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    Red Trails is one of five books now available in Black Dog Books' Hugh Pendexter Library. The others are The Shadow of the Tomahawk (reviewed HERE), Along the River Trail (HERE), The Shorthorn Kid and According to the Evidence (reviews coming soon). And there are more books in the works. I know, because I'm working on an Introduction to Voice of the Night, a collection of mystery stories.  
     
    This adventure novel first appeared in two parts in Adventure magazine back in 1919, and was published in hardcover in 1920 as Red Belts. It's loosely related to The Shadow of the Tomahawk, taking place ten years later and not far away, on the frontier east of North Carolina that would eventually become Tennessee.
    
    The cool thing about this book is that it features a real-life hero pitted against real-life antagonists with the future of the United States in the balance. It's 1784, and the U.S. is still just a collection of states with dreams of becoming a country. Spain knows this, and is courting the Indian nations, seeking to establish a rival country on the frontier. Spain's front man is the Creek "Emperor" Alexander McGillivray, the educated and dandified son of a Scotsman. McGillivray is trying to persuade the leaders of nearby Cherokees and Chickamaugas to join him in scouring the frontier of white settlers and clearing the way for this new rogue nation.
     
    Standing in McGillivray's way, thankfully, is John Sevier, a man commanding great respect from whites and Indians alike. The situation is desperate, and Sevier ventures alone into hostile territory, relying on his wits, his woodcraft, his personality and his fearsome reputation to foil McGillivray's plans.
     
    Following the events in Red Trails, Sevier went on to become the first and only governor of the short-lived State of Franklin, and later the first governor of Tennessee. He once fought a duel with Andy Jackson, an act that would have endeared him to our patron saint, Colonel David Crockett.
     
    As usual, Pendexter tells a rousing good story, and cloaks it well-researched detail. If this ain't the way things really happened, it ought to be.
     
    Red Trails is available HERE.
     
    The illo below is from the 1920 hardcover edition.
     
    

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    Some Tim-Mee figures had strangely awkward poses (especially the pirates, HERE), but on these knights (except for the last one) it looks pretty good. The wide-legged stance on most of these guys allowed the company to produce both standing and mounted figures of the same poses. If I possess any Tim-Mee lances, I couldn't find them, so these boys had to borrow from their smaller-scale Lido brethren (HERE). 








    Our Toy Soldier parade is HERE.

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    In case you didn't know, Davy Crockett's Almanack comes to you from the kickass town of Portland, Oregon. And this year, March 12-15, Portland plays host to the kickass mystery convention Left Coast Crime.

    The full panel lineup has just been released (HERE), and I'm pleased to report I'll be participating in one on Friday morning called Mean Streets: Pulp Detectives of the Past and Present, with Stephen Mertz, Dale Berry, William E. Wallace and Tim Wohlforth, and a Saturday afternooner called Without a Fedora: New Directions in Noir with Roger Hobbs, Baer Charlton, Robert Downs and Bret R. Wright.

    If you're going to be in town, let me know. I'd be mighty happy to make your acquaintance.

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    Last week we looked at the holster (and the box) this baby came in. So here's the weapon itself, and aside from the sloppy application of the Zero W sticker, it's a fine piece of gunmaking. The smooth imitation woodgrain grips weren't used much on Fanners. In fact, the only other smooth-gripped Fanner I own is a silver job with white grips that came in a Lone Ranger holster. 








    Cap Guns Galore HERE.

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    Back in 1947 Avon published an original James M. Cain novel called Sinful Woman, which I reviewed here a couple three years ago. Well, it's back, and given new legs with a new title from Chalk Line Books.

    Now known as A Bad Woman, this book really can't be called great Cain. But it's fast, entertaining and a thoroughly satisfying read. And it is James M. Cain, whose worst work is better than many writers' best.

    Most of the Cain books I've read were told in first person, at which he was a master. This one is told in breezy first person by an almost omniscient narrator, and Cain clearly had fun with it.

    The title role belongs to movie starlet Sylvia Shoreham, whose soon-to-be-ex husband (a penniless, conniving Baron with a silly accent) threatens to marry her clinically insane sister to retain control of her film career. Sylvia is not really very sinful. True, it’s discovered she spent time in a variety of motels with a variety of men, but none of this happens onstage, and no one much cares.

    The male lead is Sheriff Parker Lucas, who dresses like Tom Mix and talks like Gary Cooper. Other major players include Dmitri, the tasteless money-grubbing producer who controls Sylvia’s contract; Tony, a gambling house proprietor who dresses like an undertaker; and George M. Layton, a go-getter life insurance agent on fire to protect his company’s interests after Sylvia’s is “accidentally” shot and killed at the gambling house.

    If you think this cast sounds a bit over the top, you’re right. Cain based the novel on a play he’d written in 1938 called 7-11, which was quite likely a farce. Near as I can tell, the book was never made into a movie, which is a shame, because it seems perfectly suited. Cain’s working titles for the novel were “At the Galloping Domino” and “Sierra Moon”, both of which are more appropriate to the story. I suspect the more marketable title, Sinful Woman, was Avon's idea.

    Though the plot revolves around the Baron’s murder, I can't really call this a murder mystery. No one is too interested in discovering who did it. They’re all promoting whatever wacky explanation meets their own interests. Nearing the end, when a Grand Jury convenes at The Galloping Domino to determine cause of death, I was thinking we’d never learn what really happened, and decided it didn’t matter. Watching the twists and turns of the plot and characters was enough for me.

    But Cain came through after all, delivering a surprising solution - and happy ending - to the case. In a long string of bizarre notes, perhaps the most bizarre of all comes on the last page, when our male and female leads both announce they're enlisting in the army. This was, after all, 1947, and even novelists and paperback publishers had to do their part.



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    1949

    1949

    1948

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    My favorite Howard character is normally either Breckenridge Elkins, Conan or Francis Xavier Gordon, depending which I've read most recently. After reading one of their adventures, I'm usually raring to rip into another. Not so with Three-Bladed Doom. Rather than racing to dig more adventures of El Borak, I was just relieved it was finally over.

    According to L. Sprague de Camp's intro to the 1968 paperback Conan the Wanderer, Howard wrote a 42,000 version of 'Three-Bladed Doom" in 1934. When that failed to sell, he chopped it to 24,000 words and tried again. That didn't sell either. Portions of the story first saw print in 1955, when de Camp  rewrote it into the 32,000 word Conan story "The Flame Knife" for the Gnome Press collection Tales of Conan.

    All this talk about word count is important, because the version of this story I just read, published in both the U.S. and Great Britain in 1977, seemed much, much longer. The Orbit book is 121 pages of small type, and the Zebra edition is 166 pages of large. Maybe it's true there are only 42,000 words in each book, but it looks like a lot more, and the story takes a long time to unfold. Truth to tell, I kept falling asleep, and it took a lot of determination to pick it up again and again and push on through to the end.

     
    I'm guessing the editors who rejected this story back in the '30s had the same trouble. Somehow, Gordon's character never really comes alive, and Howard's normally poetic prose falls flat. Descriptive passages drone on for many paragraphs with very little happening. Even when the story finally gets moving, Gordon is relegated to the role of frustrated observer, and sees little action.
     
    Too bad, because the bare bones of the plot are promising. An ancient cult of assassins, whose trademark is a three-bladed knife, is reborn under a pitiless master, and now includes villains from many far-flung lands. Together, they're eradicating rulers who stand in the way of Germany's world domination.
     
    The folks at Zebra probably knew this was a turkey, prompting them to market it as "fantasy/adventure" (a flat-out lie) and try to fool folks into thinking it was a Conan book by dressing Gordon in a Speedo. 

     
    I'm thinking it's time to dig back into the saga of Breckinridge Elkins, but it's going to take quite a few non-Howard books to cleanse my palette of Three-Bladed Doom.


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    Here are more of our fathers and grandfathers fighting the good fight in WWII. More HERE and HERE, and still more on the way.





    The Toy Soldiers go marching on HERE.

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    The Sharp's carbine was a relatively short weapon - less than four feet long - but that's still a lot longer than the Marx Miniature, which is only about 7 inches. Though it was widely used by cavalrymen during and after the Civil War, it was not the gun issued to Custer's 7th.





    Marx later issued this gun with a silver finish. This one's a little blurry because it's still on the card under a blister pack.





    Our Cap Gun Arsenal is HERE.

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    More Western HeroHERE.

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    Paintings by Norman "Blaine" Saunders 

    More Saucy Movie TalesHERE.

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    When I reviewed the new Stephen Mertz western Blaze! (HERE), I mentioned it was not Steve's first rodeo. That distinction, I believe, falls to West Texas Uprising, published way back in 2002. Near as I can figure, of the fifty-odd novels authored by Mr. Mertz, this was the first western. And guess what? It's a damn good read.
     
    Yeah, I know there are dang near four hundred other Trailsman books out there, but this was my first encounter with the character of Skye Fargo, and I found him mighty appealing. Fargo's sense of purpose--and sense of humor--come through loud and clear, and the plot gallops along at just the right pace. A true Westerner himself, Steve Mertz has a firm grasp on the lingo and flavor necessary to make this kind of story come alive.
     
    I must admit I'm NOT a fan of adult westerns. Though I reckon there've been several thousand of them published over the past 35 years, I've read only a few--mostly Longarms I knew to be the work of James Reasoner. My problem is, I think the notion of obligatory hardcore sex scenes is just plain silly. But I realize that without the sex, these series would never have been published at all, let alone live to approach (and in some cases surpass) the 400 mark.
     
    The good news is that the books I've read, including West Texas Uprising, were great reads in spite of the unnecessary sex. Thankfully, those scenes are short, and in this case, Mr. Mertz manages to use two of them to highlight Fargo's character. I'm now on the hunt for Steve's other Trailsman adventure, Arizona Ambush.
    

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    Here's a collection of nobody's favorite Presidents, the guys who occupied the White House between 1909 and 1933. As usual, the more colorful of each pair was handpainted by "artists" in Hong Kong.
     
        




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    This week's less-than-lethal weapon is about 8 1/2 inches long, with a shiny nickel finish, and dates from around 1955. It doesn't say MADE IN U.S.A. anywhere, but you can bet your bippy it was. If James J. Griffin didn't have one of these, he sure as shootin' should have. 










    More Cap Guns HERE.

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    "Blackmailers Don't Shoot," from the December 1933 issue of Black Mask, was Raymond Chandler's first published story. I re-read it recently and found it shockingly good. Shocking that Chandler was that good on his very first story, and he just kept getting better. The hero is a tough guy named Mallory. He's recently come from Chicago to L.A., and though one of the characters asks if he's a private detective, it's never really stated one way or the other. Because this one is told in third-person, no one ever tried to turn it into a Marlowe story. No one, that is, until HBO adapted it for their TV series back in 1986.









    All drawings and paintings from Black Mask Magazine are copyright © 1923 to 1953 by Keith Alan Deutsch as successor-in-interest, and conservator of all copyrights to the original publishers and copyright registrars: Pro-Distributors Publishing Company, Inc, and Popular Publications Inc.  All copyrights © renewed 1951 to 1981.

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    1965

    Kirby/Steranko cover

    First true Steranko cover

    Earlier S.H.I.E.L.D. covers HERE.

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