Last Update 6/23/16

The Big Trail by Max Brand, Pocket, 1960 (originally published in 1929)

This is a pretty lackluster western in which a man decides to track down another man who wronged his father. The plot stumbles along rather predictably, the characters arenít very interesting, and thereís a good deal of talk and not much actual action. It reads like something done to pay the rent and it goes on for far too long. Brand did not think much of the western genre, but that didn't stop him from writing hundreds of novels in that setting. 6/23/16

The Tiger Warrior by David Gibbins, Bantam, 2009

Jack Howard and his crew are back for another underwater (and above water) archaeological adventure. An ancient shipwreck off the coast of Egypt leads them to the Silk Road, the route followed by some Roman legionaries but unbeknownst to them, they are approaching an ancient secret which has also cost countless lives. There is a hint of the fantastic Ė the hidden treasure might hold the secret of immortality Ė but Gibbins backs off from that at the end and leaves behind only a mystery. The author can write good adventure and he knows his history, but the formula needs some variation. 6/20/16

Vengeance Trail by Max Brand, Pocket, 1953 (originally published in 1931)

Max Brand frequently used tenderfeet as his heroes, as is the case in this western adventure. Johnnie goes west and finds a seasoned gunslinger to teach him the ropes. Then he goes on a quest to hunt down a legendary white buffalo, which is sacred to the Pawnee who donít take kindly to someone poaching in their territory. At the same time he has to track down a notorious thief, survive life in the wilderness, and learn just what kind of person he wants to be. A bit out of the ordinary for Brand, though not too far, and well written despite some mild racism and a bit of unnecessary padding here and there. 6/17/16

The Yarn of Old Harbour Town by W. Clark Russell, McBooks, 2000 (originally published in 1905)  

Russell was famous for his sea stories, although this one takes place largely upon the land. Young Mr. Lawrence has been thrown out of the British Navy after a drunken incident and his enforced inactivity while looking for work has led him into debt and other reprehensible habits despite his otherwise sound character. When a friend of his father offers him the post of captain of a merchant vessel, he accepts, but secretly he plans to abduct his benefactorís daughter, redirect the ship to an alternate destination, sell it and its cargo to pay his debts, and embarrass the daughter into marrying him. His plans go awry when the daughter proves more capable than he expected and when a faster ship is dispatched to chase him down. Despite the melodramatic plot summary, this is a rather sedate though fascinating story of life in a small English port town of its time. 6/16/16

The Lost Tomb by David Gibbins, Dell, 2008 

The lost treasure in this adventure story is a good one, a trove of ancient texts long believed destroyed. A pair of archaeological discoveries suggest that Jack Howard and his fellow archaeologists might be on the verge of finding a document written by Jesus himself. Once again there is an opposing force engaged in an international conspiracy, this time intent upon suppressing anything that might upset their applecart and eliminating our heroes and anyone else that might have an inkling of the truth. This series has proven to be reliable and entertaining, if a bit repetitive. 6/13/16

Smugglersí Trail by Max Brand, Paperback Library, 1967 (originally published in 1937)

Yet another story of the honorable outlaw, this one a counterfeiter who thinks his life is over when he captured by a local marshal. But the marshal has a proposition for him. Heíll overlook the counterfeiting charge if his prisoner will help him track down and capture a gang of smugglers. So he joins the gang, risking his life, and eventually brings them to justice. This is another of Brandís better novels. He seemed to get a second wind around 1935 and a good deal of his best work appeared during the final years of his writing career. 6/12/16

The Song of the Whip by Max Brand, Paperback Library, 1969 (originally published in 1936)  

Montana returns after a long absence in one of the best of Brandís novels. Once again he has to cross into Mexico, but this time heís not after a bad guy so much as he hopes to rescue a good one. Although fairly short, itís an engrossing adventure story that takes an ordinary story and makes it something special.  Brand seems to have done most of his best work with his series characters for some reason, and Montana is one of his more appealing heroes. 5/27/16

Crusader Gold by David Gibbins, Bantam, 2007  

Jack Howard is back to track down another archaeological treasure, in this case a lot of loot stolen during the Crusades and lost at sea. Large doses of historical information pad the story out, but they are generally interesting in themselves so itís an acceptable if not always welcome diversion. And naturally they have rivals who will stop at nothing to acquire the goodies, and overlaid on it all is an international conspiracy that I wonít reveal here. One of the blurbs refers to this series as a blend of Indiana Jones and Dan Brown, and thatís a very good description. 5/24/16

The Streak by Max Brand, 1952 (originally published in 1937)

The Streak is the nickname of a legendary loner who is supposed to have outwitted, outshot, and outfought everyone he encountered. The formidable reputation is undeserved, however, because the man behind the name is actually an inoffensive young man who benefited, if thatís the term, from a series of coincidences that fed upon one another. So when a genuine two fisted gunslinger shows up, determined to track down and defeat the Streak, our hero finds himself in an unenviable position. This isnít a bad story but itís a rewrite of one Brand wrote early in his career and he doesnít add anything noteworthy to it. 5/22/16

South of Rio Grande by Max Brand, Pocket, 1973 (originally published in 1936)

A Mexican bandit known as El Tigre has been raiding across the border and then retreating where he believes himself to be safe from pursuit. Joe Warder is a man who has reached a point in his life where he is desperate for some sort of success. When someone talks him into crossing into Mexico to hunt the outlaw down, he has reservations, but his life doesnít seem to be headed anywhere so he decides to take a chance. Slow first half, much better after that. 5/12/16

Atlantis by David Gibbins, Dell, 2005

This is the first in a series of contemporary adventure stories about a man who specializes in underwater archaeology, written by a man who does just that. Fragments of papyrus in an Egyptian tomb provide clues to the actual physical location of the island of Atlantis. The expedition is soon menaced by a renegade ship of pirates from Kazakhstan and we are treated to a brief bit of weapons porn. There are recurring incidents for the balance of the story which is heavily weighted toward archaeological discovery. The frequent asides for history lectures are usually interesting but they interrupt the story flow and I found myself taking frequent breaks because I had lost my immediate interest in the outcome. Good overall, but a bit slow for an adventure story. 5/8/16

The Informer by Liam OíFlaherty, 1961 (originally published in 1925) 

The author, who was involved with the Irish Republican Army, knew his subject matter for this story of a man who betrayed a comrade and was thereafter hunted by his former colleagues. While the novel provides some interesting insights into the tenor of the Irish revolution, it is occasionally tedious, sometimes preachy, and I found it morally contradictory. The author also had a frustrating prose style that often used multiple sentences in a row with the exact same structure. I did not feel inspired to look for any of the authorís other novels. 5/7/16

Hunted Riders by Max Brand, Pocket, 1977 (originally published in 1935)  

This is one of the few Brand westerns where he actually tried to build some suspense. Two outlaws break out of jail and successfully evade a persistent posse, but they have worse things to fear. A man they ďkilledĒ a month earlier is on their trail as well, and he seems more determined than even the law to bring them to justice, of one sort or another. This one has a fairly good story although it isnít good enough to justify its length Ė itís one of the longest of the last several Brand westerns. This one would make a good movie. 4/27/16

McTeague by Frank Norris, Signet, 1899 

This is not the book to read if you want your spirit uplifted. The title character is a self proclaimed dentist who marries a woman who has won a small but substantial amount in a lottery. The marriage causes a rift with his best friend, who also wooed her. She is a miser who wonít spend any of her winnings and when the friend turns McTeague in as a fraud, he loses his only source of income. The couple breaks up when he steals some of her money, and when he returns they fight some more and he kills her. The friend then pursues him into the desert where they have their final battle. The friend is killed, but he handcuffs himself to McTeague before dying, thereby dooming him as well. Pretty glum. 4/25/16

Fire Brain by Max Brand, Pocket, 1959 (originally published in 1925)  

Once again Brand presents us with the honorable outlaw. John Sherburn is on the run but wants to reform. When the most respected man in a small town takes a liking to him, it seems that things are looking up. His patron leads a raiding party against hostile Indians and Sherburn is left in charge of the town, proving his mettle and falling in love with a girl, who turns out to be the woman that his mentor plans to marry. He backs off, deciding to be content with what he has, but it turns out he has put his trust in the wrong person. About average, and very predictable. 4/16/16

Hot Town by Frank Malachy, Perma, 1956 

This is a pseudonym of Frank McAuliffe, author of the marvelous Augustus Mandrell crime series. Itís a western, and told in first person, which is somewhat unusual. The protagonist arrives in a small town only to discover that it is corrupt from the sheriff on down. When he tries to stick up for his own rights, he is beaten and nearly killed, so he decides to take matters into his own hands. Itís a fair western, but lacks the wit and humor of the Mandrell novels and doesnít feel remotely as though it was written by the same person. 4/12/6

Marbleface by Max Brand, Warner, 1981 (originally published in 1934) 

A prizefighter is told that he has a bad heart and that he needs to lead a peaceful life. So naturally he moves to the Old West! There he learns to keep his emotions and his nerves under control so that he can exert himself without causing a heart attack. But as it turns out the bad guys in the area arenít going to allow him to remain sedentary. One of the few Brand novels written in first person, but not one of his more enthralling efforts despite as few original touches. 4/4/16

The Four Feathers by A.E.W. Mason, Grosset, 1901

This is a classic adventure story about a man who is not a coward, but who fears that he might be one, and he drops out of the army just before a major deployment to Egypt, choosing instead to pursue his engagement to a beautiful young woman. Three officers discover his chicanery and send him three white feathers, the symbol of cowardice, and his fiancť adds a fourth when he tells her what he has done. So the wedding is off and our hero goes undercover to Egypt and the Sudan to prove he is not a coward and compel the three officers to take back their feathers. The uprising of the dervishes adds plenty of wild action to the mix. There have been at least a couple of movie versions. I read this back in high school and liked it, and it holds up very well today. 4/2/17

The Rancherís Revenge by Max Brand, Warner, 1981 (originally published in 1934) 

An ambitious young man builds up a small ranch, woos a girl, and thinks his life is pretty much upset. Then a rival for the hand of the girl launches as campaign to ruin our hero, and largely succeeds. Worsted and facing disaster, the latter decides to restore the way things were, and to do that he must first eliminate his adversary Ė permanently. One of the least interesting of Brandís novels, with little story and a protagonist for whom I never felt much sympathy. 3/18/16

A Creature of the Twilight by Russell Kirk, Fleet, 1966  

This was Kirkís novel set in a fictional Muslim African nation. The protagonist is a government official who is actually of European descent, although his history is not made clear. He rises to power when the current ruler is assassinated, precipitating a civil war. His career is marked by political and personal intrigues, betrayals, extra-legal activities, and other unsavory policies. The story is fairly interesting but my interest began to flag after a while and I think this would have been better as a novella. The protagonist also is featured in some of Kirkís short fiction. 3/17/16

Night and the City by Gerald Kersh, Ace, 1958 (originally published in 1938) 

This is probably Kershís best known novel Ė it was filmed twice. It is set within the dark and criminal underside of the city of London in the 1930s. Fabian is a pimp with ambitions to become a wrestling promoter, and to acquire the necessary capital he cruelly extorts money from a man whose wife is dying. Helen is a young woman down on her luck, desperate to find a job, who is finally reduced to working in a night club dancing with strange men. There is some romance, some double crosses, some crime, and a lot of unsavory goings-on. The one nice female character begins to consider running a shady business of her own, but only for a ďshort time,Ē but her boyfriend insists that it would just be digging themselves further into a trap.  Corruption conquers all in a somewhat depressing but nevertheless fascinating depiction of the London underworld. 3/15/16

Quite Early One Morning by Dylan Thomas, New Directions, 1960 

This is a collection of essays and short stories by the famous, though not very prolific Welsh writer. Some are humorous, some melancholy, but all are written in a beautiful prose style that draws you completely into the text. His reminiscences about his childhood in Wales are probably my favorites, but I liked almost everything here other than some of the critical essays dealing with poetry that I havenít read. 3/3/16

Valley of Vanishing Men by Max Brand, Pocket, 1973 (originally published in 1934) 

This is quite short but itís one of my favorite Brand westerns. The valley in question is one where a number of men have disappeared in recent years, including the brother of the protagonist, who shows up determined to find out what happened. Thereís a gang of bad guys in the area, which provides a clue, but theyíre too much for our good guy to handle until Silvertip shows up and joins forces with him. Mystery solved, bad guys disposed of, and Silvertip is off to prepare for his next adventure. 3/2/16

Rider of the High Hill by Max Brand, Warner, 1983 (originally published in 1933)

Once again a Brand hero finds himself caught between the law and the outlaw. The sheriff believes that he was one of the group of criminals who hijacked a gold shipment, so theyíre after him. He does know where the loot is being kept and he plans to recover it, return it to the bank, and clear his name, but the bad guys obviously donít want this to happen, so theyíre after him too. Fortunately he has the fastest horse in the known world and heís pretty good with a gun as well, so the odds may be stacked against him, but we know along that he will prevail. 2/14/16

Son of the Flying Y by Will F. Jenkins, Gold Medal, 1951 

Will F. Jenkins was the real name of SF writer Murray Leinster. He wrote a handful of westerns early in his career, of which I believe this is the only one ever to have a paperback edition. The protagonist is the son of a cattle baron who is frustrated because his father never lets him take any risks or learn to do anything for himself, convinced that he is incompetent because of the machinations of his foreman, who hates the young man. So our hero runs away and assumes a fake identity in order to learn about the world.  He learns a lot, matures, and eventually proves himself to all concerned. A fairly standard western plot, done competently. 2/11/16

The Dude by Max Brand, Paperback Library, 1971 (originally published in 1934) 

A few of Brandís heroes are tenderfeet who prove to be competent than experienced westerners. This one features the son of a man who has lost his fortune.  He gets involved in a crooked card game and during the subsequent gunfight he is helped by a notorious but honorable outlaw. The two then hatch a plan to steal the bankroll of the crooked gambler, even though our hero has doubts about his ability to deal with a crisis. Naturally he turns out to be okay and the good bad guys beat the bad bad guys. Formulaic and at times unconvincing, a pretty minor example of Brandís work. 2/3/16

War Party by Max Brand, Warner, 1975 (originally published in 1934) 

I suspect that Brand wrote this western as a self parody, since it incorporates just about every single one of his recurring tropes. The protagonist is a white man raised by Cheyenne who believes himself to be a coward Ė heís not Ė and returns to a society in which he doesnít belong. Heís soft spoken despite being good with fists and weapons. He decides to prove himself by capturing the horse that no one can ride and breaking it to saddle. He becomes a savage, clears himself of various accusations, and settles down at last, having found his courage. 1/23/16

Gilliganís Last Elephant by Gerald Hanley, Crest, 1962 

Gilligan is a hunter and guide Ė though he has lost his license - in northeast Africa, but even though he tells himself that he prefers the company of Africans to Europeans, he is a nasty, moody racist. He agrees to a clandestine safari for an American, Muller, who wants to hunt down a famous elephant that Gilligan actually fears. The two men engaged in an intense personal rivalry that nearly destroys them both. They eventually find and kill the elephant but Gilligan is fatally injured. This was supposedly filmed as The Last Safari, but the description of the plot that Iíve read bears no relation to the book. 1/19/16

The Big Book of Swashbuckling Adventure edited by Lawrence Ellsworth, Pegasus, 2014 

Iím a big fan of pirates, swordsman, and rousing adventure stories, so this large compendium has been sitting by my bed for a week or so to close out my reading day. It opens appropriately enough with a good short by Rafael Sabatini (thereís another one later on), and contains a complete short novel by H. Bedford-Jones, whose work I have only recently discovered.  A couple of the stories are minor, but the Robin Hood adventure  is pretty good, as is Sir Arthur Conan Doyleís tale of a French officer from Napoleonís army traveling across an increasingly restive Germany.  Stanley Weyman and Harold Lamb are both represented by good stories and there are tales of the Scarlet Pimpernel and Ruritania from The Prisoner of Zenda. A couple of the ďstoriesĒ are novel excerpts from novels Iíve read, which was somewhat disappointing. Otherwise a good selection. 1/15/16

Frontier Feud by Max Brand, Warner, 1976 (originally published in 1934)

The protagonist saves the life of an Indian, which puts the other man in his debt. Then he is imprisoned on a bogus charge and the debt evens out when his friend intercedes. But the man in charge of the prisoner has a separate agenda and he plans to take advantage of the situation to kill the friend and seize his girlfriend. Itís another one where it turns out the Indian is actually a white man, and itís also one of Brandís weakest novels. 1/12/16

Bantan Defiant by Maurice B. Gardner, Greenwich, 1955  

This was the third in a Tarzan clone series. Bantan is the native name of an America who was lost at sea as an infant and ended up on a remote island. In the first two volumes, he helped his adopted people battle their hereditary enemies and fell in love with two different women, discovered his true identity but also learned that the family fortune was lost. In this one, he has returned to his island just in time to help the natives battle Japanese invaders since World War II is now underway. Rather implausible and written with somewhat stilted prose, but not entirely unreadable. 1/6/16

Vengeance by Wade Everett, Ballantine, 1966  

Wade Everett was the pen name of Giles Lutz and Will Cook, both of whom also wrote westerns under their own names.  The story involves a rancher who stands in the way of a rival who wants to dominate the entire area. The conflict heightens when an attempt is make to lynch a farmer, the protagonist intercedes, and a friend of the villain is killed in the process. This includes an irritating scene in which the hero ďthrowsĒ his voice so that his opponent shoots in the wrong direction, which is physically impossible. The last third of the book is a siege with the bad guys trying to get into a cabin defended by the good guys and itís very well done. A better than average western. 1/2/16

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