Last Update 12/29/15

The Bell in the Fog and Other Stories by Gertrude Atherton, Wordsworth, 2006 (originally published in 1905)  

This is a collection of supernatural and psychological horror and suspense. The title story is very low key and a bit longwinded. A rich man becomes obsessed with a neighbor’s child who strongly resembles an old painting he has found. Some of the stories are quite minor, but one in which a priest believes he hears the dead talking in their graves is very good. Most of them aren’t really horror despite the packaging. Some are psychological suspense, one is a romance, and a couple are so ambiguous it is not clear what happened. This one is a curiosity but none of the stories are memorable. 12/29/15

Studs Lonigan by James T. Farrell, Signet, 1935 

This is the complete trilogy in one volume. This was a very depressing 800 pages. The first volume, Young Studs, opens with Studs and his sister graduating from Catholic grade school. It is surprisingly forthright about sex – with a hint of incense – and a sharp denunciation of the Roman Catholic Church. Studs is determined to be thought of as a tough guy, but he really isn’t. The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan continues his descent to self destruction. He tries his hand at robbery, alienates the girl he loves, drops out of high school, and drinks too much. Judgment Day has him continually failing at everything he tries and he eventually contracts pneumonia and dies. It’s hard to think of this as entertaining, but it definitely paints a vivid picture of life in the lower middle class households of Irish Chicago at the time of the Depression. I took a break between volumes and read other books or I might have been contemplating suicide by the end. 12/25/15

Slow Joe by Max Brand, Warner, 1981 (originally published in 1933)

Joe has reason not to trust the law. His father’s claim was stolen brazenly despite his appeal to the courts, and the local sheriff allows a know rustler to go free. When his brother is framed for a murder he didn’t commit, that’s the final straw. So when he is asked to help track down a pair of killers, he is inclined to tell the sheriff where to put his offer, until he learns the identity of the two wanted men and realizes he can avenge the family honor legally by allowing himself to be deputized. But it doesn’t turn out to be that easy. Average western adventure. 12/17/15

Jou Pu Tuan by Li Yu, Grove, 1963   

This is a 17th Century Chinese novel set in the 13th Century and describing the amorous adventures of a brilliant but egotistical young man who has an insatiable desire to bed beautiful women. Although he marries very early in the book, he soon becomes dissatisfied and sets out for a series of erotic and nonerotic adventures. The novel is generally believed to have been a satire on the Puritanical attitudes toward sex at the time it was written. The title translates roughly to The Prayer Mat of Flesh. Our hero has himself surgically enhanced so that he can perform better and is soon engaged in affairs with a married woman but to his dismay the husband finds out. It goes on a bit longer than it probably should but it is genuinely funny most of the time. 11/26/15

Fightin’ Fool by Max Brand, Pocket, 1946 (originally published in 1933)    

A newcomer in town meets the girl he loves while incurring the enmity of the local sheriff and some of the other citizens. When he shows up a crooked gambler, he adds to his list of enemies. He finally does make one friend and the two of them face daunting odds as it seems as though the entire town – minus his lady love – is out to get him for one reason or another. I might just have been in the right mood but this seemed to me one of Brand’s best westerns. 11/14/15

The God-Seeker by Sinclair Lewis, Popular Library, 1949 

This is the story of Aaron Gudd, whose father was a personification of most of the things wrong with American protestants in the middle of the 19th Century – emotionless, cruel, thoughtless, unloving, distrustful of anything that hinted at pleasure, contemptuous of women, and obsessed with reading the Bible. As a young man, Aaron strikes out on his own and strays a bit, but the imprinting of his childhood is still there. As a young man, he is converted at a tent revival and moves to frontier Minnesota as a trainee missionary, although he is actually tricked into coming there just to provide free labor for the people already in residence. He finds the Dakota to be generally more honorable than the whites, and has other experiences in an obvious coming of age novel. This was the last novel he published during his lifetime - there was one posthumously - and it repeats many of his earlier themes. He is particularly critical of missionaries and evangelical style religion. 11/11/15

Gunman’s Gold by Max Brand, Pocket, 1960 (originally published in 1933)  

A somewhat reclusive town has vowed to hang a man who may be innocent. Sam Shannigan has been paid to rescue him and has managed to slip into town without causing a ruckus, but that changes when he intervenes at the hanging. Naturally he ends up higher on their wanted list than their former prisoner and ends up having to rescue himself as well. Somewhat above average for Brand despite just reassembling various overly used tropes in a new order. 10/31/15

The Outlaw by Max Brand, Pocket, 1974 (originally published in 1933)   

One of Brand’s standard protagonists is the gentleman outlaw who decides that he should reform and become a citizen in good standing. As usual he faces a challenge not only from the honest citizens who distrust his motives and resent his past career, but also from bad guys who have other reasons to want him dead. It’s not long before he’s more of a wanted fugitive than ever, but he perseveres, unmasks the villains, reconciles himself with the establishment, and lives happily ever after. More enjoyable than most. 10/23/15

Trouble in Timberline by Max Brand, Warner, 1984 (originally published in 1933)   

This was a return to Brand’s earlier formulas including the horse that no one but the hero can ride and a hero who seems dull and slow but is actually smart and strong and softspoken. He is hired to track down a rancher’s missing son – a young man who has a penchant for trouble – and that turns out to be more difficult than expected by the hero, although the reader will anticipate most of what happens. This is another solid but formulaic adventure from a man who could almost write them in his sleep at this point. 10/20/15

The False Rider by Max Brand, Pocket, 1961 (originally published in 1933)  

This is one of the weakest of the Silvertip stories.  A clever crook has adopted Silver’s name as a cover to divert attention away from himself. His physical similarity makes the deception quite effective. Silver has to track him down – while avoiding the authorities naturally – but he needs to be careful because his quarry is riding in company with one of the most skilled gunfighters in the area. The search is brief and there’s a confrontation and shootout at a deserted mine. Not bad at all but less interesting than the other stories involving this character. 10/18/15

Silvertip by Max Brand, Warner, 1971 (originally published in 1933)   

As is the case with most of the Silvertip stories, this one shows considerable originality. Jim Silver is scheduled to meet his old enemy for a shootout. He arrives and fairly easily kills his own opponent, only to discover that it is someone else disguised as his nemesis. This sets the stage for a two pronged story. On the one hand, he feels an obligation to do something for the man he just killed, something positive. On the other, he is more determined than ever to track down the man he intended to kill and this time do the job properly. Fairly short, but among Brand’s best work. 10/12/15

White Plague by James Abel, Berkley, 2015, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-425-27633-4   

To start with, someone should tell the editors at Berkley that people are hanged, not hung. This is the third book I’ve read recently that makes this mistake and the author, actually Bob Reiss, is a journalist so he should know better. An American submarine carrying classified information is disabled in the Arctic, icebound, its crew ill from an unknown disease. Colonel Joe Rush and a squad of marines are loaded aboard an icebreaker and sent on a desperate rescue mission, while two Chinese military vessels try to beat them and claim the sub as salvage. There is a troublesome government official aboard the icebreaker as well as the inevitable Chinese spy. I can accept that they might by chance have a spy aboard, but not that the spy would just happen to be equipped with an undetectable radio jammer that renders them incommunicado.  There’s a standoff but the American sub is successfully scuttled. The disease apparently originated in two frozen corpses which were found in an icebound ship dating from the 19th Century. The evil government – government is always evil in these things – won’t let rush communicate with the CDC so he has to find a cure on his own. Fairly good as these things go and not oversupplied with testosterone, but the story is routine. 10/11/15

Mountain Riders by Max Brand, Warner, 1972 (originally published in 1933)  

Another Silverip novella, this one told from the point of view of a different character. The protagonist is a fundamentally honest man who is befriended by another with less sterling a character, although he appears not to be villainous. He does, however, want to arrange for the escape of a captured murderer, and in order to enlist the hero’s help, he characterizes Jim Silver’s testimony against him as malicious lies. The escape comes off but our hero is left to be the scapegoat. He is captured, but discovers that Silver is an honest man and that his former friend is a killer, so he switches sides for the finale. Fairly short, but like most of the Silvertip stories, it has a breath of enthusiasm often missing from Brand’s other work. 9/26/15

Rawhide Justice by Max Brand, Pocket, 1977 (originally published in 1933)

Another standard western plot – this one involves a feud between the hero and three outlaws – with a few action sequences and some competent but indifferent character development. The only thing new is the inclusion of a gypsy character, unusual for both the author and for westerns in general. My attention wandered quite a bit this time and I could have set the book down at almost any point and if I’d never returned to it, I wouldn’t have felt any sense of loss. Fatally predictable. 9/12/15

Stolen Stallion by Max Brand, Pocket (originally published in 1933)  

This is one of the less interesting Silvertip novels, primarily because it had all been done before, and more than once, by Brand himself. Parade is a famous wild horse that has never been ridden and naturally our hero decides to break the streak, but with kindness rather than cruelty. Complicating matters is a pair of killers on his trail but they prove to be even less of a challenge than the horse. Not bad but unremarkable. 8/31/15

Silvertip’s Strike by Max Brand, Pocket, 1948 (originally published in 1933)  

Jim Silver is back, this time in hot water because he is forced to kill a man in self defense. The terms of the dead man’s will make Silver one of three partners owning a ranch, and the other two are aggressive and unscrupulous. Tempers flare early on and it seems that the uneasy association will be ended with the death of at least one of the trio. Naturally it isn’t going to be Silvertip who dies. One of the best Silvertip stories and one of Brand’s more interesting efforts. 8/22/15

The Wreck of the Grosvenor by W. Clark Russell, McBooks, 1999

This is one of the classic novels of life in the British merchant marine during the 19th Century. The narrator is second mate on a commercial vessel whose captain and first mate are tyrants and idiots. They set sail with provisions that are clearly rotten and the crew predictably rebels, killing both of them. The narrator was in irons because he delayed the ship to rescue a man and his adult daughter from a sinking ship, and the mutineers assume that he will side with them, at least for the time being. They plan to travel to Florida and go ashore claiming to be shipwrecked. They secretly plan to strand the second mate, now theoretically captain, and scuttle the ship so that he cannot testify against them. Their plans are pretty obvious though and he enlists the aid of a reluctant mutineer to foil the plot and leave the crew in lifeboats far from land. They do so after some difficulty, but then a violent storm disables the ship. Very exciting and enjoyable and I’m surprised this isn’t better known. Originally published in 1877. 8/13/15

The King’s Passport by H. Bedford-Jones, IndoEuropean Publishing

This Three Musketeers style adventure was first published in 1928. This particular edition was scanned so badly that it is almost unreadable. Cyrano de Bergerac, a nephew of D’Artagnan, and a man recently escaped from prison find themselves enlisted in a campaign in support of the king against Cardinal Richelieu. It has lots of derring do and swordfights and exciting escapes, but is a bit too obvious and derivative to be really interesting.  If I hadn’t had to stop frequently to figure out what a sequence of random letters actually meant, I might have enjoyed it more. 8/13/15

The King Bird Rides by Max Brand, Warner, 1980 (originally published in 1933)

Another duel of wits between an honorable outlaw and the lawman who wants to bring him to justice. The former has the fastest horse in the west, naturally, and when he escapes an elaborate trap, he decides that the time has come for a direct confrontation between the two enemies. There are some actual villains as well, but they’re not very effective and there’s not a lot of tension in this. It is one of Brand’s weaker efforts, tired and derivative, although as usual there are a few good scenes. 7/31/15

Silvertip’s Chase by Max Brand, Pocket, 1949  (originally published in 1933)

Brand seemed to have acquired some fresh interest in the western genre with the Silvertip stories, featuring Jim Silver, who stars in more books than any other Brand character. He has more of a supporting role in this one, a story of survival in the wilderness in which the bad guys are actually just another feature of the environment, no more or less deadly than anything else. The point this time is to track down and capture a half wolf, half dog who has the secret to a lost mine fastened inside his collar. Above average for Brand. 7/15/15

Danger Trail by Max Brand, Pocket, 1959 (originally published in 1933)

The protagonist of this western decides that as life of crime is not for him so he calls it quits. The gang to which he belonged is, unfortunately, unwilling to let him go because he knows too much about them. When a direct attempt to kill him fails, the bad guys kidnap his girlfriend and hold her hostage in a trap designed to close his mouth together. But they underestimate his skill and his determination. About average for Brand. He could probably write these while he was asleep at this point in his career. 7/9/15

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