Wednesday, November 30, 2016


Richard H. Rodger's nice balloon cover gives this 1924 Adventure a sort of cover banner that contrasts nicely with the sky below. Inside, this issue features two of Adventure's longest-lived characters. W. C. Tuttle's Hashknife Hartley started in Adventure back in 1920 and mostly stayed there for 15 years. He continued in other pulps, especially Short Stories, until 1951. F. R. Buckley's Luigi Caradosso actually makes his debut this issue in "Cartel to Wm. Shakespeare," and would stay loyal to Adventure to the bitter end of the pulp era. The Renaissance adventurer would take his last bow in March 1953, just before Adventure changed into a larger-format men's-adventure magazine. Talbot Mundy wraps a serial and Hugh Pendexter starts one this issue, while mainstays Charles Victor Fisher, Charles Tenney Jackson, William Byron Mowery and F. St.Mars, among others, contribute short pieces. This isn't my ideal issue of Adventure -- that would have some combination of Harold Lamb, Georges Surdez, Leonard H. Nason, J. D. Newsom, etc. -- but it's probably pretty good in its own right.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016


Paul Stahr's cover painting for this 1930 Argosy looks to me more like something you'd see on the cover of a slick than on a pulp magazine, but it's a nice piece of work heralding the latest Gillian Hazeltine serial by George F. Worts. This issue virtually belongs to Worts, who also wraps up a Peter the Brazen two-parter under his Loring Brent alias. Posterity values more highly A. Merritt's continuing serial The Snake Mother, while it hardly remembers the names of the other authors appearing this week. They are Oscar J. Friend, who continues a western serial, Harold Montanye (any relation to C.S.?) with a novelette, and short story writers Elliot Balestier, Howard Ellis Davis and Jack Falcon. Balestier is an old-timer who first published in Argosy back in 1905, while this issue is Falcon's first and only appearance in the venerable weekly, at least under that name.

Monday, November 28, 2016


Emmett Watson's cover promises piratical action inside this 1936 Argosy, but today's collectors will want the issue for its stories by Robert E. Howard and L. Ron Hubbard. Howard's western "Vulture's Sanctuary" was the last of a posthumous run of stories in the venerable weekly. Hubbard's "The Ethnologist" at least has an interesting title. Along with these two and cover author H. Bedford-Jone, this issue boasts novelettes by T. T. Flynn and L. G. Blochman, a short story by William Merriam Rouse, and serials by William E. Barrett and George Bruce. Not a bad lineup overall.

Sunday, November 27, 2016


At least some contemporary pulp fans knew that the man who wrote Doc Savage under the name Kenneth Robeson was actually Lester Dent. He'd gotten his start in pulp a few years before the Man of Bronze made his debut, but Dent didn't get many opportunities to use his own byline once Doc was underway. He did manage to publish a novelette in the prestigious Black Mask in October 1936, and from December 1936 through December 1937 he placed three serials in Argosy. Genius Jones is the last of these, and the bit of it I've read is pretty bad. The title character grew up in isolation from the civilized world but was surrounded by books. Naturally he's become a human encyclopedia who doesn't always get the real meaning of words once he's brought to the modern world. I don't care much for Dent as a writer, though some of Doc Savage is hilarious when read aloud. The leaden comedy of Genius Jones does not change my impression of the author. Fortunately, this issue also offers a No-Shirt McGee novelette by Frank Richardson Pierce in which the sourdough sage recalls a youthful adventure in Siberia, as well as a novelette by H. Bedford-Jones, and serial chapters by Borden Chase and Allan Vaughan Elston, along with short stories by Edwin H. Hoover and Paul R. Morrison. This is another Argosy issue from the pulp trove, so check it out by following this link.

Saturday, November 26, 2016


Street & Smith promises "Six Star Performers" in this 1934 issue of Complete Stories, but I don't know if modern pulp fans would grant anyone on the cover other than H. Bedford-Jones that honor. The author given top billing, William Bruner, rarely worked outside Street & Smith. He gets what probably passed for a book-length novel (it's 43 pages) while Bedford-Jones only contributes a short story. The authors not mentioned on the cover, C. S. Montanye and Carmony Gove, are probably at least as well know to pulp buffs as Bruner, James Clarke, Bob du Soe, Victor Maxwell or Robert McBlair. But they must have had their moments, or else why would Street & Smith think their names meant anything to anyone, and more than any story inside this issue? It just goes to show that pulp fame was ephemeral for many writers, and posterity often judged differently.

Friday, November 25, 2016


This 1930 number is one of the relatively few issues of Short Stories included in the pulp trove. The cover's nothing special as far as I'm concerned, and I don't recall having read Robert E. Pinkerton's "complete novel" of approximately 40 pages. Getting past that, however, there's a pretty strong lineup of authors here in an exotic variety of settings, and I was entertained by the stories of Robert Carse (Foreign Legion), Hugh B. Cave (Borneo), Karl W. Detzer (firefighting), Ernest Haycox (western),  Ralph R. Perry (Aleutians) and Sidney Herschel Small (savages in Formosa). You can sample it all at your leisure by following this link.

Thursday, November 24, 2016


This 1934 Argosy introduces Tizzo the Firebrand, the red-haired axe-wielding Italo-British swashbuckler who took the pulp weekly by storm over the next year. George Challis was one of the many aliases employed by Frederick Faust (the best known being Max Brand). This one came to be identified with period swashbucklers, if not primarily with Tizzo. In 1935 the Firebrand appeared in two three-part serials and four novelettes from February to August. With each new story Tizzo got the cover -- an unprecedented push over so short a period. I actually wonder whether Faust switched from serials to novelettes just so he could get more covers for his character. Anyway, they're great stories or Renaissance intrigue and mayhem, and his debut had to become part of my personal pulp collection.

As for the rest, I like what I've read so far of Ralph Milne Farley's The Immortals, and Max Brand's Scourge of the Rio Grande, which wraps up this week, is an interesting tale of smuggling illegal Chinese immigrants across the U.S.-Mexico border, with a somewhat sympathetic Chinese villain who's raised a white girl, a friend's daughter, as his own child. H. Bedford-Jones contributes a novelette in which a family melodrama plays out amid violence on the "Isle of Destiny," while J. Allen Dunn's "Samuel Slate Collects" gives us some nigh-omnipotent avenger punishing a ruthless businessman. Eustace L. Adams' "Dog Daze" is a short story in his comic series about a drunken demonstration pilot, while Hapsburg Liebe's "Hoss-Trade" deals approvingly with a hillbilly con artist. It was pretty entertaining overall, and it was sponsored by

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


Apparently someone is going around murdering men in silver masks. Or maybe people are being killed with silver masks. The title of Erle Stanley Gardner's 1935 novelette suggests one or the other, and the cover definitely does not convey that the Man in the Silver Mask is committing the murders. Well, I'm sure someone 81 years later knows what really happened. This issue is heavy on series characters, by the way, including Donald Barr Chidsey's team of McGarvey and Morton, Charles Anderson's Indian John Seattle and H. H. Matteson's Ho-Ho Stevens. There's also a novelette by George Harmon Coxe, the continuation of gun moll Norma Millen's memoir, short stories by Maxwell Hawkins and J. Lane Linklater and the penultimate installment of Donald (Fred MacIsaac) Ross's The Eye of Isis, plus the usual columns. Looks like a pretty good issue overall.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


Pulp publishers often worried that their magazine covers would turn off potential readers embarrassed by their alleged bad taste. You could argue that this 1930 Argosy cover is pretty tasteless in its lurid portrayal of vaguely Asiatic menaces, but even if you did away with the imagery, as Argosy would do a decade later, you'd still be left with "The Hand of Ung." I can imagine someone being embarrassed to read something with that title, not because of any suspected meanings but simply because it sounds stupid. In any event, it's the start of a two-part adventure featuring Loring "George F. Worts" Brent's Peter the Brazen, so named for his complexion if not his attitude and so also called by some pulp's first "man of bronze," long predating the now more famous Doc Savage -- though "man of brass" may be more accurate in Peter's case. I can't find a table of contents for this issue anywhere, but I can report that it continues A. Merritt's fantasy serial The Snake Mother and Oscar J. Friend's western serial The Maverick, and concludes Don McGrew's pirate serial The Devil's Doubloons. And as the cover tells us, Lt. John Hopper has a story inside, perhaps having to do with his specialty of military sports. There's obviously more to the issue, but what else exactly is inside someone else must tell.

Monday, November 21, 2016


You probably won't see more of a "cut to the chase" pulp cover than this 1931 Western Story. Never mind that Max Brand starts a new serial inside (Tramp Magic)and continues one under his alias of Peter Henry Morland. Never mind that Frank Richardson Pierce is inside, along with George Cory Franklin, Ray Humphries and Lloyd Eric Reeve. No, the important thing is someone's going to get hit! A pulp cover probably never was more truthful, either.


Rakehell is one of those once-common terms that has vanished from the genre lexicon. Even its abbreviated form, "rake," is little heard these days. If I'm right about this, it's probably because the rake has become less the exception than the norm in historical fiction, making a special label unnecessary. Sixty years ago a rakehell was understood to be a scandalous character, if still a hero, because he was a troublemaker by nature and, above all, a libertine, "reckless in battle ... a rascal in love," as this second paperback edition from 1958 describes Edgar Jean Bracco's protagonist. Whether that accurately describes Barron Carlisle is another matter entirely.

This spot illustration on the 1958 back cover was taken from the 1955 front cover.

Bracco (1920-2008) published at least once in the pulps (in Fifteen Western Tales) but spent more time in the slicks. He worked at McGraw-Hill as an editor and market researcher and in later life became a prolific feature writer for the wire services. He also wrote a number of movie and TV adaptations, according to his obituary. As far as I know Chattels of Eldorado is an original product of his imagination, even if it's a compendium of cliches for the most part.

We're first introduced to a lonely schoolteacher in 18th century Salem, David Stewart, whose chance choice of a tavern to dine in introduces him to Barron Carlisle, who steps in to held the game but outmatched David when flirting with the wrong serving wench gets him into a fight with the stock burly bully. When it develops that a British sailor has been killed in the ensuing brawl, Barron convinces David to flee with him to the Caribbean isle of Eldorado, where he has unfinished business with the trader Willem Van der Groot. Barron Carlisle is an avenger, having been framed for sedition and jailed for ten cruel years. We learn much later in the story that Van der Groot's men murdered Barron's father, and that Barron was framed to stop him from investigating the crime further. The one good thing that came of Barron's imprisonment was his friendship with Java Bentley, a physical hulk and an all-purpose fixer who secures emergency passage for Carlisle and Stewart, and himself as well. Java exists mainly to answer all the "how are we going to live?" questions that might otherwise slow the story down -- not that the story ever exactly gallops.

It becomes apparent eventually that Bracco doesn't have much of a plot in his head. Instead, Chattels plods along in episodic fashion over 217 pages. Barron and David land jobs in Van der Groot's commercial establishment and bide their time. Barron has no plan to sabotage or ruin Van der Groot; he seems only to be waiting for the right moment to kill his old enemy, and in the meantime Van der Groot's chief minion, the only man in Eldorado who knows the true identity of "John Barron," sends goons to kill the hero a few times, all in vain. He won't simply tell Van der Groot that Barron is his enemy because he assumes that the only way he'll get proper credit is by delivering a corpse to his master. Between assassination attempts, Barron befriends the oppressed slaves of the island and makes love to three women: Van der Groot's slutty niece Dominique, a kindly doctor's daughter, and the "voodoo queen" Africaine, who rewards our hero with sex for sparing her a whipping.

Bracco loses whatever interest he had in the revenge plot and has his heroes reveal their true heroic nature through their opposition to slavery. Barron befriends Senegal, an injured slave and makes him his personal servant. There are peculiar descriptions of Senegal's mighty musculature as he heals, just as there's a peculiar emphasis on male loneliness -- even Van der Groot suffers from it -- throughout the story. Thanks to his kind ways, Barron comes to be known as the Good White Man, while David, in a fit of sympathy, purchases Fernandina, a waifish, mute slave girl -- her tongue was torn out by a former mistress -- and makes a home with her as a sort of common-law wife. Where'd he get the money? Java, of course. Despite this subplot, David often recedes into the background of the story, even though the first chapter had set him up as our point-of-view character if not our protagonist. Most likely Bracco couldn't think of enough to do with him. Anyway, Barron's reputation as the Good White Man earns him a reprieve from Senegal, who emerges as the leader of a slave uprising. Barron has had a moral awakening on Eldorado and endorses the idea, except that he wants as few white casualties as possible. He comes up with a plan to have the slaves board a fleet of ships for Africa, and browbeats Senegal into sticking to it. " I promised you freedom," he tells the black man, "The only way you'll get it is by following my orders." Senegal's men conveniently kill Van der Groot just as Barron was doubting his purpose after revealing himself and boasting of his revenge. They also kill Dominique, but one of the killers shows a much-lacerated back to prove that the girl had it coming. One who definitely didn't have it coming was Fernandina, but she gets murdered anyway, first because one of the rebels resents her having slept with a white man, and second because in 1955 Bracco wasn't going to let an interracial couple live happily ever after. In fact, there isn't really any happy ending for anybody. Barron has enabled the doctor and his daughter to escape the uprising, but our hero finally renounces her in order to be a full-time anti-slavery fighter.

Throughout, Bracco struggles to be transgressive and probably succeeded for some of his original readers. My summary has underrepresented the amount of flogging that goes on, and I nearly forgot to mention a highly sexualized voodoo ritual involving Senegal and Africaine that Barron spies on. These episodes help keep us reading when we might tire of our rakehell hero proposing alternative inventory methods to the Van der Groot bureaucracy. They don't keep Chattels from being a bad novel, and may make it worse for some, but what we can say for it is that it's bad in interesting ways -- apart from Bracco's lapses in plotting and pacing -- that tell us more about the culture in which it was published and sold than about the 18th century Indies.

Sunday, November 20, 2016


Rudolph Belarski cuts loose with a wild, comic-book like cover with a Washington D.C. backdrop for this 1937 Detective Fiction Weekly introducing John K. Butler's novelette "Death Rides the Wires." Death is pretty busy this issue, not only riding the wires but, as Denslow M. Dade reports, stalking at night. Also along for the ride are Bulldog Drummond, in one of his creator "Sapper's" last stories, Steve Fisher's Tony Key and Edgar Franklin's Johnny Dolan, while Robert E. Larkin and Roger Torry contribute standalone stories and Donald "Fred MacIsaac" Ross continues his serial Hot Gold. Death had skipped the last issue and would take the next three off before getting back to work in the December 18 issue.

Saturday, November 19, 2016


This was Argosy's annual football cover for 1938. Judson P. Philips invented the tradition in 1934 and wrote the annual serial through 1940, except for 1936 when George Bruce did it. Apparently Philips discovered a market or else this wouldn't have become a tradition. For those unimpressed by sports fiction this issue offers H. Bedford-Jones' "Cleopatra's Amulet," a serial installment by Eustace L. Adams, a novelette by Robert E. Pinkerton, short stories by Paul R. Morrison, Jack Paterson and Richard Sale, and part of Argosy's reprint of A. Merritt's The Ship of Ishtar from 1924. This reprint marked the start of a distressing trend that continued with a reprint of John Buchan's The 39 Steps at the end of the year.

Friday, November 18, 2016


Another brilliant 1939 H. W. Scott for Western Story, and just about the last before Street & Smith marred the covers with a big banner at the end of the year. This issue is bookended by the opening of a Luke Short serial and the conclusion of one by Frank Richardson Pierce. In between are a novelette by Harry Sinclair Drago and short stories by B. Bristow Green, E. C. Lincoln and Tom Roan. The continuing or concluding stories are probably the best things in the book this week. You can probably find Short's in book form; good luck with the Pierce.

Thursday, November 17, 2016


Ralph Milne Farley made his name at Argosy for a series of science-fiction serials known as the "Radio Man" series, each story being The Radio This or The Radio That. The Immortals is more of a sci fi-horror story about sinister means of prolonging life. Farley's manuscript for this serial reportedly was stolen but later returned to him. Interestingly, Farley's other main venue in this period was True Gang Life. The other highlights of this 1934 issue are a Mme. Storey novelette by Hulbert Footner, a deep sea diving tale by Gordon MacCreagh, and the conclusions of serials by F. V. W. Mason and Max Brand.I may have more to say about The Immortals on the next two Thursdays, but I'll definitely have something to say about the November 24 and December 1 issues. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


The Park Avenue Hunt Club are supposed to be high-class vigilantes, so what do they have to do with that worried pug eyeing a gunman? I guess you'd have to get this 1935 Detective Fiction Weekly to find out, or pick up a reprint volume of Judson P. Philips' stories. The next obvious question is: who was Norma Millen, and what was Her Story? The answer is that Millen had just served two months in prison as an accessory to murder. Her husband Murton was a bank robber whose gang killed two policemen in Needham MA, one at the bank and one during the getaway, back in 1934. Murton Millen, his brother and another cohort got the chair, while Norma -- whose role in the crime remains unclear to the present day -- lived to tell what presumably reads as a cautionary tale. Her story started last week -- and she got the cover -- but she shares the spotlight this week with Richard Sale's Daffy Dill, stories by H. W. Guernsey, John H. Knox, Herbert E. Smith and Edward Parrish Ware, as well as Fred MacIsaac in his guise of Donald Ross. Millen will continue to recede from prominence in subsequent weeks. Next week her name will appear prominently in red on the cover, though not in the privileged banner position. The following week her name shows up as just another author. By the fifth and final installment of the memoir her name won't appear at all. Such is fame.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


A beautiful Emmett Watson cover promises some good reading in this 1927 Adventure. The highlights for me probably would be the full-length piece from Harold Lamb, "The Road to Kandahar," and Leonard H. Nason's war story "Down in a Dugout." Regrettably, Georges Surdez only has a nonfiction piece, but "Renegade" is probably entertaining while it lasts. Hugh Pendexter starts another serial and Alan LeMay contributes "The Bells of San Juan," hopefully not a humor piece. Royce Brier, Hapsburg Liebe, L. Paul, Carroll K. Michener, Raymond S. Spears, Joel Townsley Rogers and James Stevens round out the lineup. The Lamb story is available in reprint form but this whole issue is probably worth having.

Monday, November 14, 2016


To be a twentieth century pirate all you needed was the open sea and a gun. Charles W. Tyler's Blue Jean Billy usually did have a boat -- you can tell because after her first couple of appearances, when she apparently went under the alias "Raggedy Ann," she got the cover every time she appeared in Detective Story, this 1931 issue being her last bow. Apart from being female -- and that probably isn't as atypical as I just made it look -- Billy is your typical pulp antihero, though her story may resonate more today because of the way police brutality looms large in it. From what I've read in reference works, Billy's father steered her to a life of crime in response to police brutality. Later, insensitive policing cost her a husband. Pulp fans would accept any excuse, of course, because that "crime does not pay" line didn't seem to play so well in those days for some reason.

Sunday, November 13, 2016


We think of pulp fiction as escapism, as fantasy, and yet for a while Borden Chase made a career in pulp as a chronicler of working-class life. Of course, the "sandhog" arguably was no ordinary working man, his work being possibly more arduous and dangerous than anyone else's, but the life of a sandhog could be no one's escapist fantasy. Chase's one-man sandhog genre, capped by the serial debuting in this 1937 Argosy, is an ironic analogue to the trend toward social realism in mainstream popular fiction -- ironic in the sense that social realism was largely a leftist phenomenon, while Chase would prove a rabid right-winger in Hollywood, where he wrote about cowboys, not sandhogs.

While the FictionMags Index doesn't have a table of contents for it, this issue has been scanned and uploaded to Yahoo's pulpscans newsgroup. It's a pretty prestigious lineup with L. Ron Hubbard and Cornell Woolrich in it, though the Woolrich is a comic trifle. The Hubbard is a fun tale of a Devil's Island escapee taking revenge on his crooked tormentor. There's also a western short by Frank Richardson Pierce, a Mase McKay tale by Charles T. Jackson -- with stereotype black dialect, but the hillbillies talk dialect, too -- and serial installments by Judson P. Philips (football) and Allan Vaughan Elston (shipboard mystery with a Polynesian detective). As usual, a decent selection of genres from when Argosy was still going strong.


Flip your Ace Double Novel edition of Ralph R. Perry's Nightrider Deputy and you get a story very different in tone. It was my first encounter with Norman A. Fox, a well-regarded western writer who had several stories turned into movies, the best-known of those probably being the James Stewart-Audie Murphy team-up Night Passage (1957). Fox wrote The Devil's Saddle in 1947; it first saw print as a "book-length novel" (plausibly so, at more than 70 pages) in the January 1948 issue of Fiction House's Lariat magazine. It's one (if not the first) in a series Fox wrote, including at least two more stories, about the drifter adventurers Rowdy Dow and Stumpy Grampis. They're a pair out of the movies -- the B movies, that is. Rowdy Dow is admittedly a little more sardonic and smartassed than the typical B western hero, but Stumpy Grampis is your standard old-coot sidekick, though thankfully more in the Al St. John than the Gabby Hayes mode. As you notice no one getting killed during their action-packed exploits, you begin to think of Devil's Saddle as a rather juvenile story, but Fox's talent for writing action comes through just the same.

Relief from cabin fever comes for Rowdy and Stumpy in the form of a letter calling them to the town of Dryfooting inviting them -- Rowdy, to be specific, though Stumpy's inevitably going to come along -- to help a wealthy old rancher, Caleb Hackett, find a long lost treasure, Griffen's Gold. On the way to Dryfooting they witness a peculiar stagecoach holdup; the hooded bandits seem interested only in an old saddle, and are willing to risk lead from a girl gun-prodigy to get it. Our heroes are too far away to help with their guns, though they see a man in a checkered shirt come to the victims' aid, but they're in position to get in the way of the lead gunman's getaway. In a nice set piece, Fox disrupts our expectations of the old rope-across-the-road trick, but despite that failure Rowdy manages to get the saddle from the robber. He tries to get the girl's attention with it but has to duck lead when she mistakes him for one of the robbery gang. Figuring that the stage is on the way to Dryfooting, Rowdy figures that the smart play is to continue there himself and arrange for a safe return of the property to its owner.

We learn that the coveted "kak" is The Devil's Saddle, a prop in the magic act of the sharpshooter girl's grandfather. We learn later that a Devil's Saddle is referred to in a poem left to the rancher by Tennyson Tolbert, the poetic prospector who found Griffen's Gold with the rancher's tightfisted backing. Tolbert's doggerel promises clues to where the dead poet left the gold, but Hackett's foreman, Jake Kelhorn, found the letter and wants the saddle and the treasure for himself and his gang. Of course, the entertainers, Nathaniel Faust and Nan Bolton, don't know to make distinctions between Hackett and his men, while their checked-shirt ally, the Rimrock Kid, is wrongly regarded as a rustler by Hackett. Rowdy and Stumpy have to overcome the distrust of the good guys while fending off the bad guys and figuring out the real meaning of Tolbert's poem.

I admit a bias against comedy westerns, but were we dealing with Rowdy Dow alone Devil's Saddle would be a perfectly tolerable tale. The problem is that Fox lets Stumpy take over whole chapters of the story, first with a major subplot embroiling him in a romance with Dryfooting's battleaxe of a female sheriff, Catastrophe Kate, then later with a side trip to retrieve the journal of Griffen himself from a Montana museum, and finally -- and worst of all -- with a slapstick contrivance to bring a posse to rescue his besieged partner (and friends) by perpetrating mayhem throughout Dryfooting in order to stir up a mob. It would be one thing if we could see this happen as carried out by someone with Al St. John's slapstick talent. In prose it simply sounds childish, like having a comic book read aloud to you. Through all of it, I should emphasize again, it's clear that Fox is a good writer -- good enough that this sort of silliness seems like a waste of talent. I'm now eager to read one of his more adult westerns, and it so happens that I have one of those in my paperback collection. Look for my review of it here sometime in 2017.

Saturday, November 12, 2016


Johnston McCulley's Zorro is one of those pulp characters who still has a toehold on public consciousness thanks to such recent phenomena as Isabel Allende's novel, the two Antonio Banderas pictures and a number of graphic novels including one co-written by Quentin Tarantino teaming the old fox with Django. Given Zorro's endurance, it may be surprising to see a 1932 Argosy with a Zorro novelette that doesn't put that most famous character on its cover. Yet enduring popularity doesn't necessarily mean consistent popularity, and at this particular moment W. Wirt's soldier of fortune Jimmie Cordie, the hero of many a violent Asian adventure, presumably was the more popular character, at least with Argosy readers. This is sort of an all-star issue, also sporting the first episode of a two-parter by Theodore Roscoe and continuing A. Merritt's Burn, Witch, Burn. There are also short stories by William E. Barrett and Richard Howells Watkins, the conclusion of a three-part serial by William McMorrow, the continuation of another by "Captain" Dingle, a non-fiction piece by Lowell Thomas and a Stookie Allen "Men of Daring" profile of Bat Masterson. Regardless of who gets the cover it looks like a pretty good package overall.

Friday, November 11, 2016


Emmett Watson makes a valiant effort to make the most of a copy-heavy 1939 Detective Fiction Weekly cover with that red curtain effect, but it still leaves you guessing what exactly the man with the gun is meant to illustrate. Is he the "sinister genius at war with humanity" in Carroll John Daly's new serial? If so, is he Mr. Sinister or did Daly not mean his title to be the villain's actual name? One way or the other, Daly liked the sound of the name -- or some pulp editors did -- and it would be used again as the title of one of his Satan Hall stories in 1944, generations before the name became identified with an X-Men comics villain. Meanwhile, William Brandon's Maggie and Ulysses apparently have made enough of an impression on readers since their debut in June to warrant a mention on that crowded cover. Hugh B. Cave, Norbert Davis and Walter Ripperger are worthy of mention, too, but Wyatt S. Blassingame and Bert Collier are not. They're shunted off with the nonfiction writers, columnists and cartoonist Stookie Allen in this issues "many others."

Thursday, November 10, 2016


In September 1932 Street & Smith's Detective Story went from weekly to twice-a-month. It had the same cover-date schedule as Short Stories, the 10th and 25th of each month, for the next three years. I thought it would be neat to show you all three November 10 covers that appeared before Detective Story went monthly in the fall of 1935, but the only version of the 1932 cover I could find online is damaged, and in any event it still resembled the cover format for the weekly, while in 1933 and 1934 we see significant changes. Here's November 10, 1933.

And here's November 10, 1934.

I can't say whether this amount of experimentation over a short time represents pure creativity or some kind of desperation as sales apparently declined. As it happens, the 1934 sample is the debut of a new cover format. The cursive copy on the side was used frequently though not consistently until the switch to monthly publication inspired yet another change in cover design. By comparison, Street & Smith's western weeklies and its hero pulps see relatively little variation in cover formats over the same period, with Wild West Weekly probably the most conservative in that regard. I guess they didn't need to shake things up in the same way.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016


There's nothing special about this 1935 Argosy cover and I have nothing to say about the serial it illustrates. Instead, I direct your attention to George Bruce's novelette, "Black Ace." Bruce was an aviation specialist who twice had magazines named after him, so the idea of a black flyer was a high concept he was bound to get to inevitably. "Black Ace" sends a decidedly mixed message. It seems sincerely intended as an antiracist statement, with Bruce's assertion that, because Jefferson Rolfe was black, "the world lost a Clive, a Stanley or a Lindbergh," to be taken at face-value. Bruce makes this point even clearer in the story's second paragraph"

People who saw him laughed at him, until those people looked at his eyes. After that they found nothing humorous connected with Rolfe, and the laughter gave way to a desire to weep. To weep over this soul of a lion confined and condemned to pace restlessly within the inescapable cage of a black skin. Black skin made a cage, because Jeff Rolfe had the misfortune to be born into a white man's world, in which only white men can be heroes or heroic, and in which only white men can be leaders -- and in which white men zealously guard those prerogatives.

Going forward from here, however, you start to wonder whether Bruce was writing in ironic or mock-epic mode. Jefferson Rolfe proves to be a royal screw-up and something of a huckster. He fits a certain black stereotype of the time by wearing an over-gaudy version of a flyer's uniform. The story proper follows Rolfe's interactions with Ken Morey, war veteran and boss of the Ace Flying Circus, a barnstorming show that finds unexpected competition from self-proclaimed "Black Ace" Rolfe in Birmingham AL. Morey decides to co-opt the competition by hiring Rolfe to fly as a special hometown attraction in the Ace Circus. Morey's doubts are confirmed as it becomes apparent that Rolfe has no plane of his own and has never actually flown a plane, much less wing-walk as his own ads promised he would do. Rolfe turns out to be purely a book flyer, believing that once he read up on the subject he should be able to conquer the air on his first try. Instead, he damages two of Morey's planes, crippling one by botching a takeoff and nearly killing himself on the wing walk by putting his foot through the bottom half of the wing. In other hands this would be the stuff of racist comedy, but Bruce shows us that there's something different about Rolfe. The first thing that takes Morey by surprise -- and is never explained, perhaps for reasons of space -- is that Rolfe speaks with a perfect Oxford accent. The next is Rolfe's crazy courage, shown when, having bungled the wing walk, he follows through with a 500 foot parachute jump despite having never jumped before. Impressed by that gumption, Morey gives Rolfe flying lessons and discovers the man's limits. Rolfe has a sound theoretical understanding of planes and their controls, but is so "ground shy" that his every landing is a nail-biter. Having reached what he considers Rolfe's limit, Morey parts ways with him, only to encounter him again in New York, embarking suicidally on a transatlantic flight to Liberia in an obviously inadequate plane that thankfully fails before Rolfe is too far out at sea. Admitting shamefully that he was exploited by crooked promoters, Rolfe tells Morey that he was willing to fly the plane into the ocean to redeem his honor.

Morey next encounters Rolfe in Addis Ababa. Bruce informs us that the aviation industry forced flying circuses out of business, forcing Morey into the business of selling planes. He's in Ethiopia to sell fighter planes to Emperor Haile Selassie, though Bruce uses the ruler's now more totemic alternate name, Ras Tafari. Rolfe arrives there a ragged beggar, having tramped his way across the Atlantic and across Africa in search of some redemptive mission. On cue, Fascist Italy invades. In Bruce's account, the proud Ethiopian army is actually holding off the Fascists until Mussolini brings air power into play. Bruce portrays the emperor (Time Magazine's Man of the Year for 1935) as a stoic, fearless leader who is nonetheless helpless against Italian bombers -- until Jeff Rolfe appropriates one of Morey's fighters and earns his once-ridiculous title by wreaking havoc on a bomber fleet over the capital. He caps his crowded hour by making a perfect landing -- but Morey finds him mortally wounded. Rolfe dies having inspired Ethiopians to believe that they can stand up to the white invaders and all their technology, and Morey lives on to be haunted by dreams of the Black Ace.

This remarkable story and the entire November 9, 1935 Argosy are available at There are two short stories and four serials, including the conclusion of H. Bedford-Jones' Bowie Knife and an installment of Borden Chase's Midnight Taxi, the debut of his cabbie-turned-G-Man Smooth Kyle, as well as Allan Vaughan Ellston's Eagle's Eye, about Tom Eagle, a hands-on New Jersey prosecutor who happens to be a Cherokee Indian. A lot of these look promising, even in partial form, but "Black Ace" is definitely the highlight of this issue. Follow this link to read it for yourself.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016


Here's a stark, simple cover design from a 1930 Detective Story, marred somewhat by the logo pushing Street & Smith's Shadow-narrated radio program. To some this may seem like an appropriate cover for this day in 2016, though they probably envision a different woman in the bullseye. Apart from the cover, the most noteworthy thing in this issue is probably the continuation of Black Star Back -- and How, the final appearance of one of Johnston McCulley's masked antiheroes. Black Star seems to have been McCulley's earliest series character, predating Thubway Tham and Zorro by a good margin. The author used a pseudonym, John Mack Stone, to introduce his gentleman thief in 1916, but decided to take credit under his real name by the end of that year. The war years and immediately after were Black Star's heyday. McCulley lost interest in him in 1921 but revived the character for a 1928 serial and, if the FictionMags Index is correct, a onetime appearance in Western Story the same week that the serial concluded. Back -- and How was the character's first appearance since then. Of the cover story's author, Neil C. Miller, I can say nothing except that "Woman Target" was his first Detective Story appearance since 1923, and that he would publish occasionally in Street & Smith pulps for the next decade.

Monday, November 7, 2016


Who is that masked man? Is he a new hero or antihero for Detective Fiction Weekly? Or is it Lester Leith himself, Erle Stanley Gardner's hero who cons the cons? It looks like he's just another antagonist for Leith, a star character in DFW since 1929. "The Crimson Mask," from 1931, can be read by following this link to Evan Lewis's Davy Crockett's Almanack, where the story has been uploaded in its entirety. Gardner would continue to write Leith's adventures past his great breakthrough with Perry Mason, eventually taking the character to Street & Smith's Detective Story, where he got a big winking close-up at the end of 1938. An older but less active character in this issue is Arty Beele, the creation of Alexander and Ruth Wilson. "Cheap at the Price" is the penultimate story of a character who first appeared in December 1928, just two months before Leith's debut. Besides these characters, Fred MacIsaac continues his serial A Passport to Perdition while Ray Cummings, Stanley Day, Edward Parrish Ware and Russell Howells Watkins contribute short stories. The nonfiction pieces include Julien J. Proskauer's "Spook Crooks" column and Nelson Robins' "The Boy Executioners." Lejaren Hiller's covers from this period lack the pizazz of classic pulp, but this one definitely gets the point across.


After Ralph R. Perry retired Bellow Bill Williams in 1936 he wrote a number of detective stories but eventually became a western specialist. He continued to publish in pulps sporadically in the 1940s and 1950s, publishing his last pulp story in the November 1953 Popular Western. The following year he published Nightrider Deputy as part of an Ace Double Novel set along with Norman A. Fox's 1948 story The Devil's Saddle. How many words made a novel remained uncertain in a business where "book-length novel" was often an unconvincing label. Ace offered a solution by offering two novels for one reasonable price of 35 cents. The novels started at either end of the book and converged in the middle. Flip Nightrider Deputy vertically and you can read Devil's Saddle from "front" to back. Each is a fair-sized novel by early paperback standards, Perry's clocking in at 154 pages, Fox's at 164. Nightrider is Perry's only novel unless you count the 1936 Argosy serial Filibusters Five. I can't attempt to explain why there aren't any more because I don't know when Perry died. Learning what I could of him, I found that he was a 1916 graduate of Columbia University, where he edited a monthly literary magazine. After serving in World War I he wrote a number of nonfiction articles for Atlantic Monthly and The Outlook. Obituaries of his daughter Mitzi Perry-Miller, an author in her own right who died last year, refer to Ralph Redman Perry as an author and educator, but I don't know where he taught. I suppose someone would have to open contact with the remaining Perry relatives to find out more about Ralph. You'd like to know why he stopped writing fiction, as far as we can tell, because Nightrider Deputy is an intense little story reaffirming Perry's mastery of the action thriller.

You can imagine Perry submitting Deputy to Ranch Romances for serialization, as a sort of romantic quadrangle comes to dominate the story. The main story is the attempt by Big Tom Parks, the rancher who dominates Toltec Valley, to destabilize rival ranchers by encouraging grangers to settle on their land. One such farm family is the Flandreaus, a sister and two brothers orphaned when their father is killed by train robbers. The sister, Sally, becomes the head of the family and presses on to occupy land used by cattleman Mat Karney, who dislikes grangers but feels sorry for Sally and her brothers and indulges them in their labors. Despite their tense first encounters Sally quickly falls for Mat, but he's out to win Nita Evans, the aloof but beautiful saloon girl who carries a full glass of beer and never drinks it to discourage people from trying to treat her. Sally and Nita become bitter rivals for Mat, and Mat has a rival for Nita in Tex Smith, who is the title character if not the main character of the story. Tex is a deputy sheriff but Big Tom has him under his thumb because he knows, as does Nita, that Tex is wanted for murder elsewhere, though the killing apparently was justified. This isn't quite a true quadrangle as Tex and Sally show no interest in each other, but it's a tense line of connections constantly prodded by the provocations of Big Tom and his gunmen. It's also complicated by the turn of the other Flandreaus toward violence as Karney's cattle impinge on their fences and crops.

The romance plots sort themselves out so that we end up with a quartet of heroes battling Big Tom, setting up a double climax as one couple makes an improbable hair's-breadth nighttime escape from a deathtrap and the other has a heart-stopping showdown with a cleverly concealed assassin. The only problem with these scenes is that they don't actually end the story, and Mat's final showdown with Big Tom is relatively conventional and anticlimactic, just as Big Tom's rather conventional villainy is Perry's one real failure in character development. Otherwise the novel's action scenes are recognizably the work of Bellow Bill's creator, highlighting Perry's eye for all the obstacles and handicaps people face in running combats. Perry's stories often read like ordeals rather than adventures for their protagonists, and the reader may feel that he or she has been through combat by the skin of the teeth alongside Nightrider Deputy's heroes and heroines. It's one of the most thrilling westerns I've read, and you get the impression that Perry put a lot of effort into it, however modest it looks in your hands. Maybe, in his fifty-ninth year, he was simply played out afterward.  Whatever happened, or didn't happen, Ralph R. Perry had graduated with honors from pulps to paperback originals, and you can't help wishing there had been many more of them.

Sunday, November 6, 2016


This 1937 issue looks more like Detective Fiction Western than Detective Fiction Weekly with that old prospector type on the cover. He's presumably a character in Donald Ross's (aka Fred MacIsaac) Hot Gold, though the setting is most likely more modern than he suggests. Along with the serial you get novelettes by Frederick C. Painton, Roger Torrey and H. H. Stinson and short stories by Dale Clark, Bert Collier and Samuel Taylor. I'd vouch for Painton but I don't know the other ones that well. There are plenty of DFW issues in the trove, most from 1936, but I haven't read those through as thoroughly as I have unz's Argosy collection. A project for another time, I suppose....

Saturday, November 5, 2016


Here's Street & Smith's Complete Stories from 1934, when the magazine was publishing on an unusual every-three-weeks schedule. James Clarke, author of "Conspiracy," was one of the magazine's stars, or else an author closely identified with it, since he rarely appeared anywhere else in pulpdom. The same could not be said for the rest of this issue's lineup, led by H. Bedford-Jones, who published practically everywhere. Apart from him the most prominent names are T. T. Flynn, eventually best known for his westerns, and George Harmon Coxe, best known for photog Flash Casey of Black Mask and radio fame. Pulp regulars Victor Maxwell and C. S. Montanye are also here, as is the unfortunate Carl N. Taylor, who died in the same year and at the same age as Robert E. Howard, but by murder rather than suicide. Based on the cover "Conspiracy" looks like the sort of Latin American revolution story I usually enjoy, and the author list makes this look like a promising issue overall.

Friday, November 4, 2016


This Wesley Neff painting is arguably the last real masterpiece from the great run of Street & Smith western covers from 1939. This one represents Tom Roan's 43 page "book-lengh novel" Hangtown and probably sells the concept better than any attempt to illustrate a scene from the story. Along with that, there are short stories by Norman A. Fox, Kenneth Gilbert, B. Bistrow Green and Glenn H. Wichmann, and Frank Richardson Pierce continues the serial Iron Mamelute. Nothing inside is likely to top the cover, but doesn't it make you want to look inside, anyway?

Thursday, November 3, 2016


This 1934 Argosy calls Robert Carse's Land of the Sword a "complete novel." At 39 pages the label is questionable but at that time Argosy could cram a lot of content into 144 pages by varying the font sizes for each story. In any event, it's Robert Carse and a nearly 40 page dose of his pulp work may be as good as other people's novels. It looks like the Muslims will be the bad guys in this one, but Ghazi Mustafa Kemal, better known to history as Kemal Ataturk, is cartoonist Stookie Allen's Man of Daring for this week for some balance. Max Brand continues Scourge of the Rio Grande, George F. Worts continues his Gillian Hazeltine serial The Mystery of the Five Bald Men, and Borden Chase and Edward Doherty conclude East River, while Anthony Rud  contributes the novelette "The Stained Tabu" and James Stevens (profiled in "Men Who Make the Argosy") and Capt William Outerson contribute short stories.  "The Weakest" was Outerson's (1910-2000) only Argosy story in a short pulp career followed by distinguished service in World War II and Korea. I guess he had better things to do.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016


H. W. Scott makes good use of the relatively cramped space he's left to work with in this 1940 Western Story cover. The banner took over the cover at the end of 1939 for no good reason, but on this occasion it enhances the sense of oppressive weight that Scott's man and horse appear to labor under -- more so, possibly, than the sun itself would. Inside, Harry Sinclair Drago's "book-length novel" Derricks of Hate weighs in at 44 pages, so the label may be a little bit of a stretch. With Election Day imminent that year, the weekly has a thematically relevant story, "Hep's Ballot Roundup" by Glenn H. Wichman. Luke Short continues his serial Gunsmoke Graze while Kenneth Gilbert, Harry F. Olmstead and Wayne D. Overholser contribute short stories. Short and Overholser were still relative newcomers compared to the other contributors, but they're probably the ones best remembered today.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016


For Dime Western in 1935, Walter Baumhofer illustrates one of the pitfalls of building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico: it could make it more difficult for Americans to get back where they belong. Dime was near the end of its early prosperity by this point; it would revert from twice-a-month to monthly in December. It would remain one of the best western pulps for almost two decades more. This issue gives you a fairly typical Dime Western lineup, led by the almost omnipresent Walt Coburn. "Bart Cassidy" and "Oliver King" are pseudonyms, the latter covering for Thomas E. Mount, the former for whoever could be roped into writing a Tensleep Maxon story, Edgar L. Cooper or Harry F. Olmstead. Tensleep, Dime's comedy relief, showed up even more often than Coburn did, and even received billing on the spine of the magazine. Never a fan of comic westerns, I can only shrug and let others have their entertainment.