Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Review: "The Tithing Herd" by J. R. Lindermuth


The Tithing Herd
by J. R. Lindermuth
Sundown Press, 2017

The Tithing Herd
, by J. R. Lindermuth, is a traditional Western with a bevy of action, solid characterization, and a literate and vivid style. Lute Donnelly is a former lawman tracking a vicious outlaw called Spanish across New Mexico’s high desert. Lute is seeking vengeance on Spanish for murdering his brother. He seems closer than ever when Lute cuts a boy, Tom Baskin, down from a tree—where he was “hanging by his heels from the limb of a cottonwood”—and Lute is told Tom had been riding with two members of Spanish’s gang.
     Lute wants to track the boy’s partners, hoping they will lead him to Spanish, but instead Lute reluctantly agrees to accompany a cattle herd set aside by local Mormon ranchers as their tithe to the church. The cattle trail leads Donnelly back to a Mormon town where the woman he loves, the widow Serene McCollough, is rumored to be marrying an elder of the church. But that’s not Lute’s only trouble because Spanish’s gang is set on rustling the tithing herd and it will do anything—including kidnapping and murder—to get what it wants.
The Tithing Herd is an entertaining Western tale. Lindermuth paints his settings with a fine brush:

“Far off to the northwest he saw the hazy escarpment of the Mogollon Rim and before it, rumpled cedar-crested ridges, diminishing in height as they fell forward to meet a rolling valley swathed in buffalo grass and traversed by a broad stream which sparkled in the sunlight purpling the hills.”

The characters, especially Lute, is rich with contradictions and, at times moral ambiguity. Lute’s aim at vengeance is understandable but inconsistent with his worldview and internal morality. The villains are dark-hearted and sociopathic, which allows the reader to wantonly root for their demise. The narrative builds slowly until rattling into gunplay and violence. The Mormon element is interesting. Lindermuth develops his Mormons with sympathy and realism: they are good and bad both. But ultimately, The Tithing Herd is Lute Donnelly’s story, and it is darn good for those readers with hankering for the Old West.

Go here for the paperback version and here for the Kindle version at Amazon.

Monday, December 04, 2023

"Introducing the Author... Evan Hunter" — from Imagination


This light-hearted, but informative autobiographical essay by Evan Hunter appeared in the Dec. 1953 issue of Imagination alongside Hunter’s novelette, “First Captive”. I particularly like the paragraphs towards the end where Hunter discusses character. [click on the image to make it larger]


Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Review: "Homicide: Saigon" by Stephen Mertz

Homicide: Saigon
by Stephen Mertz
Wolfpack Publishing, 2021


Homicide: Saigon, by action maestro Stephen Mertz, is as fast as a bullet and as much fun as a summer afternoon. It is 1970. The United States’ war in Vietnam is near its height and more unpopular than ever. As a public relations gimmick, the Army brass embeds journalists with select “in-country” units hoping for positive publicity. Maj. Cord McGavin is a hot-shot U.S. Army CID investigator stationed in Saigon. Cord is unhappy with the idea of a photojournalist following him around. He is even more so when he discovers the photographer is his wife, Kelly. An assignment Kelly had to go undercover to get and it could threaten McGavin’s career.
     But McGavin’s career worries disappear when he is confronted with a drug trafficking operation that began as street rumors and then escalated into a dockside firefight. On one side are a handful of American servicemen and on the other side is an ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) cop and McGavin. The ARVN cop doesn’t trust any of his American counterparts, including McGavin, because the drug ring appears to have deep roots within the U.S. Army. McGavin’s instincts tell him something big is going down, but Kelly’s presence is disturbing in two ways: she’s beautiful; and she’s in danger every second she spends in Vietnam.
     Homicide: Saigon is a sharply plotted and laconic action thriller with a rich setting and just enough characterization to make it interesting. It is less police procedural, or mystery, than it is an arrow-straight action tale. McGavin is a big and tough hero without many visible flaws—other than the distracting presence of Kelly—with a knight errant-like passion for justice. A step above most of it’s competitors, Homicide: Saigon, will appeal to anyone who enjoys those old-school masculine thrillers so popular in the 1970s and 1980s.

Check out Homicide: Saigon at Amazon in paperback here and in Kindle here.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Tales of the Macabre by Jim Kjelgaard & Robert Bloch


Introduction to Tales of the Macabre by Jim Kjelgaard

[now available from Vintage Lists in the Tales of the Macabre / The Black Fawn collection]

 Jim Kjelgaard was a regular contributor of short stories to pulp magazines in the late-1930s and throughout the 1940s. His first known published fictional tale, “River Man,” appeared in the November 5, 1938 issue of Argosy, and his byline regularly popped-up in diverse magazines like Street & Smith’s Western Story Magazine, Black Mask, 10 Story Western, The Phantom Detective, Thrilling Adventure, Argosy, Adventure, and others. It wasn’t unusual for 20 or more of Kjelgaard’s stories to reach print each year; his best annual output was in 1946, which saw an astonishing 36 of his tales hit newsstands across the country.
     While the genre Kjelgaard was writing for changed—Western, romance, mystery, adventure—his stories were charmingly consistent and familiar to his regular readers. They often featured animals and thoughtful protagonists living in wild places. A genre Kjelgaard rarely visited was horror, but that changed when a tale of the supernatural, “The Thing from the Barrens,” appeared in the September 1945 issue of Weird Tales. This story, and the three others published by Weird Tales over the next ten months—“The Fangs of Tsan-Lo” (Nov. 1945), “Chanu” (Mar. 1946), and “The Man Who Told the Truth” (July 1946) —had Kjelgaard’s traditional hallmarks, but were also dependent on their supernatural elements: a stalking creature from the wastelands of the Arctic, an ancient dog, a sinister hybrid ape-man, and…
While the stories all appeared under Jim Kjelgaard’s name, a young Robert Bloch—the writer that gave us Psycho (1963)—revised the stories for publication. Both Bloch and Kjelgaard belonged to a writing group, the Milwaukee Fictioneers, which included the Western writer Lawrence A. Keating, the golden age science fiction writer, Ralph Milne Farley, and the cult-favorite science fiction writer Stanley G. Weinbaum. In Bloch’s 1994 autobiography, Once Around the Bloch, he mentioned his work with Kjelgaard and another of the group’s members: “I rewrote and sold stories which appeared under the bylines of Ralph Milne Farley and another member, Jim Kjelgaard.”
     Robert Bloch was a supernatural horror specialist and his participation in the stories can be seen from the eerie descriptions— “I seemed to hear the rustle of leaves, to see snarling, man-beast faces” —but the concepts and plotting are in the classical vein of Jim Kjelgaard. Things changed a bit for the fourth tale, “The Man Who Told the Truth,” which is less Kjelgaard and more Robert Bloch. In fact, this story was included in Bloch’s posthumous collection, Flowers from the Moon and Other Lunacies (1998). These collaborations often appeared alongside stories under Bloch’s own name. “The Thing from the Barrens” appeared with Bloch’s “The Skull of the Marquis de Sade”; “The Fangs of Tsan-Lo” with “Soul Proprietor”; and “Chanu” with “Bogy Man Will Get You.”
     For the first time in more than 70 years, Jim Kjelgaard’s first three tales of the macabre are back in print. And we’re betting you’ll enjoy them as much today as their original readers did so long ago.




Got to Amazon for the paperback version (here) or Kindle version (here).

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Reviews: "Best American Mystery and Suspense, 2023" and "Fire-Hunter"

There are a couple new reviews of mine out in the world. Unfortunately, none of them are here, so I figured I’d point them out anyone interested enough to jump to a few websites.
     The first is a review of the terrific The Best American Mystery and Suspense, 2023, edited by Lisa Unger. It can be found at the Mystery Scene website.
     The second is a review of a cult classic (and still enjoyable) young adult title from long ago: Jim Kjegaard’s 1951 novel, Fire-Hunter. It is available at the new Jim Kjelgaard blog.
     For my U.S. readers, have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday! For everyone else, have a great week!

Monday, November 20, 2023

Frankie: A Street Cat's Journey Home

Something a little different at the blog this evening—and forgive my shameless familial promotion—but…

      My sweet and kind and beautiful wife has a children’s picture book live and on the streets. Frankie: A Street Cat’s Journey Home is the true story of our little housemate and family-member, Frankie. It is lovely, the artwork is beautiful. And it is perfect for every kid, especially those between 2 and 6!

Here is what the publisher had to say about Frankie: A Street Cat’s Journey Home:

Meet Frankie! She was born a stray kitten. She hurt her eye early in life and lived in fear. One day, Frankie was taken to the animal shelter— Scared, in pain, and alone. What would happen next? Could a new home, happiness, and love be just around the corner for one small kitten?

Written and illustrated by professional artist and graphic designer, Kara Boulden, Frankie: A Street Cat’s Journey Home is a full-color picture book perfect for every child. Parents and grandparents, too! Vintage Lists called it “a heart-warming tale about friendship, love, and acceptance that will appeal to every child” and “an absolute winner!”

Share Frankie: A Street Cat’s Journey Home with a child you love today!

Kara Boulden has been a professional artist for more than 25 years. She has worked on projects for major Hollywood studios, Fortune 500 companies, New York publishing houses, and many other clients. She lives in Vermont’s Green Mountains with her husband, daughter, a dog, and, of course, Frankie.

      Of course I’m biased, but I think Kara’s book is marvelous! It can be purchased at Amazon, by clicking here or by clicking the fancier link below. 

Thursday, November 16, 2023

"Introducing the Author... Philip K. Dick" — from Imagination


A marvelously self-effacing biographical essay from Philip K. Dick. It appeared in the February 1953 issue of Imagination alongside his short story, “Piper in the Woods.”