around his wrist. Then things get even stranger, as discovers the bracelet has strange properties, and becomes fixated with the idea he’s actually from Venus.

The first chapter in the book, by Misters Cranmer and Brazill, gives us this much, setting the stage for Garnett Elliott, who provides the other 90% of the prose. This is where things get tricky, because I don’t want to give away too much.

Suffice it to say that if you like mysteries, science fiction or sword and planet adventure (or better yet, all three) this book is for you. Some of the action takes place on present day Earth, and reads like hardboiled crime fiction with a sci-fi edge. But a good portion of the story seems to take place on Venus - an updated tip-of-the-hat to John Carter of Mars. I say it seems to take place on Venus, because the story is a delicious blend of fiction within fiction, opening several possible explanations for what’s really going on.

Bottom line: The writing is consistently sharp, the hero is unique and engaging, and the pacing delivers one great surprise after another. Vin of Venus is a great opener to what I hope will be a long-running series.

Meanwhile, as a new fan of Garnett Elliott, I'm anxious to see more of his work, including a story called “The Vaudeville Detective” in the latest (Sept) issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.

Vin of Venus is available HERE.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Forgotten Stories: a complete DAFFY DILL mystery by Richard Sale

Here I go again, singing the praises of Richard Sale. But this time, I'm providing some show with the tell. Here's a tale featuring Sale's greatest creation, the erudite wise-guy reporter Daffy Dill, from the Sept. 17, 1941 issue of Detective Fiction Weekly.

Gotta warn you - Daffy is habit forming, but his adventures are hard to come by. Thanks to Monte Herridge, I know Sale wrote at least 58 Daffy stories, but I'm aware of only three that have been reprinted. I encourage you to seek out "A Nose for News" in The Hardboiled Dicks, "Double Trouble" in Hardboiled Dames and "Three Wise Men of Babylon" in The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps. You'll find a fourth, "A Dirge for Pagliaccio," HERE.

Check out "Death on High Iron" to see why Daffy was one of Detective Fiction Weekly's most popular characters.

For the rest of my blathering about Richard Sale, click HERE.

And the for the rest of the Friday's Forgotten Books lineup, visit pattinase.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Find Mystery, Adventure and the Wild West on Me-TV

Just discovered Me-TV on our local cable feed, and it would seem to be designed for this blog. Check out this partial line-up:

The Fugitive
Hawaii 5-0
Honey West
Naked City
Peter Gunn
The Rockford Files
The Rogues
The Untouchables

12 O’Clock High
Lost in Space
Mission Impossible
Route 66
Star Trek
The Twilight Zone
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea

Daniel Boone
The Guns of Will Sonnett
The Rebel
The Rifleman
The Wild Wild West

Is Me-TV playing in your area? Find out HERE

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Did Terry McCaleb annoy himself to death?

People have been telling me for years that Michael Connelly is great, but with so many old books to read and re-read I have trouble getting around to someone relatively “new.”

But a few months back I finally read the first Harry Bosch book, and then The Lincoln Lawyer, and was well and truly hooked.

When I reached what was supposed to be the seventh Bosch novel, A Darkness More than Night, I found myself in the continuing adventures of ex-fed Terry McCaleb, so I had to take time out to read Blood Work. And I liked it, of course. But McCaleb’s bumbling pal Buddy Lockridge annoyed me, and the way McCaleb reacted to Buddy annoyed me even more. But the end of the book I was hoping Buddy turned out to be the killer, so the series would be rid of him.

No such luck. Buddy was back for A Darkness More than Night, more annoying than ever, causing McCaleb to be more annoying. And McCaleb started annoying his wife by taking on a new case, and her annoyance quickly became annoying. And then, most annoying of all, McCaleb jumped to the huge conclusion that Harry Bosch was the murderer.

Still, the mystery was well-handled, and the use of Hieronymus Bosch’s painting was genius, and once McCaleb saw the error of his ways, it seemed he was on the road to redemption. But at the end of the book he managed to kick my annoyance up another notch.

Well. Like I said, I’m hooked, and have no choice but to read all of Connelly’s books. So it was with dread in my heart that I checked to see if there was a third entry in the McCaleb series. And hallelujah! I learned that McCaleb made his next appearance as a murder victim in a Bosch book.

So I’m posing the question: Did Terry McCaleb annoy himself to death? I'm guessing that other readers felt the same way I did, and Connelly appeased us by turning a guy dust jacket copy had called one of his “most popular characters” into a corpse.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Overlooked Films: SUPER MOUSE (Mighty Mouse) in "He Dood It Again" (1943)

This was the third Super Mouse cartoon. Terrytoons released four more before his name was changed to Mighty. Supposedly this was not due to any hassle from the Superman folks, but because another character was using the name Super Mouse in a comic book.

More Overlooked (but less Super) Films at SWEET FREEDOM.