Friday, December 5, 2014

Blogging Sax Rohmer…In the Beginning, Part Five

“The Secret of Holm Peel” was first published in Cassell’s in December 1912 and was the last story Arthur Henry Ward published under the byline of Sarsfield Ward [having dropped the first initial A.]. Rohmer scholar Robert E. Briney rescued it from obscurity for the 1970 Ace paperback Rohmer collection of the same name. Gene Christie later selected the story for inclusion in the first volume of Black Dog Books’ Sax Rohmer Library, The Green Spider and Other Forgotten Tales of Mystery and Suspense in 2011. The story’s inspiration can be found in Rohmer’s article, “The Phantom Hound of Holm Peel” which was first published in Empire News in February 1938 and was later collected by Rohmer scholars Dr. Lawrence Knapp and John Robert Colombo in the 2012 Battered Silicon Dispatch Box collection of Rohmer’s articles, Pipe Dreams: Occasional Writings of Sax Rohmer. The article was later recounted by Rohmer’s widow, Elizabeth Sax Rohmer and his former assistant, Cay Van Ash in their 1972 biography of the author, Master of Villainy as well as by the aforementioned John Robert Colombo in his 2014 collection, A Rohmer Miscellany. The story itself is a well-written Gothic romance set on the Isle of Man at the estate of Holm Peel. Rohmer brews a delightful concoction of past life obsession, a ghostly hound, the curse of a suicide, family drama, and a daring jewel heist. The trouble is the jarring changes in narrative voice give the story an awkward, at times amateurish feel that undermines the strength of the otherwise polished narrative. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Blogging Sapper’s Bulldog Drummond, Part Seven – Temple Tower

Temple Tower (1929) was the sixth Bulldog Drummond novel and marked a departure from the series formula. Having killed Carl Peterson off at the conclusion of the fourth book and dealt with his embittered mistress Irma’s revenge scheme as the plot of the fifth book, Sapper took the series in an unexpected direction by turning to French pulp fiction for inspiration. Sapper also placed Hugh Drummond in a supporting role and elevated his loyal friend Peter Darrell to the role of narrator. The subsequent success of the venerable movie series and the future controversies generated by Sapper’s reactionary politics and bigotry obscured the versatility of his narratives and led to his being under-appreciated when considered with his peers. French pulp literature from the mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth century was particularly rich. While Jules Verne and Alexandre Dumas remain the best known French pulp authors of the era, Paul Feval’s highly influential swashbuckler, Le Bossu [“The Hunchback’] (1857) and his expansive criminal mastermind saga, Les Habits Noirs [“The Black Coats”] (1844 -1875) did much to set the stage for Pierre Souvestre and Marcel Allain’s long-running absurdist thriller series, Fantomas (1911 – 1963) as well as Arthur Bernede’s seminal masked avenger Judex (1916 – 1919). Pioneering French filmmaker, Louis Feuillade adapted both Fantomas and Judex to the silent screen as well as creating his own epic Apaches crime serial, Les Vampires (1915 - 1916). TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Sax Rohmer at Towers of London

A couple weeks ago I finally read Mr. Towers of London, the posthumously published memoirs of Harry Alan Towers, the unflappable veteran British radio/TV/film writer-producer with well over a hundred works to his credit. It wasn’t Towers’ first stab at writing his memoirs, but this final work was notable as his most personal. Anyone who actually knows major figures in the entertainment industry is likely aware of some of the salacious stories of debauchery, sometimes even criminal activity that are never far from the surface. Towers’ memoirs are unique for being perhaps the most honest ever committed to print. If he pulls any punches or whitewashes any parts of his adventures, he can surely be forgiven for what he does dish out about himself or others. That said, the most disappointing part of the book for me is that he tells the reader very little about his experiences as a writer. I would have loved to have understood more about the more private side of his profession as the book places all of the emphasis on his role as a producer. Today, he is unfairly remembered as the producer of genre films and exploitation fare. While that accounted for much of his output after the 1960s, he was also a respected writer-producer of family drama who frequently cast some of the biggest stars in Hollywood in his radio, TV, and film productions. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Solar Pons - Fu Manchu Connection

My colleague Bob Byrne has already introduced many new readers to August Derleth’s wonderfully tongue-in-cheek exploits of the unlikely-named Sherlock Holmes-inspired consulting detective, Solar Pons of Praed Street. Derleth loved tossing in nods to mystery works outside of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional universe. These included three memorable encounters with Sax Rohmer’s insidious Dr. Fu Manchu. “The Adventure of the Camberwell Beauty” was the first of the appearances to see publication in 1958. The story presents an unnamed Dr. Fu Manchu hiring the celebrated consulting detective to recover Karah, his beautiful young ward who has been abducted by his rival, Baron Corvus. The tale is set in the early 1930s and although the first chronicled, it is not our heroes’ first encounter with the Devil Doctor. Structured as a tribute to Rohmer’s 1933 novel, The Bride of Fu Manchu, the story reveals Karah (named for Rohmer’s Karamaneh) as the granddaughter of the Devil Doctor. Showing a nice bit of fidelity to Rohmer’s early tales, the unnamed Doctor resides in an underground Thames-side lair in Limehouse. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Frayling tackles his own Yellow Peril

The centennial of Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu character is a topic I have covered both for the anniversary of the Devil Doctor’s first appearance in the story, “The Zayat Kiss” in 1912 and the publication of the first novel (really a fix-up of stories), The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu in 1913. While Rohmer and the character are largely forgotten outside of pulp circles today, the legacy of the criminal mastermind is alive and well in film and comics. The concept of the Yellow Peril from an era when the broad term Oriental grouped together people from parts of Eastern Europe with all of Asia and the Middle East may sound anachronistic, but given the continued delicate relations between the Middle East and the West, those same fears personified are still the stuff of fiction and paranoia well over a century on. Sax Rohmer did not invent the criminal mastermind nor was he the first to capitalize on the Yellow Peril for works of fiction. What he did do was create an archetype that managed to embody and transcend the fears of a foreign other to instead personify the fear of Western society falling to a superior intellect operating under a completely different set of values. Rohmer did this better than anyone before and while Fu Manchu as a name may seem ridiculous, the concept of the character is still with us from James Bond films to the media’s portrayal of terrorist leaders in the 21st Century. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Renner & Quist at Their Very Best

Samhain Publishing has just ushered in Closing Time, their third Renner and Quist occult mystery from author Mark Rigney. Longtime readers of my articles will recall The Skates and Sleeping Bear, which introduced me to Rigney’s oddball double act. Renner is a persnickety Unitarian minister while Quist is a boorish ex-linebacker. Together, this unlikely duo team to solve occult mysteries. This latest addition to the quirky and delightful series takes our heroes from their usual Michigan stomping grounds to downtown Columbus, Ohio. It seems a long-demolished hotel is doing its best to return to existence. It currently inhabits its original location in another dimension complete with guests and staff from past decades co-existing. These include such celebrated faces from the past as Amelia Earhart, James Thurber, Charles Dickens, and Marilyn Monroe. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Meet The Mad Mummy

I was first introduced to Mike Vosburg’s work through my love of Sax Rohmer. His wonderful artwork graced Master of Villainy, the 1972 biography of Rohmer by the author’s widow and Cay Van Ash. Later, I would discover Mike’s artwork also appeared in The Rohmer Review fanzine. Many more years later, I was fortunate enough to have Mike provide the back cover illustration to my second Fu Manchu book. He also gave my daughter a gift of autographed copies of some of his professional work which made her feel like the luckiest nine year old girl on the planet. I don’t claim to know the man well, but I adore his work and know him as a genuinely kind and generous artist. The influence of Sax Rohmer is never far away from Mike’s art. From his early professional work for Marvel Comics with The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu (featuring Shang-Chi, the son of Fu Manchu) to Offcastes, his 1993 Epic Comics limited series set on a future Earth that parallels the colonialism of the past right down to classic Yellow Peril elements including the Zayat Kiss; Rohmer’s shadow looms large. Today, Mike is best known as an award-winning storyboard artist for the Hollywood majors. He still has his hands in the indie comic world, though with such titles as Retrowood, Lori Lovecraft, and his latest creation, The Mad Mummy. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Blogging Sapper’s Bulldog Drummond, Part Six – The Female of the Species

Sapper’s The Female of the Species (1928) is quite likely the best book in the long-running Bulldog Drummond thriller series. It’s one failing comes late in the narrative and spoils it as assuredly as Mickey Rooney’s bucktoothed yellow-face performance as Mr. Yunioshi sours Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) for modern audiences. As a devoted fan of both Blake Edwards and Sapper, I do my best to make exceptions for their failings, particularly when they were acceptable in the times they lived in. In the case of the former, the suggestion of pornographic photos in Truman Capote’s novella could never have been transferred to the screen with an Asian actor in the role of Audrey Hepburn’s frustrated landlord. Edwards soft-pedaled the material and defused a scene that never would have slipped by the Production Code if handled dramatically by offering Mickey Rooney in a broad caricature of an Asian. It was a star cameo in a comic stereotype still common in television sitcoms of the 1960s and Jerry Lewis films. Audiences at the time laughed at the fact that it was Mickey Rooney making a fool of himself and nothing more. Today, the classic status of the film makes the sequence stick out as an unfortunate example of racial insensitivity in a fashion that does not taint comedies of the same era which are now considered a time capsule example of what passed for juvenile humor at the time. So we come to The Female of the Species where Sapper’s engrossing thriller falls apart at the climax for modern readers by the repeated belittling of Pedro, an African henchman as a “nigger.” Worst of all, Sapper attempts black-face humor and notes the disguised Drummond doesn’t smell like a “nigger.” This isn’t a colonial jungle tale where the word was often employed without contempt; this is a Roaring Twenties thriller where it is used as a contemptuous slur. While allegations of Sapper’s racism are often exaggerated by modern commentators, when he does pile it on he stands out among his contemporaries as genuinely intolerant of everyone and everything not British. Never is this more true than in this book where the sheer repetition of the slur from multiple protagonists who hold the man in contempt for the color of his skin alone leads one to feel repulsed. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE,PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Blogging Sax Rohmer…In the Beginning, Part Four

We already noted in our last installment that Arthur Henry Ward had adopted the pseudonym of Sax Rohmer for his relatively successful career as a music hall songwriter and comedy sketch writer. He would later claim that he worked as a newspaper reporter during these years, but that his articles were published anonymously. Allegedly he covered waterfront crime in Limehouse, but he also claimed to have successfully managed interviews with heads of state. There is little doubt the man was a great raconteur, but none of the anonymously published articles and interviews Rohmer credits himself with writing have ever been located by researchers. It is highly questionable whether he ever actually worked as a journalist or at least to the extent he claimed. What is factual is that he did begin having works published anonymously. As a young man, he ran with a crowd of self-styled bohemians who occupied a clubhouse on Oakmead Road in London. Each member of the gang was known by rather fanciful nicknames with Rohmer being known as Digger. Their activities ran from simply hanging around the clubhouse to picking up girls and attempting various get-rich-quick schemes to avoid making an honest living. Some of their schemes were of questionable legality. Around this time, Rohmer decided he would fictionalize their exploits. It is believed he authored seven stories about the Oakmead Road Gang. Five manuscripts were known to have survived their author’s death: “Narky,” “Rupert,” “Digger’s Aunt,” “The Pot Hunters,” and “The Treasure Chest.” All seven stories were submitted for anonymous publication to Yes and No. It appears only the first of the group of stories ever saw print. The surviving four manuscripts passed upon the death of Rohmer’s widow to Cay Van Ash. When Van Ash died in Paris twenty years ago, Rohmer's unpublished manuscripts were being held by a friend in Tokyo (where Van Ash lived for many years while teaching at Waseda University). When the friend had his visa rescinded on short notice in 2000, he was forced to leave Rohmer's manuscripts behind where they were junked by a Japanese family who thought the storage boxes contained worthless garbage. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Blogging Sax Rohmer…In the Beginning, Part Three

“The M’Villin” was first published in Pearson’s Magazine in December 1906. Rohmer was still writing under the slightly modified version of his real name, A. Sarsfield Ward. The story represented a quantum leap forward in the quality of Rohmer’s fiction and shows the influence of Alexandre Dumas’ swashbucklers. Dumas remained a surprising influence on the author who still turned out the odd swashbuckler as late as the 1950s. It should also be noted that the character of Lola Dumas in President Fu Manchu (1936) is said to be a descendant of the famous author while The Crime Magnet stories Rohmer penned in the 1930s and 1940s feature Major de Treville, a character whose surname suggests he is a descendant of the commander of the Musketeers from Dumas’ D’artagnan Romances. Colonel Fergus M’Villin may be oddly named, but he makes for a fascinating character. An expert swordsman and fencing master, he is also a bit of a cad. The story of how he comes to avenge the honor of the man he previously slew in an earlier duel maintains the breezy good humor and spirit of adventure that colors The Three Musketeers in its earlier chapters. Rohmer thought well enough of the character to have penned a sequel, “The Ebony Casket,” but it was never published. The manuscript survived up until the year 2000 when it was junked in Tokyo by a family who did not imagine its worth to collectors. Rohmer remained proud of the story and included it in his 1932 collection of short fiction, Tales of East and West. He slightly altered the spelling of the character’s name and story’s title to “The McVillin.” It only appears in the rare UK edition published by Cassell and not the US edition or its reprint by Bookfinger. The story was not reprinted until Gene Christie collected it for the first volume of Black Dog Books’ Sax Rohmer Library, The Green Spider and Other Forgotten Tales of Mystery and Suspense in 2011. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Blogging Sax Rohmer’s The Shadow of Fu Manchu, Part Two

The Shadow of Fu Manchu was serialized in Collier’s from May 8 to June 12, 1948. Hardcover editions followed later that year from Doubleday in the U.S. and Herbert Jenkins in the U.K. Sax Rohmer’s eleventh Fu Manchu thriller gets underway with Sir Denis Nayland Smith in New York on special assignment with the FBI. He is partnered with FBI Agent Raymond Harkness to investigate why agents from various nations are converging on Manhattan. Sir Denis suspects the object of international attention is the special project being handled by The Huston Research Laboratory under the supervision of Dr. Morris Craig. However, Smith initially chooses to keep the FBI in the dark on this matter until he is certain. The Si-Fan has succeeded in closing in on The Huston Research Laboratory by drawing a net around the parent corporation Huston Electric’s director, millionaire Michael Frobisher and his wife, Stella. The Frobisher marriage is not a happy one. Michael lives in fear that his flirtatious wife is unfaithful to him and Stella is likewise tormented by a series of neuroses. The family physician, Dr. Pardoe recommends an eminent European psychiatrist and Nazi concentration camp survivor, Professor Hoffmeyer to treat Stella Frobisher. Both Mr. and Mrs. Frobisher are concerned that Asians have been spying on them, going so far as to break into their home and infiltrate their country club. As their marriage is not a healthy one, neither husband nor wife confide in the other, but rather let their paranoia grow until their nerves have frayed. What neither suspects is that Carl Hoffmeyer is really Dr. Fu Manchu in disguise. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Blogging Sax Rohmer’s The Shadow of Fu Manchu, Part One

The Shadow of Fu Manchu was serialized in Collier’s from May 8 to June 12, 1948. Hardcover editions followed later that year from Doubleday in the U.S. and Herbert Jenkins in the U.K. The book was Sax Rohmer’s eleventh Fu Manchu thriller and was also the last of the perennial series to make the bestseller lists. The story had its origins in a stage play Rohmer had developed for several years that failed to get off the ground. It became instead the first new Fu Manchu novel in seven years, during which time the property had begun to fade from the public eye. It had been eight years since the character last appeared on the big screen and since the radio series had reached its conclusion. Detective Comics had long since finished reprinting the newspaper strip as a back-up feature for Batman. As far as the public was concerned Fu Manchu was a part of the past that seemed far removed from a world transformed by the Second World War. The initial three novels in the series were written before and during the First World War, but were set in a pre-war Britain where the paranoid delusions of the Yellow Peril personified offered a much needed dose of escapism from the realities of war in Europe. The Yellow Peril itself was a stereotype based on a turn-of-the-century conflict that became an early example of the “foreign-other” bogeymen who would increasingly feed the fears of the West in this new century. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE,PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Long-Awaited Return of Bulldog Drummond

Even more than the sinister Dr. Fu Manchu, Bulldog Drummond has become more and more obscure with each passing decade. The original ten novels and five short stories penned by H. C. McNeile (better known by his pen name, Sapper) were bestsellers in the 1920s and 1930s and were an obvious and admitted influence upon the creation of James Bond. Gerard Fairlie turned Sapper’s final story outline into a bestselling novel in 1938 and went on to pen six more original novels featuring the character through 1954. While the Fairlie titles sold well enough in the UK, the American market for the character had begun to dry up with the proliferation of hardboiled detective fiction. By the time, Fairlie decided to throw in the towel, the long-running movie series and radio series had also reached the finish line. Apart from an unsuccessful television pilot, the character remained dormant for a decade until he was updated as one of many 007 imitations who swung through a pair of campy spy movies during the Swinging Sixties. Henry Reymond adapted both screenplays for a pair of paperback originals, but these efforts barely registered outside the UK. Fifteen years later, Jack Smithers brought Drummond out of retirement (literally) to join up with several of his clubland contemporaries in Combined Forces (1983). Smithers’ tribute was a sincere effort that found a very limited market to appreciate its cult celebration of the heroes of several generations past. Finally thirty years later, Drummond is back in the first of three new period-piece thrillers from the unlikely pen of fantasy writer Stephen Deas. In a uniquely twenty-first century wrinkle, the three new thrillers are being published exclusively as e-books by Piqwiq. TO CONTINUE READING THIS REVIEW,PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A Must for Sax Rohmer Fans - A Rohmer Miscellany

John Robert Colombo is a Canadian author and poet with over 200 titles to his credit. Apart from the acclaim his creative work has brought him, he is also a lifelong Sax Rohmer fan and collector who has distinguished himself in this rarified circle. A charter member of the now-defunct Sax Rohmer Society and early contributor to the society’s official publication, The Rohmer Review, Colombo never lost his passion for the weird fiction of this former bestselling thriller author. Rather late in his prestigious literary career, Colombo decided to contribute to Rohmerania by expanding the author’s catalogue in conjunction with Dr. George Vanderburgh’s Battered Silicon Dispatch Box imprint. Colombo edited the definitive collection of Rohmer’s female Fu Manchu with The Sumuru Omnibus, a massive tome which brought together all five Sumuru novels penned during the author’s last decade and preserved them in their original unexpurgated text. Colombo also compiled a monograph of Sumuru’s aphorisms direct from Rohmer’s original text with Tears of Our Lady. The unique feature of the monograph being that this same title exists within the fictional universe of the books and is referred to and quoted from frequently. Now, thanks to Colombo’s efforts, Sumuru’s fictional monograph exists as a real world collectible. Colombo and Vanderburgh also competed (unknowingly at first) with Will Murray and Altus Press in publishing the first book to collect all of Rohmer’s tales of The Crime Magnet. Still later, they teamed to produce the first anthology of Rohmer’s non-fiction articles and autobiographical essays, Pipe Dream spanning the author’s entire career. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

New Pulp delivers its own Occult Anti-Hero in Magee

I’ll come right out and admit I have mixed feelings about ebooks. I travel considerably for my day job and don’t mind having portable versions of books I own for quick reference, but the idea of owning books that cannot be found in print editions on my shelves at home irks me. That said, I recognize the market for digital-only titles is steadily growing, particularly among small press publishers. This, of course, is having its impact on the “New Pulp” community. Witness Pro Se Press’s decision earlier this year to discontinue their pulp magazine, Pro Se Presents and replace it with their Single Shot Signatures line of short stories available exclusively as ebooks. My first sampling of the above is the newly published Magee, Volume One – “Knight from Hell” by David White. At first glance, I was struck by the apparent illustration of publisher Tommy Hancock on the cover, but on second glance I determined it was actually author David White wearing one of Tommy’s trademark hats. Of course, I was wrong on both counts since the illustration actually depicts the anti-hero of the piece, Magee. Magee, it transpires, is actually the fallen angel Malachi who was exiled from Heaven after a fight over a woman with the archangel Michael. We’ll pause right here and note that David White is not a theologian and plays fast and loose with Christian tradition on such celestial matters. Following that disclaimer, we’ll make mention of the fact that Michael likewise banished the archangel Lucifer from Heaven following a similar fight. It seems that God is an absentee deity in these proceedings as He has abandoned Heaven to putter around in the Garden of Eden for several thousand years now. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Blogging Sapper’s Bulldog Drummond, Part Five – “The Final Count”

Sapper’s The Final Count (1926) saw the Bulldog Drummond formula being shaken and stirred yet again. The first four books in the series are the most popular because they chronicle Drummond’s ongoing battle with criminal mastermind Carl Peterson. The interesting factor is how different the four books are from one another. Sapper seemed determined to cast aside the idea of the series following a template and the result kept the series fresh as well as atypical. The most striking feature this time is the decision to opt for a first person narrator in the form of John Stockton, the newest member of Drummond’s gang. While Drummond’s wife, Phyllis played a crucial role in the first book, she barely registers in the first three sequels. One would have expected Sapper to have continued the damsel in distress formula with Phyllis in peril, but he really only exploits this angle in the second book in the series, The Black Gang (1922). The Black Gang reappear here, if only briefly, and are quickly dispatched by the more competent and deadly threat they face. This befits the more serious tone of this book which has very few humorous passages. The reason for the somber tone is the focus is on a scientific discovery of devastating consequence that threatens to either revolutionize war or end its threat forever. Robin Gaunt is the tragic genius whose invention of a deadly poison that could wipe out a city the size of London by being released into the air proved eerily prescient. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Blogging Sax Rohmer…In the Beginning, Part Two

“The Green Spider” marked Sax Rohmer’s third foray into short fiction. Still writing under the pen name of A. Sarsfield Ward, the story first appeared in the October 1904 issue of Pearson’s Magazine. It was not reprinted until 65 years later in Issue #3 of The Rohmer Review in 1969. Subsequently, a corrupted version with an altered ending courtesy of the editor appeared in the May 1973 issue of Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine. The restored text was included in the 1979 anthology, Science Fiction Rivals of H. G. Wells. More recently the story has appeared in the 1992 anthology, Victorian Tales of Mystery and Detection, the September 2005 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and as the title story in the first volume of Black Dog Books’ Sax Rohmer Library, The Green Spider and Other Forgotten Tales of Mystery and Suspense (2011). The story itself shares in common with Rohmer’s first effort, “The Mysterious Mummy” the presentation of a seemingly supernatural mystery that has a rational explanation. In the nine months that elapsed between the publication of “The Leopard Couch” and “The Green Spider,” Rohmer honed his writing skills and became a more devoted student of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and deductive reasoning. “The Green Spider” concerns the disappearance of the celebrated Professor Brayme-Skepley on the eve of an important scientific presentation. It appears to onlookers and Scotland Yard that the Professor has been murdered by a giant green spider that apparently made off with his corpse. The unraveling of the mystery reveals the green spider is no more authentic a threat than the phantom hound of the Baskervilles. While a minor effort, the story retains its charm more than a century on and shows that the mysterious A. Sarsfield Ward was steadily improving as an author. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Blogging Sapper’s Bulldog Drummond, Part Four – “The Third Round”

Sapper’s The Third Round (1926) marked a return to the more humorous tone of the first book in the series. Not only the humor, but the premise of that initial book is invoked with the decision to again build the plot around a spunky female whose doddering old father has fallen prey to heinous villains. All trace of The Black Gang and its doom-laden paranoia over England likewise falling prey to a communist revolution has been removed. In its place we have Hugh Drummond once again eager to escape the boredom of everyday life and engaging in comical banter with friends and foes alike. The starting point for the adventure this time is the impending nuptials of Algy Longworth, Hugh’s old friend who has finally been reduced to the silly ass familiar from the stage play and film adaptations. The catalyst for Algy’s descent into idiocy is his having fallen head over heels in love to the extent that he now horrifies his friends by reciting poetry. So serious is his obsession with the girl of his dreams that he has become a literal walking disaster shunned by all who know him. Algy’s future father-in-law, Professor Goodman has realized an alchemist’s dream of manufacturing diamonds at almost no cost. His intent to take this amazing discovery public brings him to the attention of the diamond syndicate who promptly hire Carl Peterson to remove this living, breathing threat to their livelihood. The novel opens with the syndicate’s interview with Peterson just as the first book opened with Peterson bringing together the international team to financiers to bankroll his scheme to destroy the British economy. Once again, Sapper deliberately echoes the introduction of Dr. Nikola in the first of Guy Boothby’s series in his treatment of the introductory meeting of the chief villain. Sapper’s decision to bring Peterson up from the background to a point of focus as the central threat for the first time is its greatest strength for his narrative finally has a focal point equal to Drummond’s often overpowering personality. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE TOMORROW.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Blogging Sax Rohmer…in the Beginning, Part One

“The Mysterious Mummy” marked Sax Rohmer’s first appearance in print. Only 20 years old at the time, Rohmer was then writing under the byline of A. Sarsfield Ward. Born Arthur Henry Ward, Sarsfield was a surname of historical repute from his mother’s side of the family which he adopted at the start of his writing career. A preview of the story was featured in the November 19, 1903 issue of Pearson’s Weekly with the full story printed in the November 24 issue. “The Mysterious Mummy” languished in obscurity until it was reprinted by Peter Haining in the 1986 anthology, Ray Bradbury Introduces Tales of Dungeons and Dragons. Haining also included the story in the 1988 anthology, The Mummy: Stories of the Living Corpse. Rohmer scholar Gene Christie selected the story for inclusion in the first volume of Black Dog Books’ Sax Rohmer Library, The Green Spider and Other Forgotten Tales of Mystery and Suspense published in 2011. The most interesting feature about this first foray into fiction is that it is not at all a living mummy story, but rather a straight heist caper. Rohmer later disingenuously claimed that a copycat theft was attempted in France and the thief was arrested with a copy of Pearson’s Weekly on his person featuring the story which he claimed was so good he had to risk trying it in real life. Rohmer, of course, was a terribly unreliable interview subject. While it is possible the press were more gullible a century ago, it is more likely they viewed his tall tales as good copy. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Blogging Sapper’s Bulldog Drummond, Part Three – The Black Gang

The most striking feature of the second Bulldog Drummond thriller by Sapper is the near complete removal of humor from the proceedings compared with the frequent light touch demonstrated with the initial book in the series. There is also precious little mention of the First World War, which was such an important factor in the first book, as the focus here is much more on the reaction against the Russian Revolution and the fear of a similar communist uprising occurring in Britain during the early 1920s. Once more the influence of Edgar Wallace’s Four Just Men series is strongly felt, particularly in the first half of the book where the Black Gang are featured anonymously with no mention of their true identities. Many critics label this second entry in the long-running series as fascist. I suppose that is an understandable reaction to a vigilante storyline in which it is suggested Britain would benefit from modifying freedom of speech to deny protection to radicals. The Black Gang is very much a Machiavellian work, but one which seeks to restore order at its conclusion by having Hugh Drummond agree to dismantle the Black Gang and let the law sit in judgment over criminals going forward. Of course with such a finale as this one wonders why Sapper bothered to take the proceedings to such an extreme in the first place. The success Edgar Wallace enjoyed with his own vigilante series was undeniably an influence, but the author’s underlying motivation appears to have been his genuine outrage over the slaughter of the Russian royal family and the belief that those behind the Bolshevik movement were not fervent followers of communism, but rather unprincipled villains eager to exploit a utopian ideology to put themselves in positions of power. Sapper wanted to see the threat of communism put down and could only envision such a task being accomplished by private citizens working outside the law. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Review: They Say the Sirens Left the Seas

The very talented darkly-humored poet James Hutchings returns with his third collection, They Say the Sirens Left the Seas. I previously reviewed his first offering, The New Death and Others back in 2011. This new collection offers readers more of what they have come to expect from this eccentric and highly original voice. Hutchings is just as much at home spinning fables as he is dishing up Gothic treats or plunging into the ridiculous with no consideration of social conventions. All three of his excellent collections are available at Amazon as eBooks or direct from the Smashwords website for download for less than a dollar apiece. TO CONTINUE READING THIS REVIEW, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE TOMORROW.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Blogging Sapper's Bulldog Drummond, Part Two

The strongest scenes in Bulldog Drummond (1920) are the ones that show off Sapper’s strengths as a humorist. While it has since become commonplace to see Bondian heroes tossing off quips while being menaced by an unfailingly polite villain, it hardly compares to the way Hugh Drummond handled himself in similar scenarios. Drummond regularly displays a self-deprecating humor when it comes to his features and his intellect, yet his ability to needle villains by refusing to treat them as a serious threat displays an intelligence and understanding of the criminal mind that proves a constant source of amusement for the reader. Drummond may start off as an independently wealthy and very bored veteran of the First World War who seeks adventure, but the character soon transforms into the head of a gang of vigilantes determined to right wrongs as they see fit. He and his gang view meting out justice without resorting to the law as their right as recently demobilized soldiers. The wartime ability to kill without fear of criminal punishment continues into their clandestine civilian activities, although they take the precaution of hiding behind masks and hoods to protect their identities when doing so. Drummond’s gang includes his fellow World War I veterans Algy Longworth, Peter Darrell, Ted Jerningham, Toby Sinclair, and Jerry Seymour, as well as New York police detective Jerome Green. Later dubbed The Black Gang, the vigilante squad was clearly inspired by Edgar Wallace’s bestselling Four Just Men series. The secret war they wage is aimed squarely against the forces of socialism and communism to an extent that was matched only by Harold Gray’s original version of Little Orphan Annie. The anti-foreign sentiments in the first book take root around the perceived threat of foreigners altering the course of England’s political identity and economic status. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Blogging Sapper’s Bulldog Drummond, Part One

Bulldog Drummond is a peculiar case. The reputation of the original novels is more maligned than even Sax Rohmer’s Yellow Peril thrillers. To be sure, “Sapper” (the pseudonym of author H. C. McNeile) expressed views that stand out as offensive even among the common colonial prejudices of Edwardian England. The reason for this is easily understood. The author’s nationalistic fervor was predicated on the belief that the only good nation was Britain and every other nationality was inferior to varying degrees. McNeile was a “True Blue” Brit in every way. A decorated veteran of the Great War, Sapper and his characters adore England and are intolerant of everyone else. Americans are castigated for their crudeness, the French are pompous, and Germans are a vile and irredeemable people. More bigoted views will follow, but that is the extent in the first quarter of the first book in the series. Having addressed the bad, what is it that makes the books still worth reading nearly a century later? Are they simply a document of more repressive times or do they offer value that makes one willing to overlook the reliance upon stereotypes and casual slurs? I would argue that anyone interested in the development of the thriller and pulp fiction should be exposed to at least the first four books in the long-running series. There is much that is light and entertaining in Sapper’s fiction to the extent that they often read like drawing room comedies until thriller aspects interrupt the humor. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Hardboiled Pulp: More Than Just a Man’s World

The world of hardboiled pulp is certainly male-dominated, but there have been female authors who have given the masters of the sub-genre a run for their money. Leigh Brackett is certainly the best known female hardboiled writer if only for her screenplay adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep (1945) for director Howard Hawks' acclaimed film featuring Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe. Brackett also adapted Chandler’s The Long Goodbye (1973) for director Robert Altman's deconstruction of the genre with Elliott Gould as Marlowe. Less well-remembered is the hardboiled novel that won Brackett the chance to first adapt Chandler, No Good from a Corpse (1944). From the outset, it is clear this is Chandler territory. Brackett’s tough guy private eye hero Ed Clive (named for Brackett’s husband and fellow pulp author, Edmond Hamilton) is very much in the Marlowe tradition and the Los Angeles setting only enhances the authentic feel. More than the trappings, it is the fact that Brackett writes convincingly as a man (particularly in her observations of women as objects of lust who are never to be entirely trusted) that is the most startling. One understands Howard Hawks’ surprise when he hired Brackett as a screenwriter on the strength of this book and found out she was a woman. Murder, blackmail, sultry singers, and beatings and shootings aplenty make No Good from a Corpse an unsung classic of pulp detective fiction. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Resurrection of Dr. Mabuse, Part Two

Less than six months ago, I reviewed indie wunderkind Ansel Faraj’s 21st Century update of Dr. Mabuse. The Rondo-nominated film garnered more attention from genre fans for Faraj’s stunt casting of veterans of the 1960s Gothic soap opera, Dark Shadows than it did for his faithful recreation of Expressionism in the digital age of indie filmmaking. I won’t claim Faraj is the equal of Fritz Lang or that his Hollinsworth Productions offers the re-sources of UFA at its peak, but this is a young man who impresses in spite of the limitations of budget and time. There is a dreamlike quality to his work which is helped rather than hindered by the Spartan production values. One wonders just what he would be capable of rendering given studio backing. Faraj’s latest production, Etiopomar is the second half of his Doctor Mabuse reboot and deftly blends elements of Norbert Jacques’ original novel that Fritz Lang and his screenwriter wife Thea Von Harbou jettisoned for their 5 hour two-part adaptation of the book in 1922 while incorporating characters from Lang and Von Harbou’s Metropolis (1927). When one considers Lang’s silent masterpieces, the visionary Metropolis easily supersedes his Mabuse pictures. Metropolis is a stunning sci-fi epic that is still influential nearly 90 years on. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Blogging Dan Barry’s Flash Gordon, Part Fifteen

“Return to Mongo” by Dan Barry was serialized by King Features Syndicate from January 2 to March 24, 1956. The story gets underway with a party celebrating Dr. Zarkov’s newly discovered young adult daughter Zara and her arrival on Earth after growing up on an otherwise deserted swamp planet with her mother. Flash, Dale, and the Space Kids are at the party when Zarkov is alerted to the discovery that Mongo is once again entering Earth’s orbit and threatening our world’s stability. Willie, who still has the ability to psychically grant wishes, inadvertently teleports everyone from the party to Mongo. Flash and the Space Kids are immediately set upon by Queen Azura’s cowled servants who nearly massacre them. Working as a team to defeat Azura’s servants, Flash and the Space Kids are overcome by a paralyzing gas as they explore a nearby cave. They are subsequently captured and brought to Queen Azura’s palace where they learn she is plotting to overthrow Prince Barin. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY, MAY 9.

Blogging Dan Barry’s Flash Gordon, Part Fourteen

“The Swamp Girl” by Dan Barry was serialized by King Features Syndicate from October 31 to December 31, 1955. Just as Dan Barry guided the strip closer to its origins, he took two sidesteps in introducing a back-story for Dr. Zarkov that Alex Raymond never intended. “The Swamp Girl” introduces us to a hot-tempered, beautiful young woman called Zara whose mother was the sole survivor when her rocket crashed on the swamp world of Malagua twenty years before. As the story begins, Lisa, Zara’s mother is succumbing to malaria just as her daughter has finally succeeded in repairing their rocketship. Zara sets off to visit her father’s home world of Earth and fulfill her mother’s dying request that her daughter bring the father she has never met to see her mother before she dies so that her mother may reconcile with him. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY, MAY 2.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Blogging Dan Barry’s Flash Gordon, Part Thirteen

“Space Circus” by Dan Barry was serialized by King Features Syndicate from September 5 to October 29, 1955. “Space Circus” is significant for being the first time in the Dan Barry strips where Flash’s past adventures on Mongo are now an integral part of the storyline. One wonders if reader response prompted King Features to request a change of direction from what would be considered a reboot today to a direct sequel to the original storyline of the early 1930s. “Space Circus” gets underway with Flash abducted by a flying saucer while out driving on a desert road late one night. Abduction by UFO was a relatively new concept in the 1950s, but one that was spreading rapidly as a fear that many shared during the Cold War era. The aliens are from the planet Mesmo and are depicted as Asian caricatures. While a number of the inhabitants of Mongo were Asian in appearance, they were traditionally portrayed as exotic and not as demeaning cartoonish representations. While there were certainly many more offensive Yellow Peril figures in comics of the era, the Mesmans are a far cry from the seductive and imposing inhabitants of Mongo as Alex Raymond portrayed them. Flash soon finds himself sold as a slave in the middle of a metropolitan city on Mesmo. He is purchased by The Great Barno, owner of the Interplanetary Spectacle. Flash finds communication with the telepathic, but seemingly mute Mesmans impossible. He is brutally punished during his training as a trapeze artist. At night in his cell, Flash befriends his fellow circus performers: Hukko, a captive Hawkman from Mongo; Dr. Manimo, a four-armed Anterran physicist; Groz, a captive from the tree kingdom of Primeva; and Hugar the strong man. The camaraderie between the captives helps make circus life bearable until the fateful night they are involved in an accidental train crash that derails the circus train and sends hurling off a bridge into the lagoon far below. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Blogging Dan Barry’s Flash Gordon, Part Twelve

“Starling” by Dan Barry was serialized by King Features Syndicate from July 11 to September 3, 1955. “Starling” starts off with Flash visiting Dr. Zarkov one evening to find his old friend depressed as the U.S. Government has turned down his request for an additional million dollars funding to finish construction of the Super-S Rocket. It is a nice hint of direction for the strip to come which will take the series closer to its roots. Flash and Zarkov are startled by the discovery of a prowler outside, but the man gets away. Over the next few days, similar disturbing incidents occur. Flash and Dale are nearly run down by a speeding car while out walking one afternoon on the grounds of Zarkov’s estate. Later, a crate is dropped off the roof of a downtown building when Flash is walking beneath and just misses him. Shortly thereafter, Zarkov receives a telephone call from B. B. Remsen, the billionaire industrialist requesting an interview with Flash. Upon visiting Remsen’s estate, Flash is outraged to discover Remsen hired his goon, Byron to test Flash’s reflexes by nearly running him down with a speeding car and dropping a crate off a building. Byron was the prowler at Zarkov’s estate who learned of the need for financing for the Super-S Rocket. Remsen agrees to finance the rocket if Flash will take on a unique assignment. Remsen’s very wild granddaughter, Starling wants to travel in space and Remsen wants Flash to pilot the rocket that will take her to the stars. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Forgotten Treasures of the Pulps: Tony Rome, Private Eye

The paperback original (PBO to collectors) was the immediate successor to the pulp magazine as the home of pulp fiction. Marvin Albert was one of the bright lights of the paperback original market for detective fiction. Albert’s work is revered in France where he is considered a master of the hardboiled form, but he is largely forgotten Stateside since his work lacks the literary polish of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler and was never as shocking as Mickey Spillaine. Albert never broke new ground, but he did excel at crafting hardboiled private eye stories in the classic tradition from the fifties through the eighties. Much like Max Allan Collins or Michael Avallone, he also supplemented his income adapting screenplays as movie tie-in novels for the paperback original market. Oddly enough, Albert’s specialty was bedroom farces where Hollywood adaptations were concerned. Albert utilized a number of pseudonyms during his career (many of which were reprinted under his real name in later years). He published three mysteries featuring tough private eye, Tony Rome in the early 1960s. The books were published in the byline of Anthony Rome as if to suggest the tales being told were real cases. Tony Rome is remembered today thanks to a pair of campy Frank Sinatra vehicles in the mid-sixties which portray the character as a middle-aged playboy drooling after bikini-clad lovelies half his age. The fact that the private eye operated out of a houseboat drew comparison to the later Travis McGee private eye series. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Thankless World of the Continuation Author

Despite the title, this article is not intended as a forum for a continuation author to lament how unforgiving his critics are. Bad reviews are tough to avoid for any writer and, in this instance, I’m the one bad-mouthing another continuation writer. I do not feel pangs of guilt since the author in question is not only talented, but very successful and lauded in his industry. In other words, I’m an insignificant mouse picking on an elephant and that hopefully protects me from charges of betraying one of my own. I recently read Benjamin Black’s The Black-Eyed Blonde, the first Philip Marlowe continuation novel in nearly 25 years. I can think of only one nice thing to say about the book and that is at long last Robert B. Parker need no longer be disparaged as the man who wrote the two worst Philip Marlowe mysteries. I am a fan of Black’s original historical mysteries, but my familiarity with his work did nothing to convince me he was a good choice to revive Raymond Chandler’s classic private eye hero, particularly when a talent such as Ace Atkins is out there and writing new Spenser mysteries that do justice to the originals. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Blogging Sax Rohmer’s The Island of Fu Manchu, Part Four

Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu and the Panama Canal was first serialized in Liberty Magazine from November 16, 1940 to February 1, 1941. It was published in book form as The Island of Fu Manchu by Doubleday in the US and Cassell in the UK in 1941. The book serves as a direct follow-up to Rohmer’s 1939 bestseller, The Drums of Fu Manchu and is again narrated by Fleet Street journalist, Bart Kerrigan. The final quarter of the novel sees Rohmer really deliver the goods with Kerrigan and Sir Denis Nayland Smith successfully infiltrating the Haitian voodoo ceremony of Queen Mamaloi. While similar scenes had occurred in the past at various clandestine gatherings of the Si-Fan, the sequence most closely resembles the gathering of the followers of El Mahdi in 1932’s The Mask of Fu Manchu. Rohmer’s mastery of the art of suspense writing makes the reader believe the heroes are in genuine danger. While this is no small feat considering the number of times Rohmer had penned similar scenes in the past, part of the success here is down to the climactic revelation of the voodoo Queen Mamaloi. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Blogging Sax Rohmer’s The Island of Fu Manchu, Part Three

Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu and the Panama Canal was first serialized in Liberty Magazine from November 16, 1940 to February 1, 1941. It was published in book form as The Island of Fu Manchu by Doubleday in the US and Cassell in the UK in 1941. The book serves as a direct follow-up to Rohmer’s 1939 bestseller, The Drums of Fu Manchu and is again narrated by Fleet Street journalist, Bart Kerrigan. The second half of the book gets underway with Sir Denis Nayland Smith, Sir Lionel Barton, Bart Kerrigan, and the local police chief holding a council of war to discuss the enigmatic Lou Cabot. A meeting is arranged by Kerrigan and Sir Denis with the dancer Flammario who is Cabot’s former lover. Cabot is involved with the Si-Fan and has run afoul of Dr. Fu Manchu. Both the Devil Doctor and Flammario wish to see Cabot dead. Flammario is clearly meant to recall Zarmi from the third Fu Manchu novel, but she is more bitter than she is seductive. She leads Smith and Kerrigan to Cabot’s apartment. Unfortunately, the Si-Fan had the advantage and arrived before them. The place is in a shambles and they find Cabot’s hideosuly mangled corpse. Kerrigan spies Ardatha’s ring on a shelf and knows that his lost love has fallen back into the Si-Fan’s clutches. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Blogging Sax Rohmer’s The Island of Fu Manchu, Part Two

Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu and the Panama Canal was first serialized in Liberty Magazine from November 16, 1940 to February 1, 1941. It was published in book form as The Island of Fu Manchu by Doubleday in the US and Cassell in the UK in 1941. The second quarter of the novel begins with Ardatha phoning Kerrigan before he leaves for their mission abroad. She shares Fu Manchu’s itinerary with him in the hopes he will arrange for the return of Peko, Fu Manchu’s pet marmoset. After hanging up, a confused Kerrigan learns Sir Lionel abducted the animal while being liberated from the clinic in Regent Park. Sir Denis explains both he and Barton understand Peko’s value as a hostage. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE NEXT FRIDAY.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Blogging Sax Rohmer’s The Island of Fu Manchu, Part One

Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu and the Panama Canal was first serialized in Liberty Magazine from November 16, 1940 to February 1, 1941. It was published in book form as The Island of Fu Manchu by Doubleday in the US and Cassell in the UK in 1941. The book serves as a direct follow-up to Rohmer’s 1939 bestseller, The Drums of Fu Manchu and is again narrated by Fleet Street journalist, Bart Kerrigan. The previous book in the series was published just prior to the outbreak of the Second World War in Europe. Rohmer chose to portray characters such as Hitler and Mussolini under thinly disguised aliases. More critically, he chose to have these threats to world peace removed by the conclusion of the book as he naively believed a Second World War would be avoided at all costs. Over a year into the war, Rohmer had to address these issues for his readers. His excuse was a brilliant one. The prior narrative had been censored by the Home Office. Bart Kerrigan was forced to alter names and events. Hitler and Mussolini yet lived. Interestingly, Rohmer chose to pick up the story some months after the last title and reflect changes in the lives of his characters. The Si-Fan has fallen under an unnamed pro-Fascist president who counts Fu Manchu’s duplicitous daughter among his closest allies. The Devil Doctor himself has fallen from grace within the Si-Fan as he opposes fascism at all costs. This rift threatens to tear the secret society apart as much as the war was doing the same to governments around the world. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Unearthing Solomon's Vineyard

Jonathan Latimer is sadly forgotten today. There was a time when his screwball private eye series featuring the rarely sober Bill Crane were bestsellers and even made the transition to the silver screen in the late 1930s courtesy of Universal Pictures in a fun trio of B-movies. Latimer was a respected Hollywood screenwriter of the 1940s who crossed over to television from the 1950s through the early 1970s writing for such series as Perry Mason and Columbo. He also achieved instant notoriety as the author of the hardboiled detective novel, Solomon’s Vineyard which was banned almost upon publication in 1941 and remained unavailable in its original form in the U.S. for decades. The general consensus is with Solomon’s Vineyard, Latimer turned up the heat on hardboiled detective fiction and blurred the line between pulp and pornography. Most critics will claim that even today, readers would be hard-pressed to find a tougher or more shocking private eye novel. While public domain copies riddled with typos are easy to come by, I finally tracked down an affordable copy of an earlier edition and read the book for myself. I was shocked as well, not by the content, but to learn the book is clearly intended as yet another of Latimer’s laugh-out-loud farces despite its reputation. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Spaghetti Westerns Go Kaballah

I’ve known Ed Erdelac from New Pulp circles, but had never read any of his fiction before. Ed is a very talented author who has determined to carve out his own niche in the familiar sub-genre of spaghetti westerns. If one is to be accurate, spaghetti westerns were westerns of the 1960s and 1970s made by Italian filmmakers in Spain with international casts and international funding. They offered an avant-garde spin on westerns which were gritty, realistic, bloody, and notably laconic in contrast to the traditional Hollywood westerns which mythologized America’s past. Since the mid-1960s, Hollywood has occasionally offered up their own imitation spaghetti westerns right up to Quentin Tarantino’s acclaimed Django Unchained. Enter: Ed Erdelac. Ed wasn’t the first author to translate spaghetti westerns to the printed page. Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy inspired a Man with No Name literary series in the 1960s. However, he is, to my knowledge, the first author to put a Jewish spin on this very stylish sub-genre. While there was a tongue-in-cheek Jewish spy series in the 1960s, Erdelac isn’t interested in writing a kitsch genre spoof. The Merkabah Rider series is as deadly serious as it is eccentric and the dramatic tone makes all the difference to the book’s success. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Return of Renner and Quist

Samhain Publishing has just awakened Sleeping Bear, the second Renner and Quist adventure by Mark Rigney to see publication as an ebook. I discovered the series last year when the same publisher unearthed The Skates, a screwball quest involving tormented Victorian souls, a pair of magic ice skates, a ghostly hound, and dimensional time and space travel. For the benefit of newcomers, Renner and Quist are an odd couple double act comprising a stuffy Unitarian minister and a rather crude, sometimes boorish, ex-linebacker and former private eye who team to solve occult mysteries in Michigan. This quirky series is surprisingly literate fiction that calls to mind Douglas Adams’ delightful Dirk Gently series. Rigney’s fiction is built around his characters’ faith (or their lack thereof) in the supernatural and preternatural. The series is thought-provoking as much as it is entertaining. This time out, Sleeping Bear finds Reverend Renner suffering through a crisis of faith as his attempts to minister at a local hospice have fallen on not just deaf ears, but unbelieving ones. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE.

Friday, February 7, 2014

As Tartary Burns

As Tartary Burns is the debut novel by Riley Hogan and is newly published by Airship 27. Calling the novel pulp fiction isn’t completely accurate. Hogan finds himself in the same position as the standout talents of the pulp world of the 1920s and 1930s who were published in the pulps but whose prose was more polished and literate than most of their peers to the degree that it seems an oversight they were passed up by the slicks. Many of those talents today are recognized as having lasting literary value. So it is with As Tartary Burns, an ambitious fast-paced historical adventure that presents an alternate history of the Cossacks, Ottomans, and Crimeans. Hogan’s book has been likened to Robert E. Howard and Harold Lamb. One reviewer suggests comparison to the film Braveheart. I felt it read like a stream-lined Game of Thrones with the explicit sex and language excised. Hogan is possessed not only of an obvious passion for history, but a pride in the culture, folklore and religion of these people to the degree that one wonders if it is his own heritage. His reshaping of world events makes one curious if he plans not so much a conventional follow-up, but rather an expanding alternate history of the world set in different epochs. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Sgt. Janus Returns

Jim Beard made quite a splash in the New Pulp community when he introduced an original occult detective character in Sgt. Janus, Spirit-Breaker in 2012. There has been a rich history of Holmesian occult detectives, but Beard appeared to have been the first to hit upon the brilliant concept of having each short story in the volume narrated by the detective’s client. It was a simple, but highly effective means of giving eight different perspectives on the character. Beard also took the unexpected decision to kill off his character at the end of the last story in the collection. Imagine if A Study in Scarlet had concluded at the Reichenbach Falls and you have a clear notion of what a bold and unexpected move it was to make for an author who had already managed to raise the bar in a genre that many believed had been exhausted of fresh ideas. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Return of Rick Steele

Last year was my introduction to author Dick Enos and his Rick Steele adventure series. I suspect this year will be the one where both author and character make real headway among fans of New Pulp. The fourth Rick Steele adventure, The Yesterday Men, was just published. If you’ve read the first three titles in the series, then you know Enos loves to confound reader expectations by delivering widely varying pulp adventures from alien invasion to the preternatural to lost civilization adventures. The Yesterday Men is both more of the same and something completely different. Rick Steele, for those unfamiliar with the character, is a hard-nosed Korean War veteran turned test pilot who somehow can’t avoid dragging himself and his supporting cast into adventures. Rick is a likable, but imperfect hero. The 1950s setting may seem like an odd one for New Pulp. It was the end of the era for serials and pulps alike, but it was also the Golden Age of Television and adventure strips were still the rage in newspapers. It was the era when the author adored Sky King and Steve Canyon in his formative years. It marked the final heyday of the innocence of American popular culture and the Rick Steele series captures this perfectly. Rather than crafting an idealistic vision of an artificial world (like so many 1950s sitcoms and movies did), the America of the Rick Steeleseries is one where darkness hangs around every corner. The characters don’t know quite what to make of it, but the reader is all too familiar with what is to come. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Blogging Dan Barry’s Flash Gordon, Part Eleven

“Tympani” by Dan Barry was serialized by King Features Syndicate from April 27 to July 9, 1955. The strip gets underway with Flash returning to Earth and taking Dale out to enjoy a symphony orchestra concert. Dale’s hair has reverted to its classic look, happily. The concert goes awry when the orchestra launches into a piece and the audience is deafened by the cacophonous sound. Taking to the streets, they discover every car horn in the city is going off causing accidents and traffic jams. The situation spreads over the globe with factory whistles going off, sonar jamming, rockets misfiring, etc. Soon train accidents cripple the food industry and fuel truck accidents leave people without heat in winter. Dr. Zarkov is busy researching sound vibrations to try to get to the root of the problem that has threatened civilization. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE ON FRIDAY.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Blogging Dan Barry’s Flash Gordon, Part Ten

“The Trail of the Vulke” by Dan Barry was serialized by King Features Syndicate from February 7 to April 26, 1955. This is an interesting tale that sees Barry re-examining two of his favorite themes -- myths and religious fanaticism. The story kicks off with Flash driving up to Dale’s house for a dinner date and finding her home dark. Warily, he enters the house and Barry shows us menacing shadowy figures watching from the window in the front room. It turns out to be a surprise birthday party for Flash thrown by Dale and the Space Kids. Improbably, they have arranged the rental of a rocketship from the Space Academy to allow Flash and the Space Kids to travel to Zoriana and pay a visit to Cyril and Mr. Pennington. Barry gets some mileage out of portraying Flash as henpecked having to ask Dale's permission to go on an adventure. In no time at all, Flash and the boys are off to the stars and arrive on Zoriana in due course. Arriving at the gates of the city, they find a mass migration in process with an exodus of nomadic people seeking shelter within the walls of the city. The people of Zoriana have returned to their pagan ways and believe their god has punished them with the scourge of an invisible monster known as the Vulke. Pennington turns the people away at the gates as the city is already overpopulated and poverty and disease are spreading rapidly. TO CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE VISIT THE BLACK GATE.