Thursday, June 30, 2016


The admirable Saskia van de Kruisweg scanned this 1925 Adventure and made it available on the Internet Archive. There's actually a nice chunk of 1925 available online in different places, as you'll see later this summer. The indisputable highlights here are Georges Surdez's long novelette "The Figurehead" -- not a Foreign Legion piece but set in French colonial Africa -- and Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur's intense novelette of the Volsungs, "Vengeance." "Figurehead" is a typical Surdez conflict of strong personalities under the pressures of colonial rule, the sort of thing that always manages to come out fresh no matter how many times he rehashes similar themes, thanks to his gift for character. The French characters are nearly overshadowed by the plight of an elite African soldier, one of the few to get officer's training, who only finds that his native troops resent him and are always looking for a white officer to overrule him, even though the whites all trust in his superior character. As for "Vengeance," if you like Arthur D. Howden-Smith's Swain the Viking stories, you should like Brodeur's work as well. I also enjoyed all the chapters I've been able to read of Hugh Pendexter's western serial Pards. I was disappointed, however, to find Alan LeMay, future author of The Searchers, to be in attempted humor mode in his short story, "Terlegaphy and the Bronc," while I liked George Bruce Marquis' short story of a Native American detective, despite the pidgin dialect the hero speaks. The rest includes a boxing novelette by Charles Victor Fischer, stories by Eugene Cunningham, Erle D. Hosmer and Alex McLaren, and another animal story by F. St.Mars. Surdez and Brodeur alone will make this one worth your time, and you may like some of the other stuff, too.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016


Here's the next 1935 Argosy on my to-read pile. As you might guess from the condition of the cover, this is one I bought for completist purposes only, to have all of George F. Worts's Shark Bait and more of F. V. W. Mason's Lysander of Chios. In pursuit of Lysander I've ended up with all of Kevin Johnson's The Marines Having Landed. Johnson is something of a mystery, here making his Argosy and pulp-fiction debut, at least under that name. He would publish two more short stories in 1935 and that was it for his pulp career. Would Argosy run a serial by a complete newcomer and give him a cover? My doubts on that score lead me to suspect that "Johnson" was a pseudonym, though the Fiction Mags Index takes the name at face value. But let's see what else we have this week:

The June 29 issue concludes Hulbert Footner's Sink of Iniquity, the opening installments of which have been pretty good. Theodore Roscoe has the issue's only novelette, while Jack Allman does a polar tale and William Merriam Rouse continues his long-running series of stories set in Bildad Road, in the Adirondacks of New York. The back cover has the same ad as the June 22 issue, so I'll skip that. Instead, I present this issue's "Men Who Make the Argosy," biography, in which Theodore Roscoe submits to an interview from several of his favorite creations.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016


Money! I picked this 1930 Detective Story for today entirely because of the cool cover. This seems to be one of the periods when Street & Smith indulged in symbolic cover imagery. No attempt is made to link the image to any of the stories inside or the authors advertised. The star among them seems to have been Herman Landon, whose novelette stars one of the magazine's most popular series characters, Martin Dale, aka The Benevolent Picaroon, a good-hearted thief who stole purely for the thrill of putting something over on the police. The Picaroon starred at Detective Story from 1921 through 1932 and made at least encore appearance in Detective Fiction Weekly in 1935. This issue is also unusual in featuring two stories that are their respective authors' only known contributions to pulp. However, that may only indicate that Richard P. Collins and Charles Valette Slattery are pseudonyms or house names, possibly covering for authors already credited with stories in this number. For all we know, however, this issue marks the career peak of two authors who are otherwise lost to history. There's a mystery for you....

Monday, June 27, 2016


The star writer for this 1931 Argosy is Ray Cummings, who divided his talent between the fantastic and detective genres. Tama, Princess of Mercury, the serial premiering this issue, is a sequel to Tama of the Light Country, which had appeared in Argosy the previous year. In those simpler days Cummings imagined a barren but populated Mercury where the women, like Tama on this cover, have wings, though I understand the wings are clipped when a Mercurian (?) woman marries. In this serial some Earth folks who met Tama in the last story get involved in a war between the Light Country and the Cold Country. The concluding chapter is in the July 18 issue at It shows that Mercury, or at least the Light Country, is progressive enough to let their females take part in war.

The girls started again. Fantastic sight! They fluttered up, giant birds with vivid blue and crimson wings; flowing draperies; braided hair fastened to their sides; white limbs gracefully poised. Formed themselves into the eight squadrons, each with its leader; and followed by the flying platforms, winged swiftly off into the gathering twilight.

That should be a sufficient example of Cummings' prose style. If that doesn't thrill you, the June 27 number includes another novelette in Erle Stanley Gardner's Whispering Story series of western detective tales, as well as a chapter of George F. Worts' serial The Grapevine Murders, featuring defense attorney Gillian Hazeltine, the pulp precursor of Gardner's Perry Mason. There are also serials by Jack Allman and J. E. Grinsted, a novelette by J. Allan Dunn, and short stories by Charles L. Clifford and Phil Richards. It looks like a typical 1931 lineup, though better luck might give you an issue with Robert Carse, Theodore Roscoe, H. Bedford-Jones or my man Ralph R. Perry. Still, Cummings aside, this one doesn't look bad.

Sunday, June 26, 2016


This 1937 Argosy is part of the online collection. It has a strong lineup of writers, including two of the top Foreign Legion specialists, Georges Surdez and Robert Carse. Of course, they can't both do Legion stories in the same issue, can they? So Carse contents himself with another favorite subject, Haiti, while Surdez goes in a relatively comical direction, his hero encountering the archetypal madman who thinks he's Napoleon Bonaparte. There's a French accent to Donald Barr Chidsey's novelette, "A Strange Place to Be," as well. There's also one of C.F. Kearns' stories about Handsled Burke and Two Horse Sven, and they're usually pretty good, while Dale Clark's satires about Hollywood talent agent J. Edwin Bell have never really impressed me. The strong serial contingent consists of George (Frederick Faust) Challis, Johnston McCulley and Eustace L. Adams. On a side note, an Argonotes correspondent this week recalls reading Otis Adelbert Kline's Jan of the Jungle serial from 1931 and describes it as "the best story I ever read." I happen to be reading Jan right now, and all I can say is that I dread to sample anything else she'd read. The stuff in this Argosy is mostly much better.

Saturday, June 25, 2016


Here's a Short Stories from the pulp's most ambitious period, those months in 1932 when the twice-weekly magazine expanded from 176 to 224 pages in what I take to be a conscious effort to outdo the 192 page Adventure. The two pulps shared a lot of talent, including this issue's cover novelist, Albert Richard Wetjen, and the ever-popular W. C. Tuttle. This issue's other "complete" novelist is Eugene P. Lyle Jr., an author best known for his science fiction and a prophetic novel, written at the end of World War I, predicting a second world war for 1938 -- not that bad for accuracy. Whether this issue's "The Killers" was sci-fi (or "fantastic") or not I can't say. Hugh B. Cave contributes this number's fourth long story, the novelette "The Reformation of Private Blake." Joel Townsley Rogers concludes his serial Enter Captain Death while six other authors contribute short stories, including firefighting specialist Karl Detzer. Thirty-eight pages of Wetjen is an attraction unto itself for me, and while Tuttle is hit-or-miss for me I've come to like Cave and Detzer and I'd be willing to give the other contributors a try. All of these monster 1932 Short Stories issues look like treasures to me.

Friday, June 24, 2016


Most pulp readers probably wanted their magazine covers to tell a story -- specifically, one of the stories inside the magazine. For all that I admire the more symbolic Street & Smith pulp covers from 1939, I have to imagine that a lot of readers hated them, or at least didn't get them -- especially on a more youth-oriented pulp like Wild West Weekly. For instance: here's someone with his foot caught in a trap, courtesy of cover artist Robert E. Lee. Is this a scene from William A. Todd's complete novel? Could that be the ever-popular Sonny Tabor's ankle in that trap? Paul S. Powers had been chronicling his exploits for almost a decade by this point. Most likely a Street & Smith art director just thought it an eye-catching, abstractly dramatic image, and by my standard it's just that. But there has to be a reason why the publisher gave up on this style of cover before 1939 was over, though in the long view you notice that Street & Smith went through cycles of cover design. Anyway, this issue has a couple of series characters I haven't noticed or mentioned before. Blackstone Bangs was a heroic lawyer created by Allan R. Bosworth using the Dean McKinley house name, while Stephen Payne's Pole Pickett was making his second of eight appearances in a short career of five months.There's also a poem, a Pecos Wilson comic strip, and Fiddlin' Joe's Song Corral. They say you can't judge a book -- and by extension a magazine -- by its cover. That was probably more true for 1939 Street & Smith western pulps than usual.

Thursday, June 23, 2016


Harold Livingston's Climacticon barely qualifies as science fiction. Set in the present of its writing, it's really a satire of that moment. It's a moment the 21st century knows through the Mad Men TV show, and like that series Climacticon is focused on the world of advertising. The ad businesses fascinated and horrified people during the 1950s, a decade in which advertising became unprecedentedly intrusive thanks to TV. Critics decried the raucous banality of oldschool hard-sell sloganeering advertising, but also saw a distressing resemblance to the propaganda industries of totalitarian powers. Others found it all so stupid that it was just funny. Livingston falls in that category.He's fascinated by the raw hucksterism of it, as practiced by colorfully grotesque corporate huskers who make Donald Trump look presidential by comparison. The ad agency where our hero works is run by a southerner and a former college football star; that gives Livingston an excuse to write the character's dialogue in drawling dialect and stuff it with gridiron metaphors. The industrialist whose account the agency covets -- its main product is a laxative -- talks in staccato telegraphic outbursts consciously modeled on the supposed efficiency of newspaper headlines. One problem a modern reader will have with Climacticon is Livingston's assumption that these odd ways of speaking are inherently funny. These characters are outsized clowns to exaggerate the contrast with our hero and narrator, a typical neurotic corporate striver who bumbles his way into a coveted five-window office thanks to his almost random encounter with an equally archetypal "milquetoast" scientist whose invention is the dread Climacticon, the wonder device that by the time of the novel's opening retrospective chapter has been banned by the United States government.

What is the Climacticon? Nothing quite as climactic as its name suggests. Let its inventor, Richard Richards, explain:

The Climacticon is a simple device. It detects and measures emotion.It is capable of measuring the very peak of an emotion, its climactic moment. Hence the name, Climacticon....It receives impulses. Vibrations. Like a Geiger counter. This, on the extreme left, this is the 'emometer.' Merely by consulting this meter, and by proper correlation, I can determine what type emotional vibrations are being transmitted....The second instrument measures the intensity of an emotion. For example, I could determine whether two women in an argument were likely to become dangerously violent....The third instrument is a quite elementary homing mechanism.The 'homer,' as I call it, is an almost exact facsimile of an aircraft radio compass. It simply homes in on the signals -- the vibrations -- and indicates their geographic direction.

Thanks to an authorial gimme, the Climacticon can only detect female emotions. Richards had been hoping to detect love, but that has proven too subtle for his invention's sensors. It's better at detecting "urgent desire." Practically speaking, it allows a man to determine who in a room full of women is horny, ready and willing. It has the potential to be a time and labor saving device for single men and straying marrieds. Our hero borrows it to test its potential, lets a colleague from the laxative company borrow it, and is fired when the colleague is laid up the following morning. The hero's superiors are understandably doubtful when he explains how the man exhausted himself, but after the bosses take the Climacticon out for an evening they not only rehire our hero but leap into the Climacticon business, albeit at a moment when Richard Richards is still expecting our hero to return his prototype.The hero persuades Richards by hooking him up with a onetime girlfriend and the factories start to hum.

At some point The Climacticon becomes less of an ad-agency satire or mild sex comedy and more of an outdated political satire. An inevitable female backlash against the Climacticon -- its slogan is "Does She or Doesn't She?" -- gets the attention of the congressional Immoral Activities Committee and its boisterous chairman, Sen. Jim Maginty. Yes, with Joe McCarthy three years in his grave, and his movement dead before that, Livingston proceeds to regale us with not so much a satire of McCarthyism than a parody of McCarthy and his ambiguous minions, Roy Cohn and G. David Schine. You know, "I have in my hand" this, "Point of order" that. Perhaps, you don't know, since all this happened a long time ago, but it probably seemed like a long time ago within very few years, and I can't help thinking that people would have found Livingston's mockery of McCarthy akin to beating a literally dead horse, if they didn't find it still too sore of a subject to be funny. The second option is unlikely, for we were thicker-skinned people in those ancient days. The end result of it all is that the Climacticon is banned and our hero is fired again. His last-ditch attempt to redeem himself involves burning the Climacticon factory for the insurance money, but there are just a couple more abrupt twists in his trail to that five-window office. Suffice it to say that his triumph is based on the ruin of innocent people -- not that he cares, this being a satire and he being a soulless organization man with a contraband Climacticon in his closet. There were many like him in popular fiction of the time, and you might catch a faint resemblance between him and the desperate status-seeking corporate strivers in some of Philip K. Dick's early novels.  While Dick made his novels timeless by projecting them into the future, Livingston's Climacticon is trapped in its own time and is worth reading only as an artifact of that era, for those who might find its datedness more entertaining now than its satire was then.


You get Adventure's biggest one-two punch in this 1926 issue as Harold Lamb adopts the memoir of Babur, the founder of the Mughal empire. Lamb, presumably following the convention of his day, calls the emperor Babar, but since that name came to be identified with an elephant the alternate spelling for the Mughal has become more popular. The other punch lands when Talbot Mundy continues Ramsden, his latest Jimgrim serial. Perhaps more auspiciously, after finishing a five-part serial in the previous issue, Arthur D. Howden-Smith embarks on a more sporadically published series tracing the history of the fated sword "Grey Maiden." I don't know if Grey Maiden is the first of the fated objects around which a pulp writer wound a series of stories -- readers of my series on Argosy circa 1939 at Mondo 70 may recall Philip Ketchum's series about they mystic axe Bretwalda -- but it most likely set the standard all the others aspired to. This issue also offers stories by William P. Barron, F. R. Buckley, Bruce Johns, Michael J. Phillips, the artist known as Captain Raabe, and animal story specialist (?) F. St. Mars, while Leonard H. Nason contributes a short nonfiction piece. It isn't as much of an all-star issue as the next one, which we may see early next month, but it could hardly be stronger on top.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


Back to my 1935 Argosy collection, here's the start of the one complete Singapore Sammy serial by George F. Worts in my collection. Shark Bait is only a three-parter so it's not that impressive an achievement but I'm pretty proud just the same and I look forward to reading the whole thing over the summer It looks like Sammy hasn't been doing so hot since dealing with The Monster of the Lagoon earlier in the year -- he definitely doesn't look as cool and badass as he did on his last cover back in February -- but he has one more serial in him after this so I wouldn't worry too much. This issue is strong on the serial front, also including part two of F. V. W. Mason's Lysander of Chios and the penultimate installment of Hulbert Footner's Sink of Iniquity.

June 22 also has a solid lineup of standalone stories, led by novelettes from Tom Curry and George Bruce. The latter, an aviation specialist who contributes an autobiographical sketch on the "Men Who Make the Argosy" page, had recently been so popular with pulp fans that he had had magazines named after him. The short stuff may be the weakest this issue. Anthony M. Rud contributes an animal story, while Ted Copp is a relatively unknown quantity for me. His looks like an attempt at humor, however, so I'll be on my guard. I prefer to emphasize the positive, since this starts a run of four consecutive issues encompassing two complete three-parters, the second of which I'll introduce a week from now. This number was brought to you by:

For all the emphasis on action stories, this ad reminds us that Argosy was aiming at a female audience as well, as the Argonotes letters pages often remind us. This week, for instance, while praising Monster of the Lagoon, Frances Gunther of Yamhill OR tells readers that "I could love Sammy. He isn't really bad." She's also glad that Worts "did not forget the girl, which made the story more interesting for us female readers." You wouldn't take Singapore Sammy for girly stuff, but there it is.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


There's not much I can say about the contents of this 1941 Western Story -- Harry F. Olmsted and W. Ryerson Johnson are the main contributors, but I really like how H. W. Scott's cattle, his horse and especially its out-of-control rider all seem determined to burst all boundaries -- those of the conservative cover format as well as that fence -- and range more freely like they might have back in 1939, when the covers were all theirs.

Monday, June 20, 2016


Again the twentieth of the month takes us to Adventure in its peak thrice-monthly years between the fall of 1921 and the spring of 1926. Which of the four June 20 issues from 1922-25 would I want to own? I'd choose this 1924 issue, first because of its Swain the Viking story by Arthur D. Howden-Smith; second for a story by Albert Richard Wetjen, one of my favorite sea writers; third for a story by Leonard H. Nason, expert at World War I stories and, as we'll see later this summer, period adventures. William Byron Mower is also a decent writer, while Bill Adams of "Slants on Life" fame gets a short story and a poem this time. I know less about the rest of the fiction lineup: serial author John I. Cochrane and short story contributors Chester T. Crowell, Negley Farson and Howard E. Morgan, but Howden-Smith, Nason and Wetjen are enough to sell me on this issue.

Sunday, June 19, 2016


Here's as bland an Argosy cover as you'll ever see, but the contents inside look pretty promising. They include a double dose of Frederick Faust, represented by Max Brand's short story "Just Irish" and the latest installment of George Challis's serial The Smoking Land. Eustace L. Adams' perhaps Argosy's ace serial writer in this period, starts The Big Wind Blows, while Johnston McCulley continues one of his "Zorro-land" adventures, Senor Vulture, and  L. G. Blochman concludes Red Snow at Darjeeling. The standalone stuff includes novelettes by Theodore Roscoe and Richard Sale and a short story by Cornell Woolrich. That lineup deserves better than what V. E. Pyles delivered up front.

Saturday, June 18, 2016


For comparison's sake, here's the difference art direction can make. This is Wild West Weekly from a year, less a day, before our June 17 cover. By this point the cover format hadn't really changed much since 1929, and it shows its age. The actual art isn't bad but the white background leeches some of the life from it. The story advertised is one of Wild West's frequent crossovers of popular characters. The punchers of the Circle J ranch, led by Billy West, were the magazine's signature characters, written by numerous authors under the Cleve Endicott house name. William A. Todd's (aka Norman W. Hay) Risky McKee was a more recent creation, first appearing in 1935. Series characters predominate in this number, though Ralph Yergen and Chuck Martin contribute standalone short stories. I think the more abstract 1939 covers are more interesting, but I could understand if more literal-minded pulp fans at the time felt differently.

Thursday, June 16, 2016


Another dynamic 1939 Street & Smith cover: again it's H. W. Scott, the publisher's most prolific artist, on western covers at least. I wonder whether an editor fed ideas to Scott or if he and his fellow artists came up with these often-striking compositions on their own.  Inside the contents are the same as they were when the cover art was less ambitious. The lead novelette is by Ed Earl Repp, a writer who transitioned from science fiction to westerns in the early Thirties and kept at into the twilight of pulp in the mid-Fifties. William F. Bragg, apparently a lifetime westerner, continues a six-part serial, while favorite characters like T. W. Ford's Silver Kid and J. Allan Dunn's Bud Jones make their expected reappearances. I can't judge any of the contents but the packaging is nice.


The June 16, 1934 issue was the first Argosy I bought for myself. It was a matter of opportunity more than anything else; here was an Argosy at an affordable price from the period I had come to like from reading the issues at It isn't really one of my favorite issues. Theodore Roscoe's lead novelette "Lady of Hades" is okay. If I recall right -- I don't have the magazine in front of me right at the moment -- we have a jewel thief trying to convince a boatload of rival thieves that he doesn't have the prize they've all been seeking, and a romance involving the boat captain's ill-treated daughter. I was glad to see Sinclair Gluck's name on the cover when I bought it because I'd liked his later Dan Brice stories, but "Secrecy," a tale of Middle Eastern intrigue, proved a disappointment. It just seemed dull to me. W. C. Tuttle's short story "Romances and Racehorses" is pure comedy and I found it purely hateful. As for the serials, Eustace L. Adams closes out The Terror with an atypical thud, F. V. W. Mason's The Barbarian is pretty good to the limited extent that I've read it, and part two of Frank Richardson Pierce's Picture Rock is at least promising, though as the only installment of five that I've read it can be no more than that. Later I would know which issues I actually wanted and I would know where to go to have an actual choice of what to buy.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


This 1935 Argosy is available for story-by-story download at By this time F. V. W. Mason had been a star writer for the weekly for several years. His serials and occasional long novelettes were almost guaranteed to get the cover.  His "powerful novel of the time of Alexander the Great" is Lysander of Chios, later published in paperback as plain old Lysander. There's an almost mock-epic quality to this opening installment. Chios is a Greek island that has been ravaged and impoverished by generations of Persian attacks. Lysander, the young king, intends to send an expedition against Persia, consisting only of himself and the crew of his one humble warship. He's aided by the one-eyed Theban mercenary Conon and -- quite against Lysander's will -- by the runaway tomboy princess of Naxos, Kyria. The fight between Conon and Kyria, the two loose cannons, is one of this first episode's highlights. In grand pulp fashion Kyria is a legit warrior woman, if not quite Conon's equal in strength and combat cunning than at least a pretty devastating archer from what we see here. This little band will have plenty of room to maneuver, since the Great King will find himself preoccupied by Alexander's large-scale invasion. Mason gives his heroes more colloquial dialogue than you might expect in this sort of story, presumably befitting their small-time status. It freshens up the material, and the potential conflicts (and romance) among the characters makes you want to continue the story. It worked for me, since I now have the next four installments in my personal collection. You can go back to for the conclusion.

The long story this issue is J. Allan Dunn's "Goblin Trail." It's the sort of story people think of when they think of "pulp" in the pre-Tarantino sense of the word: fantastic to an increasingly delirious degree. You get the sense that Dunn is making it up as he goes along, piling up the crazy details.  A Mountie and his faithful Eskimo constable on a Grand Patrol encounter a degenerate Indian tribe performing barbaric rituals to exorcise devils. The Indians tell them of an "Evil One" lurking in the region "back of beyond." Our heroes begin to suspect that the Evil One is real when they find an old trader murdered. He is real, and like the villain he is he kidnaps the white girl of the story in order to make her his queen. Dunn diagnoses the case:

His dementia had doubtless been inherent, now arrived at the phase of 'ambitious' paranoia. a supreme and fixed belief in a noble destiny, a determination to acquire it that swept aside all obstacles. As with the subjects of most forms of paranoia, he was inclined to crimes of violence and extreme cruelty. his mind was diseased and could not be ministered to.

The hunt for the Evil One would be story enough, but you can understand if pulp writers start doubting whether they've put enough story into a story. And so, like King Kong fighting dinosaurs on Skull Island, the Evil One has to defend his captive from a lost colony of Vikings, and their lost colony is on the brink of destruction by eruption and earthquake. It all sounds nutty but there's something almost irresistible about the naive enthusiasm with which Dunn keeps adding to his tale. It makes up a little for the now-glaring racism of Dunn's treatment of the Indians. The heroic Eskimo fares much better, although Dunn, getting carried away, has a hard time keeping track of the way Ooingoot talks. He starts out talking typical pulp pidgin, but grows so much more articulate later that Dunn realizes he has to explain the discrepancy by noting that "on occasion" his English improves due to mission-school training. But for all Ooingoot's virtues, he and his kind are doomed to a social-darwinist destiny. "Soon they will be finished -- what you call washed up," he laments, and the Mountie can only agree, since "He felt that the advent of the white race inevitably meant the passing of the native. The two could not blend. Traces might linger. It was the survival of the fittest." Fittingly, Ooingoot sacrifices himself in the final showdown with the Evil One and the Vikings, though you can't help feeling he deserved better. As long as you know to expect this sort of thing going in, you'll find "Goblin Trail" appealingly goofy in its straight-faced, sometimes overwrought manner.

That leaves us with Ared White's novelette "The Courier from Spa," the sort of spy story in which he apparently specialized. White also specialized in this kind of writing: "Elton's quick aim had the element of calculating deliberation that a trained marksman, in contained possession of his faculties, measures into the veriest instant." That explains how he shot a guy. Despite White, this is a pretty strong issue when you add in the conclusion of Borden Chase's Heading Boss and  the continuation of Hulbert Footner's Sink of Iniquity. Hapsburg Liebe's "The Secret Room" has its heroes fend off a lynching bee; as usual in such stories the intended victim is white. And in Arthur Hawthorne Carhart's "Beginner's Luck" the heroes apparently fend off an avalanche. I'm not sure how Dunn forgot to put one of those in his story.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


Luke Short, nee Frederick D. Glidden, was probably the most popular western writer between the heydays of Max Brand and Louis L'Amour. I remember seeing his name on retail book racks all the time when I was just a kid, which would be around the time of his death and some years afterward, but you won't find him in your typical bookstore's small western section today, even though his successor L'Amour and his predecessors Brand and Zane Grey will still be there. I'm not sure why that is, except that at a crucial time he failed to be prolific enough to be marketed as relentlessly as a brand name as L'Amour would be.Silver Rock was a change of pace for Short: a modern story but still generically a western. You have two familiar western tropes combined here: the hero who arrives in a town having known one of its lost sons in a war, though perhaps not so well as he claims, and one of the hoariest of archetypes, the deadline to fulfill a contract or pay back a loan while hindered by sabotage. Tully Gibbs comes to the mining town of Azurite after serving in the Korean War, preceded by letters from his crewmate recommending his character and his mining knowhow to the now-dead hero's old man. The big secret of the story is that Tully wrote those letters himself, having heard from the dying crewmate, who was really friends with no one, about the potential for rich mining on the family claim. His scheme to open the silver mine puts him at odds with the town's leading miner, Ben Hodes, an archetypal bully. Goading Hodes into a fight, Gibbs gets him to wager a $10,000 loan on the outcome and kicks his ass. He makes Ben's life miserable in other ways, making moves on Ben's girl while encouraging Ben's spinster sister to get out from under brother's overprotective thumb. Naturally, with help from a member of the county commission, Hodes will try to stop Tully from generating enough revenue from the mine to pay back the loan in time. It was a commonplace in genre fiction that in entrepreneurial competition at least one of the competitors was a bully who cheated. I wonder if that struck anyone as subversive in those Cold War years....

The interesting thing about Silver Rock is Short's effort to balance a commitment to modern realism with an obligation to provide generic action. He's done enough research, or had enough experience, to write a plausible portrait of small-time politics in a mining town. Most significantly, he strives to tone down the melodrama. Were this a conventional western, it might end with some last minute race to get the ore down the blocked road to meet the deadline on the loan -- or it might end as the Republic Pictures movie version Hell's Outpost (1954) does, with Ben Hodes trying to blow up the one road from the mine. In the novel itself, however, Hodes is defeated through bureaucratic detective work that exposes illegal collusion between him and the commissioner, making the sabotage (which climaxes in a sniper attack on Gibbs' mining camp, with machinery rather than men the main targets) moot. Short apparently realized that this might seem anticlimactic to his fans, so he stages a final fistfight between the victorious Gibbs and the vindictive Hodes. Even then, it's enough for Hodes to be beaten down yet again, while Hell's Outpost closes with Hodes killed by his own explosion. So Silver Rock is at once cliched in its fundamental situations and yet not cliched in the way the story plays out. I was impressed by Short's grappling with cliche, and even if he didn't truly pin it down there's a freshness to his approach that made reading the novel worthwhile. Like all his peers, Short knew how to take care of business. Silver Rock comes in at 151 pages in my beat-up 1970 paperback edition but you don't feel shorted (no pun intended) on detail and character, at least by genre-fiction standards. I miss that entertaining efficiency in today's fiction.

By 1970 Short's day was nearly done. Bantam still billed him as the best-selling western writer, but note the superlative epithet they give L'Amour in the back-page ad. Time would tell who was faster; who was better is another story.


For novelty's sake, here's a very old Argosy from before the red-band era. In 1919 Argosy delivered 176 pages a week, filled in this case with names mostly unknown to me. My own Argosy collection begins about a generation later, and I only recognize two of this issue's contributors as writers who continued to appear in the venerable weekly in the early-mid 1930s: cover author Charles Alden Seltzer and William Merriam Rouse, who might be described as a Northeastern specialist. One other author worth noting is George P. Putnam, the scion of a publishing family who is best known to history as Mr. Amelia Earhart. Further testimony to the greater presence of women writers in this era of pulp are the contributions of Katharine Eggleston and Ethel Dorrance, the latter co-authoring a serial with her husband. I'm tempted to think of all of this as pre-modern pulp, from before the hard-boiled style caught on, but those who've read Argosy from this period are best qualified to judge how modern or quaint the writing is.

Monday, June 13, 2016


I wish there was a better image of this 1931 Detective Story cover online, especially because I don't really have anything to say about the contents of the issue. The cover is a thing of beauty, unmarred by any sort of promo copy. There are no story titles, no authors' names. The newspaper copy may refer to a story inside, but you couldn't guess which unless you read the issue. The profile shadow is obviously suggestive of The Shadow, the still-new hero pulp spun off from the Detective Story radio program, yet is not so obviously the longer-nosed profile to be an advertisement, however subtle. I can only presume that some brave cover editor so enjoyed this piece of art that it was allowed to stand on its own on the assumption that it could attract readers on aesthetic grounds alone. I wonder what the sales figures were.

Sunday, June 12, 2016


Here is a bogeyman of 1937: a spectre of the Black Legion. Immortalized by a 1937 Warner Bros. film, the Black Legion was a northern, urban version of the Ku Klux Klan, the great-grandfathers of the sort of people presumed today to be attracted to Donald Trump. In other words, working-class xenophobes whose fears were stoked by a still-precarious economy in which immigrants and black migrants from the south were unwelcome competitors, irredeemably foreign from the standpoint of white Protestantism. The movement gained notoriety in 1936 when one group kidnapped and murdered a Works Progress Administration official, supposedly for beating his wife but also, and perhaps more importantly, for having an interdenominational marriage. I'm not familiar with Edward S. Williams but I'd definitely be interested to see his pulp-fiction take on the Black Legion in this Detective Fiction Weekly. The nearly-omnipresent Richard Sale is on hand with a Daffy Dill story, while Edgar Franklin (Stearns) contributes one of the nineteen Johnny Doland stories he wrote for DFW in little more than two years. T. T. Flynn continues his serial Murder Caravan while we get a short story from Thomas W. Duncan and a novelette from K. Krausse. According to the Fiction Mags Index, and in apparent confirmation of my suspicions whenever a pulp author has an initial instead of a first name, the K. is short for Kaye. That cover really sells the issue without any actual promise of action. It promises that more than normally, this issue is a distinctive product of its time.

Saturday, June 11, 2016


The cover says it all, but doesn't tell the whole story. H. C. "Sapper" McNiele's Bulldog Drummond presumably was so popular by 1938 that all Detective Fiction Weekly needed to do was put his name on the cover. Not even a story title was necessary. It's supposed to be the man himself on the cover but he looks more like Ronald Colman than either John Howard, who then was playing Drummond in a series of B pictures, or the charismatically ugly man Sapper described. Not even the author's name was necessary, by the way, but there's a reason for that. McNiele died in August 1937, and this is the first Bulldog Drummond story credited to another author. Bulldog Drummond on Dartmoor still has a connection to Sapper, however. It's a novelization of a play Gerald Fairlie had begun collaborating with Sapper on before the creator's death from cancer. Fairlie completed it with Sapper's permission and went on to write more Drummond novels, though this serial marked the character's last appearance in DFW. The only other series character this issue is Charles Alexander's Sergeant McChesney, who appeared only eight times in a roughly five-year period from 1934-39. DFW stalwarts Richard Sale and Cleve F Adams are on hand this week, as are Carl Clausen and B. B. Fowler, but it's clear enough that this is Bulldog Drummond's show and a sort of homage to Drummond's creator.

Friday, June 10, 2016


This 1933 issue Short Stories has an impressive lineup of pulp stars and 20th century pop culture icons. Hopalong Cassidy's greatest fame was yet to come in the early days of television, but Clarence E. Mulford had been writing his hero's adventures since 1905. Short Stories had been Hoppy's home, more or less, since 1926. This issue's story, "The Herd Keeps On," dates from about two years before William Boyd assumed on film, in somewhat bowdlerized form, the role that would make his fortune more than a decade later. Meanwhile, Leslie Charteris's "The Gold Standard" is one of the first American appearances of Simon Templar, aka The Saint, "the Robin Hood of Modern Crime." It's reprinted, or course, from a British magazine, but the character would soon grow popular in the U.S. that Charteris, having moved here himself, would soon give American publishers first dibs on Saint stories. Neither Donald Barr Chidsey nor Theodore Roscoe created characters as legendary or popular as the two abovementioned. They had to be content with being prolific masters of pulp, represented here by Chidsey's cover story, "The Masterson Rap," and Roscoe's "Pirate's Price." These four novelettes or short novels are enough for any pulp, but in addition Short Stories' 176 pages include the third installment of Captain Dingle's The Ship Killers and short stories by Doane R. Hoag, George Rosenberg (better known as George Armin Shaftel) and Bertrand W. Sinclair. Hoag would move to Hollywood after a relatively brief pulp career. He worked mainly in short subjects and later wrote several episodes of the Lone Ranger TV series. He also collaborated on the cult monster movie The Hideous Sun Demon. Hoag died in 2008, two months short of his 100th birthday. I can't judge his work but there are enough reliable names in this issue to make it worth having some day.

Thursday, June 9, 2016


I can't quite tell whether the man in the hat is rescuing or threatening the poor man in the transparent case. It looks like the switch could go either way and the expression John A. Coughlin gives the gentleman in the chapeau isn't exactly reassuring. This is a 1934 Detective Fiction Weekly cover that seems to show the "shudder pulp" influence, however the stories inside read. If the man in the hat is the hero, then he is Show-Me McGee, a character Frederick C. Davis created in 1933. "Stone Dead" is the seventh of eight McGee stories Davis would publish in less than a year. Another story along "weird menace" lines is Anthony M. Rud's serial The Strange Scent of Murder, featuring Jigger Masters. The other series characters this issue are Milo Ray Phelps' Fluffy McGoff and  Edward Parrish Ware's Tug Norton, who first appeared in DFW back in 1926, when it was still known as Flynn's. You can read more about Norton, a cowboy turned Kansas City private eye, in Monte Herridge's article at the MysteryFile website. The other fiction contributors this issue are future screenwriter James Edward Grant and Charles "Colonel" Givens, a Detroit newspaperman who merited a New York Times obituary. Pulp veteran Tom Roan contributes a nonfiction piece. It's maybe not the most stellar DFW lineup imaginable, but that cover does get you interested in what's going on inside.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016


There's a copy of the June 8, 1935 Argosy in my personal collection but while that copy is in pretty nice shape overall the front cover is marred by a dealer's stamp, so I've taken an existing cover image off the net. John A. Coughlin's cover -- he did all the covers for Frederick "George Challis" Faust's Firebrand series -- illustrates a specific fight scene from "The Cat and the Perfume," the first of four long novelettes that wrapped up the series over the next twelve weeks. Tizzo, our redheaded hero, is about to bury his trusty fighting axe in a sweet spot in his armored enemy's helmet, after the antagonist has put himself off balance swinging wildly at our agile protagonist. This little fight to the death (almost) is staged by Cesare Borgia to test Tizzo's mettle. To bring newcomers up to speed, Tizzo, who had appeared in three short serials since the end of November 1934, is a half-Italian, half-English swashbuckler who has wrought havoc in parts of Italy and thus come to Borgia's attention. Cesare is too badass to be just plain "Borgia," however; he's "the Borgia," like a Renaissance Batman. As I've hinted, Tizzo passes the Borgia's test and is sweet-talked into joining Cesare's mission of uniting Italy. His English father is less easily taken in; the mercenary Baron Melrose can tell that Cesare's mission is less about Italy and more about the Borgia. Fearful that the old man will poison Tizzo's mind against him, Cesare takes a chance on poisoning Melrose while Tizzo is out carousing with the troops. He and his assassin Alessandro Bonfadini fail to reckon upon Melrose's stamina and smarts and before long Melrose, Tizzo and Tizzo's beautiful, brawling beloved Beatrice are battling their way out of the Borgia trap. Faust clearly loved Italy; he lived and worked there for some time and eventually died there as a war correspondent. His enthusiasm shows in Challis's Firebrand stories, which were later reprinted in book form and are still circulating electronically somewhere out there.

"The Cat and the Perfume" is all I've read of this issue so far, but let's see what else it's got:

I can vouch for the two of the serials, all the earlier chapters of which can be found in the trove, which is fairly well stocked with 1935 Argosy. Both Hulbert Footner's Sink of Iniquity and Borden Chase's Heading Boss are set in Latin America, a popular playground of the pulp imagination in those days. I haven't read any of Theodore Roscoe's War Declared! yet but he's pretty trustworthy in this period. In shorter form, we get a polo story by Howard R. Marsh -- again, polo doesn't seem like the stuff of pulp until you factor in the ambitious dreams of its readers, polo being the sport of the virile rich -- as well as an animal story by Anthony M. Rud and a novelette by William Merriam Rouse whose setting falls somewhat close to home for me, but not too close. The following week's issue, which continues the Footner serial, concludes the Chase and begins F. V. W. Mason's Lysander of Chios, is at The four following issues are in my collection. For now, the June 8 issue is sponsored by:

Tuesday, June 7, 2016


As Ralph Milne Farley, the sometime Massachusetts politician Roger Sherman Hoar was one of Argosy's star writers of the 1920s and early 1930s. Farley wrote fantastics, usually with a "radio" gimmick embedded in the title. Some of these formed a series following the exploits of the "Radio Man," Myles Cabot, who somehow transmitted himself by radio to the planet Venus, where the sentient beings communicate via "radio," transmitting thought waves through antennae at frequencies Cabot can reproduce with his technical know-how. Adventures in the Edgar Rice Burroughs mode ensue. The Radio Menace, debuting in this 1930 issue, was the latest of Cabot's stories. It appears to involve a queen or princess, a giant ant (presumably of the once-dominant species of Venus), a dragon and a swami putting the moves on a crystal-ball gazer. I've never read Farley's stuff so I can't judge what I'm seeing. However you feel about Farley, this issue has a formidable lineup, including Talbot Mundy, who sent a fair amount of stuff Argosy's way from 1928 through 1930 while keeping up his usual Adventure schedule, as well as Erle Stanley Gardner, Theodore Roscoe, former Adventure editor Anthony M. Rud (writing of the "Cajans," as they called Cajuns then), Kenneth Perkins (with the serial Voodoo'd), western writer Eugene Cunningham, Carl Clausen, and Hume Seymour in his only Argosy appearance. Overall it's probably worth a look.

Monday, June 6, 2016


Here's a slightly suggestive cover by John A. Coughlin to a typical 1931 issue of Street & Smith's Detective Story. As often seemed to be the case, most of the authors published only or mostly in Street & Smith magazines. The cover story is credited to a husband-wife team (one of several in the mystery genre), The Cunninghams. After publishing four stories in Detective Story over the previous two years, their name apparently had become a selling point. They published five more stories over the next two years, never again receiving cover billing, before divorcing in 1934. William M. Cunningham was a leftist writer out of Oklahoma who wrote an early fictional treatment of the career of Pretty Boy Floyd and ended up a Washington D.C. correspondent for TASS, the Soviet news agency, while continuing to place stories in mainstream slicks like Collier's and Cosmopolitan. Another contributor of interest is C. Wiles Hallock, who was primarily a pulp poet. He made a good start landing verses in The Saturday Evening Post but published most of his work in western pulps. He published both prose and poetry in Detective Story, making me wonder what a detective poem looks like. He made his prose debut in February 1931 and landed a short story in Detective Story about once a month through the spring before his pace slackened. He remained a poet first throughout his pulp career, which extended all the way to the July 1952 issue of Adventure and some digest issues of Zane Grey's Western Magazine. It's remarkable to think that there was still a place for poetry in the pulps at that late date.

Sunday, June 5, 2016


Emmett Watson's cover for this 1937 Argosy was a milestone event. That's not because of anything it portrays, including H. Bedford-Jones' lead novelette.  Since October 1920 Argosy was most easily identified by the red band on the top part of the cover that contained the logo, authors' names and the occasional slogan (e.g. "Action Stories of Every Variety"). With this issue the red band was gone, giving cover artists more space to work with. Watson seems to have been aware of the change and has designed his cover accordingly. The insides stayed the same in terms of layout and page count. During the desperate days of late 1941 the red band reappeared as if to reassure alienated readers, but it didn't stick around for long as the Munsey corporation continued to flail about in search of a saving idea. When Popular Publications took over in 1943 they once again restored the red band until carrying out a more lasting and successful revamp toward the end of that year. This issue has a pretty impressive lineup, including Bedford-Jones, Theodore Roscoe, Frank Richardson Pierce, Lester "Kenneth Roberson" Dent and L. G. Blochman. It gets more impressive once you recognize George Challis -- here doing a fantastic as opposed to his usual historical stuff -- as Frederick "Max Brand" Faust and if you assume that Martin McCall is really E. Hoffman Price.  The one unfamiliar name is Jean Francis Webb, whose "The Dragon's Shadow" was his Argosy debut after several years in the business, mostly in Street & Smith pulps. He wouldn't appear again until April 1944, after the Popular Publications makeover.

Saturday, June 4, 2016


Well, this does look like the sort of situation a Cornell Woolrich hero would get into. In fact, didn't I see something like this at the end of the Woolrich-inspired Rear Window? Granted, the window wasn't so high and you saw the action from the opposite angle, but you get the general idea. The  Munsey pulps -- Detective Fiction Weekly, Argosy, Double Detective and the short-lived All-American Fiction -- were Woolrich's most dependable market in 1938. Out of 24 Woolrich stories listed for that year in the Fiction Mags Index, 18 appeared in Munsey publications. He's the one author of this particular issue still widely remembered today, though pulp fans know Judson P. Philips fairly well. This issue's series character is Charles Alexander's Indian John Seattle, who had been appearing in DFW intermittently since 1933, and would appear at least three more times over the next year. Sheriff Seattle was not a real Indian, I learn, but a white man who grew up learning stuff from the Nez Perce that came in handy for country crime fighting. Also along for the ride are Arden X. Pangborn, whom I know for his Wong Soo stories in Argosy, and three writers I know not at all: Anthony Armstrong, Herbert Koehl and Julius Long. The Woolrich probably makes this issue worthwhile, and the others might be a bonus.

Friday, June 3, 2016


Ralph R. Perry's tattooed pearler has a way of wandering into trouble. This time he has to watch helplessly from a distance as a yacht burns at sea without releasing any life boats. Once his own ship gets close enough for him to scan for victims or survivors, Bellow Bill sees a headless corpse on deck and presumes that a tribe thought tame has gone savage and turned pirate again because "Natives, not white men, take heads. Not even white murderers do that." He's proven wrong when he finds a survivor floating in the water, just as he's proven wrong after initially assuming she was dead. She'd tried to stab herself to spare herself the fate worse than death, but "you need strength to drive a knife home." She insists that the lead pirate, at least, was a white man, as she can tell from the shape of the man's head. Now that she's planted the idea in his head, Bill thinks he knows who did it, a trader named John Mageen, and comes up with a plan to trap him. Is Bellow Bill right this time? Perry makes Bill fallible enough that moments of doubt are possible. It also helps that Perry is really good at crafting antagonists for Bellow Bill. They're not necessarily charismatic characters who get the best lines, but they're usually tough, tenacious and clever. Perry makes nearly as big a deal about Bill's strength as Robert E. Howard does with his heroes, but Perry's special virtue as a pulp writer is the way he makes things relentlessly difficult for Bellow Bill. There's an extra degree of difficulty in "The Scar" because Bill ultimately has to outsmart an adversary who doesn't crack under pressure and doesn't betray himself in any obvious way. That doesn't mean there's no fighting; in fact, Bill soaks up several bullets during a climactic breakout from a death trap. But for all that his enemies often call him a tattooed ape, "The Scar" showcases Bellow Bill Williams as a thinking animal, if not a psychological warrior against evil. It ends a little too neatly, with the villain brazenly confessing his whole scheme to a British officer, but it's good, pulpy fun while it lasts. You can download it from the link below:


In 1939 Detective Fiction Weekly didn't have the stark elegance of the best Street & Smith covers, but the Munsey pulp had consistently creative cover designs just the same. I like the close-up foregrounding of the corpse and the floating pill bottle in the June 3 issue. The serial the cover illustrates is by Frederick C. Davis, who may be best known as the creator of the Moon Man, one of the more ludicrous looking pulp heroes, but I've read some decent adventure stories by him in Argosy circa 1941 so I suspect Davis will be on good behavior here in another Munsey mag. The only series character in this issue actually makes his debut. William Brandon's Ulysses S. Barr would appear in at least six issues of DFW between now and the end of September 1940, though most of them have the name "Maggie" in the title. Whether Maggie is a woman, a pet, or something else entirely I don't know. Dale Clark, Steve Fisher, William Edward Hayes and Lawrence Treat round out the line-up for this issue. It's not a classic DFW ensemble but at least the issue looks nice.

Thursday, June 2, 2016


Here's another Argosy from my own collection. This 1934 issue begins a three-part serial by Eustace L. Adams, one of my favorite pulp writers. The Terror is a change of pace for Adams, a specialist in hard-boiled aviation stories. It finds him in apocalyptic mode, as if he were trying out for The Spider. The title menace is what we'd call today a terrorist rather than a terror. He commits mass murder with chemical weapons, including an attack on New York City, as part of a global extortion racket. In a detail that would have made Lon Chaney Sr. drool, the Terror isn't just missing an arm, as shown in Robert A. Graef's cover, but is also legless, requiring a giant minion to carry him around on his seaplane. I don't think Adams was really comfortable with the scale of the story, nor do things improve as the action gets confined to the seaplane with our heores and hostages. But for readers who identify pulp with the fantastic The Terror might serve as an introduction to Adams, if not an inducement to try his more rugged, realistic work.

For me, of course, the main attraction of this issue was "The Scar," a Bellow Bill Williams novelette by Ralph R. Perry, which I'll discuss at greater length later this week. The other serials, F.V.W. Mason's The Barbarian and Evan (Max Brand) Evans's Montana Rides Again, are pretty good. The longest story in this number is Walt Coburn's Fenced Off, a typical range-war novelette noteworthy for including a heroic Chinese cook, though he'll be marred for modern readers by the inevitable dialect dialogue. Houston Day's "Murder in the Rif" is an amusing Foreign Legion story and a riff on the old pulp trope in which the white hero exploits native superstition to discover a murderer by inventing a magical test to expose the guilty party. Day appears to have been Sam Houston Day, a newspaperman and the brother of Dorothy Day, the famous Catholic social activist who has been proposed for sainthood. Houston Day's pulp career seems linked to his 1928 arrival in New York to join the staff of the Journal-American, where he became managing editor in 1941. Presumably he had grown busy enough already by the end of 1936 that his pulp career came to an end. A number of Who's Who type volumes from later in S.H. Day's career, as well as William D. Miller's biography of Dorothy Day, note that he once published fiction under the shorter version of his name. Finally, there is John H. Thompson, author of the comic Bill and Jim series about two "drifters," as this issues table of contents describes them. "Winner Take All" is a three-pager, a short-short by Argosy standards, in which one of the heroes tries to rescue their valuables, most notably a case of "Indian oil," from a burning rooming house, while the other makes good outside. It's short enough not to wear out its welcome. I'll reserve final judgment on this issue for my post on "The Scar," so stay tuned!

The June 2, 1934 Argosy is sponsored by:

Wednesday, June 1, 2016


Top-Notch was one of several twice-monthly general-fiction pulps published by Street & Smith, along with The Popular and Complete Stories. It's probably best know today for publishing some of Robert E. Howard's stories about the 20th century adventurer El Borak. Back in 1930, this issue saw a change in Top-Notch's cover format, introducing a more vivid color palette and an almost Art Deco design concept. The same issue also launched a strange story gimmick: the "theme-song story." Basically, the entertainment industry had recently discovered that talking, singing pictures with theme songs led to big sales for records and sheet music. Street & Smith's idea was to commission theme songs for the lead stories in each issue of Top-Notch, and I presume each issue also included sheet music for these songs. The gimmick lasted until at least November of that year. As for the prose writers for this issue, I recognized only one: the legendary Burt L. Standish, aka William George Patten, whose legendary creation, once a household name, was Frank Merriwell, the archetypal American student-athlete. Patten/Standish created Merriwell back in 1896, and eventually Street & Smith published the adventures of a second-generation Merriwell. The serial concluding in this issue, Flaming Hate, was a change of pace, in that previous stories usually had Merriwell's name in the title. It may have been meant as a last-chance game-changer, but it seems not to have worked. The next Merriwell serial, The Red Arrow (July-August 1930) is Merriwell's last appearance in pulp, according to the Fiction Mags Index, though the character would continue in comic strips, a movie serial, and radio shows. Top-Notch went monthly in late 1932 and expired in the fall of 1937.