Forgotten Book: The Continental Op: The Complete Case Files by Dashiell Hammett, 1923 – 1930, Edited by Richard Laymon and Julie M. Rivette

Hammett’s Continental Op stories aren’t as well known as his novels, but they still pack a punch.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 202nd in my series of Forgotten Books.

Like John D. MacDonald in last week’s Forgotten Book, it would be hard to imagine a world where Dashiell Hammett is a “forgotten writer.” The five novels ranging from Red Harvest, The Dain Curse, The Glass Key, The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man have been printed and reprinted over and over. In fact, The Maltese Falcon is one of the greatest novels in the English language. Together with Raymond Chandler and Carroll John Daly, Hammett led the charge to take murder and mayhem out of the English drawing room and pit it back on the mean streets.

I have read each of those books, multiple times, over the past 50 years, and I watch the films whenever they are on. I cannot count the number of times of time I have heard Sam Spade say “the stuff dreams are made of.”

But it is easy to forget that those novels did not spring fully realized from the head of Hammett. He had an apprenticeship period, generally in the Black Mask magazine. And he told many of these tales through the eyes of a short, fat unnamed detective who worked for the Continental Detective Agency in San Francisco. There are a number of Hammett short story collections that have been published throughout the years, some with great titles like Dead Yellow Women, The Creeping Siamese and The Big Knockover. But, until this volume, there has never been a complete accounting of the Continental Op stories.

The three title stories listed in the previous paragraph are all among the best of the stories contained in The Continental Op: The Complete Case Files, this week’s book. But, again, these stories did not just leap from Hammett’s fingertips. Editors Laymon and Rivette group the stories into three groups – The Early Years (1923-1924) with 10 stories beginning with “Arson Plus”; The Middle Years (1924-1926) with 11 stories, beginning with “The House in Turk Street” (one of my favorites) through “The Gutting of Couffignal” (another amazing story); and The Later Years (1927-1930) with 8 stories beginning with “The Creeping Siamese” and including the near novel The Big Knockover,” its sequel “$106,000 Blood Money” and “Death and Company.” That period also includes one unfinished story, “Three Dimes.” All but two of the published stories appeared in Black Mask.

The Early Years stories are all okay. None of them particularly leapt out to me as an Oh-My-God! moment. But with the advent of Hammett’s middle period and “The House in Turk Street” and its sequel “The Girl With the Silver Eyes,” there was a difference in the writing, a leanness that moved the stories along, even though they were longer pieces. In this period we get the stories previously noted as well as “The Whosis Kid,” “Who Killed Bob Teal” and “Dead Yellow Women.” If he had stopped writing at this point, he would still be revered today.

The later years bring it all home, though. “The Big Knockover” and “$106,000 Blood Money” were issued together as a short novel by Dell Paperbacks and as a hardcover from World Publishing. They are a little short to be considered a complete novel, but they are very, very good. During this period, I also liked “The Creeping Siamese” and “Fly Paper.” There were one or two contrived pieces, especially “The King Business” (one of the two non-Black Mask stories), which takes the Op away from San Francisco and into Europe with a young man being maneuvered into funding a political revolution.

Read in one or two sittings, these stories will get old. Spread over a week or month, however, they retain their wonderful flavor. If, like me, you have not read all of these or only know Hammett through his novels, this is where you want to be. If you are interested in the history of the mystery field in the 20th Century, this is where you need to be. The introductory essays before each section are worth the price of admission alone. If character names like The Whosis Kid, Paddy the Mex, Bluepoint Vance, Wop Healy, Tom-Tom Carey, and the Did-and-Dat Kid strike your fancy, this is the book for you. (I should mention that Hammett was definitely a product of his time, and there are some ethnic slurs that were common in the period and which reflect the character of the Operative. Just a word to not be surprised when you run into those words. There are not a lot of them, but they could be jarring to some readers.)

Looking again this evening, this particular version does not appear to be available on Amazon. Which is a crying shame. There are multiple volumes which reprint all the stories, but it talks some work and money. I got this in September 2016 for $14.99, the most I ever have paid for an e-book. And it was worth every penny.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

Forgotten Book: The Deep Blue Good-By by John D. MacDonald (1964)

The Deep Blue Good-By is a fast-paced 144 pages.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 201st in my series of Forgotten Books.

Recently, on a trip, I was getting tired of no music on the radio from Alpine to the rest of the world and my USB stick was wearing a little thin. I pulled into a truck stop, and sitting on as shelf was a CD version of this novel, The Deep Blue Good-By by John D. MacDonald. For five discs and six hours, I was back in a world that I had not been to for a long time.

OK, before anyone says anything, John D. MacDonald, is not a Forgotten Writer. At least not to many who follow this blog. But to many of the readers out in the world, he is. MacDonald has been dead since 1986, more than 30 years. Travis McGee, the hero of this novel, somehow never made it into a profitable film franchise, and MacDonald is not being carried in the bookstores anymore.

But there was a wonderful time — a time when you could find a new book by John D. and the prose would sparkle and dazzle and race through your eyes and your brain. I came to John D. later in life thanks to the insistence of Joe R. Lansdale. He thrust a copy of The Executioners into my hands on a vacation. I read for two hours straight. I’m not sure I was breathing when I finished it. I had not seen Cape Fear at that point — the original one — the remake was still four years in the future. I deeply hooked into that prose and pacing. When I returned to Dallas, I started looking for every book of his I could find. And there were lots of them. There were the mysteries, the wonderful science fiction, the fantasy of The Girl, the Gold Watch, and Everything (I reviewed the film version last year), the suspense novels, the non-fiction, his letter exchanges with Dan Rowan and the short stories. I read a lot of John D. during those days.

Unlike many other writers, he only had one series character. The formidable Travis McGee, fixer of problems, salvage consultant, beach bum, and chief resident of the house boat The Busted Flush, generally moored at Slip F-18, Bahia Mar Marina, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

The Deep Blue Good-By introduces Travis McGee, and he would be with us for 21 novels, each with a color in the title. Chook McCall is an old friend of McGee’s. She has a dance troupe at one of the clubs. One of her dancers, Cathy Kerr, has a problem. An old boyfriend, one Junior Allen, up and left her one day after destroying a mailbox. He returned about a month later with a fancy houseboat and lots of money. He ignored Cathy and took up with a Mrs. Lois Atkinson, a divorced woman. But Junior soon deserts her. Cathy believes Junior has found some cache that her father brought back from World War II. On his return, Cathy’s dad struck an officer in a bar fight and got sent to a military prison. He told his family that he would be taking care of them when he got out. But he never got out.

Cathy wants McGee to locate whatever junior has found and recover it for her. His fee is half plus expenses. Cathy seems like a nice person, so he agrees, even though he has reservations.

He soon finds out that Junior is a full-on psychopath with deep issues and great personal strength. He enjoys finding a certain kind of woman and destroying her self worth and personal pride.

It’s a good, quick read — the perfect lead in to the series. The second book Nightmare in Pink was published the month after The Deep Blue Goodbye, giving 1964 readers two quick bites of a very complex apple.

It had been a long time since I read a MacDonald novel. I no longer have all of them, but I have still own quite a few. I’ll be delving back into that world again soon. If you are a MacDonald fan, what’s your favorite JDM book and favorite McGee mystery? If you’ve never read him (and you know who you are!), that needs to change this week. Just go to the bookstore, find a couple of his books (you will want another as soon as you finish the first), call in sick to work, and luxuriate in the sparse prose and lightning action. You can thank me next week. None of the early tales are bloated 300-page tales. The Deep Blue Good-By clocks in at a trim 144 pages in the Gold Medal first edition. No wasted or excess words here. Check it out.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

Forgotten Book: The Chinese Agent by Michael Moorcock (1970)

The Chinese Agent traffics in spies not swords and sorcery, but it’s an entertaining read.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 200th in my series of Forgotten Books.

Finally, we reach review number 200. Seems odd to be there. But I have been doing this since 2010, so there have been several significant breaks in the time frame. And what to look at? I was thinking the other day about a friend I made in 1967 when I was still in high school and I had just moved to San Antonio. I knew no one and it was still a little bit until school started. One of the first guys I met was Ken B. Ken lived a couple of blocks away on Ft. Sam Houston. And, like me, he was a science fiction fan.

One day Ken gave me a book that changed my life. It was the Lancer edition of The Stealer of Souls by Michael Moorcock. The blue Jack Gaughan cover caught my fancy and the stories brought me into the fantasy worlds that were starting to take America by storm. He followed Stealer up with Stormbringer and one of Robert E. Howard’s Conan adventures. I was hooked on this type of literature. Moorcock and Howard moved to the top of my favorite reads. How was I to ever guess that one day I would know Mike Moorcock and would buy a story from him for a book I got to co-edit called Cross Plains Universe? I got to meet Mike! I got to edit a book! I got to buy an original story from a hero! Who would ever guess such a development?

So, it has been 50 years! Yet, somehow in 200 book reviews I have not done a Moorcock title! Elric books cannot be considered a forgotten title no matter what criteria I use. And that’s true of a large portion of Mike’s work. But as I was looking over the shelves the other day, The Chinese Agent leapt off the shelf and into my hands.

Sure, I had read it in the Seventies, but that was a long, long time ago, and I have read many, many books in that time, so it might just as well have been new to me. I did not read the original version of this novel, which was called Somewhere in the Night by Bill Barclay, from a smaller British paperback publisher in 1966. Mike rewrote it and made it into a humorous spy novel starring Jeremiah “Jerry” Cornell, a lower-level British spy.

The novel begins with half-Chinese American jewel thief Arthur Hodgkiss surveying the British Crown Jewels. He is known internationally as Jewelry Jules. While casing the Tower, another man approaches him and utters a phrase that is meant to identify a spy. Hodgkiss inadvertently gives the proper countersign and receives the plans to a secret project.

The main Chinese spy in London, Kung Fu Tzu, wants those plans. British Intelligence wants the plans. A comedy of errors ensues with Kung mistaking Jerry for a master spy with the skills of a Bond or Flint. Unfortunately, Jerry is just amazingly inept or lucky or both.

Cornell became a spy because he had skills which were needed and he did not want to go to prison. He tries to find the plans, only to be led into the paths of his relations on Portobello Road. His relations would make white trash hillbillies look good, especially his Uncle Edmond, who lives in a hovel with no electricity or water. He does have a pile of stuff that may be trash or treasure — and which may be alive.

Cornell does have extraordinary luck with the ladies, who include Shirley Withers, a secretary for his company; Miss Mavis Ming, who appears in later Jerry Cornelius adventures by Moorcock; and the legendary femme fatale Lilli von Bern, who may be a little long in the tooth but can still use sex as a weapon to obtain any information needed.

I had a lot of fun with this book. I will eventually try to find Somewhere in the Night to see what changes Moorcock made. It’s not Elric or Hawkmoon or Corum, but it kept me entertained, pretty much like every Michael Moorcock book I have ever picked up. It would have made a great movie in the day of the spy thrillers. Might still make a good one. Check it out.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

Forgotten Book: The Willful Princess & the Piebald Prince by Robin Hobb (2013)

Robin Hobb’s Willful Princess boasts both horses and palace intrigue.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 199th in my series of Forgotten Books.

I have reviewed nearly 200 books in this series since 2006. I have covered a lot of science fiction, mysteries and westerns, and some fantasy, but very little high fantasy. Not that I don’t like high fantasy. When the Ballantine Adult Fantasy books were being published, I bought many of them and discovered writers such as William Hope Hodgson, William Morris, and Joy Chant in that series — writers I still love today. I was already familiar with the names of Clark Ashton Smith and Lord Dunsany but had not read them, I read a lot of high fantasy and, as the market exploded, I burnt out on it quite spectacularly.

But I kept returning on occasion, I read The Belgariad of David Eddings and enjoyed it. But the subsequent volumes did not have the same sparkle and newness. The Wheel of Time? I read six volumes and realized that the story was advancing at the rate of about a week per 500 pages. And I no longer cared.

So, in 1995 when Robin Hobb appeared with Assassin’s Apprentice I was like, OK, yeah, yeah, more of the same. At least until I read that novel. After that, I was hooked. Then I found out that Robin Hobb was a name used by Megan Lindholm. I had read The Wizard of the Pigeons and Cloven Hooves and enjoyed those urban fantasies, but her Robin Hobb books were big, fun high fantasy thrills.

So, I became a Robin Hobb collector. I have the British hardcovers of all but a couple of the Live Ship Traders sequence. I will get to them eventually. In my mail today (and this is an absolutely true story) was a limited, signed printing of the Assassin’s Fate, the latest novel from England. I knew it was coming, but hadn’t expected its arrival just yet.

So the other day, I needed a new book to read and review. I had started a couple of titles but only managed to read 15 or 20 pages a night.

I was working in the library, moving around some books that were catching morning sunlight and replacing them with titles where a little sun bleaching was not going to be a financial loss. One of those titles was The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince. I looked at it. It was short, 154 pages, as opposed to the massive novels she now writes. It was a stand-alone too, a prequel to the first Farseer trilogy. And, did I mention it was short?

I grabbed a spot in my reading chair and turned on some ’60s music to let the magic take me away. And it did.

The book is two novellas with a common narrator, Felicity, whose mother was the wet nurse to Princess Caution Farseer, the only child of King Virile and Queen Capable Fareseer. Felicity is a couple of years older than Princess Caution and was the young princess’ first companion/servant. Felicity’s mother filled her mind with scheme’s to make sure that she improved her own and the family’s position at court.

The princess is known to be willful, but as an only child, her parents are not to deny her anything. Felicity remained her close and only companion. As the princess began to age, she was trained in the intricacies of political diplomacy and intrigue. But, she needs to marry and produce an heir. But no one presented to her attracts her attention. This escalates when she is named Queen-in-Waiting.

Her only passion is riding in the hunt. One Spring, she decides to go to the Horse Fair at the market and sees an amazing piebald-colored horse being handled by a piebald-colored hostler, named Lostler. There is an instant attraction to the animal and his handler. There are rumors that Lostler has some of the Wit, the ability to merge with an animal and see through its eyes. The Spotted Stud becomes the dominant horse in the stables as does his handler, replacing the stable master almost immediately.

The Spotted Stud has its way with the mares around the castle and soon, the hostler does the same with the princess. Where the Spotted Stud breeds spotted progeny, so it is with the princess, who has not heeded her name. Her spotted son ends up being the cause of her death and soon becomes the heir to the throne. The princess and her mother soon die, leaving a grieving broken king who muct choose between his less-than-noble grandson and his brother’s son, Canny.

Deadly political intrigue and the promotion of family interests worthy of Game of Thrones begins in the second half of the book. Those who are tired of waiting for the next GRRM novel can easily quell some of their thirst with the tales of the Farseers, which now number 21 titles. Check them out if you want a high fantasy fix. If that’s not your bag, check back next week and we will see what new book I have for you.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

Forgotten Book: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes by Loren Estleman (1979)

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes puts the world’s greatest detective on the doctor’s strange case.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 198th in my series of Forgotten Books.

Back in the mid 1980’s I thought I might end up as a regular writer of western novels. As a result, in 1984 Joe Lansdale and I ended up going to the Western Writers of America conference in Branson, Missouri. We spent a long Sunday driving from Dallas to Branson, talking the entire way. I heard stories that day which took years to appear in one form or another. I heard the story of The Night They Missed the Horror Show on that trip. I listened as Joe pitched The Magic Wagon to Pat LoBrutto in the cafeteria line for one of the meals. I met Jory Sherman and his wife Charlotte, who were writing two adult western series, Gunn and Bolt. Jory was talking with me about doing some of those titles but we never got beyond talking.

Among the people I met that weekend was Joe’s agent, Ray Peuchner. Ray had about a dozen clients there and I thought that someday soon I might be one of them. Ray’s most prestigious writer at that point was Loren Estleman.

I talked a lot with Loren that weekend. He told me about the first novel he sold, The Oklahoma Punk, and how it was from a minor publisher and was very hard to find. And he talked about Aces and Eights, his Spur award winning novel of Wild Bill Hickock, which he managed to write without once dealing with a horse. We talked mysteries too. His Amos Walker series of novels set n Detroit was underway. When I went back to Dallas, I found The Oklahoma Punk in the first bookstore I looked in.

The next WWA meeting was in San Antonio and I saw Loren again. We went book shopping in the city, where I served as the native guide to a large group of western writers. Wonderful things were found on that trip. The following year, it was Ft. Worth and I could not attend in the manner I had the previous two years. I got there briefly but I had to maintain my normal work schedule and the like. It was nowhere near as satisfying that year, and I never attended another WWA meeting. Nor did I write a western novel. I had ideas, but, being me, they remained unwritten.

A couple of years later, I found myself in the Detroit area for a couple of months. Loren lived nearby and I sent him a postcard with my information. He contacted me and we did a couple of dinners and spent a very pleasant day shopping for books in Ann Arbor. I have only seen him once or twice since then. But I enjoyed all the time we spent together.

So, long stories lead to shorter ones.

The other day while waiting for Sandi to appear in the local Cinco de Mayo parade, I spent some time in Front Street Books here in Alpine. I was killing time and enjoying the AC. I found a couple of paperbacks I was looking for and then chanced across a copy of this week’s book, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes, by John H. Watson, M.DS, as edited by Loren D Estleman.

This was Estleman’s fifth book, following The Oklahoma Punk, two westerns, and another Holmes title, Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula, or, The Adventure of the Sanguinary Count. This copy was an first edition in a dust jacket — an ex-lending library copy with massive glue stains on the end papers — but for $4 I was not about to complain.

The novel features Holmes and Watson being initially retained by G. J, Utterson, an attorney for Dr. Henry Jekyll, who is violating some confidences. Dr. Jekyll has recently made a will leaving everything he owns to one Edward Hyde, a nasty, brutish character whom Uttwerson does not trust.

The pair follow Hyde and find him to be a loathsome character whom they believe is blackmailing Jekyll for his considerable fortune. But nothing they do can disclose much about Hyde, and Jekyll wants them to drop the case. He made the will voluntarily and is not being blackmailed.

Holmes and Watson are reinvigorated when Hyde apparently kills Sir Danvers Carew one day in full sight of various witnesses. Eventually, even Mycroft appears with a message from a royal personage – a very powerful female royal personage – who wants the case solved. The chase is on and plenty of action ensues, including a wonderful chase between two hansom cabs throughout a very busy London midday.

Sometimes it is hard for us as modern readers to remember that The Strange Case of Dr, Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was originally published as a mystery and the relationship between the two title characters was a total shock to Victorian readers. So, it is here to Holmes and Watson.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Holmes is good read. Knowing the resolution, we readers get to enjoy seeing how Holmes is going to arrive at the highly improbable solution to the tale. I found it satisfying and well worth my time spent reading.

Check it out. Personally, I blame Mary Reilly (who does not appear in this book).

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

Forgotten Book: Kitt Peak by Al Sarrantonio (1993)

Kitt Peak’s cover isn’t a much of a grabber, but its pages are packed with action.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 197th in my series of Forgotten Books.

During my Spring Break this year, Sandi and I met with our friends Ed and Sam who came out to Alpine to see us. Among the many things we did was make a trip to the army post at Ft. Davis, about 25 miles away. That trip made me want to check back in on a previous Forgotten Book.

In February of last year, before I knew I was coming to this area, I wrote about the first book in this series, West Texas, a western mystery novel featuring former buffalo soldier Thomas Mullin who uses the methods of his literary idol, Sherlock Holmes, to solve a crime. The book was amazingly good and should be known by a larger reading group. But being published in hardcover by the minor publisher M. Evans as a Western with a non-descript typographical cover in 1993 does not lead to impulse buying and rave reviews,

Still, I knew Al Sarrantonio and I heard from those in the know that I should get that book. So I did. And when the sequel, Kitt Peak, came out, I picked it up also.

Kitt Peak is not an immediate sequel to West Texas. Thomas Mullin, the hero of the first novel, has inherited his aunt’s home in Boston and some 10 or 15 years have passed. The prejudice he experienced before is still present, though not as overt. Mullins misses the regimen of Army life and his horse. The civilization of Boston is not to his taste.

When he receives a letter from an old friend, Bill Adams, asking for his help in finding a missing daughter, it does not take much effort to start him moving. Knowing he cannot do things alone, he contacts his old companion, Lincoln Reeves, in Birmingham, Alabama, and asks to meet him in Tucson. The two are not quite sure what to expect. Adams was one of the few white men assigned to Ft. Davis and one of the few they both Mullin and Reeves respected.

But all is not sweetness and light in Arizona. Mullin could smell the aroma of alcohol on the letter and saw rings where a drink was placed on the letter. Mullins had heard that Adams had a fondness for drink, and with his daughter missing, it was not a large leap to see that fondness had grown.

The missing girl is half white and half Indian, specifically Papago Indian. The Papago name means “bean eater” and the tribe hates that name. They refer to themselves as Tohona O’otam. They worship the eagle that rules the sky. But the eagle is unhappy with the conduct of the peaceful tribe and begins to demand blood sacrifices. Le Cato is their leader, the Keeper of the Smoke, which includes the use of peyote.

When Mullin arrives, he meets up with the local hotelier, Cates, who has no use for him. The Marshall in town, Murphy, saves him from a bad encounter and tells him that not only is Abby Adams missing, but also her father Bob.

Out in the deserts south of town, Lone Wolf, an Apache leader, has plans for the area that are secret but involve lots of death.

Action swirls through this novel. Mullin and Reeves have bad encounters with the Papago and with miners. Bodies are found. Their guide is unreliable… maybe. And President Teddy Roosevelt is coming to Tucson on his way to California, seeking votes.

I enjoyed Kitt Peak quite a bit. It is short, just 143 pages, and that’s always a plus in my book when I’m trying to get one read and reviewed each week. The writing is crisp and evocative. I got a great feel for the area and the cultures. I like the first book slightly better, but that’s not a criticism of this one. Try to find it and check them both out.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

Forgotten Book: Musrum by Eric Thacker and Anthony Earnshaw (1968)

The cover of the surreal 1968 book Musrum.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 196th in my series of Forgotten Books.

This week I have decided to share with you one of the oddest books in my library. Back in the late 70’s I was living in San Antonio and my friend, noted collector Willie Siros, showed me the oddest book from his library. That book was called Musrum. About a week later, I found a copy of it at the long gone and lamented Et Cetra Books near San Antonio College.

I read through it then and was fascinated. The authors, Eric Thacker and Anthony Earnshaw, did one other book, Wintersol, which I have hunted for ever since and have never even seen a copy for sale. ABE (Advanced Book Exchange) has a couple of copies, both of which are over $50.

How to describe Musrum? It’s not a novel; it is more a collection of odd ramblings about a lot of subjects with numerous bizarre illustrations and typography. They love to hide the name Musrum in the illustrations, sometimes pretty abstractly, other times in shadows.

A sample page from Musrum

I’ve included some photos to give you some idea. I have also excerpted the section titled “Columbus” below:

Columbus 

  • Christopher Columbus often related a singular childhood memory, in which he was stopped, in a Genoan street, by a man who asked the way to Chicago.
  • Columbus had a left eye of solid gold.
  • He had been credited with the invention of Faraway Places.
  • There is a religious reason for this.
  • On his voyage across the Atlantic, Columbus discovered several (some say six) mid-oceanic islands. The secret of their location died with him.
  • Included amongst his baggage as a generous bale of feathers – a gift for the birds of America.
  • On landing in the Bahamas, Columbus met a native chief with a left eye of chalcedony. They did a straight swap.
  • In the Bahamas, he frequently held converse with his kindred in Europe. They could hear each other quite clearly over this immense distance.

    Musrum a catalogue of banners

  • Similarly, being a historical figure of great stature, he was able to display to his waiting sponsors in Europe many native artifacts and treasures. He merely needed to hold the objects high above his head.
  • Columbus discovered a unique group of islands one hundred and thirty-two miles due south of New York. (See Fig. 1.)
  • His cartographer made a chart of this group, using invisible ink – whereupon the islands themselves vanished.
  • Fear dissuaded him from entering New York harbor. The place was infested with sponge-cats.
  • Musrum had fled the city some days previously,
  • Kneeling down by the waters of Lake Huron, Columbus kissed the clear reflection of the Queen of Heaven; then, scooping up a gobletful of her gentle visage, he dashed it against a rock. A small amethyst dropped to the ground. Picking this up he screwed it deftly into his right eye.
  • Gott strafe Isabelle!
  • Columbus dropped swiftly down to the sea and oblivion.
  • He kept a sponge-cat with no eyes at all. He was terribly afraid of it.
  • A page detail from Musrum

    A.D. 1505. God noticed the existence of America for the first time.

  • A,D. 1933. A carrier pigeon released by Columbus arrived in Lisbon; nobody recognized it for what it was.
  • For a keepsake, Columbus gave his flagship to a Native Chief. He remained marooned in America until 1502.
  • Any European rulers commissioned Columbus to discover new continents so as to enhance their prestige; but he was a monomaniac… He discovered America in fifty-seven slightly different versions.
  • It pleased him, in his old age, to converse with other mariners. A wide range of subjects included the sites of sea battles, undiscovered continents, and the repair of ancient islands.
  • Crabmeat; wishwater; hard sunshine; milkwet silvershard; Christobus smiling remotely.”

So, that’s three pages out of 160. Surreal and fascinating stuff. Enjoy the pictures. (The one with the flags reads “Musrum, A Catalogue of Banners.” If you stare at it long enough it makes sense.

I know Musrum will not be for everyone, but I find it a fascinating thing to dip into on odd occasions. Sort of like The Codex Seraphinianus. But you can read it and, in the right frame of mind, understand it.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.  

Forgotten Book: Stop This Man! by Peter Rabe (1955)

The lurid-looking core of Peter Rabe’s Stop This Man!

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 195th in my series of Forgotten Books.

Recently I ordered some paperbacks from a Facebook acquaintance. I got 11 books, which included four Fu Manchu novels by Sax Rohmer, two Fredric Brown novels (one science fiction, one mystery and both great!), and five novels by Peter Rabe.

Peter Rabe is one of those forgotten mystery writers of the ’50’s and ’60s. He’s not quite in the John D. MacDonald, Ross McDonald, Jim Thompson, Charles Williams or Donald Hamilton class, but he is not far behind them. When the box with the books arrived, I was immediately drawn to Stop This Man! because I loved the cover, the blurb from Erskine Caldwell, and because I had not previously read it.

So, it found its way into my hands and my recliner.

Stop This Man! Is an odd novel. It deals with the theft of a 36-pound gold bar and the cross country chase to recover it. Tony Catell is a three-time loser who has just gotten out of prison. He is acquainted with Otto Schumacher, a quiet man who has a gift for planning robberies. Tony has stolen the gold bar based on Otto’s plan. Otto and his girlfriend Selma are waiting for Tony when he arrives with the bar. But, of course, there’s a problem. None of them knew the bar was radioactive. People who get near it suddenly don’t so hot. While the bar doesn’t seem to be affecting Tony, others are dying.

Otto wants to wait but Catell doesn’t. Selma is attracted to Tony’s style and decides to hang with Tony. The FBI have fingered Schumacher as a possible accessory in the crime, but when they confront him, they find only a corpse. Radiation has done its job.

With the heat turned up, Tony decides to by-pass an intermediary and go straight to the buyer, Mr. Smith, in Los Angeles himself. He dumps Selma and tells her to meet him in LA, though he has no intention of keeping that date.

Along the way he tries to keep a low profile, stealing and changing cars frequently. In Arizona, he meets a small town bully with a badge who hates him at first sight. Tony is beaten and jailed and the prospects don’t look good, but he is an experienced felon and soon has the drop on the sheriff.

In LA, Tony meets up with an old friend, the Turtle, at just the right time. He’s got less than a dollar and looks like hell, so the Turtle spots him some money and helps him find the way to Mr. Smith. On his way, Tony makes some enemies – Mr. Smith’s right hand man Topper being the worst of them. He makes a good friend in Topper’s young girlfriend Lily. He makes some corpses. And he meets Selma again. Need I mention the Feds are now breathing down his neck?

Of course, things get worse from there.

Stop This Man! is a good, short read that was reprinted in 2011 by Hard Case Crime. Thank you Charles Ardai for all that you’ve done there!

While it’s enjoyable, the book is odd. Most of the real action takes place off stage. Both the robbery and the initial meeting between Schumacher and Tony have happened before the book starts. Even so, there’s a lot of action in the 160 pages in this novel.

I’ve not read a ton of Rabe. Not like those other writers I listed earlier. What I have read, though, I really enjoyed. I know Ed Gorman was a big fan of Rabe’s work and we discussed it once on the phone for quite a while. While reading this, I thought of Ed a lot. Gone, but not forgotten.

Rabe wrote quite a few books but they are a little hard to find. If you find one, read it. Then look for more. You’ll find some of the oddest tiles on his books. Titles like Benny Muscles In, Murder Me for Nickels, Dig My Grave Deep, A Shroud for Jesso and Kill the Boss Goodbye make his books memorable.

Check him out. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.  This week, however, Patti is, hopefully, accepting an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for best paperback novel and the beautiful and talented Todd Mason is hosting for her.

“Burma Jukebox” gets a third play

The latest place you can read “Burma Jukebox.”

“Burma Jukebox,” a short story I first sold in 2010, has received its third publication, this time in Big Pulp Annual 2016.

It was also picked up last year in M – Murder, Magic & the Macabre, another publication in the Big Pulp empire, which produces a variety of magazines and themed anthologies focused on genre fiction and poetry.

The supernatural tale — I’m still not sure whether it’s better categorized as quiet horror or dark fantasy — is a favorite of mine to read at conventions. It focuses on how easy it is to lose ourselves in music, especially during tough times.

The most recent sale brings to mind Golden Age sf writer James Gunn’s first rule of writing: “If it’s worth writing once, it’s worth selling twice.”

Or three times for that matter.

Forgotten Book: Kongo – The Gorilla-Man by Frank Orndorff (1945)

Kongo – The Gorilla Man was a strike out, even for this gorilla fan.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 194th in my series of Forgotten Books.

I am a monkey and ape fan. I say it proudly, claiming King Kong as my favorite film.

I was alerted to the novel Kongo – The Gorilla-Man by Jess Nevins, who informed a select group of monkey fans with a picture of the dustjacket and asked whether anyone of us had ever read or heard of it. No one had, but I checked out American Book Exchange (ABE) and found a copy in fair condition for under $20, including shipping. The primitive looking cover and the scarcity of the title sealed the deal.

When the book came in, I posted on Facebook and Todd Mason urged me to include it as a Friday Forgotten Book. I had been planning on returning to the FFB fold anyway, so between Robert Bloch’s Centennial and this novel, I was enticed to return.

What can I say about Kongo? I read it. If I was a sadist or horrible person, I would urge you to do the same, but I’m not. ABE shows five entries for Frank Orndorff, including two copies of Kongo, The Truth About the Bible, and two copies of Amazing Stories Quarterly, Volume 1, #1 from 1928. Other sites did not reveal any additional titles.

So, not a prolific writer. But that’s not the issue here. This novel is a mess. The plot takes  several paths, but essentially starts with a majestic white eagle sailing over the African continent with a priceless diamond around its neck. Various groups are looking for it. There’s the team of Harry Van Hall and his friend Jack, two men searching for game and the white eagle. There’s the villainous team of The Brut and The Weasel. There’s the tribe of gorillas, led by Kil. And there are various African natives, some good, some bad.

Harry and Jack kill a gorilla one day. This gorilla was Kongo-go, or “Kongo the coward” in gorilla speak. To amuse the natives, Harry dons the gorilla pelt and is performing in it when tthe group of gorillas led by Kil attacks the camp. Harry is knocked in the head and loses all sense. He believes that he is a gorilla and part of the tribe. The others notice that he smells odd, but accept him as one of their own. As the coward, he is the last to eat if he is even allowed. Harry does not remember his old life, but he understands gorilla speak. As in 2001: A Space Odyssey, he discovers the use of a club and works his way up in the tribal organization.

The Brute and The Weasel find the large diamond which has worked its way to a tribe. The king of the tribe wants to kill them, but the two use their white man’s magic to play for time and to try and get the diamond, which the natives do not value. Their only problem is that the king is not honorable and really wants nothing more than to kill them for their supplies. Still, though, he is fascinated by their magic and needs to learn it before he kills them.

Then there are the Arab slavers and the lost rich white girl who is to be sold in slavery. Not to mention other characters and stories, all of which are pretty bad. The book had obviously not been proofread before publication, because words are used incorrectly. There are also many spelling errors and sentences which do not make sense.

This book was a struggle, but I made it through. It is a young adult novel with little depth, motivation, characterization or reason for existing. It is not really a Tarzan rip-off as Harry has no real skills or jungle smarts.

Let me just say, save yourself the trouble. It did not work for me and I don’t think it will work for you.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.