April 2019


REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:


H. BEDFORD-JONES “The King Makers.” Novelette. Vincent Connor #6. First published in Short Stories April 25, 1932. Collected as the title story in The King Makers: The Adventures of Vincent Connor (Altus Press, The H. Bedford-Jones Library, trade paperback March 2015).

   Any attempt to cover H. Bedford-Jones’ career in the pulps is virtually doomed by the sheer volume of it. Writing in virtually every major pulp available (including Weird Tales), and with stories covering every historical era imaginable, he was the acknowledged King of the Pulps for much of his career, one of the highest paid writers in the field, and one whose work regularly was reprinted in hardcovers, whether it was his popular John Solomon stories written as by Allan Hawkwood, his Westerns, Mystery novels, historical novels, adventure fiction …

   He somehow even found time for a bit of poetry and non-fiction.

   Among his many series, one of the most popular featured Vincent Connor, a ne’er do well playboy American in China who would seem to be a jovial fool, but who in reality is one of the quickest minds and best fighters in Asia, “…an energetic young man who mixed largely in political affairs—not for his own interest, but for the good of China.”

   Not PC by any definition, in fact, another white man saving the natives, but these were the pulp magazines, and that was unfortunately the standard. Thankfully Bedford-Jones is too good to just settle for that.

   From the native city, bandits and alleged patriots had flooded into the Japanese quarter of Tientsin to kill and rob. Native mobs were being shot down, and all Tientsin was in alarm and uproar.

   Connor is in Tientsin waiting for his friend Earl Stanley when the rioting and violence break out in the Japanese quarter. A phone call from Stanley quickly summons him to an obscure restaurant in the French quarter where Connor finds the source of all the commotion “…This young native in the sweater and spectacles was Henry Chang-yin. He was the last of the line of the great Nurhachu, founder of the Manchu empire, and the throne of the Yellow Dragon was his by rights.”

   Henry is a quiet studious type who has been living in the Japanese quarter in a sort of separate peace with them, happy to let them use his status to their own needs so long as there is no violence, but now he has escaped, and in short order Connor and Stanley convince him to make a run for Manchuria where he can claim his throne and lead the advance to run the Japanese incursion out of China.

   1932, when this was written, was early in the Japanese imperial adventure in China that would become one of the bloodiest and deadliest in history, and Bedford-Jones can be forgiven in using it for a background for high adventure and political skull-duggery as it would be in countless stories, books, and films of the period. It’s only been in the last thirty years or so that the whole story of the Japanese war crimes in China has been fully exposed.

   In 1932 it was still possible to use the tragedy as a background for exotic adventure.

   The battle is bloody and hard fought with Colonel Honzai, the tough but honorable Japanese officer pursuing them. Bedford-Jones was an expert at orchestrating this kind of tale and pulls out no stops here.

   Despite the lack of political correctness, Bedford-Jones is far to good a writer to deal in the usual stereotypes. There are no evil Asian masterminds here (even when he did that trope he managed it with finesse), and both the would-be emperor, Connor’s driver, Wang, and their Japanese nemesis are written as intelligent and capable men, which doesn’t hurt the sense of adventure and action one bit, and even adds to it.

   The story ends with a nice ironic twist, with Connor’s dream of playing king-maker in China is lost, but not before undergoing a solid adventure tale in the old style by one of the masters of the genre.


       The Vincent Connor series

A Prince for Sale (ss) Argosy Jun 13 1931

              

House of Missing Men (ss) Argosy Jul 4 1931
The Tomb-Robber (ss) Argosy Aug 1 1931
Diplomacy by Air (ss) Argosy Sep 19 1931
Connor Takes Charge (nv) Argosy Dec 19 1931
The King Makers (nv) Short Stories Apr 25 1932

   All six are included in the Altus Press collection.

KILLER WOMEN “La Sicaria.” ABC, 07 January 2014. Season 1, Episode 1. 60 minutes. Tricia Helfer (as Molly Parker, a Texas Ranger), Marc Blucas, Alex Fernandez, Michael Trucco, Marta Milans. Guest star: Nadine Velazquez. Written by Hannah Shakespeare. Director: Lawrence Trilling.

   Tricia Helfer, previously seen to good advantage n a regular basis as Number Six, a ultra-sexy humanoid Cylon on Battlestar Galactica, plays newly appointed Texas Ranger Molly Parker in this short-loved series taking place in the San Antonio area. Only six of eight episodes that were filmed for the first season were ever aired. There was no second season.

   The premise for the series was that every week Molly is assigned cases of murder all of which were committed by women. In “La Sicaria” (the feminine form of the word “sicario,” or “hit man”), the killer of an ADA immediately after she says “I do” in church on her wedding day is easily identified. The question is, given that her stated motive doesn’t make sense, why did she do it?

   The series didn’t fare will with the critics and was ignored by TV audiences, but I thought at was well done, and I enjoyed as many of the episodes as I was able to watch at the time. That Tricia Helfer makes a Texas Ranger’s uniform as well filled out as a Texas Ranger’s uniform ever could be might have had something to do with it. Plus she has the swagger of a Texas Ranger down pat. You might even call it a sashay. Poetry in motion.


REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


THE BIG LEBOWSKI. Polygram, 1998. Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, David Huddleston, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tara Reid, John Turturro, Sam Elliott, Ben Gazarra, and Jon Polito. Written & directed by Joel & Ethan Coen.

ADAM BERTOCCI – Two Gentlemen of Lebowski: A Most Excellent Comedie and Tragical Romance. Simon & Schuster, trade paperback, 2010.

   Okay, so this time it’s a movie and the book inspired by it – or as Adam Bertocci would have it, the text of the play Shakespeare wrote after seeing it. Got that?

   At this point there’s really no use going into a detailed synopsis or critique of The Big Lebowkski. It’s a cult film, which means you either love it or can’t imagine why anyone would. There’s enough lawlessness, detection and mayhem to qualify it for anyone’s list of crime films, but suffused throughout with so much deliberate quirkiness that the question of Whodunit seems completely irrelevant.

   What strikes me about Lebowski though, is its compelling similarity to Robert Altman’s film of The Long Goodbye (UA/Lions Gate, 1973). Besides the obvious L.A. ambiance, both films feature protagonists seriously out of step with the world they inhabit, cast into convoluted plots which they — and we (and, I suspect, the writers) — only partly comprehend, adrift in an ocean of whackos, weirdoes and certified wing nuts, dancing with sudden death like a monkey on a high wire. Mark Rydell in Goodbye has Ben Gazarra as his counterpart in Lebowski, just as Sterling Hayden in the earlier film is mirrored by David Huiddleston in the later one. It’s as if the Coens saw Altman’s screwy classic when they were impressionable teens and never got over it.

   Like I say, there’s been enough written about this film already, but I want to make note of the pitch-perfect performances of Philip Seymour Hoffman as an unflappable toady and John Turturro doing a dead-on impression of Timothy Carey as a mad bowler. Add Steve Buscemi as the kegler equivalent of Elisha Cook Jr, and you have an able supporting cast indeed — all blown off the screen by John Goodman’s perennial Nam Vet, Walter.

   More than a decade after Lebowksi hit the screens, Adam Bertocci wondered in print what The Big Lebowski would have been like if written by the Bard of Avon. He even went so far as to write an afterword, detailing how Shakespeare might have seen someone else’s Elizabethan play of the story and stolen it (as playwrights of his time were wont to do—leading to flocks of Angry Bards) for his own Two Gentlemen of Lebowski.

   I should say up front that this will appeal mainly to those who have some familiarity with the works we call Shakespeare’s. When Sam Elliott (I forgot to mention him, didn’t I?) says “Sometimes you get the Bear” one doesn’t automatically recall the stage direction from Winter’s Tale, “Exit, pursued by a bear.” But Bertocci does.

   It will be lost on some. As will many (most?) of the other allusions. But no one should miss the author’s seriocomic “footnotes” explaining things like Cracked Cheeks (“Maps of the period depicted wind in the form of clouds blowing over the land and possibly on freshly-painted toes.”) and Haters of Jewry (“Anti-semites. In Elizabethan England, a synonym for ‘everyone’.”)

   Cult items to be sure. Take them for all in all, we most likely shall not look upon their like again. But we can hope.

 MARTIN H. GREENBERG, Editor – Deadly Doings. Ivy, paperback original; 1st printing, 1989.

#4. SUE GRAFTON “The Parker Shotgun.” Short story. First published in the PWA anthology Mean Streets, edited by Robert J. Randisi (Mysterious Press, 1986). [See Comment #3.] Reprinted many times, including The Oxford Book of American Detective Stories, edited by Tony Hillerman & Rosemary Herbert (Oxford University Press, hardcover, April 1996). First collected in Kinsey and Me (G.P. Putnam, hardcover, 2013). Winner of the Macavity and Anthony awards.

   I don’t know, but maybe someone reading this does. When Sue Grafton wrote the first Kinsey Millhone story, “A” Is for Alibi, way back in 1984, was she planning ahead? Did she have any idea that the series would continue on all the way through the letter Y before sadly she died late in 2017?

   Along the way, if my count is right, she wrote nine short stories about Kinsey, of which this is probably the most well known. In it she tackles a case that the police have given up on, that of the death of her client’s husband, a man known to have been dealing in cocaine. He had given it up when he married Kinsey’s client, but the police have taken the easy way out and chalked it up to just another drug deal gone bad.

   Kinsey, as always, tells the story herself, in her usual chipper fashion, even though some of the people she meets along the way do not belong to the nicest people in society. The titular shotgun, as expected, was the murder weapon, but not expected is that it’s a classic, a collectible worth in the vicinity of nearly $100,000, which is a nice area to be in, to be sure.

   Kinsey makes short work of the case, maybe too short. I’d have liked a little more meat to the tale myself, but as a fine example of a PI at work in the short story form, you shouldn’t need to look any farther than this one.

         —

Previously in this Martin Greenberg anthology:JACK FINNEY “It Wouldn’t Be Fair.”

REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


HELL BOUND. United Artists / Bel-Air Productions, 1957. John Russell, June Blair, Stuart Whitman, Margo Woode. Director: William J. Hole Jr.

   Hell Bound opens with voice-over narration that tells the viewer what is going on. It’s technique familiar to all of us who have watched numerous low budget 1950s crime films and police procedurals. Where the narrator instructs us as to what is happening on the screen, as if we needed some additional help. But in this Bel-Air Production, the narration goes on and on. And on. Or so it seems. All of which leads the viewer to wonder what exactly is going on? Is the whole film going to be like this?

   But eventually the narration ends. And as it turns out, what you were watching was a 16mm film within a film. A short movie that was filmed by a thief named Jordan (John Russell) in order to “sell” his vision to a businessman who could finance his latest criminal scheme: to steal narcotics from a ship set to arrive in the Los Angeles harbor. It’s a clever device, one that immediately lets the viewer know that this isn’t going to be one just another stodgy and formulaic police procedural.

   Hell Bound is a lot grittier than what most of those films even hope to offer. It’s soaked in sweat, oozes sexual innuendo, and has its fair share of odd, unsavory characters, including a blind heroin dealer who simply goes by the name Daddy (Dehl Berti). The film has a lot of visual signposts and trademarks of what has become known as film noir. There’s a gin-soaked nightclub with an exotic dancer, neon lights, and a ruthless degree of criminal brutality. There is also a stark, but exquisitely filmed finale in a junk yard filled with old trolley cars, one of the more creative endings I’ve seen in a while.

   Look for former Playboy Playmate June Blair as Jordan’s primary accomplice, and a for youthful Stuart Whitman as an honest hardworking ambulance driver who inadvertently gets mixed up in the whole affair. Les Baxter provides the soundtrack. Recommended.


  DONALD WOLLHEIM, Editor, with Arthur W. Saha – The 1989 Annual World’s Best SF. Daw #783, paperback original; 1st printing, June 1989. Cover art by Jim Burns.

#8. FREDERIK POHL “Waiting for the Olympians.” Novella. First published in Asimov’s SF, August 1988. Reprnted in What Might Have Been? Volume 1: Alternate Empires, edited by Gregory Benford & Martin H. Greenberg (Bantam, paperback, August 1988) and The Mammoth Book of Alternate Histories, edited by Ian Watson & Ian Whates (Perseus, softcover, April 2010). First collected in Platinum Pohl: The Collected Best Stories (Tor, hardcover, December 2005).

   In terms of his influence on the field, Frederik Pohl had a career in science fiction as long as almost anyone, one that lasted well over 70 years, first as a fan, then as an award-winning editor many times over, an agent, and yes, as a writer. He often had a wicked, satirical view of the world in much of what he wrote, and if you were to call that a subgenre of SF in and of itself, “Waiting for the Olympians,” would fit right into it.

   It’s told from the point of view of a hack SF writer named Julius — his friends call him Julie — and his latest work, for which he cannot repay the advance, is rejected because it makes fun of the Olympians, a collection of alien races sending representatives to Earth to invite the planet’s inhabitants to join their ranks.

   That something feels off about the early part of the story is made a whole clearer when Julie sits down to write a replacement novel with stylus and blank tablets. Tablets that stay blank because his head has run completely day of new ideas.

   His friend Sam (Flavius Samuelus) suggests that he write an “what if” story based on the premise that the Olympians are not coming, but Julie, hack writer that he is, simply can’t get his head around the idea at all. Then the unthinkable happens. Transmissions from Olympians suddenly stop completely, indicating that they have changed their minds and are really not coming. Why on Earth why?

   This is a very cleverly constructed story, with a lot going on between the lines, including the ending itself, which answers the question above, if only the Julie and Sam could figure it out, which they can’t, a devastating indictment of their world on both counts. An excellent story.

       —

Previously from the Wollheim anthology: TANITH LEE “A Madonna of the Machine.”

  PAUL CAIN “One, Two, Three.” Short story. First published in Black Mask, May 1933. Collected in Seven Slayers (Saint Enterprises, paperback, 1946). Reprinted in The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps, edited by Otto Penzler (Vintage Crime, softcover, November 2007).

   Paul Cain wrote only one novel (Fast One) and less than two dozen short stories, most of them for Black Mask, but that’s all it took to make him a legend in our time, if not his own. He was the ultimate in hard-boiled fiction, terse and unemotional as fiction could possible be written.

   “One, Two, Three” is a fine, fine example. Told by an anonymous narrator with an unknown profession (a private operative working on his own? a gambler doing his best to follow up on an easy mark?), the story zigs and zags more than most novels do, with divorce proceedings, blackmail, and two bloody deaths high on the dance card.

   I tried to follow the explanation of who did what when and to who before giving up on it — it’s that complicated — and decided that the 1930s California setting and the total tough guy atmosphere were all I needed to tell you that if you ever get a chance to read this one or anything else by Paul Cain, you really ought to.

AMAZING FANTASY #4. Marvel Comics, November 2004. Story: Fiona Avery. Pencils: Roger Cruz. Inker: Victor Olazaba. Cover: Mark Brooks. Creative Consultant: J. Michael Straczunski.

   First of all, this is not your grandfather’s Amazing Fantasy. You know, the one of which if you owned a dozen mint copies of #15, you’d be a millionaire right now, and that’s no joke.

   Issue #15, in case you don’t know, which featured the first appearance ever of The Amazing Spider-Man (cover dated December 1961), was also the last issue of that particular run. This brand new superhero took the world by storm, and he was given his own title almost immediately thereafter. The rest is history.

   There was a revival of sorts between December 1995 to March 1996, when Amazing Fantasy #16-18 were published, and in which some gaps in the Spider-Man story line were retroactively filled in. Another run then began in August 2004, starting over with new numbering, the first six issues of which introduce the character Anya Coroazon, a ninth grade Latina girl who in issue #4 is just beginning to come to grips with her newly developing superpowers.

   Taking a new working alias of Araña, the character was successful enough to have a 12 issue run of her own title. Some time after that, she decided to be called Spider-Girl. I’m sorry to be fuzzy on the details. I have a lot of catching up of my own to do.

   Issue #4 is part of a six-issue sequence, but even not having read the first three, I was able to follow the story well enough to enjoy this one. To sum it up, though, she’s still in the process of learning what is happening to her — which side she’s on (The Spider Society) and who the bad guys are (The Sisterhood of the Wasp). Growing a protective metal shield on her arm during a girls’ athletic event, perhaps lacrosse, is just part of the process.


  STEVE FISHER “You’ll Always Remember Me.” Short story. First published in Black Mask, March 1938. Reprinted in The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps, edited by Otto Penzler (Vintage Crime, softcover, November 2007).

   You can add Steve Fisher to a list of several dozen pulp writers who went on to long productive careers in other story-telling media once the pulps themselves died. He wrote a few mystery novels over the years, but what’s a lot more notable are his film and TV credits — IMDb lists over a hundred of them, starting with The Nurse from Brooklyn (1938) and concluding with an episode of Fantasy Island in 1979.

   But while they lasted, he wrote a ton of stories for the pulp magazines as well, from aviation stories to love pulp romances, but mostly for the detective pulps, including the most remembered of them all, Black Mask. I don’t know if it’s the reason it was chosen to be included in Otto Penzler’s recent anthology of pulp fiction, but his story “You’ll Always Remember Me” in the March 1938 issue of that magazine, but it’s definitely a lot edgier than most of that magazine’s usual fare, which was the ultimate in hardboiled fiction to begin with.

   It would not be, in fact, totally out of place in a magazine such as Manhunt, which came along quite a bit later, nor under the byline of someone like Jim Thompson, who also came along later. It’s told, we discover, by young 14 year old boy named Martin who currently resides in a military academy paid for by his father.

   We also discover that he has a crush on, Marie, a 15 year old girl whose brother Tommy is soon to be executed for the murder of their father, and our young narrator is convinced that he didn’t do it. A detective named Duff Ryan, who is sweet on Marie’s sister Ruth and is equally sure that Tommy didn’t do it.

   Who did do it? You may very well guess, and I’ll wager that you are right. Ryan is thinking along the same lines, and to help prove it [WARNING: Cat Lover’s Alert] he takes a cat that has been hit by a car and is dying and smashes it against the wall, trying to see what rise he can get out of Martin.

   [PLOT ALERT #2] As a juvenile, Martin is deemed not responsible for his actions. He’ll be out when he’s 21, hence the title, stated as a Warning. I’m only guessing, of course, but I think that anyone would read this story back in 1938 remembered it for a long long time.

HEADLINE SHOOTER. RKO Radio Pictures, 1933. William Gargan. Frances Dee, Ralph Bellamy, Jack LaRue, Gregory Ratoff, Wallace Ford, Robert Benchley, Betty Furness. Director: Otto Brower.

   William Gargan plays one of those old-fashioned newsreel cameramen whose lives consist 100 percent of their jobs and nothing but their jobs. A chance encounter with an equally scoop-conscious society writer (sob sister) played by Frances Dee (later Mrs. Joel McCrea) causes only sparks at first, but as it turns out, these are only partially nullified by the fact that Jane Mallory already has a fiancé back home in Mississippi. Take a look at the cast. You needn’t need me to tell you that Ralph Bellamy is the guy, and no, he’s not likely to keep Miss Mallory from slipping through his fingers.

   There are some comedy bits in this movie (such as Robert Benchley doing a short bit as the announcer of a beauty contest — over the radio), but what this short 60 minute film really is is nothing more (or less) than an entertaining romantic drama, set against a backdrop of newsreel footage of actual disasters: earthquakes, fires and floods. You might also guess, from seeing Jack Larue’s name in the credits, that there is a gangster subplot involved, one that tells Ralph Bellamy’s character more about his would-be wife’s true character than he wanted to know.

   I don’t think William Gargan had too many leading roles in the movies over the years, unless perhaps as a detective in charge of a murder mystery, and he seems out of place in this one. What Jane Mallory sees in Bill Allen is one those unexplained mysteries of life, I suppose. Otherwise this is a competently done melodrama that moves along quickly in very solid fashion.


Next Page »