Vintage Golden Age Mystery
Cloak and Dagger Challenge #125
Date Finished: October 4, 2018
A retired gangster is drawn back into the action despite his best efforts to remain out of it. Aided by a somewhat double-crossing alcoholic woman and a somewhat honest reporter, he maneuvers his way around rival gangs in L.A.
An incredibly fast-paced novel with Kells, our somewhat heroic lead, out-thinking everyone with various plans and schemes, most of which come off, one step ahead of almost everyone. I read this on the plane trip from Chicago to L.A., not knowing what I was getting into, reading it all in one sitting. Considered a classic of the 1930s hardboiled scene, it certainly is much different than most of what followed in the Philip Marlowe-Michael Shayne-Mike Hammer vein. It is much more fatalistic and individualistic, with no intentions as to a surviving series character. Kells is no good-guy working for a altruistic purpose. He is just trying to get out from between two factions, deliver some punishment, and make his way out with some financial remuneration.
The cover scene is just an incidental scene in the book, with two minor characters who don’t have much bearing on the plot. But it probably sold well.
Vintage Golden Age Science Fiction
Monthly Key Word: Fall
Date Finished: October 3, 2018
An archaeologist in Rome is whisked away to the 6th century, when Rome and Italy has been conquered by the Goths and the Dark Ages have just begun. Constantinople forces are attempting to retake Italy, but our out-of-place American works to defeat that invasion and to prevent the Dark Ages through his various inventions, such as the printing press, brandy, and a semaphore telegraph system.
A little slow to get going, this picks up well and tells an entertaining and unusual story. De Camp seems to have a humorous bent in all the non-Conan stories of his that I’ve read and that is true here, as well. Definitely a classic work.
It is stated in several places that this is an expansion of the version that appeared in the December 1939 issue of Unknown. Looking at both versions, it seems that the magazine version trimmed some scenes, especially after the main business of the character interaction was finished, and similarly trimmed some bits of activity, such as the production of paper, so that it was achieved in fewer steps. The paragraphs that remain are identical with the novel version, so my guess is that the magazine version is an abridgment of the manuscript, rather than a later rewriting of the story to expand it to novel length. The magazine version does not seem to drop any necessary business and no plot points are different, while possibly moving along at a better pace. Plus it has a better cover, though unrelated to this story.
Time to check in once again. I’ve successfully reached my initial goal of climbing Mt. Everest, which totaled 100 books off the Mount TBR reading pile, by finishing 101. My plan the last couple of months has been to push on to Mount Olympus at 150, but I’m about four behind the pace I need to maintain. Must get back to reading, but it is harder to focus now that I’ve finished the vintage mystery challenges.
As to part two of Bev’s instructions:
Complete ONE (or more if you like) of the following:
C. Which book (read so far) has been on your TBR mountain the longest? Was it worth the wait? Or is it possible you should have tackled it back when you first put it on the pile? Or tossed it off the edge without reading it all?
Since the last check-in, I’ve read a few more that I’ve had on the pile for years and years. Postern of Fate by Agatha Christie may have been purchased around 1982. Perhaps it was the cover, perhaps the lead characters being an elderly couple, perhaps moving in 1984, off to college in 1986 and various moves after college kept this in a box for many years, or perhaps it being 276 pages, which is too long, all contributed to it sitting there for 36 years. In the end, I read it in one day, despite it being a sub-par Christie.
Vintage Golden Age Mystery
Cloak and Dagger Challenge #124
Monthly Key Word: Always
Date Finished: September 30, 2018
Shell Scott is hired by a mother to find her missing daughter. It seems that the teenage daughter had become involved with a Southern California cult with a shady leader with whom Shell had tangled before. The first stop leads him to a sanatorium, where instead of investigating like a normal detective, he gets put in a straight-jacket, escapes, sees a dead body being buried in the woods, and shoots a doctor dead at close range. On the run from the police, he invades the cult compound multiple times, is chased by 50,000 cult members, and fakes his own death through explosives to expose the cult leader who had used the same method days before. Of course.
Despite all the crazy shenanigans, this isn’t a bad Prather novel, as he keeps his conservative opinions quiet, other than one or two passages. As only the ninth book out of 42 in the series, this series had yet to devolve into the undisciplined mess it later became. Of course, none of this is supposed to be a logical detective story, but rather an excuse for “humor” and wackiness and whether any of that succeeds depends on the mood you’re in as you read it. Having read 20 of these now, my mood tends to range from indifferent to annoyed.
Vintage Comic Strip reprint
Date Finished: September 22, 2018
Milt Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates strips from 1943 continue in this volume as Taffy loses her memory, is rescued by some pilots, including Pat Ryan, and is suspected of being a spy before her memory returns. Unfortunately, this causes her to forget her time with Pat and her love for him. During this Pat helps thwart a Japanese air attack on an allied base. Meanwhile, Terry continues his pilot training in China.
Wild Wild West Reading Challenge #16
Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge #9
Date Finished: September 22, 2018
Cord and Chi are hired by a man in the Black Hills of Dakota Territory for some reason that isn’t all that important to the plot. Cord, a Texas gunfighter and bank robber, travels with Chi, a Mexican woman and bank robber. Here they are working on the legal side, but run into trouble with various types, including another gunfighter, a crazy preacher, and the preacher’s amorous wife. A dime novel writer is more interested in egging everyone on and making up stories than he is in the truth.
The third in the Cord series, written by William Kittredge and Steven M. Krauzer under the Rountree pseudonym, this one throws in a lot of backstory, but as with most series, not much happens to change the lead characters. Cord is supposedly the son of a German Lutheran minister, but the authors get the theology and culture wrong. Cord would likely have only spoken German for much of his youth, but he is not speaking here with an accent or anything other than TV/movie western cliches. The Black Hills setting, the reason I bought this book many years ago, is also incidental, with a fictional mining town as the main location and no real grounding in the actual characters present in the Black Hills at this time or in actual locations. Chi’s toughness and competence is the most interesting thing here, but the story is told through Cord’s eyes, so she remains at a distance, even as she is the only thing that departs from the standard story. The history of the dime novel is of more interest to the writers and an Afterword provides some of that. I just watched a 1959 episode of Tombstone Territory that covered the same issue more effectively.
Vintage Pulp reprint
Cloak and Dagger Challenge #123
Date Finished: September 18, 2018
This May 1998 issue of High Adventure contains four stories from various pulp magazines originally published between 1935 and 1940. “The Bride of the Rats” by Donald Wandrei from the April 1935 issue of Clues Detective Stories, features Provessor I.V. Frost as detective, investigating a murder in his house that leads him to a castle built on Long Island, which just so happens is filled with death traps, including a cellar full of rats. I hate rats. The editor, John Gunnison, states that this is the best of the Frost stories, but this one is only so-so. The best aspect is Frost’s disgruntled assistant Jean Moray, who, while disdainful of Frost’s appearance, is annoyed that he shows no romantic interest in her.
The three other shorter stories come from the Spicy line, so are somewhat similar. These are “Thugs Threshold” by Robert Leslie Bellem from the June 1940 issue of Spicy Detective, “Senorita Bluebeard” by N. Wooten Poge (Norvell Page) from the September 1938 issue of Spicy Detective, and “Tomb for the Living” by Justin Case (Hugh B. Cave) from the June 1937 issue of Spicy Mystery. All were entertaining and likely the highlights of the issues in which they first appeared.