Forgotten Book: West Texas by Al Sarrantonio (1990)

The paperback cover of Al Sarrantonio's West Texas.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 179th in my series of Forgotten Books.

This week I decided to write about a book that really is forgotten and undeservedly so.

I have known Al Sarrantonio for something close to 30 years. We were introduced by Pat LoBrutto, who was the editor at Doubleday at the time. Over the years, I would periodically run into Al at conventions, generally the World Fantasy Convention. I know it has been at least 10 years since we last met at a convention.

He’s written in a lot of genres including science fiction, fantasy and horror. But, for me, he is best seen in his Westerns. West Texas is the first of Sarrantonio’s Western novels featuring Thomas Mullin, a former buffalo soldier working in west Texas. Mullin had been a lieutenant at Fort Davis, a rarity for a black soldier in the 1890’s. He has been retired by Captain Seavers, who looks and acts like his idol, General George Custer. Seavers desperately wants to have military glory against the Mescalero Apaches and, through that, get out of Fort Davis and rise to the rank of general. He actively hates Mullin but finds himself between the rock and hard place when a Senator’s son goes missing. Mullin is the only one capable of finding the young man, and Seavers has been told to use Mullin and give him whatever he might need or want to do it.

To assist in the search, four Pinkerton agents have been sent from St. Louis. They are to be met by another buffalo soldier, Trooper Lincoln Reeves. Pinkertons from this period had a reputation for being thugs and strike breakers and these men certainly fill that bill.

Mullins needs no help from them, though. He is an educated man who is quite familiar with his environment. His favorite activity is reading the adventures of Sherlock Holmes from issues of The Strand magazine. Using the detection techniques displayed in those stories and adapting them to his environment bring Mullin to the conclusion that there is a serial killer working in the area. The killer’s targets are young men under the age of 17.

Trooper Reeves has to deal with the Pinkertons, who are intent on drinking themselves to death. Their leader Captain Murphy succeeds in doing just that, leaving three detectives. The leader of this group, Porter, has actually been calling the shots all along and is a racist who plans to blame Murphy’s death on Reeves and attempts to lynch the young trooper. Fortunately there are no trees, so the group, afraid of Porter, assists. But they are drunk and do a poor job of tying Reeves. They attach the noose to his horse and send it out to the desert dragging Reeves.

Reeves extricates himself and finds his way to Mullin where he becomes Watson to Mullins’ Holmes. He wants to learn more but cannot read so Mullins promises to teach him once the killer is found. Meanwhile, the Mescaleros are planning on attacking the fort and Seavers seems intent on emulating his chosen hero.

This was a fun book. I read this nearly 25 years ago, so I remembered very little, other than recalling that I had really liked it. The book did not disappoint on re-reading. It is a good combination of Holmesian mystery, serial killer thriller and Western, falling easily into each category.

Unfortunately the hardback was published by M. Evans and Co. who did a few Westerns in the late 80’s and early 90’s. I have westerns that they did by Bill Pronzini, Richard Matheson, Bill Crider, Livia Washburn and Ed Gorman, among others. I don’t think their print runs were very big and their distribution was spotty. So I was glad to get this one when it came out and to get its sequel, Kitt Peak, a few years later.

So, if you think you might like this, give it a shot. There are copies available from the usual sources for reasonable prices.

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

 

Forgotten Book: Between the Living and the Dead by Bill Crider (2015)

In addition to solving crimes, you can depend on Sheriff Dan Rhodes to do some bull wrestling in a Walmart parking lot.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 176th in my series of Forgotten Books.

I don’t know how many people click the link at the end of the column to see the listing of the other Forgotten Books each of these installments. Patti Abbott, a very fine writer in her own right, compiles a listing each week (and when she’s not available, some other very fine folks make it).

I have found some wonderful titles from the various listings. The listing for last week contained two that someone felt compelled to write about. I had read three of those titles and was aware of six others. The remainder were new to me or had never been on my radar. I will be checking out several more of them as the year moves forward.

Among the people who write the various Forgotten Book and Forgotten Film columns each week, Bill Crider is a prominent force. To the general reading public, I’m not so sure. He has written a lot of books over the years but he has not achieved household name status. And that is the shame.

I have posted about other Crider titles over the past five years, including A Vampire Named Fred and Mike Gonzo and the Sewer Monster. These were young adult books I really enjoyed. In addition to them, Crider has written mystery novels in five different series, men’s adventure novels, horror novels, western novels, a Nick Carter-Killmaster novel and some pseudonymous things he is very tight lipped about.

The Sheriff Dan Rhodes series is the biggie among his mystery novels. The series currently stands at 23 books (there is another being prepped for publication). Rhodes was his first series character, beginning with Too Late to Die (1986). Rhodes, the sheriff of Blacklin County, Texas, works out of Clearview, a smallish town with its share of wonderful characters.

Between the Living and the Dead begins with the death of Neil Foshee, a local meth dealer, at the local haunted house. Everyone knows the house is haunted. It has been empty for years. The last owner died alone there. So, over the years the stories about the death have grown and expanded. Sheriff Rhodes knows the facts, but locals don’t want facts to get in the way of their stories.

Local math professor/singer/amateur PI/character C. P. “Seepy” Benton provides some fun comic relief to the proceedings, as he has set up Clearview Paranormal Investigations (CPI) and offers his “expertise” to the county for a potential law enforcement endorsement.

Foshee’s two cousins have just gotten out of jail on bail, so they are potential suspects. But then so are Neil’s former girlfriend and her current boss/boyfriend, the mayor, the mayor’s wife and the mayor’s nephew. And when the skeleton shows up, the whole thing changes.

In addition to looking for murderers, a small town sheriff has to deal with lots of things like chasing suspects on foot through the woods and then avoiding the rampaging hogs or wresting a bull in the Walmart parking lot after it charges a small child. He has to deal with the his bickering employees and their relationships. And, of course, he has to deal with the dangerous drivers in Clearview who do not use their turn signals!

Crider captures that small town feeling and atmosphere superbly. Over the course of these books, you get to see the wondrous nature of that small town and come to care about many of the folks.

I’ve known Crider for about 40 years. I’ve read many of the books in this and the other series. They are great go-to books when you need a good solid read that puts a smile on your face and happiness into your heart. I don’t think I tell him enough how much I love his books, so hopefully he gets the idea now. Thank you, Bill, for these books.

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

 

Forgotten Book: Gestapo Mars by Victor Gischler (2015)

Gestapo Mars: Lots of fun, but don't expect to find it at your local Barnes & Noble.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 165th in my series of Forgotten Books.

I hope you all had a wonderful Halloween with lots of costumes and candy and fun. We had rain in San Antonio, first early in the day and then again just as the sun went down. Kind of dampened a few spirits and ghouls too.

This week I need to talk about one of my favorite living writers, Victor Gischler. It was Bill Crider who I blame for pointing me in Gischler’s direction. VG was looking for “Gischler virgins” (people who had never read his work) to try a test on. I responded that I was a virgin and he sent me a copy of Shotgun Opera. The only requirement was that I read the book and post a review. If I liked it, great. If not, tell people what I thought and pass the book on.

I posted my review on Amazon and it went along the lines of “What if Quentin Tarrant no had directed the Marx Brothers in Kill Bill and they had done it in drag?” That really didn’t describe the plot of the book, but it certainly captured the flavor. Gischler is not going to be your mother’s thriller writer. Conventional is not a word to enter into these discussions.

I’ve read many of his books, but not all. A couple are waiting for me to get to them. I just cannot binge on this stuff. But I love what I read. When I was Toastmaster at ArmadilloCon a few years back, the committee asked if there was anyone they could invite that I wanted to come. I told them Gischler’s name and he came in from Baton Rouge. He seems like a nice normal person, and I think he had a good time. I know I enjoyed seeing him there.

So this week we are looking at his new science fiction thriller which is not likely to be in a lot of places because … well, it’s not very PC. Gestapo Mars is a title unlikely to send Barnes & Noble ordering 150 copies per store. It’s much more likely to be in the one-or-fewer copy range. Much like Norman Spinrad’s The Iron Dream, this attempts to make a Nazi sympathetic hero work for the reader.

Carter Sloan is a programmed and highly trained assassin and spy for the Third Reich, which is still in existence several centuries from now. He has been in cryostorage for 258 years, awaiting a mission. When he is awaked, he is told that he will be invading a resistance group looking for the Daughter of the Brass Dragon. Almost immediately, the people reviving him are attacked by the Nazis, who also want him to get to the Daughter of the Brass Dragon. His instructions are a little vague. He will have to improvise and move along. When he finds the Daughter he is to capture her. Or maybe kill her. No, it’s capture. Then it’s kill. Things get a little weird.

He is sent to the moon in a disguise and is accepted by the resistance and the lovely Meredith Capulet, who agrees to smuggle him out. But nothing goes as planned, and her little flyer is attacked by the aliens of the Coriandon race, gelatinous beings from somewhere not near here.

To save himself, he must reveal his Nazi connections and call for help. This obviously does not set well with Meredith, but he wants to live and love again. Bad things happen to the Nazis, and Carter and Meredith are on a slow ship back to the Nazi stronghold on Mars.

But, wait, things have changed. The resistance has moved against the Nazis, and no one is safe. His mission changes until he no longer cares and just wants to survive. Enter the exploding dog with new missions.

The action is fast, furious and irreverent. Sloan has to question all sides and make love to all available women. It’s kind of like Raiders of the Lost Reich, as situations change every few pages. The Nazis and resistance need to unite, because the gooey aliens are coming and they have big guns.

It’s a fun and fast read full of in jokes and odd stuff. When someone sings “Hey, hey we’re the Nazis. The people say we Nazi around,” you know sanity has left the building.

As usual, your mileage may vary, but if Ernie Kovacs and Monty Python are your type of humor, along with a tiny sprinkle of Benny Hill, you can find a home on Gestapo Mars. And the cover is fun, too.

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 Whispering Gorilla (1940) and Return of the Whispering Gorilla (1943)

Don't expect to use your logic muscles when you read the "Whispering Gorilla."

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 157th in my series of Forgotten Books.

My love of the gorilla in prose and film has been well documented in the various Forgotten reviews that I have done. So, when Bill Crider reviewed The Whispering Gorilla a few months ago, I was intrigued. Particularly since the novel and its sequel were both readily available from armchair Press for a mere $12.95 with covers on both sides of the trade paperback, much like an old Ace Double, except the second novel and cover were not printed upside down.

Ace reporter, Steve Carpenter, is stepping on toes and receiving death threats. He is investigating the rackets and their possible ties to Nazis! Carpenter is sent by his boss to Africa to hide out and continue writing his stories. But the mob has a hit man who takes his job seriously and he manages to track down Carpenter in Africa.

Carpenter has found a refuge next door to scientist Dr. Devoli who is working on getting a gorilla to speak by modifying the voice box. The gorilla, Plumbutter, is responsive to the surgery. However, when Carpenter is killed, Dr. Devoli decides to go one further and transplants Carpenter’s brain into Plumbutter’s body.

The transplant works and now Carpenter wants to return back to the U.S. to continue writing his expose. To do this, he convinces a Broadway promoter to star him in a play as the most amazing gorilla actor ever. Everyone knows that he must be someone in a gorilla suit, because gorillas cannot talk. He never appears out of the “suit” which creates publicity and gets on the radio under the pseudonym “W.G.” Clever.

He fights the gangsters and the mob on the air and in the paper. He is once again a target but he is the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Gradually, he finds the transplant has some problems and Plumbutter’s body begins to invade his consciousness. With Devoli’s help, they manage to stop the Nazi threat.

This sequel and its predecessor offer simian pulp fun.

This first “novel” was written by Don Wilcox under the editorship of David V. Reed who worked hard with Wilcox in its construction. Later, Reed would write the sequel.

Carpenter is still fighting his gorilla nature. He and Devoli are working in Africa. However, the drugs necessary to keep Carpenter in control are becoming harder to obtain because the World War is going on and the sanity doses are becoming less frequent. Carpenter is in communication with the local gorillas, whom he can understand. He is called Ologwa the Strange One and he tries to teach the gorillas how to control fire and other human traits.

Since the World War features in here, we’ve got to have Nazis! And they show up with a beautiful girl in tow. They want Devoli to provide trained gorillas to pilot suicide mini-subs to throttle the Allies’ fleets.

Ologwa is having trouble with hisz reasoning abilities and starts to work with the Nazis, but he fools them at the same time.

This is pure pulp fiction. Logic is not going to work hard here, but I had fun. This has B movie written all over it and I am surprised one wasn’t made. It would have been great fun for America’s youth and the war effort.

You are not going to confuse these books with anything written later than 1945, but if you’re in the mood for some wild gorilla action, they fill the bill. 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 Sinister Shadow by Kenneth Robeson (Will Murray) (2015)

Two pulp heroes square off in Doc Savage: The Sinister Shadow.

Review by Scott A. Cupp

This is the 154th in my series of Forgotten Books.

I was hooked as soon as I saw the cover – Doc Savage versus The Shadow. I have been a fan of both since the mid 1960’s, encountering The Shadow first in the Belmont series written by Dennis Lynds and Doc Savage when Bantam began it reprints. I found the Walter Gibson Shadow novels when Bantam (and later Pyramid) began the reprints of those early pulp classics.

So, when Bill Crider offered me his copy of this fine book, I knew I would be reading it straight away. I was familiar with Will Murray’s Doc Savage adaptations (reviewing Skull Island a few years ago, where Doc Savage and his father ran into King Kong). The Murray work was great, building on the style established by Lester Dent (the real-life name of Kenneth Robeson, for 159 of the 181 novels in the original pulp series run). In this novel, Murray tries to capture the style of both Dent and of Gibson (who did at least 282 of the 325 The Shadow novels, published as by Maxwell Grant) as the viewpoints change throughout the novel.

I started that evening. It was compulsive reading. Murray was familiar with much of the minutiae of each character, throwing the casual Shadow fan for a loop with the early kidnapping of Lamont Cranston and Doc Savage’s aide Theodore “Ham” Brooks. Lamont Cranston was a real New York millionaire that The Shadow had coerced into taking long vacations so that The Shadow could use his connections and identity. In this novel, the real Cranston is back and The Shadow is masquerading as George Clarendon. Cranston and Brooks are kidnapped as they try to reach Doc Savage. Cranston’s lawyer Sidney Palmer-Letts is killed outside of George Clarendon’s hotel room. Everything revolves around a mysterious blackmail note received by Cranston requiring $250,000 be paid or else he face dire consequences.

Rich people around New York are dying of unexpected heart attacks. Doc Savage is convinced something sinister is going on. He and Monk Mayfair are the only ones of his crew in town and they are after this mysterious Shadow who may be behind the whole blackmail thing.

Meanwhile, an evil villain known as The Funeral Director is plotting more. Twice he has evaded The Shadow and wants nothing more than his nemesis’ death.

The action is fast and furious as The Shadow must avoid a hero as swift and brilliant as he is while trying to rescue Cranston and others. Sidemen such as Harry Vincent, Burbank and Clyde Burke assist The Shadow while Monk and Ham assist Doc Savage. The Shadow radio show appears as part of the plot, as does Doc Savage’s criminal rehabilitation facility where criminal tendencies are excised from the brain via surgery. Margo Lane (a radio creation not originally part of The Shadow’s team) is not seen in the book, which I thought was too bad.

I loved this book, even though it was long (over 470 pages), which equates to between three or four Shadow or Doc Savage novels. When I finished, I was sorry it was done and wanted to be there for another 100 or more pages.

If you like either of the two characters, you will love the book. Murray also has a recent Tarzan novel RETURN TO PAL-UL-DON, a sequel to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ TARZAN THE TERRIBLE. Both books are from Altus Press, a wonderful small publisher devoted to the pulps with reprints of great stories, histories of the magazines and writers, and some new work in the pulp tradition. You will probably have to order the book yourself as most bookstores are unlikely to have it on the shelves. If you can get your local bookstore to carry the publisher, you will be richly rewarded with some wonderful reading in all their publications. (This has been an unpaid, heartfelt endorsement from a reader who loves this stuff.)

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

 

Please, please, make it stop

Pride, Prejudice and Enough Already!

Pride, Prejudice and Enough Already!

Just spotted at Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Mag: LOCUS is reporting that Sherri Browning Erwen “sold JANE SLAYRE, a literary mash-up in which Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is a vampire slayer.”

This, of course, comes on the heels of Pride, Prejudice and Zombies; Sense, Sensibility and Sea Monsters; Emma and the Werewolves; and Mansfield Park and Mummies.  While a Austen/Bronte-meet-ze-monster book may have been a clever idea at one point, I just can’t imagine that the concept is worth sustaining a whole speculative fiction cottage industry.

Funny how literary types like to bash their Hollywood brethren for recycling tired tripe yet…