Pulp Fiction


REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


FRED MacISAAC – The King Who Came Back. Altus Press, softcover, 2016. Originally serialized in six issues of Argosy between October 24th and November 28th, 1931.

   Hollywood and the pulps had something in common, and that was what I liked to think of as the “Kitchen-sink plot.” The “Kitchen-sink” plot was one where a wide mix of elements from diverse genres and sub genres were stirred into the pot for what was hopefully a healthy stew and not an unholy mess. Cowboys, gangsters, science fiction, lost worlds, lost races … at one time all those combinations saw print or made it to the silver screen. By that standard Fred MacIsaac’s The King Who Came Back is fairly tame fare, but there is still enough of a mix to make for a hearty meal.

   We open South of Ruritania and North of Graustark, just around the corner from Fredonia and the Grand Duchy of Fenwick in the small kingdom of Berania where the peasants are revolting (do your own jokes) and the army traitorous. Our hero, the King, is assured if he will lead the troops against his own people he can stop the revolt, but he does not have the heart to march on his own people (“I do not propose to lead an army from one end of the land to the other over the bodies of multitudes of my subjects. What you gentlemen tell me confirms my own observations. There is a nationwide demand for a republic. Let them have it. I will abdicate.”), which is why King Carlos Aronhof, finds his recent flying lessons come in handy when he has to skip town literally on the fly with his friend the American flyer and diplomatic courier, Will Jevis.

   Carlos finds himself an enemy of the people holed up in Paris with dwindling funds and a bounty on his head from the annoyed revolutionaries he escaped making it difficult for the French to embrace him or the English, both of whom don’t want to start a war with a new government so with Will Jervis help Carlos reinvent himself.

   Finding himself six months later in the United States as a chauffeur in Hollywood working for one Mrs. Mason Sweasy, one of those popular types fiction loves who built her fortune by taking in laundry on land that turned out to have oil under it and now is one of those tough smart plain spoken types usually played by Thelma Ritter, Marie Dressler, or Jessie Royce Landis, Carlos has a new name, face, and a new career.

   Actually, so far the story isn’t all that far fetched. More than a few princes, deposed, imaginary, and not showed up in Hollywood in that era as everything from the owners of famous restaurants to screenwriters. Carlos is now Carl Decker, and employed by the oil rich Mrs. Swasey, her beautiful twenty-five year old daughter Gladys, and son Junior (no good of course), crusty Tom Clancy who works for Mrs. Swasey (see any of a dozen character actors of Irish lineage) and for the first time in a while things are looking up. Carlos is even starting to get over his prejudices about Americans.

   Meanwhile the Americans are worried about having Carlos loose in America. Berania is backward and it would take next to nothing for Carlos to raise and army and return, plus the new Republic is corrupt and less than stable. Carlos presence could be an embarrassment, if they knew where he was. Then Will Jervis stumbles on someone pretending to be Carlos, complicating things farther especially when Count Grandez, the man behind the impersonator, tries to kill him because he knows the impersonator isn’t Carlos.

   Carlos contacts Jervis to apologize for the attack, surmising rightly it was because of him, but remains hidden although the Beranians know he is in California somewhere. Meantime Carlos new job is less pleasing that it seemed thanks to the nasty James Swasey Jr.

   The rescue of a young actress, Dalroa Dawning, from the unpleasant Junior and a chance meeting by Will Jervis on the train to California contribute to the next phase of the plot, the one where Carlos the chauffeur end up as chauffeur to the young actress starring in a movie being made about the King Carlos Aronhof that Will Jervis has just been hired as a technical director on having lost his diplomatic career for rescuing Carlos in the first place…

   Pretty soon Carlos is knee deep in assassins, revolutionaries, Secret Service, a plot to loot the crown jewels of Berania, gangsters, movie types, a romance with Dalroa, the now movie star whose chauffeur he becomes, is framed as a jewel thief, and faces myriad twists and turns before a final triumphal return to Berania to hopefully modernize his backward homeland so a real republic will eventually have a chance under the benevolent guidance of he and Queen Dalroa.

   No surprise Fred MacIsaac among other things had been a concert manager. for the opera since this book is operatic in the best sense. To be fair if you ever stop and think about it things tend to go off rail, but MacIsaac writes painless professional prose and never lets things drag. At each turn he introduces attractive new characters who may or may not be who they seem, and the result despite the serial-like nature of the plot the book is an entertaining and easy read, and an offbeat addition to the Ruritanian subgenre, adding gangsters and Hollywood to the mix created by Anthony Hope and George Barr McCutcheon.

   McIsaac was a staple of many of the better known pulps appearing regularly in Argosy, Detective Fiction Weekly, and others throughout the heyday of the pulps, a featured name on the cover of any issue he appeared in. His may not be a name to conjure with, but he never turned out less than competent prose, and here, at least, outdoes himself.

   The Altus Press edition is attractive and available as a paperback or ebook, a fast moving well written adventure tale you can easily imagine as a film from the era, although Hollywood would no doubt have added singing and dancing and maybe cowboys and rustlers. Even if it isn’t the full kitchen sink it’s enough of it for a delightful mix.

CONVENTION REPORT: PulpFest 2018
by Walker Martin

Dedicated to the memory of Rusty Hevelin.

   A TALE OF TWO CITIES by Charles Dickens is one of my favorite novels and starts off with the famous passage, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness”. It continues later, “…it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…” This just about sums up my feeling after Pulpfest 2018.

   So what happened? On the drive back home, what made me attack a vending machine which tried to keep my dollar bill? The thing was seven feet tall but somehow I was so energized and angry that I shook the small bag of pretzels loose. What made me walk away from arguing with a bunch of fellow collectors, muttering curses, and angry?

   People that have known me for a long time know that the love of my life is Pulpcon/Pulpfest. I’ve been attending them since the first one in 1972. My vacation plans are always scheduled around the convention, I’ve attended them with severe back problems, once against the advice of both my chiropractor and physician. I’ve even gone to the show when my employer said I could not go. Like my good pal Harry Noble, I’d probably attend even knowing I had a terminal illness.

   I see Pulpfest as a big event, a big party or picnic. I go to have a good time, not to argue with other collectors and finally walk away grumbling. I had heard rumors of a big announcement which was to be made at the business meeting. It still surprised me to hear the news that Pulpfest might go back to Columbus, Ohio next year and what’s more might be connected in some way with a comic book convention.

   The committee mentioned that assistance would be provided by an unnamed comic book dealer and convention organizer. As far as I know only very few collectors questioned this plan. I was one plus one committee member said he agreed with me and a couple other collectors were also doubtful.

   But most seemed to accept this news. You may notice I dedicated this report to Rusty Hevelin who was responsible for continuing Pulpcon for over 25 years. With Rusty I knew I could walk into the dealer’s room and not see piles of comic books, it would not be another science fiction convention, it would not be full of new pulp books written mainly by non-collectors and amateur writers. It would not be a nostalgia convention. By god, it would be a convention for pulp and book collectors even if only 100 to 200 showed up. They at least would be serious collectors often bringing boxes of pulps, books, vintage paperbacks, slicks, digest, and original art.

   Everybody seemed to be moaning about how the attendance was not growing but was stuck at about 375. Still, this was far more than the old Pulpcon ever achieved in 37 years. There may be a thousand or so pulp collectors in the US. But most of them won’t ever come to Pulpfest because of health problems, financial problems, or they can’t get away from their job or family responsibilities. 400 and something is about the maximum that we can expect, though the Windy City Convention has claimed to break the 500 mark. I really don’t see any big increase in attendance being possible unless we want to import a ton of comic collectors, new pulp people and walk ins that seldom buy anything.

   But I’m a pulp collector and I want to talk and deal with other pulp collectors. Many comic book collectors seem to like slabbing the books. I’m completely against this because I want to read the things. I don’t want them in a sealed plastic case. But comics are big money and pulps are not. I don’t see us co-existing at all. True, the committee has some personnel problems. Ed Hulse left a few years ago which I saw as a big blow. Bill Lampkin could not make it this year due to family responsibilities, Chuck Welch will soon be moving to Canada, Jack Cullers and Barry Traylor are my age which means they are getting older, to put it kindly.

   It’s time for me to talk about the convention and stop with my complaints, especially since I seem to have few supporters. Nothing has been decided yet by the committee and we will have to see what happens. I really like the Double Tree Hotel however and hope we return next year.

   First, the programming was outstanding as usual. I skipped the new pulp presentations because I don’t care about new pulp. They mainly strike me as non-collectors and as I have said many times, collectors are my favorite type of people. But Thursday the best thing on the program was Sai Shankar talking about the great WW I author, Leonard Nason. I’ve often wondered why people travel to Pulpfest and then miss the programming due to the fact they are stuffing their face.

   Well, I’ll be damned if I didn’t miss Sai Shankar, who is one of my friends, talking about one of my favorite ADVENTURE writers, Leonard Nason! His talk was scheduled for 8:40 and we sat down to eat in the hotel restaurant at 7:00 or perhaps even before 7:00. But the service was so slow that we were there forever and as a result we all missed Sai’s talk. Laurie Powers complained to the manager that due to the slow service we missed the program.

   Friday, there were three panels I enjoyed mainly because I have problems with the subjects. I love the art of the men’s adventure magazines and have collected it in the past. I mean what is there not to love about Nazis turning girls into gold ingots? No wonder they lost the war! Bob Deis and Wyatt Doyle talked about the art and the fiction. I often have problems with the fiction but I love the magazines anyway. I know the WW II vets loved them also! They had a table full of their latest books including POLLEN’S WOMEN: The Art of Samson Pollen. I hope they can publish a reference book listing and discussing the many men’s adventure titles. We need such a guide book.

   Then I liked the panel on the air war pulps hosted by Don Hutchison. Bill Mann, Chris Kalb and company are doing a great job reprinting many authors of the aviation magazines. I have problem reading these stories but I’m working on it and hope to someday be able to appreciate the fiction. Finally the son of John Fleming Gould talked about his father’s art.

   Saturday, started off with the dreaded business meeting which just about ruined my evening but the announcement that Bill Lampkin had been awarded the Munsey Award cheered me up. Bill edits the excellent PULPSTER magazine and is also on the committee. Then the guest of honor, Joe Lansdale, was interviewed. David Saunders gave an excellent talk on the Art of the War Pulps. David discusses art at each Pulpfest and I hope this tradition continues.

   For just about the first time the auction was scheduled for two evenings at Pulpfest. Usually the auction is only one night but there was so many lots, over 400 total! Both nights the auction lasted from 10 pm to past 1 am. Some collectors griped that there was nothing at the auction. I disagree. Friday night saw a run of ARGOSY from the thirties, almost 600 issues of WILD WEST WEEKLY from 1927 through 1943, a set of PLANET STORIES, and many miscellaneous lots. The highest priced item by far was the five boxes of Al Tonik’s research papers. It went for $2000.00.

   Saturday night saw many lots of WESTERN STORY, many sport titles, and the best conditioned set of SF digests that I have ever seen, and I’ve been collecting for over 60 years. The entire run of these magazines were in astonishing beautiful condition. Nice paper, new looking covers, that great scent of new magazines. I had them all but I was tempted to buy them all just for the beautiful condition. Seeing these lovely magazines reminded me once again about why I am a collector. They are beautiful. Sets of AMAZING, FANTASTIC, GALAXY, ASIMOV’S, ANALOG, F&SF, IF, NEW WORLDS, SCIENCE FANTASY, NEBULA, and IMAGINATION. The IMAGINATION set may be the prettiest thing I’ve seen in a long time. Though I had them all already, I bought the 5 lots making up the over 200 digest issues of AMAZING because the condition was just so much better than my own set.

   THE PULPSTER, number 27, was the usual excellent issue. 48 large size pages discussing Arthur Sullivant Hoffman’s ADVENTURE, the American Legion in ADVENTURE, artist George Evans and the aviation pulps, Philip Jose Farmer, and a great letter from a college student talking about her the summers she worked for Popular Publications.

   I was told that attendance was around the 375 mark which I think was great. The dealer’s room was always buzzing with a lot of activity. The hospitality room was well stocked with craft beer and one night about a dozen pizzas were delivered.

   Hopefully soon we will see two new magnificent books about pulp titles we seldom talk about. Laurie Powers book on the romance pulps and the life of Daisy Bacon, the excellent editor of LOVE STORY and DETECTIVE STORY. Michelle Nolan’s book on the sport pulp titles should also be a groundbreaking book on a seldom discussed topic. We desperately need books like these two because I’m tired of the same old hero pulp discussion. I know, I know, everyone loves the hero pulps but after all they were aimed at the teenage boy market and are not really adult fiction. Let’s talk about something new like love and sports!

   So, you may be wondering what did I buy? Actually this was one of the better Pulpfests for me finding unusual items. As I mention already above, I bought at the auction a lovely set of AMAZING, 1953-1980’s. Simply stunning condition. Here is a listing of what else I found of great interest:

1–Lot of 54 of the 71 isssues of AMRA. AMRA was a SF fanzine published between 1959 and 1982. Edited by George Scithers, it was famous mainly for the articles on Swords and Sorcery. The famous artists and authors that appeared in the magazine are too numerous to name but include Roy Krenkel, Poul Anderson, L. Sprague de Camp, Avram Davidson, Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, and many more. AMRA won the Hugo for best fanzine in 1964 and 1968.

   I bought these from Chet Williamson who also sold an interesting Hammett item to someone else and some rare ALL STORY issues. I was a subscriber to AMRA but I sold my issues a long time ago and now I’m rebuilding the set, something I done so many times, with so many magazines.

2–THE AGE OF THE STORYTELLERS: British Popular Fiction Magazines, 1880-1950 by Mike Ashley. This book was published at a hundred dollars but at only $25 I had to get this second copy to add to my first copy. That’s right, the book is so great that you must buy two copies!

3–A framed, signed drawing by the great Edd Cartier. This was only $225 so I had to add it to my Cartier collection which now numbers over 15 drawings. You can never have too many Cartier drawings.

4–A framed painting by pulp collector Lester Belcher showing Sonny Tabor riding on a horse. I knew Lester and he was not an artist but he loved WILD WEST WEEKLY, so he attempted to paint one of the characters from the magazine. I consider it a great piece of “outsider” art done by one of my former friends that I miss. Price at the auction was only $10. Everyone thought it poorly done but to me, knowing Lester, it is priceless.

5–A Richard Powers painting for the Ballantine 1964 paperback, TARZAN AND THE CITY OF GOLD. Done in a different style than usual with Powers. After I bought it the art dealer told me two other collectors stopped by and were disappointed to learn that it had been sold.

6–Two Guest of Honor plaques from Pulpcon. I already have the one given to Walter Baumhofer but I couldn’t pass up these two. One was from 1994 and given to artist R. G. Harris in Tucson. It shows four cover paintings that he did for the pulps. The second is a real treasure since Elmer Kelton was one of the great western writers. It was given to him when he was the guest at the Pulpcon in 1998. It shows four covers from RANCH ROMANCES containing four of his early stories. I hunted for these plaques for decades, now I have three of them!

7–Now the most unusual story of them all. I now have three cover paintings of the paperback western BADLANDS BOSS by Bradford Scott. All by the same artist, Rudy Nappi. It’s possible that there is no other cover painting that was painted three times by the same artist. Back in the early 1980’s I bought the original cover painting at Pulpcon for $100.

   Then several years later I was at Al Tonik’s house for a Tonikcon and there was the same cover by Rudy Nappi also. Al explained that he was not aware the the original cover had survived and so he commissioned Rudy Nappi to paint an exact recreation of the cover. Price he paid was also $100. But the painting was damaged in the mail when the board was bent in order to stick in Al’s mailbox. So he contacted Nappi and told him the sad story and Nappi agreed to paint the painting again for no charge. So now Al had two paintings.

   He gave me the damaged one and kept the good one. Actually you can’t see the damage until you look closely and see the board has been bent. Then after Al Tonik’s death what comes up for auction? The third Rudy Nappi cover painting of the same paperback. Since I had two I had to buy the third one also and got it for only $30 at the auction. You can’t make up such an insane story.


   So ends my report. Despite my complaints, I truly appreciate the hard work of the committee. Thanks Mike Chomko, Jack Cullers, Sally Cullers, Bill Lampkin, Chuck Welch, and Barry Traylor. Plus the many helpers, and of course thanks to for Sai Shankar for the use of some of the photos he took during the convention. Stay tuned to pulpfest.com for news of next yea’s show.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


BORDEN CHASE Diamonds of Death

  BORDEN CHASE – Diamonds of Death. Hart, paperback original, 1947. First serialized as “Blue-White and Perfect,” Argosy, 18 Sept-23 Oct, 1937. Filmed as Blue, White and Perfect, 1941.

   A while back, I read and reviewed Borden Chase’s novel Red River and found it surprisingly hammy from a writer known for his laconic screenplays. So I decided to give him another try and fished out Diamonds of Death, the first novel edition of Chase’s pulp novelette, “Blue-White and Perfect.”

   This is that rarity, a dumb mystery that doesn’t insult one’s intelligence. The “surprise” criminal may be obvious early on, but Chase speeds his story through so many curves one hasn’t time to carp, as hero Smooth Kyle (I guess some folks don’t care what they name their kids) chases diamond smugglers from Broadway to Havana and back again.

BORDEN CHASE Diamonds of Death

   Chase provides his hero with a wise-cracking girlfriend, buddies in the Customs Office, and enough bad guys to felonize a dozen books like this, ranging from cheap hoods to smooth operators, phony dowagers, fake cops… I could go on, but readers of this sort of thing have met them before, and those who haven’t probably couldn’t appreciate the pulpy splendor of the piece, as Chase fills his story with glittering diamonds, luxury liners, exploding airplanes and elegant mansions, all of which impart a feel of extravagance without actually costing anything to write about.

   I’ll just add that the original pulp novel was bought by Fox for their “Michael Shayne” series back in the 40s, movies notable for pace, casting, and for the fact that the producers used only one Mike Shayne novel in the whole series, apparently preferring to impose their hero into stories by other authors, including Clayton Rawson, Frederick Nebel and even Raymond Chandler!

   Anyway, Borden Chase’s story suits the character quite well, and reading this one can almost hear Lloyd Nolan’s snappy banter as he stalks through the studio back lot.

ERLE STANLEY GARDNER “Lord of the High Places.” Speed Dash #12. Top-Notch Magazine, February 1, 1928.

   When I started reading this story, I was under the distinct impression that it was the very first appearance of Richard “Speed” Dash, since Gardner spent so much space explaining who he was and what skills he had. Not so. I was wrong about that. With the resources available to anyone on the Internet in today’s world, it was not difficult to learn that it came along well after the middle of the series. Speed Dash’s first adventure into crime-solving appeared in the February 1, 1925, issue of Top-Notch Magazine. There were twenty in all, all for the same magazine.

   In his early days Speed Dash worked in side shows and circuses as an acrobat, or in particular a so-called “human fly,” with the strength and ability to climb nearly perpendicular surfaces, using, we are told, only the tips of his fingers. But after doing a regime of experimental exercises prescribed by a noted psychiatrist, he developed what is called in the vernacular a photographic memory, and he decided to turn his talent to crime-solving.

   In “Lord of the High Places” he his hired by a rich debutante who is looking for adventure. She has been shown a map of hidden treasure on an island somewhere in the South Seas, and wanting some excitement in her otherwise boring life, she has agreed to finance the venture, but only if she can convince Speed Dash to come along.

   The map is a phony, of course, and Dash is prepared for that, but what he does not plan on is that all of his backup contingencies will fail, and he and the two women are quickly caught between the gang they came in with, another rival gang of pirates, and the savage natives already on the island. See the cover for the means that Dash finds of making his escape. It is quite accurate.

   This is the first adventure of Speed Dash I have read, and it will probably be the last, as I have sold off all my copies of Top-Notch Magazine in which his adventures were recorded. I do not think I am missing anything, however. Action-adventure is not typical Erle Stanley Gardner fare, and he is no better than average at it. Many pulp writers knew their exotic locales a whole better than I think Gardner did.

   An interesting change-of-pace, in other words, but far from essential, even for Gardner fans.

  SCOTT CAMPBELL “The Case of the Vanished Bonds.” Felix Boyd #1. The Popular Magazine, February 1904. Collected in Below the Dead-Line (Street & Smith, paperback; 1906; G. W. Dilingham Co., hardcover, March 2006). Currently available in various Print on Demand editions. Silent Film: Edison, 1915, with Robert Conness as Felix Boyd.

   The foreword to the hardcover edition credits New York City police inspector Thomas Byrne for creating the phrase “below the deadline” referring to “the immediate arrest of every crook found day or night in that part of the metropolis lying south of Fulton Street.” This includes (I am told) Wall Street and the location of the fabulous diamond houses of that era.

   Felix Boyd is something of a mystery man. He is hired by a distraught banker whose shipment by single messenger of valuable bonds has gone missing en route to the sub-treasury where they were being sent. But when the case is solved, he refuses payment for succeeding, remarking that he is paid by the year, not the job, evidently by some third party not yet identified.

   The messenger, quite trusted, it seems went straight from the banker’s office to the sub-treasury, but when he arrived, the bonds were gone from his bag, but the gold inside still there.

   Some investigation on Boyd’s part, however, reveals that he did stop once, to talk to an acquaintance on a doorstep with the bag on the ground. The solution from there is easy enough, but it does require Boyd, described as an American Sherlock Holmes, to disguise himself as a Jewish gentleman to elicit information from the foreman of the work crew inside the building where the messenger had stopped.

    Ordinarily this statement may fall into the category of too much information, but since you nor anyone else is likely to read this story any time soon, it is not likely for me to lose any sleep over it.

   I have not yet read any of the other stories in the book, of which there are eleven more, but I enjoyed this one enough that I will, even though the detection is, shall we say, rather rudimentary. But besides a mystery boss for Mr. Boyd, there is a mystery mastermind behind the theft of the bonds, but he gets away, only to be behind the scenes again in upcoming adventures.

ERLE STANLEY GARDNER “At Arm’s Length.” Detective Fiction Weekly, December 9, 1938. Included in the collection The Case of the Crimson Kiss (Morrow, hardcover, 1970).

   The reason I’ve chosen “At Arm’s Length” to talk about is not because it’s one of his better ones, for it isn’t, but because… Well, here’s how the blurb for the story on the contents page puts it:

  “Lester Leith, Perry Mason, Jax Keene (sic), Senor Lobo! Look to your laurels! Jerry Marr, toughest dick in captivity, is on the scene.” (Raise your hand if you know who Jax Keen was.)

   Or in other words, “At Arm’s Length” serves as the introduction of a brand new character in Mr. Gardner’s long list of same — as well as his only appearance. It’s not that it’s a terrible story, for it isn’t, but in 1939 career writing for the pulp magazines was winding down. He was making good money with the Perry Mason books, and the first Donald Lam & Bertha Cool novel also came out in 1939.

   There are overtones of Lester Leith in this tale. Jerry Marr is the kind of guy who reads a pair of unconnected stories in a newspaper, put two and two together and get five — and cash in his pocket. The lead story of the day is that of a murdered society girl, but what catches Jerry Marr’s eye is a story on page four about a man seen sweeping up large tacks on a street nearby.

   Marr is also a semi-hardboiled kind of PI. What his does is, to put it bluntly, blackmail a possible suspect in the murder case into hiring him. Or at least he would be a suspect if Marr told the police what he knows.

   Marr has a girl friend named Lorrain Dell, and not only do you get the idea that he and she are closer than Perry and Della ever were, but he allows her to do some of his legwork for him. This doesn’t work out all that well when he discovers that Lorrain has pushed someone’s buttons too far, and she ends up a captive. Not only that, but Jerry Marr pulls a Mannix, well before Mannix came along, and is knocked on the head at one point in the story by some unknown malefactor into a short oblivion

   It all works out fine, though, almost making Marr’s client-under-duress happy. The key word is almost, because Marr’s primary motivation, as stated above, is cash in hand.

   Reading back the last few paragraphs to myself, I see that I may have made the story sound better than it is. It isn’t, but nor is it terrible, either.

SELECTED BY DAVID VINETARD:


B. M. BOWER “The Spook Hills Mystery.” Popular Magazine, November 7, 1914. Published in hardcover as The Haunted Hills, Little Brown, 1934, and in paperback by Popular Library, #306, 1951. Also available online here, among other websites.

   “The Spook Hills Mystery” begins rather tritely with the arrival of young Easterner Shelton C. Sherman with a typically cantankerous old hand named Spooky (Gabby Hayes before there was one, “He was not a bad sort, though he was an awful liar when the mood seized him…”) who leads him on about the “ghost” of Spook Hills, but then popular Western writer B(ertha) M(uzzy) Bower, creator of Chip of the Flying U and a long series about that outfit, throws us a curve.

   This, as a beginning, may sound a bit hackneyed. Since the first story was told of the West, innocent young males have arrived in first chapters and have been lied to by seasoned old reprobates of the range, and have attained sophistication by devious paths not always unmarked with violence. But when you stop to consider, life itself is a bit hackneyed.

   At least she noticed, and it is far from the only curve in this tale.

   Sherman, soon to be known as Shep, is greener than the greenest greenhorn who ever lived, and about to join the Sunbeam Outfit (in “that part of Idaho which lies south of the Snake …”) to make a man out of him at the hands of Aleck Burney, who has a way of putting youngsters “on the fence” to make “men” out of them in the time-honored way of obnoxious bullies who are supposed to be makers of men in popular fiction from time immemorial. Never let it be said Ms Bower ever missed a cliché when one was at hand (enter Wallace Beery, or the older John Wayne, making men by breaking their spirit since time began).

   Shep’s parents have sent him West, all pretty 6’ 2” of him: “… to get some width to go with my length: Dad’s an architect. He said he’d have to use me for a straight edge if something wasn’t done pretty soon.”

   The Sunbeam Ranch itself is harbinger of “a keen sensation of disappointment,” otherwise little more than a dirt shack seen over by the giant Burney, who typically tries to establish dominance first thing by a crushing handgrip. Give old Shep this, it hardly bothers him.

   Soon he starts to get the hang of things, and they brighten a bit when he meets Vida, daughter of Sam Williams and niece of Uncle Jake and part of a sheep herding outfit, and that should tell you a bit about where this is going, though it is hardly enough, because that is another of Bower’s curves.

   Bower knew a great deal about life on a ranch, in fact too much for her readers’ own good, since some of her books spend more time on the drudgery and boredom of actually living on and running a ranch than any good Western can take. Realism combined with a certain Polyannaish view and too few doses of adventure and melodrama makes for an uncertain read for many. For all her beautifully described scenery and realistic views of frontier life you can find yourself wishing Max Brand would show up and kick a few doors down. You wish a few of those “Gosh Darn” moments were at least “Gol Dangs.”

   This one is made of sterner material than that though, and soon Shep has gotten a glimpse of Spooky’s Spook, a critter that leaves a footprint like a bear, if a bear was big as an elephant. Of course we all know he can’t leave that alone any more than he will the feud building between the Sunbeamers and the sheep herders.

   And he certainly doesn’t leave bad enough alone, tracking the “thing” to a tunnel where, “The terrible silence was split suddenly by a scream. Human, it sounded, and yet not human, but beastly — horrible. Shelton dropped the candle and clung to the rock beside him. His heart, he thought, stopped absolutely. His very knees buckled under him while he stood there. And then he heard something running, somewhere, even while the cave was playing horribly with the echoes of that scream. Running down that other passage with long leaps, it seemed to him, and the beat of four padded feet upon the rock floor.”

   Where’s Sherlock Holmes when you need him, or for that matter Allan Quatermain? From an Indian woman Shep learns Burney’s father was killed by a “big bear” in Montana, which might explain why Burney objects more to his hunt than his friendship and budding romance with Vida, it also makes it unlikely the sheep killer preying on the Williams herd is Burney. Shep has a mystery to solve.

   Then Uncle Jake is killed in the sheep camp while Burney is away in Pocatella, though the herders don’t believe it, and Vida wants his blood.

   “I find,” replied the coroner, “that the deceased undoubtedly came to his death by having his neck broken by twisting. Four ribs were broken also, evidently by crushing. There are no bullet wounds — the only other marks of violence on the body being some scratches on the scalp behind the ear. These, I judge, were made by finger nails, in gripping the head to twist it.”

   Burney is free. He never made the prints the jury viewed. When the wagon where Vida sleeps is attacked in the night and she hears: “a hoarse scream …. Human—and yet not human—mocking, maniacal, horrible. The most awful sound that Vida had ever heard in her life; a squall, a cry — a shriek she could not find a name for. Her memory flew back to the tales of ghosts and demons that an old Scotch woman had told her years ago. Warlock — that was it! A warlock, such as Maggie MacDonald had told about, that haunted the heath behind the village where strange deaths occurred periodically in the dark of the moon. When men and women were found strangled — and none knew how or why.” And then Vida sees the creature pursuing one of the herders, “the huge figure of a man who came on with
giant strides, leaping clean over what bushes came in his way.”

   And then, and then … Shep drops entirely out of the picture. One of the cowhands, Spider, takes up with Vida, they solve the mystery, and all Shep gets is a letter home, while Spider gets the girl.

   Uh, wow.

   The action is everything you could hope for and Bower handles the atmosphere and building sense of danger and threat with the skill of a pro. Some of the passages describing the country and the setting border on beautiful, and for all the Western lingo, it’s not too trying, to this reader at least. If the rather juvenile saga of the Flying U is all you know of Bower’s Westerns, this one will clear your sinuses, it’s a humdinger.

ERLE STANLEY GARDNER “Cold Clews.” Lester Leith #22. Published in Detective Fiction Weekly, January 24, 1931. At one time apparently scheduled to be reprinted (??) in Hot Cash and Cold Clews: The Exploits of Lester Leith by Erle Stanley Gardner, edited by Jeffrey Marks, Crippen & Landru, Fall 2016.

   Lester Leith was but one of many characters that Erle Stanley Gardner created for the pulp magazines well before he came up with a certain Perry Mason (in 1933) and become rich in doing so. To my mind, though, the Leith stories were a lot more fun — and dare I say — even more inventive than the cases that Perry, Della and Paul found themselves involved in.

   Gardner wrote over 60 Leith stories between 1929 and 1943, mostly for Detective Fiction Weekly, and I can well imagine most were featured on the front covers, the character was that popular. I don’t know if Leith ever had a real occupation, but he was rich and lived in style, complete with a valet he chooses to call Scuttle, a stalwart chap who is really working uncover in Leith’s household on behalf of the police department, and Sgt. Ackley in particular.

   Ackley, you see, suspects — but is never able to prove — that Leith has a way of horning in on local crimes and taking a cut of the loot or insurance/reward money before the cops can even start to make sense of the case.

   And, case in point. In “Cold Clews” Leith takes interest in a valuable stolen necklace, stolen at gunpoint from a jewelry store in broad daylight. Although nearly nabbed while filling up his getaway car at a gasoline station, the thief seems to have eluded the police completely.

   The police are baffled. Lester Leith is not. To his own mysterious ends, he asks Scuttle to obtain the following for him: a fierce bulldog, a cast iron stove, twenty-eight dice, a yard of silk cord, a small vise, a portable drill, and a small emery wheel.

   The police are even more baffled, and equally most of the fun for the reader is reading along to find out what on earth Leith is going to do with this hodgepodge of items. Which he does is fine fashion — and of course he comes out on top once again.

   You probably can’t read too many Leith stories in one sitting. They’re quite long, for one thing, novelette length at least, and rather repetitious in nature as well. But spread out over a period of time, great stuff indeed.

WINDY CITY PULP CONVENTION 2018 REPORT
by Walker Martin


   The older I get, the longer this drive gets! Five of us drove from New Jersey to Chicago in the usual 15 seat white rental van. We take out the last two rows of seats to make the cargo area bigger. We need the space for all the books, pulps, and artwork that we will buy during the convention. During the long drive I pondered the age old question of which is worse: to forget your want list or to forget your medication. I know of two collectors who had to deal with these mistakes. I think forgetting your want list is worse. How can you collect without your lists?

   First stop was the Thursday pulp brunch at the house of Doug Ellis and Deb Fulton, otherwise known as the Windy City Pulp Art Museum. Doug had recently added an addition to the large house because he needed more wall space for the hundreds of cover paintings and illustrations. After three hours of eating, drinking, and gawking at the art, we drove to the Westin Hotel, home of the convention for the last several years.

   This year dealers were allowed to set up Thursday evening and I believe everyone was happy with this arrangement. Friday morning the convention officially began and there were approximately 150 dealer tables and somewhere around 400 to 500 attendees. This made for a busy three days of hunting for pulps, paperbacks, books, digests, slicks, DVDs, and artwork.



   But if you were not into collecting or short of money, then there were other things to do, such as the enormous art show showing scores of pulp and paperback paintings and the film festival which ran mainly during the day on Friday and Saturday. The evenings consisted mainly of John Locke discussing “The Secret Origins of Weird Tales” and GOH F. Paul Wilson being interviewed.

   Then of course there was the auction, which is one of the main attractions of the convention. It was held on Friday and Saturday evening and lasted about 4 hours each night. Friday night consisted of over 250 lots from the estate of Glenn Lord, who was the literary executor for the Robert Howard estate for many decades. Robert Howard collectors had the opportunity to bid on many magazines that contained Howard stories, such as WEIRD TALES, FIGHT STORIES, SPICY ADVENTURE, SPORT STORY, ACTION STORIES, GOLDEN FLEECE, ORIENTAL STORIES, MAGIC CARPET, STRANGE TALES, and ARGOSY.

   Many of these pulps went for hundreds of dollars and two of the highest amounts were for the rare fanzine, THE PHANTAGRAPH. $1400 and $1000 for two issues that I noted, but a friend bought down some beer from his room and I had several bottles which resulted it me not noting the prices for the rest of the issues.

   Saturday night I avoided the beer for awhile and noted some good prices for pulps from the Ron Killian estate. This auction also had material consigned by the attendees at the show. It’s good to see pulps come up for auction but sad to realize that they are from the estates of collectors that you will never see again. At the break I went up to hospitality room for a beer and somehow never did make it back down to the last of the auction. Is it possible that I’ve reached the stage in my collecting life that I would rather have a cold beer? Could be! I’ve been at this game for a long time now.

   I bought my usual amount of books but I don’t need many pulps according to my want lists. However I did manage to find some excellent and bizarre art. I bought as Emsh interior from IF in the fifties, a very large drawing by one of the decadent artists, Beresford Egan, and a stunning Lee Brown Coye interior from FANTASTIC, February 1963. It illustrates the Mythos story “The Titan in the Crypt”. Some of my friends don’t like Lee Brown Coye but I find his art to be perfect for bizarre horror stories. There are presently three books published about his art recently and this indicates that people are realizing his greatness.

   Another paperback cover I bought was one of the strange paintings that show two novels. In the early fifties there were a few fat paperbacks that had two novels and the cover shows two paintings, one upper and one lower. I remember buying PRIME SUCKER and THE HUSSY. Looks like the work of Walter Popp. I always wanted one of these strange paintings. Finally after decades of hunting!

   But the biggest sale of the show was a copy of ALL STORY for October 1912. That’s right the Tarzan issue! The Holy Grail of pulps! It went for $30,000 and sold right away soon after the doors opened. I’ve never seen a complete copy at a pulp convention. I once was high bidder on a copy at an early Pulpcon but it lacked the covers and the Tarzan novel was excerpted. That’s right, some crazy Breaker had cut out the Tarzan novel reducing a $30,000 to $50,000 magazine to a $400 curiosity piece.

   Another high priced item was a sexy cover painting from PRIVATE DETECTIVE by Parkhurst. It was priced at $18,000 but I believe sold for $16,000. One piece of art that did not sell was a Kelly Freas cover painting from ASTOUNDING, February 1955, showing a tough guy dressed as a woman. Price was $30,000 and I guess the owner did not want to sell it but just to exhibit it.

   Each year, I swear that I’m not going to buy any more art because I’ve run out of wall space. I have paintings stacked up against bookcases, etc. But being a collector is a hard job and someone has to do it…

   The program book, titled WINDY CITY PULP STORIES #18 is the usual excellent book edited by Tom Roberts. 136 pages mainly dealing with the air war pulps and Harold Hersey. I noticed three books making debuts at the show:

1–ART OF THE PULPS. This is a must buy and the title says it all. Several essays by well known collectors discuss all the genres including those often forgotten such as the love and sport pulps.

2–HALO FOR HIRE by Howard Browne. This is the complete Paul Pine mysteries and published by Haffner Press.

3–BLACK MASK, Spring 2018 is the fourth issue of the revived BLACK MASK. Published by Altus Press.

   Over the years, after writing one of these convention reports, I’ll hear from fellow collectors who regret not attending the show. Windy City may be over for another year but coming up is the next big pulp convention on July 26 through July 29. It’s in Pittsburgh and the details are at pulpfest.com. I highly recommend this show, and I ought to know what I’m talking about since I’ve been to almost all of them since 1972 when the first Pulpcon was held in St Louis. Almost all my pals who attended are gone now except for a handful such as Caz, Randy Cox, maybe Jack Irwin attended also, I forget. But of the hundred or so who eagerly went in 1972, we are getting down to the last man standing. Or the last Collector standing!

   Don’t miss out on Pulpfest. It’s a must for collectors. We have to support Windy City, Pulpfest, Pulpadventurecon and the other one day shows or one day we won’t have any conventions and then we will be like the dime novel collectors.

   I know one collector who says the two conventions are the same. No, they are not. Windy City is different and the emphasis is on art, films, and the auction. Pulpfest is also different with the emphasis on the dealer’s room and an evening full of panels and discussions.

   The hotel is great and I recommend that you stay there. Sure you can get a cheaper rate down the road somewhere but the convention hotel is where all the action is.

   I hope to see you there!

PS. Thanks to Sai Shankar once again for the use of his photos. All of the larger ones are ones he took. To see many more of the photos he took at Windy City, check out his Pulpflakes blog here.

JOHN ESTEVEN – Graveyard Watch. First appeared in Detective Story Magazine, October 1936. First published in book form by Modern Age as a digest-sized paperback (with dust jacket), 1938.

   I listed the pulp magazine edition first because that’s the one I read, only to discover that the story came out later in a rather hard to find PBO (paperback original) all the way back in 1938. In the magazine version it takes up 79 pages of two columns of small print. It reads as though it’s complete, but I don’t have a copy of the paperback, so I can’t tell for sure you whether that’s true or not.

    “Graveyard Watch” is the first case given to a young Irish cop named Patrick Connelly to handle on his own. He’s asked by his superior to work undercover in a rich man’s house as a phoney PI to ostensibly guard some jewelry, but in reality to intercept a shipment of cocaine that word on the street says will be coming through the manor, which is located somewhere along Chesapeake Bay.

   The house has its share of various people and household staff living there, and they all become suspects when its owner is found dead in the coffin in which his recently deceased brother was last seen occupying. Questions include: who killed him, what happened to the brother, where’s the cocaine (you will not be surprised how it was introduced into the house), and who’s after the jewels?

   John Esteven was the pen name of a academic named Samuel Shellabarger, who went on to become quite famous as a writer of historical fiction, at least two of which went on to be blockbuster movies. It will come as no surprise, therefore, when I tell you the writing is quite good — better than average — for one of these potboiler detective mysteries of the 1930s, of which this is a prime example. All the ingredients are there, but in an amateurish way, in the original sense of the word.

   There are lots of clues and skulking around by all of the possible suspects, but the ending, I thought, could have been written a lot more tightly. As is, while effective enough, it’s also a trifle muddled.

   All in all, while it has its moments and is perhaps as good as some of the other Golden Age of Detection mysteries by obscure authors today, Graveyard Watch is probably not worth your effort (or cash in hand) to track down. For completists only.

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