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    If all Robert B. Parker books were like Wilderness, he would never have become my favorite writer. It's actually an OK book, and if it had been written by anyone I else I might deem it worthy of four stars. But as a Parker book, it's bottom of the barrel, down there below the Sunny Randall series and the assorted stand-alones and the juveniles and the new Spenser, Jesse Stone and Cole & Hitch books written by other hands, all of which I deem pretty dang good.

    That said, it still ain't a bad book. I just hold it to a higher standard. I was a little surprised to note that it was published in 1979, with five Spenser books already a reality. While reading it for the first time - just a couple of weeks ago - it felt like a proto-Spenser novel, with Parker feeling his way along in search of a character. Is it possible he wrote this first, and got it published only in wake of his success with Spenser? It would be pretty to think so, but I have nothing to support that notion. The only comment I've seen by Parker is that it allowed him to write about a hero whose courage was suspect. 

    That suspect courage is one of the book's main shortcomings. The other is the hero's constant whining about loving his wife more than she loves him. The hero is a thriller writer named Aaron Neuman with several Spenser characticeristics: He's big, fit, he runs, and (except for the whining) relatively autonomous. His biggest shortcoming is that has abolutely no sense of humor. Wife Janet - at least ast the beginning of the book - is cold, anal and bossy. She's even more annoying that Susan gets when she has her identity crisis circa The Widening Gyre

    The story kicks off with Neuman seeing a woman murdered. He's determined to do his duty and identify the killer until he's threatened - in a big way - and forced to recant. Cue the crisis of courage and more recriminations from Janet. Eventually, the prodding of his bossy wife and virile next door neighor convince him to take the initiative and murder the killer who's threatening him. 

    The hunt for the killer leads eventually into the woods, hence the title, and scenes that foreshadow Spenser being hunted by Gerry Broz twelve years later in Pastime. There are a couple of cops who are not unlike Martin Quirk and Frank Belson. And there are other familiar echoes. I mean, what would a Parker book be without the line "The ways of the Lord are often dark, but never pleasant"?

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    More Sam covers HERE.

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    This is one of favorite TR covers, from 2006. The mystery. The menace. The subtlety. Damn.

    Here's a nice action scene from the Black Dog chapbook days of 2000. And this one had a bonus - another illo on the back.

    Here's another in the Crippen & Landru Lost Classics series, from 2010. The nurse looks suspiciously like the same lady who posed for the bar wench on the Sabatini book The Evidence of the Sword (HERE). That was Tom's wife.

    Once again, I must pay tribute to the scanning skills of Mr. Richard Robinson.
    More Roberts art next week.
    Parts 1 thru 7 are HERE.

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    You've met the Nichols Stallion 22 (HERE) and the Stallion 38 (HERE). Now here's the bigger, beefier version, capable of killing imaginary owlhoots deader than those that came before. This one is 10" long, and packs more metal than the 38, making it quite a bit heavier. Wyatt Earp would have deemed it a fine weapon for buffaloing drunk Texans. 

    Our still-growing arsenal is HERE

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    For my money, Colonel Tim McCoy was the coolest cowboy start of the '30s. Can't say this one of his best, but with his long tall nose and black outfit, he even looks a bit like The Shadow. 

    More Overlooked Pleasures at Sweet Freedom

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    This trilogy by Michael Moorcock was first published in England in 1965, and appeared in the U.S. with these fine Gray Morrow covers in 1966. I still have the books. Did I ever read them? Jeez, I can't remember. 

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    When I heard this book was coming out, I immediately set to re-reading Tarzan the Terrible, the Burroughs novel recounting Tarzan’s previous visit to Pal-ul-Don. Though I’m glad I did, as an ERB refresher, it wasn’t really necessary. Return to Pal-ul-Don is a stand-alone adventure, introducing readers to new wonders, new horrors and new races in this forgotten corner of Africa.

    This makes Return to Pal-ul-Don accessible to everyone – from folks who know Tarzan only through comics or movies, right up to the die-hards who carry the whole canon around as part of their DNA.

    Any way you look at it, this a book that would have made Burroughs proud. It’s a fine blend of action, mystery, suspense and jungle know-how. Tarzan himself is portrayed in the grand fashion—noble, fearless and somewhat conflicted, struggling to balance the savage and civilized elements of his character. As always, the Lord of the Jungle is fiercely loyal to his friends, and merciless to his enemies.

    The story opens with our hero, as John Clayton, having just earned his wings in the R.A.F. That would seem to place it shortly before the events in the last Tarzan novel penned by Burroughs himself, Tarzan and the Foreign Legion. Flying Officer Clayton is primed to kick some Axis butts out of the air, but instead receives a mission more suited to his peculiar talents. A secret agent with information vital to the war effort has been lost in the African jungle, and Clayton is sent to retrieve both.

    Finding himself back in Pal-ul-Don (The Land of Man), Tarzan makes new friends: a race of squatty guys wearing giant turtle shells, a hybrid warrior with a tail, and a trusty elephant he dubs Torn Ear. Chief among his enemies are a horde of spider-worshippers armed with blowguns and poisoned darts. Such cowardly weapons make Tarzan truly angry, and a truly angry Ape Man is a wondrous thing to see. 

    Mr. Murray spins the tale with confidence and style, and it’s to be hoped this is only the first of a long series of new “Wild Adventures” of Tarzan from Altus Press.  

    The trade paperback edition is available now, but coming soon is a hardcover edition with a wraparound cover and a bonus story. Which do you get? Tough choice. You’ll find the paper edition here: Tarzan: Return to Pal-ul-don (The Wild Adventures of Tarzan) (Volume 1) 

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    (Editor's Note: An always-popular feature of Bill Crider's Pop Culture Magazine is the "No Comment Department." Following that noble tradition, I'm going to kick back and let Mr. "Sharpe" speak for himself.)

         He slowed down so that he could match her eager thrusting, moving with her until he could feel the pent-up flow ready to burst its dam.

         “Now,” he said, releasing her hips, and she gyrated like a snake on a griddle.     (pg. 30-31)

         Fargo exploded inside her, gushing hot bursts, one after the other like cannon fire.     (pg. 31)

         She broke the kiss and started to whoop.

         “YeeeeeHaaaaaaw! YeeeeeHaaaaaaw!”     (pg. 62)

         “YeeeeeHaaaaaaw! YeeHaw! YeeHaw! YeeHaw!”    (pg. 63)

         He felt a tremendous pressure building in him.. It seemed to start in his toes and work its way all the way up his legs, which tightened like a bowstring.     (pg. 64)

         “YeeeeeeeeeeeeeeHaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaw!”     (pg. 65)

         Fargo saw that her breasts were even bigger than he thought, standing high and proud, with their erect nipples pointing straight at him like bullets.     (pg. 90)

         She immediately moved her hand from herself to his erection, which was already standing at attention like a soldier on parade.     (pg. 91)

         “You could use that for a club if you got in a brawl,” Angel said.     (pg. 91)

          His rampant erection jutted out in front of him like a spear, and Angel took it in both hands.     (pg. 92)

         Fargo was just at the point of explosion when Angel suddenly became still. He thought for an instant that he might have hurt her shoulder, but it wasn’t that. It was only the calm before the tornado struck. She bucked under him like an unbroken pony.     (pg. 92)

         “Even after all that just happened to us, you’re still stiff as a fence post.”     (pg. 116)

         He was about at his own limit, and when she started yelling, he shot into her, bucking up off the bottom of the pool with each volley.

         “YeeeeeHaaaaaaw! YeeeeeHaaaaaaw!"    (pg. 117)

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    Pulpy goodnes from Black Dog Books, 2008. 

    A Black Dog classic - from 2000. 

    From Crippen & Landru, 2002.  (Thx to R. Robinson)

    Parts 1 thru 8 of The Art of TOM ROBERTS are HERE.
    Next week: Nooses galore.

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    When Steve Mertz pitched this entry in the Blaze series to Rough Edges Press publisher James Reasoner, James told him: If you're going over the top, go WAY over. And that's what he did!

    Zombies Over Yonder takes the husband and wife gunfighting team of J.D. and Kate Blaze to the dying town of Yonder, Arizona Territory. The new owner of The Starlight Mine - a creepy dude who wears an opera cloak and calls himself Count Vlad - has the place going full steam, despite having fired all the miners. How's he do it? With a workforce of the Living Dead, natch.

    Sounds like an employers dream, doesn't it? Zombies don't need wages, or coffee breaks, or even sleep. But they do need plenty of living - or recently living - flesh to feed their never-ending appetites. Will Mr. and Mrs, Blaze find themselves on the menu? Read Zombies Over Yonder and find out.

    Along the way, you'll meet a black-clad albino gunman named Lucien Grubmire, a vengeful Apache named Iron Heart, a sleazeball cavarly commander named Hitchcock, a lissome lass named Blue Feather, and a baker's dozen of evil-eyed gummen slated to meet the undertaker.

    Where esle can you have this much fun for a measley $2.99?

    Get it here: Blaze! Zombies Over Yonder (Blaze! Western Series Book 6)

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    I suspect this movie is no more Overlooked than it deserves to be, but I'm not curious enough to find out. I'm hoping you'll watch it so I don't have to.

    More Overlooked Turkeys at Sweet Freedom.

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    Headache. Heartache. Neckache. Backache.

    Those are the titles of the four novelettes in Cross Examinations, and are fair descriptions of the sort of trouble each case brings to Private Investigator Eliot Cross. Cross likes to think of himself as a hardboiled detective, and when circumstances demand it his tough side comes to the fore. But he's more than that. He's a guy with real emotions and a social conscience that sometimes gets in the way of his business.

    The four stories in this book, which have an almost novel-like continuity, are a good blend of action, humor and pathos. In "Headache," an auto dealer is accused of setting a booby-trap that kills a would-be robber. It would be easy to excuse that, figuring anyone breaking into a business deserves what they get. But Cross finds this attitude disturbing, and his main motivation is to make sure other shop owners don't follow suit.

    In "Headache," a State Sentor hires him to rescue her brother from a religious cult. It starts off as fun, with Cross passing himself off as a reporter named "Irwin Fletcher," but turns serious - in more ways than one - and forces Cross to examine where his real loyalties lie.

    "Neckache" is a romp through the world of comic art, with hat tips to Milt Caniff, The Spirit, Captain America, Krazy Kat, Prince Valiant and Alley Oop, among others. It's a clear indication that the author has fine and varied taste in reading matter.

    In "Backache," Cross finds himself embroiled in the theft of a rare edition of The Canturbury Tales. This one exposes more good taste, especially when Cross drops an inside joke for readers (or viewers) of The Big Sleep.

    And to add an extra dimension, Cross's adventures take place in or near Columbus, Ohio in the ancient era of 1988. And we know that's true, because there are references to such icons of the time as Phil Collins, Mr. Natural and Magnum, P.I.

    For an extemely limited time (I think today is the last day) Cross Examinations is free for the stealing over at Amazon. Snatch it now, before it's too late! That's HERE.

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    I've reached Volume 6 (1947-1948) of Fantagraphics' best yet reproduction of Prince Valiant. This one starts in Thule (Val's home), where a rogue Viking snatches Aleta and spirits her off to the west. Val chases him past Iceland and Greenland all the way to Niagra Falls, where they spend the winter with some noble early Americans. Hal Foster did a ton of research into how those folks lived, and poured it into these pages. 

    Val's hosts in the New World are the fun-loving Tillicum Indians. They think Aleta is a Sun Goddess, and act like a bunch of godfathers when she gives birth to Prince Arn. 

    Foster gives us a look at what Niagra Falls might have looked like 1500 years ago. Erosion, he says, shortens the falls by three feet per year.

    Val teaches the wife-snatcher a lesson by treating him to the Big Swim. In the Spring, he finds his way across the ocean to Camelot, where there's more trouble afoot. And there are may more adventures ahead, because the series is now up to Volume 11.

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    When I heard that Will Murray's new Tarzan novel was called Return to Pal-Ul-Don (reviewed HERE), I busted out an old copy of this novel (not the edition above, unfortunatlely) recounting the Ape Man's earlier visit to that lost corner of Africa.

    Tarzan the Terrible was serialized in Argosy All-Story in early1921 and appeared in book form soon after. I first read it when I was a kid, and again when I went on a Burroughs binge twenty years ago and read his complete works over a period of about six months.

    Tarzan encountered quite a few Lost Races over the course of his career, and that aspect of Tarzan the Terrible is pretty standard fare. What makes this book a stand-out is that there are so many characters and so many subplots that its like two or three average Burroughs novels packed into one.

    In the land of Pal-Ul-Don, along with the usual complement of unique monsters and beasts, Tarzan meets and befriends two opposing humanoid races. One is white-skinned (the Ho-don), the other black and covered with long black hair (the Waz-don). Both races have long tails, which they employ as an extra limb. It's the sort of social dynamic later seen on many episodes of classic Star Trek. The Ho-don live in cities and palaces, while the Waz-don are relegated to the jungle. They're not exactly at war, but their co-existence is far from friendly.

    To complicate matters, there are power plays at work, with the priesthood and other factions within the Ho-don itching to take over the throne. And to keep things lively, there are three romantic triangles. A Waz-don warrior is in love with a woman held captive by the Ho-don, an exiled Ho-don noble is hot for the Ho-don princess who's promised to sleazeball, and Tarzan's whole reason for being there is to search for Jane, who was abducted by Germans in an early book. More complications and abductions, ensue.

    And to top it off, there's a mysterious white man (without a tail) on Tarzan's trail. That guy's identity remains a mystery until the very end.

    Many of Burrough's books take jabs at religion, but I found this one surprisingly daring, especially for 1921. Learning that the Ho-don believe their god Jad-ben-Otho to be tail-free, Tarzan presents himself to the royal court as the son of that god. There are repeated references to him as "the son of god," and there's even a moment when Tarzan, hard-pressed by doubters, cries out, "Who dares believe that Jad-ben-Otho would forsake his son?" Gotta wonder how much flak ERB took for that one.

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    All available HERE.

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    When Richard "Tip the Wink" Robinson scanned these Tom Roberts paintings for me, he mentioned that the publisher, Crippen & Landru, likes to have a noose somewhere on each cover. It took me a while to spot one, but once I did, the others were pretty easy to find. Here's a cheat sheet for you. 

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    Steve offers these thoughts on writing Zombies Over Yonder:

    When I decided to have some fun and shake up the Blaze western series a little with the new one, Zombies Over Yonder, I returned for inspiration to my introduction to the western.

    See, I didn’t really start to read and appreciate western fiction until I was in my late thirties. But I sure saw a lot of western movies before that and while my favorites are nearly all A-listers like High Noon, Unforgiven, etc., the fact of the matter is that I must place credit (or blame) for this latest Blaze entry directly at the feet of Gene Autry and The Phantom Empire.

    The Phantom Empire is a 12-chapter movie serial made in 1935. Gene plays a singing cowboy who gets involved with bad guys who arrive in an airplane and speed around in cars, an underground kingdom of robots, ray guns and bad guys and a hottie queen. Shooting, singing and fisticuffing his way through this wild mix, Gene always manages to make it back to Radio Ranch in time for his daily broadcast…only to be pitched directly back into all that cowboy craziness as soon as he’s off the air.

    I was an impressionable 8-year-old, watching this spectacle unfold in 15-minute increments every day after school. It was my first exposure to a western movie, and my impressionable brain apparently (and no doubt gleefully) absorbed the notion that a western was set in a wild, wondrous time and place not hobbled by the restraints of reality. As an adult Southwesterner with some awareness of this region’s history, I’ve come to accept that, yes, real life cowboys did ride horses and no doubt sang an occasional song, but they most certainly did not fight robots outfitted with ray guns in underground kingdoms.

    Still, if you crumple up your disbelief and pitch it into the next area code, I think it’s still kind of cool to imagine and, thankfully, I’m not alone in my taste for a genre that has come to be known as the “weird western.”

    Make no mistake. Blaze #6 is a “real” western in that there is much excitement, burnt gunpowder and hard ridin’. There are no ray guns or underground cities. Still, it is a fun romp through a fictional western landscape that has entertained over the years in film (the immortal Jesse James Meets Dracula, etc), the comics (Jonah Hex), and right up through recent Hollywood classics like Cowboys & Aliens (2011).

    This is the range Kate & J.D. are riding in Blaze! #6, a rave-up that sure as hell ain’t The Searchers or Shane. But dang it, sometimes it’s just fun to have fun.

    Here’s your invitation to join in!


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    Originally broadcast on March 27, 2000.
    More O.F. at S.F.

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

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