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.
Yes, the desperate search for the table leaf that you chucked into the garage this time last year is over, the turkey that began so hopefully as a young bird just pecking its way out of its shell to greet the gentle breeze and cerulean blue sky is now a masticated mass working its way through your digestive system on its way to an ignominious end (yours!), and every available inch of table and counter space in your kitchen has disappeared under an avalanche of greasy plates and silverware.
My, that was fun, wasn’t it? And you know what that means, don’t you? — it’s almost Christmas!
In addition to the common cultural practices of the season (like sticking an actual tree in your living room, for goodness’ sake), every family has their own peculiar holiday rites and rituals. As I detailed for breathless Black Gate readers many years ago, one of mine is reading a classic ghost story aloud on Christmas Eve, a practice I heartily commend to anyone willing to give it a try. However, if that’s a bit too nineteenth century for you (the effect is largely lost if you’re reading off of an iPhone), I have another, more modern-feeling tradition that might interest you. The only thing is, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. Around here we call it… Cruel Yule.
To Hell With It
Countless families look forward to the Christmas season because it provides an occasion for watching their favorite holiday movies, timeless films like Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, and A Christmas Story. Heartwarming, uplifting, classic treats for all ages they truly are… and I say, the hell with ’em.
Once upon a time, there was a person, and that person had inside of them a hundred-thousand worlds, filled with people and events; tales of incredible joy and woe. This person, who contained universes beyond count, had a desperate desire to share them with the world. But they hesitated. What if they weren’t any good? What if they shared these stories that they loved so dear, only to have the world sneer at them, turn their noses, proclaim them to be the worst stories ever told? So, in an effort to prevent that, they travelled the world, making a study of stories and how they’re told so that they might be able to learn the craft, learn how to emulate these stories that people told and loved, and make their own just as good. The stories didn’t have to be the best, but they had to be good.
The apprentice story-teller did not find the answers they sought. Only confusion. Each story-teller they encountered cited different things that made a story good.
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.
So, it’s time for another What I’mWatching. Today we’ve got some TV, some movies, and some streaming shows – including what used to be called a teleplay. Awaaaaay we go:
BROOKLYN NINE NINE
This show ran for eight seasons (2013 – 2021), covering 153 episodes. I didn’t watch it when it aired, but I’m on the final season, now. This is a VERY fun comedy cop show. Stephanie Beatriz just co-starred in Twisted Metal. I like her mix of toughness and humor in both shows.
This reminds me of Animal Control (which I like), though it’s not as dumb. From the few episodes I saw of Park and Rec, I think this appeals to the same crowd. Good cast, funny stories, without dumbing things down too much. This has been my go-to evening watch, and I’ll be disappointed when it’s over. But a fun show.
THE CAINE MUTINY COURT MARTIAL
I wrote this post on Humphrey Bogart’s The Caine Mutiny, which is based on Herman Wouk’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Marlon Brando (On the Waterfront) beat out Bogie for the Oscar that year. Quite simply, Bogart’s Captain Queeg is brilliant: Arguably his best performance.
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.
I have received your stories, but I have had time to read only one or two of them. I don’t want to comment on them in extended fashion until I’ve read all, but I do think them competent. However, there is one alteration I think you should definitely make; Mr. Wandrei would insist on it, and that is to remove your stories from the Lovecraft milieu. I mean, keep the Gods, the Books, etc., but establish your own place. This would give the stories vastly more authenticity as an addition to the Mythos rather than pastiche pieces, and it might then be possible for us to consider their book publication in a limited edition over here.
What I suggest you do is establish a setting in a coastal area of England and create your own British milieu. This would not appreciably change your stories, but it would give them a much needed new setting and would not, in the reader’s mind, invite a direct comparison with Lovecraft, for in such a comparison they would not show up as well as if you had your own setting and place-names for the tales.
August Derleth to Ramsey Campbell, 6 October, 1961
Inspired by HP Lovecraft’s stories to write his own tales of cosmic horror, at the age of fifteen, Ramsey Campbell was encouraged by friends to submit them to August Derleth and Arkham House. He did, and the rest was horror fiction history. Taking Derleth’s advice to heart, he created his own version of Lovecraft Country; a drear and haunted region of the Severn Valley wedged between the cities of Bristol and Gloucester and the western edge of the Cotswolds.
The Arkham House collection, originally titled The Inhabitant of the Lake and Less Welcome Tenants was released in 1964 when Campbell was eighteen. They may not be the best Lovecraft-inspired stories, and they’re definitely not Campbell’s best stories, but they are good fun and well worth a read.
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.
As I’m prepping for the release of the serial I’ve written as a freebie to my readers (each chapter will be uploaded on Fridays on my blog once it’s ready to go), I’m struck for the first time in a long time how long a process publishing is. You see, I’ve been away from the scene for a long while now. The pandemic really did a number on me. In less than two years, I lost my job (ah yes, the great furlough), had to move, found a new job, and had to move again. That’s a lot of change in a very short amount of time, and it took me quite a while to adjust and settle.
In that time, I wrote very little. This was not for lack of trying. I wanted to write, but there was nothing coming. I know I’m finally settling in because I was finally able to write again. In the last two years, I managed to finish two manuscripts (the most recent one being the afore-mentioned serial). Both of these manuscripts will have, I hope, a very different publishing journey.
A couple weeks ago, I reposted James Reasoner’s excellent ‘Discovering Robert E. Howard’ essay on REH and trail towns in his Westerns. Another Pulp-centric post from that series was from my New Pulp (and Solar Pons) buddy, Frank Schildiner. He wrote about one of my favorite REH characters, Solomon Kane.
There are a lot of Kane fans here at Black Gate. And for a couple years now, I’ve been trying to follow up ‘Discovering Robert E Howard,’ and ‘Hither Came Conan,’ with a multi-contributor series on Kane.
That Del Rey Solomon Kane volume pictured, is an absolutely terrific book, and it’s a shame more of the Kanes weren’t published during his lifetime. Take it away, Frank!
Solomon Kane. I can still remember when I first read the name. I was 11 and looking through books and comics at a flea market, my mother one row over looking through the Robin Cook section. I pulled a slim paperback from the pile, the cover showing a cold eyed Puritan staring at me with open condemnation (at least that’s how I interpreted the visual). But then I read the name… SOLOMON KANE. And there wasn’t a prayer on Earth of getting me to let go of this book that day.
And that first short story, “Red Shadows,” changed me forever. I became a fan for all things Robert E. Howard, but especially Solomon Kane. Caught by the enemy he’d chased from Europe into Africa, Kane looked up at this man he’d hounded relentlessly for years, and the following thought summed up why this hero became my favorite.