Pulp Fiction


Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         


CLARENCE H. NEW – The Unseen Hand: An Adventure of the Freelancers of Diplomacy. Doubleday Page & Co., hardcover, 1918. Wildside Press, softcover reprint. Illustrated by Clinton Pettee. Available in ebook form online here.

   The following appeared in the January 15. 1933, issue of the New York Times:

C.H. NEW, NOVELIST, ASKED THEM IN HIS WILL NOT TO “SCATTER” HIS EFFECTS

   The heirs of Clarence H. New, Brooklyn novelist, whose serial, the Freelancers of Diplomacy, ran for twenty three years in Blue Book, are enjoined in his will from “scattering about” his personal effects in foreign countries.

   The will goes on to explain his son and grandson were travelers and prone to leave items behind them, and concludes with a quote from the will:

   “As I do not believe anyone regains consciousness after death,” the will says. “I wish it distinctly understood there shall be no church or funeral ceremony.”

   That explains a bit about New, but not the Freelancers of Diplomacy, whose adventures ran in Blue Book for twenty three years with out a break, a saga Robert Sampson describes in Yesterday’s Heroes as unparalleled in American pulp history.

   Despite a history of adventure covering a few thousand pages and by my guesstimate at least one million words, there remains only one novel recounting the adventures of the Freelancers of Diplomacy, The Unseen Hand, what in science fiction used to be called a ‘fixup,’ a bit of new material tying together several shorter adventures from the magazine.

   We are given a brief history of said Freelancers from the point of view of the Germans who have recently learned the identity of the group and its leader from an American magazine — a surprisingly modern touch considering recent events in the real world of espionage and diplomacy.

   Cassells monthlies … devotes quite a lengthy article to the ‘Diplomatic Free Lance’ and his associates. This man will be remembered — by the most contemptible betrayal of confidence reposed in him by his former German hosts, who had entertained him and the woman masquerading as his wife, upon the supposition that they were people of breeding who belonged to the aristocracy — has been the solitary exception among the English to be really dangerous to us, and a rope is waiting for him as soon as he is caught. Various conjectures have been made by Wilhelmstrase as to his identity — but the truth is now kindly offered to us by the fools across the channel. It seems that he is — as we have been morally certain for sometime — a certain sports crazed English peer who has never been credited with the least political ability, Lord Trevor, of Dartmoor. In his nefarious and unprincipled schemes against us he has been assisted by the woman posing as his wife, Lady Nan Trevor; by a Sir Edward Lammerford, who was once dismissed by the English Foreign office for conduct unbecoming a diplomat and a gentleman; by a blackamoor servant calling himself an Afghan prince; by Sir Edward Wray, whose thinly veiled name is easily recognizable by every German who recalls the black treachery of August 1914; by an attache of the American Embassy in Paris; and by the old reprobate Cavaliere Scarpa, in Italy.

   Giving us our introduction to the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel — oh, sorry wrong century, the Freelancers of Diplomacy.

   Of course we know quite a bit more, for instance that Lord Trevor, the idle sportsman who is mastermind behind this group, is really American Cyrus K, Grisscome, alias Commander Cresspinge, who operated for President Roosevelt (Teddy) using his fast yacht as a mobile base.

   Of course the resemblance is only one of those coincidences of fiction … because there are no such people as Viscount Trevor of Dartmoor or Sir Edward Wray (hint, he may be the Prime Minister) in DeBrett’s. “It’s a legend, a joke, Baron Munchausen and Sherlock Holmes combined, gossip, hearsay, pure fiction …”

   If you think this is all terribly old-fashioned and out of date I refer you to bestselling writer Ted Bell’s half-American peer Alexander Hawke, Lord Hawke, who ‘freelances’ a bit himself from his heavily armed super fast yacht the Hawke. What goes around as they say.

   And it is only a coincidence that the Condessa de Montessa, her moorish servants, her titled Afghan friend, Baron W, and her husband the Earl occupy apartments so like those described in the stories published about the Diplomatic Freelance in Cassells.

   In short order we are filled in on the adventures of Cyrus Grisscome and how he ‘might’ have become Viscount Trevor, and how perhaps the Diplomatic Free Lance is something like the Mission Impossible team undertaking missions that the government can deny should they fail or be captured. About the only thing missing is the theme music and the self destructive instructions.

   Noticeably there is a good deal of back story to fill in for a series that runs twenty three years, but by chapter two we are off on the adventure, and chapter one has at least been intriguing. The ten chapters that follow are loosely connected adventures from Blue Book such as “The Aldershot Affair,” “Touching on the Honor of Islam,” “The Neutrality of Holland,” “A Machiavellian Coup in Roumania,” “The Mysterious Camp in the Pyrenees” … and the plot and action are almost non-stop and well told. For instance in that last one, Trevor and company have to foil a plot to invade France with sixty thousand men hidden in the Pyrenees wearing stolen American uniforms.

   Fantastic? Perhaps, but in WWI the Germans actually tried to smuggle anthrax-infected mules into France through the Pyrenees and in WW II specially trained SS donned American uniforms and penetrated the American lines at the Battle of the Bulge.

   Bulldog Drummond fans may appreciate a certain Madame Irma and her ‘supposed husband’ whose allegiances are in question. The Freelancers also barely avert a plot to kill Kitchener with the fleet at Skager Rock — not unlike his real death organized by the real German spy known as Fraulien Doktor. New at least knew how to read the newspapers and extrapolate.

   As with Oppenheim, Le Queux, and even Buchan and Sapper, at least some of the appeal of these was the feeling of being in on the back rooms of intrigue and espionage. Eric Ambler, Ian Fleming, and John le Carre would all mine the same territory one way or another. Whenever Bell’s Lord Hawke is in conference with the President of PM and the various Secretaries and Ministers he routinely rubs noses with it is a nod to the past and the beginnings of the genre.

   Treachery waits at every crossroads. Are there those in Spain who would aid the Kaiser to gain greater favor, can the Bulgarians be trusted (if you read Ian Fleming the answer is no but then the Bulgarians did most of the Soviet’s dirty work in the Cold War), will Holland’s neutrality be violated?

   Are people friend or foe, agents of the Boche or agents of the Entente Cordiale, fair or fowl, operating at cross purposes or for the same goal? Who can be trusted, and who should be silenced? Spy fiction hasn’t changed a lot in the century or so since its beginnings. (*)

   The Diplomatic Freelancers fall somewhere between E. Phillips Oppenheim and William LeQueux, a bit more active than the former, better written and less melodramatic than the latter. No one reading this is going to discover an early version of James Bond, the real world of Eric Ambler, or even the cut throat back alley secret wars of Peter Cheyney.

      Everyone has a title, everyone is a cliche, we are never all that far from the Scarlet Pimpernel; even the relative modernity of John Buchan, Sapper, Dornford Yates and the Clubland Heroes is some time ahead.

   But these adventures were written with conviction. As late as the pre-war years Max Brand’s Anthony Hamilton spy stories were still on this mode with spies in white tails and slinky women in black velvet, as, in many ways, were the adventures of Operator #5, and even the more realistic adventures of John P. Marquand’s Mr. Moto. And not unlike the heroes those, British agent he may be, Cyrus Grisscome is still an American and knows his own countries neutrality won’t stand against German aggression.

   “There are still a few of the old breed living in America, your Highness — And they’ll wipe the stains from our good old flag in a way that will mean annihilation to everything that Germany stands for, today!”

   Duck, you Huns, Uncle Sam wants you! And admit it, even today it’s effective.

   Like Somerset Maugham’s Ashenden, or the British Agent — which it resembles in no other way — it ends with the Russian Revolution and hints of a new secret war to come in which the Diplomatic Freelancers will be needed once again. Already in 1918 the writing on the wall was clear, and this time in bright red.

   These tales and the twenty-three years worth of saga from Blue Book are worth reading today for more than nostalgia. We may be as much in Ruritania or Graustark as the real Europe, and there may be a few deadly electronic eyes (even Oppenheim used that one in The Wrath to Come), exploding cigars and poisoned needles (Le Queux’s Duckworth Drew), femme fatales poured into elegant black satin and opera gloves (everyone save Buchan), untrustworthy ‘fureigners’, loyal Afghan princes and moorish servants, and all the trappings of an earlier age, but the writing is good, the stories are fun, and the musty scent of crumbling pulp paper intoxicating, even in electronic form.

   If Clarence New and the Diplomatic Freelancers are only a name faintly redolent of black velvet cloaks lined in red satin and crossed daggers, or even if they are completely unknown to you, they are worth the effort to become acquainted with.

   There are touches of modernity, good old fashioned swashbuckling, intrigue, adventure, and entertainment to be had, and the dust you have to blow away to get to it is nowhere near as deep as you might expect. Blue Book was one of the Cadillacs of the pulps, in a rank with Adventure, Top Notch, and the various incarnations of Argosy. Names like John Buchan and Agatha Christie graced Blue Book‘s pages, so New is in heady company.

   You won’t have to lower your standards to enjoy this book, and you may wish you knew someone with a complete collection of Blue Book so you could read more. That’s a high recommendation for any series out of the pulps, though managing twenty three years of consecutive issues may be a bit ambitious for most collectors. From this example it might well be worth the effort though aside from the countless other examples of well written fiction gracing those pages.

(*)   The first modern spy novel, by all critical opinion, is John Buchan’s The Power House from 1910, however Le Queux, Oppenheim, Fred White, the adventures of Norroy and others at least reach back to the late 1880‘s early 1890‘s into the turn of the century, and it could be argued as far back as the Trojan Horse and the two Israelite spies who enter Jericho.

   Sherlock Holmes and Martin Hewitt render services to England in the area of espionage and counter-espionage, and Sexton Blake was always encountering foreign agents. Certainly the doings at Zenda in Ruritania are secret service work, and as far back as Stevenson’s ‘Pavillion on the Links’ there is international skullduggery taking place in placid old England.

   For that matter Dumas Musketeers and Monte Cristo are the very definition of ‘cloak and dagger.’ The spies may change from the Tsar’s Secret Police to the lads at Wilhelmstrasse, to Reds under the covers, and back to the Gestapo, the Japanese, the Soviets, the Chinese, Islamic terrorists, all the way to Putin’s Russia to day, but the odds and the heroes are remarkably consistent interspersed of course with an overlay of Carl Petersons, Fu Manchus, and Blofields when ever international politics got a bit dull.

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         


The Thriller Library #538: Rough House: A Norman Conquest Story, by Berkeley Gray. 27 May 1939.

Dixon Hawke Library #549: The Purple Doom of Doctor Krantz, [Anonymous]. 14 December 1940.

The Sexton Blake Library S3 234: The Green Caravan, by Rex Hardinge. February 1951.

   The British pulps came out of a similar tradition as those in America, and like the American brand walked a schizophrenic tightrope between adult and juvenile fiction. Sexton Blake, Nelson Lee, Dixon Hawke, all came from the boys’ papers popular at the turn of the century and well beyond.

   Edgar Wallace, Leslie Charteris, John Creasey, Berkeley Gray all came from a slightly more sophisticated branch, though Creasey and Gray (Edwy Sealey Brooks) both wrote adventures of Sexton Blake.

   Brooks wrote well over six million words of Blake material, creating Waldo the Wonder Man, who threatened to overwhelm Blake in his own book, before he was forced out because of age, at which point he created Norman Conquest and Inspector Ironside and became even more popular, writing well into the nineteen sixties, at least one Conquest adventure completed by his wife and son.

   The British pulp The Thriller, edited by Monty Haydon, who discovered Charteris and Creasey, featured not only the more adult writers, but serials from the American pulp The Shadow, Sax Rohmer, and the dean of the British pulp creations Sexton Blake. Peter Cheyney came out of The Thriller, and a long list of familiar names with him, some of who saw their careers fade and returned in the 1950‘s to penning Sexton Blake adventures like Rex Hardinge and Hugh Clevely (Maxwell Archer, who got one film outing, and the Gang Smasher, who was unique because his assistant was a Jewish pawnshop owner).

   It seems as if you can’t elude Sexton Blake in fiction or fact.

   All of these short tales run some sixty or so pages, coming in around thirty five thousand words. All appeared in inexpensive paper editions, either in The Thriller, or digest size paperbacks.

   They are reviewed in order of publication from the 1930‘s to the 1950‘s.

   Norman Conquest, 1066, the Gay Desperado (before the word Gay was made impossible to use in any but a sexual sense) at one time ran with a fast crowd, the Saint, Blackshirt, the Toff, and the Baron, and in the United Kingdom he ran very close though he never quite made it to American shores.

   In The Durable Desperadoes William Butler Vivian wrote fondly of Conquest, and I have to agree. His adventures have energy, speed, violence, a hint of sex in perpetual virtual live in girlfriend Joy ‘Pixie’ Everard (think Simon Templar’s Patricia Holm but Norman eventually marries his).

   Gangsters, mad scientists, master criminals, spies, fifth columnists, just about all fell to Conquest’s outlaw ways. He even made it to the screen in the person of Tom Conway for one late but half decent film outing.

   In Rough House Conquest is at his toughest, in a Saintly mode with more than a hint of Bulldog Drummond at the edges.

   “Conquest? Did you say Conquest? Norman Conquest? Good heavens, I wonder if he’s the impudent rascal I believe he is? What would a man of his stamp would want in this house?”

   What Conquest wants is to warn Lord Chalston that a criminal in a rubber mask one Toowoomobo Dick wants Lord Chalston dead, and Conquest suspects it’s because Toowoomobo Dick under that rubber mask is:

   “See my friend, I am the true Lord Chalston,” said Dick deliberately. “An aristocratic English peer with the face and skin of a black savage!”

   To be fair to Gray, he does at least make a case that Dick might have some reason to feel cheated out of what is rightfully his just because his mother had a distant grandfather with black skin and it showed up on her baby, but that doesn’t excuse murder or the wax effigies he makes of his victims. Dick is more than a little insane.

   Racial stereotypes hung on in British popular fiction much longer and were much more of an issue than in American popular fiction, largely because the English were much less homogenous than their American cousins and foreign much more noticeable. Being a class based society didn’t help. As late as the 1950‘s a character in a Sexton Blake adventure (The Voyage of Fear by Rex Hardinge) is an Italian described as “touched by a tar brush.”

   Norman naturally goes a little ballistic when Joy/Pixie is kidnapped right under his nose and as usual charges right in, with less than spectacular results. In fact Joy has to rescue him:

   Drawn as if by irresistible magnetism she turned again to the effigy of Norman. She could not keep her eyes off of it. She went closer, fighting an urge to turn on her heels and run. It was something about the figures eyes — she caught her breath painfully. These eyes were not glass. They were not the dead eyes of a waxwork. They were alive. They looked at her with intelligence and urgency.

   “Norman,” cried Joy chokingly.

   Even Norvell Page never entombed Richard Wentworth in wax. Of course she saves Norman, and he does for Lord Chalston in his own inimitable 1066 (get it, the Norman conquest) Gay Desperado way no doubt putting yet another gray hair in the head of Sweet William, his long suffering friend and adversary at Scotland Yard.

   World War II posed a problem for rogues and gentleman adventurers. It wasn’t all that glamorous flitting about England in the blitz. Peter Cheyney managed all right with Slim Callaghan and Ettienne McGregor and turned to his best work in spy novels, but the Saint had to sail for the states to fight saboteurs (can you imagine the Saint in uniform?).

   The Toff served in intelligence but all his adventures were home based affairs battling things like black marketeers, Norman Conquest fought Nazis at home when not ignoring the war completely, and the Baron was a sergeant manning a telephone for the RAF in a note typical for that grounded series. But Sexton Blake was in it tooth and nail, and where Blake went Dixon Hawke was sure to follow.

   The most important thing to note about Dixon Hawke is that young Kenneth Millar, Ross Macdonald, was a fan, and the Hawke books are fun, but they are much closer to the comics than even the hero pulps.

   The Purple Doom of Doctor Krantz has Hawke penetrating the Nazi high command as said Doctor Krantz. The opening sets the tone.

   “Donner and blitzen,” he cursed. What a night and what a country. Only the pig dog British would build a prison in such a place.

   By which remark Herr Gustav Stonberg revealed his utter lack of a sense of humour, for, as one of the leading members of the German Secret Police, the dreaded Gestapo, he had been responsible for building some of the worst concentration camps in Germany.

   At least you know where you are. This is wartime England and subtle was not needed in the pulps. Never fear though, Dixon Hawke outwits Himmler himself, makes a daring escape with his friend Clavering, and gets shot down in a German plane by the RAF before he is rescued with the goods. “Good old Dixon Hawke …” as his boy pal Tommy (since Sexton Blake’s Tinker every hero needed a youthful assistant) says.

   The Purple Doom of Doctor Krantz reads the way a good B wartime programmer plays, it even resembles the Raoul Walsh Errol Flynn flag waver Desperate Journey a bit with a touch of John Buchan’s Greenmantle thrown in (the bit where Hannay is in WWI Germany in disguise), as well as Manning Coles’ Tommy Hambledon in A Toast to Tomorrow and Drink To Yesterday. It’s closer to a Big Little Book or a juvenile than the pulps, but it is still fun, if not for the same reasons as slightly more mature fare.

   Who doesn’t like to figuratively flip the bird to Hitler and Himmler?

   The Green Caravan by Rex Hardinge is a Sexton Blake post-war adventure, and it is not for little boys. Philip Neal wants to marry beautiful English rose Mary Young, but the tormented Neal, who had a bad war in a ‘Nazi horror camp,’ was drawn to the gypsy woman Belle Hampton, she of the bulging bosom and flashing eyes, for darker needs. Now he can’t get rid of her, and the best solution seems to be murder.

   The perfect murder! He realised that many men have tried to achieve it. Many have paid for their failure the full penalty demanded by the law. But what of those who succeeded? Nobody knows how many of them there have been. And if others succeeded why shouldn’t he?

   Not the sanest of people this Philip Neal, and the bodies start falling like flies, random victims killed by three bullets from three guns without warning. Mary Young is scared and turns to Neal’s rival Ben Rorke. Ben survives a trap, and now Neal must be rid of him before he figures out who the killer is. So why not blow up the entire end of the hospital Ben is in?

   …pack the dynamite — light it with a short fuse — then with the crossbow, from some convenient spot, fling the arrow with the dynamite into the room where Ben lay.

   He misses Ben again, but suspecting the second attack on Ben was not coincidence Sexton Blake, called in on the case with Inspector Coutts of the Yard, has the word spread that Ben is dead and moves him to London. Blake is convinced the murders are not the work of ‘what the Americans call a psycho.” He sees a ‘deliberate plan” behind the crimes.

   Ben leads to Mary who leads to Belle with whom she had a violent confrontation, which leads to Philip Neal who has the means and the brains to rig the clever traps the killer uses, but there has to be a motive. Even with evidence and motive they couldn’t charge Neal or convince a jury (unusual for the detective to bother with details like juries in any mystery), and the obvious victim, Belle Hampton, is as yet untouched.

   If you don’t smell a trap coming, you haven’t been paying attention reading these and watching television and movies all these years.

   “He is caught in his own trap,” he (Blake) snapped, “which is fitting considering the death he gave to innocent people — but he isn’t dead. He is not escaping the hangman that way.”

   Though one would imagine John Mortimer’s Rumpole, John Dickson Carr’s Patrick Butler, or Sara Woods’ Antony Maitland could get him off on an insanity plea pretty easy with say the help of solicitor Arthur Crook or Joshua Clunk. He’s obviously loony.

   The Blake books from this era and into the sixties are often very good with writers like W.A. Ballinger, Rex Hardinge, Hugh Clevely, Jack Trevor Story (The Trouble with Harry), and other relatively familiar names penning them.

   They are still pulp, still series pulp at that, and hardly up to the level of most American paperback and digest fiction of the era, but they follow a long tradition and there is nothing to be ashamed of here. They have colorful covers, they are well plotted, there is variety, and they are well written.

   No wonder they were still doing Sexton Blake movies and television series well into the 1960‘s.

   So, three British pulps from three different eras, all fun to read, all fluff, but good fluff, and all uniquely British in style and outlook. Fans won’t let Sexton Blake die and there are sites devoted to him. You can find actual e-books of Thriller, Blake, and a few Dixon Hawke books on line along with Nelson Lee, Falcon Swift, and Waldo the Wonderman, and the covers are still attractive to look at and worth collecting. (Steve Holland at Bear Alley has done a couple of handsome Blake anthologies.)

   The past never really dies, somebody just collects it.

Note:   All three of these stories (and many others) can be downloaded and read online at Comic Book Plus.

COLLECTING PULPS: A MEMOIR, PART ELEVEN –
Frank Robinson, 1926-2014
by Walker Martin


   I’ve just learned that Frank Robinson died on June 30, 2014. Another of my old pulp friends that I will miss and one less of the collectors who used to actually buy the pulps off the newsstands in the thirties and forties. Frank was born in 1926 and was 87 years old at the time of his death.

   Frank wore many hats, and I’m not talking about the hat that he always wore. He was an SF author, a writer of mainstream action fiction, an editor for the men’s magazines such as ROGUE, CAVALIER, PLAYBOY, a speechwriter for Harvey Milk, who was shot and killed in the 1980′s, a member of the San Francisco gay community, and finally at the end of his life, a movie actor. (He had a bit part playing himself in the movie, MILK.)

   However, though I was aware of all the above, I knew him only as one of the most intense and fanatical pulp magazine collectors that I have ever known. He was a “condition collector” and probably the top such collector among pulp collectors. Frank just didn’t collect nice condition pulps; he collected magazines that were often in perfect condition with white pages and glossy, new looking covers and spines. This is getting harder and harder to do because the pulp era is now many decades in the past, the last ones dying in 1955. (There are a couple of exceptions such as RANCH ROMANCES.) Some of the beautiful magazines that Frank collected are now close to a hundred years old.

   I first came into contact with Frank in the early 1980′s when he wrote me about some of his wants. We corresponded for many years and traded pulps back and forth. Not an easy thing to do because Frank only wanted perfection. He had what other collectors called “the wall of pulps” and they were all in fine or mint condition. His SF magazines were probably the best condition set in existence and his WEIRD TALES were a thing of beauty.

   During our correspondence, it was only natural that the subject of Pulpcon would arise. I urged him to attend the annual convention which was usually held in the Dayton, Ohio area. He eventually went to many of the conventions in the 1980′s and 1990′s and was finally awarded Pulpcon’s highest honor, the Lamont Award, at Pulpcon 29 in 2000.

   When I think back on our many conversations at Pulpcon, I cannot recall a single non-pulp related discussion. All we ever talked about were book and pulp matters. Wait — I do remember once showing him an original pen and ink illustration from a SF magazine that was used on one of his stories, but that was just about as far afield as we ever strayed.

   And that was how I liked it. Pulpcon was like a big book and pulp party, as if you had died and had gone to heaven. No families, no problems, forget your worries and just dive right into a gigantic room full of old magazines and books. I once had a friend who carried on an affair with a motel maid during the convention. When he told me about it, I was puzzled. Why, was my response. Sex could be pursued the other 51 weeks of the year. Why bother during Pulpcon?

   Frank felt the same way. Usually he could be found sitting behind a table comparing pulps and upgrading his magazine collection. You couldn’t miss him with his trademark golf cap and sonorous, deep voice. Pulpcon once had a guest that had worked at Ziff Davis as Frank had back in the forties and when he heard The Voice, he immediately knew who it was and yelled, “Why it’s that kid from the mailroom!”. He didn’t recognize the face but you could never forget Frank’s voice.

   Great collectors compile great collections not just by buying them but also by helping other collectors. I’ve run into this a hundred times with old-time collectors over the years. Here are some examples where Frank attempted to help me with my collection:

   1. During our correspondence, Frank asked me for my want list. At the time I was collecting just about every major pulp title except for the love, sport, and aviation/war magazines. Therefore it was several pages long and handwritten. He found several of my wants and we traded back and forth. A couple months later, I received in the mail a neatly typed manuscript. It was my handwritten want list that Frank had typed and without errors. It must have taken him hours to do it.

   2. Upon hearing that I had 112 SEA STORIES and only needed 6 issues for a complete set, he said he was willing to let me have his issues if he had the ones I needed.

   3. I was once talking about how I had various parts of the famous October 1912 Tarzan issue of ALL STORY but I was missing some pages. He offered to try and put together a complete issue if he could manage it.

   4. Since that didn’t work out, once Frank was at an auction on the east coast, and called me at work. He wanted to know how high I was willing to bid on the Tarzan issue and he would bid and get it for me. Unfortunately I was only prepared to go as high as $5,000 and someone else got it. But this is another beyond the call of duty or friendship action.

   As Frank got older, I guess he finally reached the point that we all eventually get to. He decided to find another home for his great collection. One of the great magazine auctions of several decades was held by Adventure House a couple years ago. It was simply called The Frank Robinson Collection auction and of course all serious collectors started to squirrel away money, borrow and rob the family bank accounts, lie to their non-collecting spouses, and otherwise act in ways that would be frowned on in polite society.

   I knew that most of the Robinson collection would be beyond my means because of the premium that we put on nice condition pulps. Fortunately I had most of the magazines already in lesser shape. But I did want something from the Frank Robinson Collection for my own collection and in memory of our friendship. I was fortunate to get several WESTERN STORY MAGAZINE issues from the early twenties in beautiful condition. But even these white paper artifacts cost me a lot more that I had thought they would. Each issue cost me over $100. A friend of mine got caught up in a bidding war and paid over $900 for a magazine that was worth less than a hundred.

   So I knew I was in dangerous territory. For instance the WEIRD TALES set went for over a quarter of a million dollars. But as all collectors know, you can always get more money, but rare books and pulps are not so easy to find. All collectors make mistakes. One of mine was selling my set of the 71 issues of PLANET STORIES for a thousand dollars several years ago. True, my set was not that great condition but I missed the garish, good girl art covers and the space opera. The letter columns were of great interest and fun to read.

   I decided to get the PLANET STORIES set at the Robinson auction. I knew they would go high, maybe cost more money than I would want to spend. I had sold my beat-up set for peanuts, which came to $15 each. What would the best condition set in the world go for? I knew the copies were perfect, white pages, bright, newsstand fresh covers and spines and that new pulp smell. They were new, 60 to 70 years after being printed!

   Even at $100 each the set would cost $7100 and I knew such condition would force the bidders to go higher that $100 each. It sure did but after the dust settled, I was the proud owner of the greatest set of PLANET STORIES in existence. Not just in the world but in existence! If you are a serious book or magazine collector, then you know this feeling. At first I figured I paid too much, but maybe not because I soon was offered my money back plus a set of PLANET STORIES in nice shape if I would sell the Robinson copies. I refused of course.

   Shortly after the above events, I went to the Windy City pulp show in Chicago. Doug Ellis had invited a few art and pulp collectors out to his house for lunch before the start of the convention. I was wandering through looking at the pulp art when I heard the sound of snoring on a couch in the basement. I went over and there was Frank Robinson laying flat on his back, sleeping. With his hat on! I stress the hat because Frank always had the golf hat on and even swam with it on according to reports. Well, now I knew that he even slept with the hat on.

   I didn’t say anything, but in a daze I went upstairs and said to Deb and Doug, “What’s cooler that having pulps from the Frank Robinson Auction?” “Having Frank himself as part of your collection!” Well of course he was just visiting, and I went back downstairs and looked at him again. This time he woke and without a second’s hesitation, said “Hi Walker” and proceeded to talk about pulps. I told him I had a special stamp and ink pad made and I was going to stamp each issue of PLANET STORIES on the cover and contents page the following statement: FROM THE FRANK ROBINSON COLLECTION.

   Of course I would be crazy to do that but I have been called crazy before. The magazines are so perfect that I’m afraid to handle them and I certainly can’t read them without degrading the condition. However, I solved my problem by buying back my beat up set that I had sold for $1,000 a dozen years ago. This time it cost me $1,700 to get them back. Now I have two sets of PLANET, one to read and one as a shrine to the memory of Frank.

   My last conversation with Frank was a couple years ago. I was looking at some WEIRD TALES that looked perfect and were up for auction. I heard that distinctive voice say, “Hey Walker, look at the paper inside.” I did and it was browned and brittle. We grinned at each other.

   RIP Frank.

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:         


TALBOT MUNDY – The Mystery of Khufu’s Tomb. First published as “Khufu’s Real Tomb” in Adventure magazine, October 10, 1922. First book edition: Hutchinson & Co., UK, hardcover, 1933. First US edition: D. Appleton-Century Co., hardcover, 1935. Several other reprint editions exist. (Follow the link to an online edition of the pulp magazine version.)

   Talbot Mundy’s career was as strange as anything he wrote, and that is no small statement. A con man and adventurer in India he came to the United States, nearly died, saw the light, and reformed by becoming a writer, almost immediately penning a number of classics such as Rung Ho!, The Eye of Zeitoon, and Hira Singh. He shot to the top of the list of Haggard and Kipling successors and stayed there until his death, his work a staple in the pulps, particularly the grand old pulp icon, Adventure.

   His King of the Khyber Rifles was twice filmed, a bestseller, and even adapted by Classics Illustrated, and his novel Jimgrim, or King of the World is considered by many, myself included, the greatest achievement of the adventure pulps.

   Jimgrim featured one of Mundy’s series heroes (Tros of Samothrace, the Greek trader and opponent of Caesar and Cleopatra, is his other great creation), the American Captain James Schyler Grim, in the service of His Majesty’s Secret Service in the Middle and Near East. With his ally and friend Jeff Ramsden, his Sikh friend Naryan Singh, his Indian Secret Agent companion Chulander Ghose, and a small army of Mundy’s other heroes (Athleston King and Cottswold Ommony among them) he battles to keep the Middle East, Palestine in particular, from exploding.

   All of that fairly standard British Raj rah rah rah save for one fact: Talbot Mundy was no admirer of the Empire and stood for self-rule in India and the Middle East. It was a unique view of the world for an adventure story writer in that era. There is little racism or jingoism in Mundy.

   Later in life Mundy became obsessed with the philosophy of Theosophy, a semi-mystical religious movement out of Madame Blatavasky and the Golden Dawn. That would have ruined a lesser writer. In Mundy’s case it inspired his finest novels and most loved tales, Om: The Secret of Ahrbor Valley, The Nine Unknown, The Devil’s Guard, Full Moon, and Jimgrim.

   The change in his work showed first in the Jimgrim tales in Adventure, where Grim and company left the British Army and Secret Service behind and took up with American millionaire Meldrum Strange who financed their adventures from there on. And what adventures they were, a search for what happened to all the coins minted in the ancient world (they were hidden beneath the Ganges by the Nine Unknown), a war of good and evil on the roof of the world where the Black Lodge is challenged by the White, and the final novel of the series, Jimgrim, in which the world must be saved from a fanatical madman, leading to a finale that still stuns the unsuspecting reader today and never fails to bring a tear to my eye.

   In the transition period from the heyday of the series to the later deeper novels Mundy’s best is the Jimgrim adventure The Mystery of Khufu’s Tomb.

   It begins when engineer Jeff Ramsden is nearly run off a road on the Geiger Trail near Virginia City by Joan Angela Leich, the kind of headstrong heiress who was common in fiction of the time. Joan and Jeff are old friends though, and she has nearly gotten him killed before.

   She’s tall — maybe a mite too tall for some folks’ notions– and mid-Victorian mammas would never have approved of her, because she’s no more coy, or shy, or artful than the blue sky overhead. She has violet eyes, riotous hair of a shade between brown and gold, a straight, shapely little nose, a mouth that is all laughter, and a way of carrying herself that puts you in mind of all out-doors. I’ve seen her in evening dress with diamonds on; and much more frequently in riding-breeches and a soft felt hat; but there’s always the same effect of natural-born honesty, and laughter, and love of trees and things and people. She’s not a woman who wants to ape men, but a woman who can mix with men without being soiled or spoiled. For the rest, she’s not married yet, so there’s a chance for all of us except me. She turned me down long ago.

   That’s Joan all over, and a welcome breath of femininity she is in Mundy’s masculine world. She is also guaranteed trouble, and here is no exception. This time she has gotten involved with one Mrs. Isobel Aintree, a fatale femme with a cobra’s bite that Ramsden and Grim have battled before. Joan needs help concerning a purchase made while in Egypt during a revolution (the more things change …) where she “…went and bought a lot of land that everybody said was no good because it was too far from the Nile.”

   Now a man called Moustapha Pasha (“…there are men of all creeds and colours, who can mouth morality like machines printing paper money, but who you know at the first glance have only one rule, and that an automatic, self-adjusting, expanding and collapsing one, that adapts itself to every circumstance and always in the user’s favour. This man was clearly one of those.”) wants the land and won’t take no for an answer, but Joan is too stubborn to ever yield.

   Just what is on that land that Mrs. Aintree wants it and Moustapha Pasha is willing to bribe Ramsden to betray Joan to the tune of one million dollars (1920‘s dollars at that)? Mrs. Aintree wants it so bad she marries Moustapha Pasha. The answer must be in Egypt, and anywhere east of the Pillars of Hercules there is no better man to have on your side than Jimgrim, so Joan hires Meldrum Strange’s team to help her.

   As usual Grim knows more than might be expected:

   The men who are interested are keeping it awfully quiet among themselves, but Narayan Singh and I have overheard some talk, and the figure they name would make the Federal Reserve Board blink — fifty million pounds, or say two billion dollars!”

   “Let’s hope it’s true!” said I.

   “Let’s hope it isn’t true!” Grim answered. “Any such sum of money as that would turn Egypt into Hades! If it’s there it means civil war, whoever gets it!”

   Two billion dollars and the fate of Egypt, just the sort of thing Grim lives for.

And they are off with the help of a Chinese astronomer, Chu Chi Ying, and it is no real mystery what lies beneath Joan’s land.

   “…when they got to the so-called King’s Chamber it was empty. There never had been anything in it. Khufu was supposed to be buried in it, but he wasn’t. He was the richest Pharaoh Egypt ever had. He must have been, or he couldn’t have built the Pyramid. Where was he really buried, and what did he do with his money?”

   So if Khufu, Cheops, money is not in the Great Pyramid of Giseh, where is it? Want to hazard a guess?

   Our band of heroes must deal with enemies on all sides and excavate the treasure that Khufu flooded under Joan’s land without drawing too much attention. Mundy never made things easy for his heroes. You may even wish he had, because the danger, sweat, set backs, short-lived victories, and sheer impossibility of the task will leave the reader almost as stretched as the heroes.

   And it can only get worse, as Grim battles the forces of Moustapha Pasha and Mrs. Aintree above ground while Jeff and Joan are trapped underground avoiding death traps laid by the determined Khufu, and up against blind mutated giant albino crocodiles.

   Long before Indiana Jones, Clive Cussler, and James Rollins Mundy’s heroes were knee deep in the kind of adventures readers today savor. Today’s heroes rely on relentless action though, and while there is no shortage of action and movement, Mundy’s heroes use their brains first, then their brawn.

   That is one reason Mundy remains not only readable, but fresh and entertaining to read when so many others have been passed by. It isn’t hard to see the influence he had on Robert E. Howard, Philip Jose Farmer, and Fritz Leiber as well as a generation of adventure writers. His name still triggers images of exotic locales and high adventure in the wild places as much as Rider Haggard before him.

   I’ll give Mundy, via Ramsden, the last perfect words:

   In Singapore, in a little side street that runs down toward the quays, there lives a Chinaman named Chu Chi Ying, who teaches no more “fat-fool first mates” how to pass examinations for their master’s ticket, but smiles nearly all day long and amuses himself by making marvellous astronomical calculations. He seems to have an income quite sufficient for his needs, and a portrait of Joan Angela hangs on the wall just inside the doorway of his house. Go and look, if you don’t believe me. On your way, consider the stuffed, blind, white crocodile in the Gezivich Museum, Cairo.

   I don’t see that adventure today is in any better hands.

WINDY CITY PULP CONVENTION 2014 REPORT
by Walker Martin


   As many of you may know I love going to pulp conventions and I’ve been attending them since 1972. I have a maniacal desire to read and collect old books and pulps. I realize it may be an addiction and a vice but it doesn’t seem to hurt my health or finances like drinking, drugs, gambling, or chasing women. Well at least it didn’t hurt me until this convention.

   For the last few months my legs have developed a pain which bothers me while sitting and sleeping. I’m often awakened at night by the pain and I’ve yet to find a comfortable position to sleep. I’ve seen different doctors and pain pills don’t help that much. A nerve doctor said maybe my back problems was the cause and I have scheduled further x-rays and MRI’s. But the main thing the medical profession agreed on was that I would not be taking any 15 hour trip to Chicago. (Airplanes are a problem because of claustrophobia and limited bags to bring back pulps.)

   Needless to say, being the insane collector that I am, I ignored all medical advice and on Thursday, April 24, I was in a car heading from Trenton, NJ to Morristown, NJ, where I was one of five collectors who had rented a big van. After an hour in the car, and even before getting to the van, I was in distress and reminding myself that I was a book collector and reader and nothing was going to stop me. I had to keep saying this to myself several times during the trip, which I now refer to as Death Trip 2014.

   But somehow, 15 hours later, I limped into the Westin hotel near Chicago and thought only about going to my room and having a stiff drink, pain pills or no pain pills. But in my room, the usual desire to meet other collectors and talk about books and pulps, kicked in and I went to the hospitality room. Once there, I stationed myself against the wall near the refrigerator where the beer was and I proceeded to drink, thinking By God, I made it.

   And I’m glad I did because I met a man who runs one of the very best pulp blogs. Sai lives in India and administers a blog called Pulpflakes. A great name for a great website and it’s all about pulps, the authors, the editors, the artists, the magazines. This was Sai’s first pulp convention.

   Another interesting person was Mala Mastroberte, the queen of the pulp pin-ups. Ed Hulse had the great idea to have her at his BLOOD n THUNDER table and perhaps it was too great an idea. I heard more than one collector refer to table not as the BLOOD n THUNDER or Ed Hulse table, but as the Mala table. Mala was a big hit and fortunately she had her boyfriend to watch over her because some collectors are all about the books and they don’t know how to act around women. Nothing worse than a leering bookworm. I ought to know.

   But don’t feel too sorry for Ed Hulse because he stumbled across the find of the show. Shortly after the convention opened he bought several long comic book boxes of ALL STORY. Most seemed to be priced at $5.00 and included several Edgar Rice Burroughs issues. Most were from 1917-1920 and there were over a hundred. I need one issue from this period and since I only need a total of 4 to complete my set, I was naturally very excited and figured the issue had to be there.

   Since we were all busy the first few days of the convention, there was no time to look through the magazines until Sunday afternoon. With great anticipation I watched as the magazines were sorted into years and then into months. The issue I need is dated July 7, 1917 and I noticed there were 11 months well represented from 1917. But one month was completely missing. You guessed it. No July issues at all.

   There is nothing more embarrassing than seeing some old guy sobbing because he needs a pulp. I managed to control myself and slunk off to the bar to drown my sorrows. I can deal with leg pain but not with missing out on my book wants.

   A good friend of mine told me about his find. He bought over 50 WEIRD TALES from the 1930′s for only like $25 to $45 each. I couldn’t believe such good luck and almost had him convinced that something must be wrong with the issues, perhaps pages excerpted or poor condition. But no, the magazines were ok.

   At this point I’d like to talk about the importance of attending these conventions, not only Windy City, but Pulpfest and the few one day shows that are held. I realize there are valid reasons for not attending, such as poor health and lack of money. But I’ve always forced myself to figure out someway to attend because I find so much not only in the dealer’s room but through friends and contacts. For instance I managed to get the several lots I wanted in the auction. If I had stayed home because of my leg problem, I never would have gotten them.

   And the conventions revive your interest in collecting, which I seriously believe is one of the joys of life. I actually feel sorry for non-collectors and people who call collectors the dreaded “hoarder” name. (There is a big difference in meaning between “collector” and “hoarder” but that’s another subject that many non-collectors simply do not understand at all.)

   Collecting has helped increase my desire to keep living, otherwise I might just pine away and eventually waste away like many of my non-collecting friends. I would have to say collecting books and pulps is the grandest game in the world and one that can give your life meaning.

   Now you might ask what did I get after all the trouble described above? Well, one problem with living a fairly long life is the chance that you might start to run out of things to collect. I guess at one time or another, I’ve collected just about every major pulp, digest, and literary title, including many slicks. I never bothered with the love, sport, and aviation genres but I’ve been involved with most other titles.

   So my wants are getting kind of esoteric and bizarre. A few issues here and there to complete sets. A few pulp artists or magazine cover paintings. Many years ago I used to collect the hero pulps but I sold them all. But the auction listed several lots of the SHADOW digests. They had most of the issues from 1944-1948, a total of 40 in all.

   I was interested in these issues because the magazine became more of an adult crime magazine during the post war years. Returning WW II vets did not give a damn about the Shadow but the back up stories and novelettes were of interest. I managed to be the high bidder on all the Shadow digest lots, a total of 10 lots. The average price came out to only $21 per issue which was far lower than the $50 -$80 prices that I saw in the dealer’s room.

   Another item I desperately wanted was a preliminary sketch by artist Lee Brown Coye. The finished piece of art in FANTASTIC, February 1963, I think is stunning and I noticed the preliminary drawing was very detailed and close to the finished art. Again, I was the winning bidder at $650.

   Speaking of the auctions, there were two that lasted several hours during the evening. The Friday auction was mainly from the collections of the Jerry Weist estate and the Robert Weinberg collection. The Jerry Weist items were mainly very nice condition SF magazines and the Weinberg collection included some stunning SF correspondence, cancelled Munsey and Popular Publications checks and all sorts of interesting items.

   The original manuscript of C. L. Moore’s “Black God’s Kiss,” which appeared in WEIRD TALES, October, 1934, bought the highest amount of money I’ve ever seen at a pulp convention auction: $4,500 plus the $500 buyer’s premium. That’s $5,000 for an iconic, unique item.

   Some other authors represented by checks and letters were L. Ron Hubbard, Farnsworth Wright, Henry Whitehead, Abraham Merritt, Austin Hall, Homer Eon Flint, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Murray Leinster, Isaac Asimov, Fred Pohl, Otis Adelbert Kline, George Allan England, Algis Budrys, Eric Frank Russell, and others too numerous to name.

   The Saturday night auction was made up of over 100 lots listing most of the issues of the SHADOW magazine. Most issues went for reasonable prices. Following the SHADOW auction there were almost another 100 lots listing various pulp magazines but there also was a Frank R. Paul illustration from FANTASTIC NOVELS which went for $800.

   The Windy City show is not just the dealer’s room and auction, though that’s what most collectors are interested in. There also was a very large art show with quite a few pulp paintings and illustrations from the collections of Doug Ellis and Deb Fulton, Robert and Phyllis Weinberg, and others. Ed Hulse put on his usual fine film show which lasted all day and even after the auction in the early morning hours. The themes celebrated the 95th birthday of BLACK MASK and WESTERN STORY.

   There were two panels after the dealer’s room closed. The first one was on a subject that was very much needed but had often been ignored over the years at Pulpcon. The Western Pulps panel was comprised of Ed Hulse, Walker Martin, and Tom Roberts. In about an hour we tried to make up for lost time and discuss major elements of this important topic. Which of course is impossible since there were scores of western titles and it was the biggest selling genre by far except for perhaps the love pulps.

   I gave my opinion concerning the best western pulp magazines, all of which I have collected over the years. The biggest of all was WESTERN STORY, 1919-1949 with over 1250 issues. I need about 11 issues including the first one and I’ll never be able to complete the set but I have hopes of getting it down to single digits.

   The second best and some would say even better than WESTERN STORY, was definitely the Doubleday issues of WEST during 1926-1934. During this 8 or 9 year span the magazine was often published on a weekly and bi-weekly schedule and had all the good authors. It was sold to another publisher in 1935 and continued on for many years but not at the Doubleday level. Third and fourth best would be DIME WESTERN and STAR WESTERN and some feel they were the best westerns published by Popular Publications.

   We now live in a era that has no western short fiction magazine and this is hard to believe when we look back to the 1930′s and 1940′s when the newsstands groaned under the weight of these titles.

   There were many interesting western writers and some of my favorites are Luke Short, W.C. Tuttle, and Walt Coburn. Coburn had a drinking problem and this showed in some of his work but when he was feeling good and sober, he was one of the best because he grew up on a working cowboy’s ranch and knew how the men dressed, talked, and rode. Black Dog Books will soon be publishing a collection of Coburn’s fiction from WESTERN STORY. Keep an eye out for BULLETS IN THE BLACK by Walt Coburn. Introduction by the great James Reasoner.

   My old friends of 20 or 30 years ago would have said that I have committed sacrilege by not including Max Brand. Max Brand collectors used to be all over the place at Pulpcon, collecting the pulps, binding the stories into home made books, writing articles and talking about him. In fact, if they were still alive I would not dare say anything negative about Brand. Not if I wanted to keep their friendship. They loved Max Brand and for over 50 years I’ve tried to love him also. Some of his work I like and some I hate. I now would have to say that Max Brand wrote too much and too fast and that’s going to hurt him as far as being remembered.

   The Second panel was on Saturday night and discussed Hammett, BLACK MASK, and the Detective Pulps. Moderated by John Wooley along with such experts as Ed Hulse, Digges La Touche, and Bob Weinberg. I was so jealous about not being on this panel that I tried to pick a fight with Digges by yelling at him, “So You’re the expert on Earle Stanley Gardner!”. But I didn’t have enough to drink to be drunk enough, so they ignored me.

   Bob Weinberg did make one interesting statement about the cover art of DIME DETECTIVE being better than the covers of BLACK MASK in the 1930′s. Maybe the late thirties yes, but when Paul Herman, another BLACK MASK art collector, and I heard this, we started muttering that though we love and have covers from DIME DETECTIVE, the early 1930′s covers of BLACK MASK are amazing. Joe Shaw made sure the cover artist captured the tough, hardboiled, atmosphere of the magazine.

   The funny thing is that someone told Bob Weinberg about my disagreeing with him. Later on, he approached me and told me I was wrong, and how could I say such a thing, etc. But this just shows why Bob and Paul and I, are pulp art collectors. To collect cover art you must be opinionated and passionate about the subject. Otherwise you don’t collect original art at all.

   The program book, which is compiled and edited by Tom Roberts, is excellent. About 50 pages on the detective pulps, another 50 pages on the western pulps, and 50 pages on art and film. I’m certain you can get a copy from Black Dog Books.

   On Sunday, I talked with Doug Ellis about the attendance. He said they broke 500 for the first time ever (the most the old Pulpcon ever had was 300) and had 150 dealer’s tables. I spent the entire three days limping around the room and the place was always busy. The old Pulpcon used to have periods where it looked deserted but you don’t see this at Windy City or Pulpfest.

   So, on Monday morning, in a steady rain, we just barely crammed in all our treasures into the great white van. There were a couple times I almost said to stop the van, so I could get out, but we made it back to Morristown in about 14 hours. I was so exhausted that I wondered if I could make it to the car for the ride back to Trenton. We transferred all the boxes to Digges’ car and were ready to go. I told myself, look I just made 14 hours, I can make another hour or so. Then Digges told me the car battery was dead and the car would not start.

   At this point the details are a sort of blur for me. I remember standing in the dark and thinking what now? If it was up to me, I’d still be standing there. Fortunately Ed Hulse’s sister let us come into her house even though it was late and gave us coffee. She even called her Triple A and had them jump start the car. So off we finally went.

   Now the big question is will I be able to make to Pulpfest, August 7, 2014? Collectors, you better believe it!

W. C. TUTTLE – Straws in the Wind. Hillman #26, paperback, no date stated [1949?]. Hardcover edition: Houghton Mifflin, February 1948. First published as a 38 page story in Short Stories, July 10, 1938.

W. C. TUTTLE Straws in the Wind

   I remember reading a lot of Tuttle’s work back when I first started reading paperback westerns in the late 1950s: Luke Short, Max Brand and so on, the early Gold Medal’s, westerns published by Popular Library and lots and lots of Dell’s by authors no one but me would me would remember, and me only barely.

   I also remember listening to the Hashknife Hartley and Sleepy Stevens radio show on Mutual, two of Tuttle’s most famous characters — a pair of cattlemen’s detectives, as I recall, whose adventures took them all over the Old West.

   Not too many collectors of old time radio shows know about the program, by the way, and as far as I know, only two of the programs still exist, both badly trimmed to fit into the Armed Forces redistribution format. I remember the program distinctly, however, surprisingly so, given my extreme youth at the time. As a matter of fact, it was Tuttle himself who appeared and introduced each episode on the air – but I digress.

   In any case, when I started Straws in the Wind, it had been a long time since I’d read anything at all by Tuttle, so I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect — you can’t always go back to old favorites and expect them to be new favorites all over again — but as soon as I started reading it – see if this makes sense – it was exactly as I expected.

   That’s from the very first paragraph on. See what you think:

   No one seemed to know the exact age of Granny Miles. Over a hundred, they said. She was a small, antiquated morsel of humanity, her little face etched with a million fine lines which seemed multiplied around her eyes, which were clear and still very blue. She carried a gnarled stick in lieu of a cane, and thumped herself around with an alacrity seldom seen in one of her age.

   Granny, as it happens, is an oracle of sorts, forecasting to Donna Weir as soon as the book begins that trouble is coming. If Tuttle is not exactly a teller of tall tales, he comes awfully close – a yarn spinner of some magnitude. The usual kind of opening that almost every western begins with comes at the start of Chapter Two:

   Jack Dean drew rein at the top of the grade and looked back at the long slope, where the dirt road twisted over the hills out of the haze of the distance. The old road looked like broken bits of dirty-yellow ribbon, stretched over the hills out of the haze.

   Ahead of him the road ran through a natural cut in the hills, after which it sloped sharply into Council Valley.

   At the age of 22, Dean is returning to the valley after an absence of twelve years. His father, Wolf Dean, had ruled Council Valley for 25 years, and Jack assumes that the reason the telegram had requested his return was that his father was dead. Which is true. The older man had been murdered, shot through a window in his home, and the killer has not been found.

   Confronting one of the residents of Lost Horse, a moonshiners’ settlement in the other end of the valley, here’s Jack Dean in action (pages 26-27 of the Hillman edition):

   Jack’s left hand flashed out, his fingers hooking into the collar of Sol Feeney’s shirt. Then he fairly lifted Feeney off his feet and pulled him so close that their noses almost touched. Feeney struggled for a moment, but realized he was no match for this hard-muscled young man.

   “You and your dirty gang of murderers killed my father,” said Jack quietly, “and you’ve got the gall to threaten me. Feeney, I’m not afraid of you and your killers, and you can pack that word to them. You’ll find that Wolf Pup can cut and slash as hard as the Old Wolf. You killed him, hoping that I wouldn’t come back. Well, I’m back – so make the most of it.”

W. C. TUTTLE Straws in the Wind

   I would imagine that those paragraphs would constitute a review in themselves, if the purpose of a review is allow you to decide whether a given book is one that you’d care to read, or not.

   There is a girl, of course, if you’ll allow me to keep on talking anyway. We met Donna in Chapter One, and of course she lives in the wrong end of the valley. She favors Jack, however, and she is willing to risk the wrath of her father by giving Jack a heads-up warning when she knows he is about to get into trouble. In return, her father is determined to marry her off to someone else, and she is made a prisoner in her own home, all the way up to her wedding day.

   Jack is asked to take his father’s place on the local ruling Council – Lost Horse having no representation, to their continuing and growing irritation – but he is not sure that the Council really wants anything to do with his new ideas, most of which would mean their giving up some of the power they are used to having.

   With an open seat at stake, the whole valley is about to explode. It’s about as stable as – a straw in the wind, you might say – and Jack Dean is at the center of it. Another straw is Donna’s grandmother, who just might be able to say who her granddaughter should be marrying, and that does not mean the intellectually challenged Len McFee, the fellow chosen by her father.

   There is more than a modicum of gunfire in this book, as you can tell from the cover, but I don’t imagine that I am giving anything away when I say that in spite of the obstacles in their way, good hearts do prevail. It all turns out well, in other words, especially when you consider how much (or how little) of the valley is left standing when everything is over. Whatever anyone might say, they certainly don’t write them very much like this any more.

   And all seriousness aside — keeping in mind that I mentioned Tuttle as very much a teller of tall tales, didn’t I? — there are also parts of Straws in the Wind that tickled my funny bone considerably, this way and the other, and the book just might affect you that way, too.

— Reprinted from Durn Tootin’ #7 , July
    2005 (considerably shortened and revised).


[UPDATE] 02-28-14. A chunk of the earlier version of this review contained a checklist of all of Tuttle’s fiction that ever appeared in paperback, along with some comments and other discussion of his overall body of work by me. I’ll not include the commentary here, as much of it is out of date, but I see no reason why the checklist should not be included here.

   I have made no attempt to expand or update this list, so please take this as a work in progress. Whitledge-Clark refers to a mimeographed checklist of all of Tuttle’s western fiction, not just that which appeared in paperback. Said I at the time:

    “… someone offered for sale on eBay [and I won] a complete checklist of Tuttle’s works – a fanzine titled The Hitching Rail, published by Fred C. Whitledge and William J. Clark.
    “This issue, done in mimeo, is Volume 2, #1, and it came out ‘Sometime in 1975.’”

     ● Indicates a title not listed in Whitledge-Clark.
     ●● Indicates a title listed in Twentieth-Century Western Writers, Second Edition, but for which no further confirmation of its existence has been discovered.

● The Devil’s Payday. Garden City, dime novel format, 1920s. A pulp story with this title appeared in Short Stories, October 10, 1922.
● The Law of the Range. Garden City, dime novel format, 1920s. A pulp story with this title appeared in Short Stories, — ? Found on ABE only in a hardcover four-in-one edition with three other authors.
● Powder Law. Garden City, dime novel format, 1920s. A pulp story with this title appeared in Short Stories, — ? No copies found on ABE or in WorldCat.
●● Sad Sontag Plays His Hunch. Garden City, dime novel format, 1920s. A pulp story with this title appeared in Short Stories, —? No copies found on ABE or in WorldCat.
● Sontag of Sundown. Garden City, dime novel format, 1920s. A pulp story with this title appeared in Short Stories, July 10, 1922.
● Spawn of the Desert. Garden City, dime novel format, 1920s. A pulp story with this title appeared in Short Stories, May 10, 1922.
● Straight Shooting. Garden City, dime novel format, 1920s. A pulp story with this title appeared in Short Stories, August 10, 1924. No copies found on ABE.
● Tramps of the Range. Garden City, dime novel format, 1920s. A pulp story with this title appeared in Short Stories, — ? No copies found on ABE or in WorldCat.
The Mystery of the Red Triangle, Avon #53, 1944.
● Blind Trail at Sunrise, Royce Quick Reader #148, small-sized (approx. 3″ x 5″), 1945. NOTE: A pulp story with this title appeared in Short Stories, April 10, 1933.
Bluffer’s Luck, Western Novel of the Month #27, digest-sized, 1945; Hillman #5, 1948
Tumbling River Range, Western Novel of the Month ##33, digest-sized, 1945; Hillman #2, 1948.
The Keeper of Red Horse Pass, Western Novel of the Month #41, digest-sized, 1945.
The Tin God of Twisted River, Western Novel of the Month #46, digest-sized, 1945.
The Dead-Line, Western Novel of the Month #50, digest-sized, 1945.
Hashknife of the Double Bar 8. Western Novel of the Month #55, digest-sized, 1945.
Singing River, Popular Library #96, 1946.
● The Vultures of Vacaville, Western Novel of the Month #108, digest-sized, 1946. No prior appearance of a Tuttle story by this name is known.
Hidden Blood, Popular Library #149, 1948.
Valley of Vanishing Herds, Popular Library #165, 1948.
Straws in the Wind, Hillman #26, 1949.
The Redhead from Sun Dog, Hillman #28, 1949.
Trouble at the JHC, Hillman #40, 1949. Original title: The Mystery at the JHC Ranch.
Wild Horse Valley, Popular Library #203, 1949.
Twisted Trails, Popular Library #249, 1950. Original title: The Santa Dolores Stage (Houghton Mifflin, 1934). NOTE: There is some confusion about this attribution. According to some sources, the hardcover edition of this book was The Valley of the Twisted Trails (Houghton Mifflin, 1931), but this assertion does not appear to be substantiated.
Hashknife of Stormy River, Hillman #37, 1950.
Shotgun Gold, Popular Library #297, Dec 1950.
The Trouble Trailer, Popular Library #330, Apr 1951.
Gun Feud, Popular Library #354, July 1951. Abridged edition. Original title: Wandering Dogies.
Thunderbird Range, Pyramid #370, 1958.
● The Redhead of Aztec Wells [+] Trouble at War Eagle, Tor Western Double #14, Jan 1991. Book #1 appeared in West, August 1946. Book #2 has a 1950 copyright date, but where it first appeared, no one seems to know.

THE SERIES CHARACTERS FROM
DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY
by Monte Herridge


        #17. OLD CALAMITY, by Joseph Fulling Fishman.

   Joseph Fulling Fishman created the prison series (ran 1928-1939) for Detective Fiction Weekly about the jailer Old Calamity, making use of his knowledge of crime and prisons. In fact, Fishman wrote more nonfiction articles on these subjects from 1925-1942 for Detective Fiction Weekly than stories in the fiction series.

   He also wrote articles for other magazines such as Reader’s Digest and The Saturday Evening Post, and books about crime and prisons. Fishman was a 1931 choice for a Guggenheim Fellowship. He was awarded a grant for being chosen. According to Wikipedia, the Fellowships “have been awarded annually since 1925 by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation to those ‘who have demonstrated exceptional capacity for productive scholarship or exceptional creative ability in the arts.’ ”

   The name Old Calamity is what the three thousand inmates of the state prison at Cosmopolis call him. The guards and other personnel call him Ole Dep Fletch out of his hearing. His real name is Deputy Warden Fletcher, and even though there is a warden who is a political appointee, Fletcher is really the one running the prison.

   The wardens of the prison were all political appointees, but Fletcher was a professional jailer. The wardens were appointed by the state governor, but the governor on one occasion said: “You know, Fletcher. You’re really the one I should appoint warden, but of course there’s politics . . .” (Old Calamity’s Stick-up)

   “Thirty years of combating the plots and counterplots and the intrigues and chicanery of thousands of inmates of every degree of criminality and cunning and viciousness . . . had sharpened the perceptions of the Deputy Warden.” (Old Calamity Starts a Fight)

   This long experience gave Old Calamity an advantage when dealing with the many problems that he came across in his job. He knew just about every trick the convicts tried, and how to deal with them. He enjoys his work, and at one point turns down a job offer from a rich businessman with the comment “I’m afraid not, thank you,” Old Calamity replied. “I’m doing the kind of work I like and that’s worth more than money.” (Old Calamity Sniffs a Clue)

OLD CALAMITY

   He usually went to work in the prison at seven in the morning, and had a regular routine except when emergencies or problems interrupted. His usual morning routine was “supervising the count, reading his mail, making assignments of new prisoners, and so on, . . .” (By a Nose)

   He doesn’t let the routine of everyday work get himself in a rut where he overlooks things; he notices the smallest detail of what may turn out to be very important to him and the prison. Probably why he has lasted so long in his job.

   The stories are basically all about Old Calamity, with very few appearances by a regular cast of characters. One regular is Croaker Engle, the “brusque old prison doctor.” His appearances in the stories are usually very short. Before him, a Doctor Cosgrove made a single appearance in the story “Fine Feathers.”

   The prison warden is mentioned in the stories, but plays very little part in the stories. An exception to this are the stories “Old Calamity Starts a Fight,” and “Between the Lines,” where part of the story takes place around the warden. The warden of the prison is replaced at one point in the series. The warden and Old Calamity both have homes right next to the prison grounds.

   The stories usually involve murder in the prison by inmates murdering other inmates, for various motives. Prison breaks and conspiracies aimed at escaping prison are also elements in the stories. Fletcher has to break up the escapes, which sometimes are very cleverly planned.

   In the story “Old Calamity Scores Twice,” he not only has to foil a planned escape, but solve a clever locked cell murder made to look like suicide. In “Between the Lines,” he literally has to read between the lines of a prisoner’s book reading material to discover a plot to escape using explosives.

OLD CALAMITY

   The earliest story in the series, “By a Nose,” involves uncovering a murder by bomb and finding the culprit. His investigations of various kinds involve him acting more as a detail-oriented detective than as a deputy warden.

   Another concern of prison authorities is the use of illegal drugs by the inmates. The story “Fine Feathers” relates the attempt of Old Calamity to stop the flow of drugs into the prison, and in a later story, “Old Calamity Starts a Fight,” the problem of drug usage is also the main theme. This is certainly based on situations in real prisons at the time. Morphine is the drug mentioned in these stories.

   “Fine Feathers” relates some of the problems that drug usage by inmates causes – aggressiveness and fighting by prisoners, and other irrational behavior. One prisoner high on drugs even set his cell on fire.

   One story showed Old Calamity on vacation, enjoying relaxing fishing. However, the local law enforcement find out he is there and enlist his aid in solving a series of inexplicable burglaries. (Old Calamity Sniffs a Clue)

   This use of Old Calamity’s talents outside his own prison was not the only time this occurred. It appears that he was available for aid at other prisons having problems. In the story “The Suicides in Cell 32,” he travels to Milford State Prison to help investigate a series of murders made to look like suicides.

OLD CALAMITY

   Warden Olmstead of the prison knew of his reputation and had requested his help. In less than twelve hours Old Calamity has solved the mystery and was on his way back to his own prison. He noted: “I guess that some of the birds up at my place will be sorry it didn’t take me several weeks. I’m afraid they won’t be any too glad to see me back in the morning.”

   In “Old Calamity Lays the Ghost,” he travels to another prison in Springdale in response to another request for help. Warden Armitage of the prison has a mystery for him to solve: twice men in their cells have been stabbed and nearly killed. In both instances knives were found in the cells, but no evidence was found as to how the men could have been stabbed inside of locked cells.

   Old Calamity finds an ingenious method has been employed in the stabbings. It took him a few days to resolve this one, but he had developed the patience to wait for the right time. “He had often waited weeks and sometimes months for the development of a prison plot. He knew it was something that could not be hurried, . . .”

   The series is very good in its story telling and relation of the various mysteries Old Calamity is involved in. Altogether, Fishman’s descriptions of prison life and the psychological aspects of the stories seem to be very convincing, and made the stories more than mere sensationalistic prison stories such as other pulp writers wrote.

       The “Old Calamity” series by Joseph Fulling Fishman:

By a Nose October 27, 1928
Fine Feathers February 2, 1929
The Yawn March 2, 1929
Old Calamity Stages an Act April 6, 1929
Old Calamity Lays the Ghost April 9, 1932
Old Calamity Holds the Wire July 23, 1932
Old Calamity Starts a Fight September 17, 1932
Old Calamity Scores Twice February 11, 1933
The Suicides in Cell Thirty-Two June 17, 1933
Between the Lines September 9, 1933
Old Calamity Sniffs a Clue April 7, 1934
Old Calamity Cleans Up May 19, 1934
Old Calamity’s Stick-up June 23, 1934
Old Calamity Stops a Leak June 5, 1937
Honor of Thieves March 18, 1939

    Previously in this series:

1. SHAMUS MAGUIRE, by Stanley Day.
2. HAPPY McGONIGLE, by Paul Allenby.
3. ARTY BEELE, by Ruth & Alexander Wilson.
4. COLIN HAIG, by H. Bedford-Jones.
5. SECRET AGENT GEORGE DEVRITE, by Tom Curry.
6. BATTLE McKIM, by Edward Parrish Ware.
7. TUG NORTON by Edward Parrish Ware.
8. CANDID JONES by Richard Sale.
9. THE PATENT LEATHER KID, by Erle Stanley Gardner.
10. OSCAR VAN DUYVEN & PIERRE LEMASSE, by Robert Brennan.
11. INSPECTOR FRAYNE, by Harold de Polo.
12. INDIAN JOHN SEATTLE, by Charles Alexander.
13. HUGO OAKES, LAWYER-DETECTIVE, by J. Lane Linklater.
14. HANIGAN & IRVING, by Roger Torrey.
15. SENOR ARNAZ DE LOBO, by Erle Stanley Gardner.
16. DETECTIVE X. CROOK, by J. Jefferson Farjeon.

Next Page »