I’ve got another introduction out for Steeger Books. I got to jump in for Volume Two of John Lawrence’s tough PI, Cass Blue. Here’s that intro, to whet your appetite. If you like what you read, check out the two books. I hadn’t read Blue before writing this intro, and I enjoyed discovering these stories.
Cass Blue presented an unusual combination to the readers of Dime Detective when he arrived in November of 1932 in “The Bloodstone.” The settings of the first three stories were more akin to an Agatha Christie novel than to the pages of a hardboiled pulp magazine. The country manor; the island only reachable by boat; a houseful of suspects – and potential victims. But there were also those elements of the Weird Menace pulps. What’s a country house without a seance? Need a masked assailant? – Check. Murder by mad bomber? Of course!
In addition to the Christie-esque setting and the Weird Menace tone, Blue himself is a tough guy that Roger Torrey or Frederick Nebel might have written. It’s a different type of Pulp Stew than readers were used to in Dime Detective when Blue became a regular in 1934.
Story four – “Calling All Cars” – involved a big heist caper and a serial killer. It was different from the first three, but still not the usual private eye yarn. It had a pretty big scope. You can find those first four stories in Volume One, also from Steeger Books. It also includes an excellent intro by Ed Hulse, looking at the history of Dime Detective.
This second volume starts a little more traditionally with “Guilty Party” from the August 15, 1935 issue of Dime Detective. “Calling All Cars” had been in the prior issue, only two weeks before. Blue is walking home, pleased that his private detective business has lasted for eight years – with Blue still alive to enjoy it. A harmless-looking fellow is following him through a snowstorm, and Blue figures it’s a stool pigeon looking to sell some info.
I’ve been juggling reading with catching up on a bunch of TV/streaming stuff. But I’ve worked in a couple of good reads.
I thought about a post on series’ I’m behind on in my reading. I probably will do one – sadly, it would be VERY long. But I did just finish two novels in one such, and I started a third.
HOLMES ON THE RANGE
I wrote this essay back in 2019 on Steve Hockensmith’s Sherlock Holmes-influenced cowboy brothers. Dear Mr. Holmes is a collection of the seven short stories that kicked off the series. And just last month, the seventh novel – Hunters of the Dead– came out.
I had read the first three novels and the short stories. But book four – The Crack in the Lens – came out in 2009. I was WAAAAY behind. So last week I read Crack… – and then immediately tore through The World’s Greatest Sleuth!. Now I’m on book six, The Double-A Western Detective Agency.
Check out my prior essay for a more in-depth look at the series. But the premise is that brothers Gustav (Old Red) and Otto (Big Red) Amlingmeyer, are trail-riding cowpunchers in the Old West. This is during the time of Sherlock Holmes’ Adventures and Memoirs. Gustav can’t read. So, while they’re sitting around the campfire at night, Otto reads aloud the Holmes stories from a dog-eared magazine.
Gustav is totally enthralled with Holmes’ methods and sets out to do some deducifyin’ on the trail. And these two fall into malice and mayhem like a spinster in one of Agatha Christie’s villages. Gustav is the brains, and Otto is the brawn.
I am currently working on a couple essays. A very positive one about The Caine Mutiny as a book, big screen movie, TV movie, stage play, and radio play. And a friend called the latest Hercule Poirot movie, A Haunting in Venice, “amazingly good.” That’s exactly the opposite of what it is. I’ll be expressing my disappointment with that one soon.
I’ve already re-shared a couple of the excellent Pulp-related essays that were a part of Black Gate’s terrific Discovering Robert E. Howard series. Knowing I was completely unqualified to write one on REH’s boxing stories, I contacted the current czar of boxing fiction, Paul Bishop of Fight Card Books.
Fight Card is a Pulp style series of boxing tales. See what Paul has to say about Howard’s boxing works. And if you get a chance to visit Howard Days in Cross Plains, TX, make sure you attend the boxing lecture at the old ice house, co-hosted by Mark Finn and Chris Gruber. It’s a real highlight.
The minute I stepped ashore from the Sea Girl, merchantman, I had a hunch that there would be trouble. This hunch was caused by seeing some of the crew of the Dauntless. The men on the Dauntless have disliked the Sea Girl’s crew ever since our skipper took their captain to a cleaning on the wharfs of Zanzibar – them being narrow-minded that way. They claimed that the old man had a knuckle-duster on his right, which is ridiculous and a dirty lie. He had it on his left.
~ Robert E. Howard, “The Pit of the Serpent”
Although best known as the creator of Conan the Barbarian, Solomon Kane, and other sword and sorcery characters, Robert E. Howard had a lifelong interest in boxing, attending fights and avidly following the careers of his favorite fighters. Even though as a child he was bookish and intellectual, in his teen years he took up bodybuilding and eventually entered the ring as an amateur boxer.
Back in June, Will Murray donned his deerstalker and showed that Dashiell Hammett was not the author of “The Diamond Wager.” He’s back again this week with his magnifying glass out and looking into the origin of the title to Hammett’s novel, The Glass Key. Read on! And if you’ve not read The Glass Key (which is also a terrific movie starring Alan Ladd), you’re missing out on one of the best hardboiled novels written. The game is afoot (again)!
Back in the 1980s, I knew a pulp writer named Charles Spain Verral, who was perhaps best known for writing the Bill Barnes, Air Adventurer Magazine lead novels as George L. Eaton. Chuck told me an illuminating story about Dashiell Hammett that was circulating in the New York City literary scene during the 1930s.
Hammett needed an advance from Black Mask magazine, which editor Joe Shaw was willing to give on the basis of a title alone. Hammett came up with “The Glass Key.” And was stuck with it because in those days the magazine cover was printed a month or more in advance of the interior of the magazine, and The Glass Key was to be the cover story of the next scheduled issue. Compounding the problem, the serial was announced by that title in the issue preceding the one where it was cover-featured. Hammett was to write the novel in installments, with the first one appearing in print before he finished the work.
A (Black) Gat in the Hand takes a week off for a somewhat Robert E. Howard-centric installment of Ten Things I Think I Think. Books, television, movies, and even a computer RPG are in the mix today.
1) Jules De Grandin is a new favorite
Being a Robert E. Howard guy, I am familiar with Weird Tales – home to much of his best work, including Conan, Kull, historical fiction, and Solomon Kane, among much more. But not being into horror, I don’t really read anyone else from ‘The Unique Magazine.’
But I recently bought the audiobook for The Horror on the Links. It is Volume One of The Complete Tales of Jules De Grandin. A few stories have been a bit much for me in the macabre category, but Seabury Quinn’s doctor-former Surete policeman is an Occult Detective version of Hercule Poirot. I am absolutely loving the mix. I’m nearing the end of this collection, and I’ll be listening to Volume Two next.
De Grandin is a French transplant to fictional Harrisonville, New Jersey. His Watson is Dr. Trowbridge, and they investigate both cases that have natural, as well as supernatural, solutions. Each audiobook is about 25 hours long, which is a lot of entertainment. Paul Woodson does a great de Grandin. There are over 90 stories – including one serialized novel. As a Poirot fan, I’m totally in on these. I’ve been kicking around the idea of a de Grandin/Nero Wolfe crossover.
2) “The Horror from the Mound” is Quite a Story
Sticking with horror, I was hoping to have an essay ready today for Robert E. Howard’s “The Horror from the Mound.” It’s a (then) contemporary Weird Western which also appeared in Weird Tales. I’d read it before, and with one foot in ‘today’ and one firmly in the mid 1600s, may be my favorite REH horror story. Still working on the essay.
The first big series I did here at Black Gate was Discovering Robert E. Howard. And I was excited to get one of my favorite Westerns writers, the beyond-prolific, James Reasoner, to talk about REH’s Westerns. Continuing on with our recent Westerns theme, here’s James’ essay on trail towns in REH’s traditional Westerns. Saddle up and hit the trail!
When Robert E. Howard was growing up in Cross Plains in the 1920s, it was entirely possible that some of the older men in town might have gone on cattle drives in their youth, as the great trails from Texas to the railheads in Kansas opened up after the Civil War and changed the focus of the Lone Star State’s economy. Whether a young Bob Howard ever listened to these old cowboys spin yarns about those days, we don’t know, but he certainly might have.
J. Marvin Hunter’s classic book Trail Drivers of Texas appeared in 1927, and this volume might well have caught Howard’s interest, too, although we have no record of him ever reading it.
What we do know, however, is that Howard wrote several Western stories in which the trail towns which served as destination points for those great herds of Longhorns play an important part, beginning with “Gunman’s Debt”, which went unpublished during Howard’s lifetime but is one of his best Westerns. It’s set in the small Kansas settlement of San Juan, and although Howard tells us that the rails and the trail herds haven’t reached it yet, it’s clear that they’re on the way. San Juan is new and raw and more than a little squalid:
Three saloons, one of which included a dance hall and another a gambling dive, stables, a jail, a store or so, a double row of unpainted board houses, a livery stable, corrals, that made up the village men now called San Juan.
Table of Contents for Weird Tales 1, edited by Lin Carter (Zebra Books, December 1980)
For yesterday’s Vintage Treasures post, I finally had the chance to discuss Lin Carter’s early-80s attempt to resuscitate the Magazine that Never Dies, the long-running weird fiction pulp Weird Tales.
Since I examined all four paperbacks, there wasn’t room in that article to look back at some of the fascinating discussions they’ve triggered over the last four decades, including lengthy commentary from Carter himself — especially his (largely unfulfilled) plans for the future volumes — or reviews of the stories within from modern readers. So I took the time to do that today.
Weird Tales , Volumes 1 -4 (Zebra Books, December 1980
– August 1983). Covers by Tom Barber (#1-3) and Doug Beekman (#4)
Lin Carter was one of the finest genre editors of the 20th Century, and Weird Tales magazine was the most important fantasy magazine of the last century, publishing the career-defining work of Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and hundreds of other writers. In December 1980 Zebra Books published the equivalent of a genre superhero Team-Up, the first two volumes of a paperback relaunch of Weird Tales helmed by Lin Carter.
The ambitious effort had several things in common with the original pulp incarnation. Namely, it was criminally underfunded, published sporadically, and doomed.
But it also had a hugely talented and hardworking editor, and in three short years it published a total of four volumes containing ‘lost’ stories by Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft, an original John the Balladeer story by Manly Wade Wellman, reprints of classic tales from the pages of Weird Tales, and original fiction by Ramsey Campbell, Carl Jacobi, Tanith Lee, Mary Elizabeth Counselman, Steve Rasnic Tem, Hannes Bok, Joseph Payne Brennan, Evangeline Walton, Charles Sheffield, Frank Belknap Long, Lin Carter, and a lot more.
“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep
(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)
And A (Black) Gat in the Hand turns 100 today. With help from some friends, this column has managed to offer a hundred essays on the fascinating world of Pulp. April 8, 1949 was the day the Pulps died (I think that American Pie is one of the greatest songs of all time – couldn’t pass up the reference – with a tip of the fedora to William Lampkin for the phrase). On that day, Street & Smith announced they were quitting the Pulps. My favorite, Dime Detective, straggled on into 1952. But the days of the Pulps were effectively over.
But the love of Pulps lived on. Back in May of 2018, I kicked off my weekly Black Gate column as follows:
“Working from Otto Penzler’s massive The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps, we’re going to be exploring some pulp era writers and stories from the twenties through the forties. There will also be many references to its companion book, The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories. I really received my education in the hardboiled genre from the Black Lizard/Vintage line. I discovered Chester Himes, Steve Fisher, Paul Cain, Thompson and more.
With first, the advent of small press imprints, then the explosion of digital publishing, Pulp-era fiction has undergone a renaissance. Authors from Frederick Nebel to Raoul Whitfield; from Carroll John Daly to Paul Cain (that’s 27 letters – we went all the way back around the alphabet – get it?) are accessible again. Out of print and difficult-to-find stories and novels have made their way back to avid readers.”
Science Fiction magazines likely displayed on the stands at ten year intervals, 1933 to 2013
Many readers here no doubt lack the experience of having personally cruised news stands, tobacco shops and underground hole-in-the-wall used book stores, through no fault of their own. Unless you can fault someone for not having been born in a particular year, which I think would be a silly thing to do.
I, on the other hand, managed to arrive on this planet at a time conducive to such things. Following a brief orientation period lasting a handful of years, during which I learned how to navigate within a 1G gravitational field and picked up a few useful tips, such as becoming proficient in one of the native languages and where food came from, not to mention the necessity of wearing clothing when out and about, I was introduced to a small, yet extremely powerful concept called “Science Fiction”.
In short order I became enraptured and the rest, as they say, is personal history.