Death Lit: Gbontwi’s Gumshoe

While I’m knocking out fast, easy blog posts, I noticed that my most recent review for PW made it through edit 90-95% intact.


Guess I can link to that one. Crime novel, London neo-noir sort of thing. Surf over if interested.

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Rediscovered: NYT Flogs Cockfighter

Chad Calkins just tipped me to a feature in the New York Times where their in-house book critics do a year’s end roundup, of interest here because they are asked about older titles they may have read in 2018. Dwight Garner writes:

There were two novels I did pick up and admire. . . . The other, better, one was Charles Willeford’s 1962 novel “Cockfighter.” Willeford is best known, when known at all, as a hard-boiled cult writer. But his observant books had unusual emotional registers, a sideways view of life and an indefinable comic air. This book, set in Florida and Georgia, is about a man for whom training fighting birds is an abiding passion. To admire this colorful novel is not to wish a return of that blood sport. The film of “Cockfighter,” released in 1974 and starring the amazing Warren Oates, is a keeper, too.

Suddenly, everybody is an expert.

And what the hell, cockfighting has vanished??? Hey, if you read it in the Times. . . .

Still, as Chad notes, “Pretty cool to have someone at the Times praising Willeford.”

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Two-Gun Bob: The de Camp Bio

Hey, some books may deserve to be forgotten.

Inspired by reading my little biographical eBook on Robert E. Howard, Famous Someday — at this moment no.2 on the Kindle Horror Litcrit Bestseller list, for what that’s worth —

(And my REH Litcrit MegaPack sits at no.6, and Howardian buddies Brian Leno’s eBook is no.5 and Morgan “The Morgman” Holmes’ Enter the Barbarian is no.7 — we really muscled our way into the Top Ten this morning. . . . Yeehah!)

Wait a minute. . . . Where was I?

Oh, yeah. Evan Lewis just read the first full-scale bio of REH, Dark Valley Destiny by L. Sprague de Camp and cohorts, and covered it in the most recent Friday Forgotten Books roundup (or whatever they call it).

Excellent review. The bio is noteworthy for the actual history de Camp unearths, crippled by his bizarre fixation on psychobabble theorizing. Evan nails it.

What Evan doesn’t seem to know is that de Camp spent five years working on the book (along with other things) because he thought it would sell a lot better than it did. Previously de Camp had done his bio of H. P. Lovecraft for Doubleday, first full-scale bio of The Old Gent — that one sold very well. De Camp had this talking point where he would refer to HPL, REH and Clark Ashton Smith as the “Three Musketeers” of Weird Tales magazine, and had planned bios of all three, to form something of a set.

But when the bio of REH bombed, he shelved the idea of doing the CAS bio (Smith, incidentally, was the only one of the Three that de Camp actually met in person). He gave me some of the initial research he’d compiled, when he heard that I was thinking of doing a CAS bio.

My plans were probably more tentative than de Camp’s, basically to take a bunch of the work Donald Sidney-Fryer already had done, fill in stuff — I do have a banker’s box with mockups of possible chapters and other notes.

Forgotten Books. How about “Lost” Books, such as the CAS bio which would have been bylined “by Donald Sidney-Fryer and Don Herron”?

I stepped aside when Scott Connors returned to the weird fiction scene and wanted to do a CAS bio. He’s been working on it for years now. Don’t know if he’ll actually finish it up.  But I guess I can stand ready to step in if there is a disaster, for awhile, anyway.

You still can’t do a CAS bio with the thought of making money. You’d do it just to honor one of the greats. Probably the best reason.

Posted in REH | Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Rediscovered: McNaughton v. Vance

What was I thinking?

In the post a month plus back where I kind of talked myself into rereading Brian McNaughton’s The Throne of Bones for Halloween, I realized that somehow I managed to put forth this opinion:

McNaughton bears the distinction of later writing the finest set of stories ever in the CAS mold, inspired by the Klarkash-Ton cycles set in such fantastic realms as Hyperborea and Zothique.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. I must have been in a hurry, not doing the Deep Thinking needed for such a judgment.

Yes, I think McNaughton is one of the best imitators of Clark Ashton Smith. I got about halfway through the Bones yarns before other things pulled me away. Had a PW to do, now have a PW proof at over 600 pages winging my way (it looks as if I managed to do around ten reviews this year, despite triple bypass surgery and subsequent droopdom — usually I might do six, or seven).

So. Allow me to correct myself.

The story cycle The Dying Earth by Jack Vance, riffing off Klarkash-Ton’s saga of the doomed last continent of Zothique, is the best with a commanding influence from the writings of CAS.

If I did any Deep Thinking on the subject, it was all subconscious. Suddenly the thought hit me: Come on! What were you thinking?!

I think I know what I was thinking. I was ranking McNaughton in with a less talented group, from Lin Carter on down, who would try a Smith imitation from time to time — and of that group, he was the high point.

Whereas Jack Vance I consider a Real Writer. The Dying Earth was his first book, but he did lots more, and far surpassed any idea that he was only a CAS clone.

McNaughton just didn’t do enough writing to get into that league. (Lin Carter perhaps wrote almost as much as Vance, but the deal is, the writings have to be good.)

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Rediscovered: Et Tu, Erle? — or, Another Lost Atlantis

When Tom Krabacher came to town the other day to hang on a feedbag filled with gooey duck, he brought along a copy of a book he helped assemble, Woodland, in Acadia Publishing’s sprawling Images of America series. I was interested, since that burg has a lot of knockout Victorians — I’ve even been to the tractor museum there, long before I encountered Tom.

Holding the book, I wondered aloud, Have they done a volume on Paradise?

If they did, it’d be like a little guidebook to lost Atlantis, since almost the whole town went up in the fire.

As reported here, Hammett fan Mike Humbert barely made it out alive.

Since the town as-it-was is flat-out gone, would such a book become a sudden collectable?

Tom said he’d been curious enough to order a copy of Paradise, by Robert Colby. The package finally rolled in, and he says, “I haven’t looked through that many in the series but it’s one of the better ones I’ve seen so far. (The worst I’ve come across so far, btw, is the one for Isleton). It’s nicely organized chronologically, the photos are clearly reproduced (some of them delightfully off-beat), and are nicely captioned.  Not a necessary ‘must have’ but worth glancing through next time you’re in a bookstore, if only to see what’s no longer there as a result of the blaze.”

I don’t know, I think the disaster gives Paradise a distinct edge in the interest department.

And reading through Tom came across a nice Mean Streets sort of tidbit on page 119, where it is noted that Erle Stanley Gardner bought 20 acres of land in Paradise around 1952, and then in his Perry Mason novel The Case of the Runaway Corpse from 1954 gave specific instructions on how to get to his place — only who among the millions of his readers would have thought the directions led to Erle’s hideaway, usually blurbed generically as “somewhere in the mountains of Northern California”?

The directions read: “The address in Paradise is on Crestview Drive. . . . Take the main street through town, then turn left on Oliver Road. At the foot of the grade, make a sharp left onto Valley View for a very short distance, then turn left again onto Crestview Drive, and it’s the last place on the right-hand side.”

If Erle’s original layout was still standing after all these years, I wonder if it got burned out like Mike?

Posted in Lit, News | Tagged , , , , , , , |

Rediscovered: Carnera v. Young

Woke up with an email from Brian Leno lurking in the inbox, and here it is, every word, plus the attachment.

Brian obviously is going full-tilt after his hobby of autograph collecting (Terry Moore and Ben Johnson starred in the Mighty Joe Young flick), with a nod to his known interest in King Kong.

And more obviously, the subjects of boxing and Texas writer Robert E. Howard are surging around in his brain. Bet he’s been knocking down some verbiage for his book on REH and Boxing. Last time he mentioned a word count, I believe it was already at 100,000.

Here’s Brian:


Thought you might get a kick out of this. The guy giving Mighty Joe Young a thumping is Primo Carnera, who won the heavyweight championship from Jack Sharkey, and then lost it about a year later to Max Baer.

Of course it might be a bit goofy to have a photo signed by Terry Moore when she isn’t even in the picture, but hey, it’s my collection.

Paul Gallico, one of the greatest writers to ever dip his pen inside a ring, summarized Primo in his classic essay “Pity the Poor Giant.”

“A giant in stature and strength, a terrible figure of a man, with the might of ten men, he was a helpless lamb among wolves who used him until there was nothing more left to use, until the last possible penny had been squeezed from his big carcass, and then abandoned him.”

Carnera is one of the sad stories of boxing, and of course, there are many.

The man he lost the crown to, Max Baer, beat the crap out of Wild Wilson Dunn in San Antonio, a couple of weeks after Howard’s suicide. Baer, after losing the championship to James J. Braddock, was on the comeback trail, and had a few fights in Texas at that time. If Howard had lived I have no trouble at all seeing him making his way to San Antonio to watch the fracas — wouldn’t have been the first time he saw a boxing match in Alamo Town.

Wild Wilson Dunn was a colorful figure in Texas boxing at that moment, and had stepped into the ring against Kid Dula and Duke Tramel. Not mentioned in the Howard correspondence that has come down to us, I can’t envision Howard not having heard of the fighter.

Anyway, that’s my two cents worth this Friday morning. Don’t know if you’re a fan of Mighty Joe Young or not, but I’ve always enjoyed the chase scene at the end where the cops are going after Joe and the big ape is showing his disdain for the local law enforcement by spitting in their direction. It isn’t King Kong, but still a good movie.

Posted in Boxing, Film, REH | Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Rediscovered: Famous Someday

Although available only for a month and change, Famous Someday now has been officially rediscovered by Evan Lewis for his entry in today’s Forgotten Book Friday roundup. FBF is a deal where 20ish bloggers pick a book, some really forgotten and some not, and review away.

Good background on Evan’s reading of Robert E. Howard and Howardian zines, back in the day — unfortunately he stopped before the epic run of The Cimmerian hit a high water mark in REH scholarship. Perhaps as important, the mag was fun, too.

As I’ve said, this eBook and others like it (Cimmerian Press has another in the pipeline which could pop any time during the holidays) collect some of the best stuff guys like Evan missed at the time, for whatever reason. A hiatus from Sword-and-Sorcery reading. Born too late. Whatever.

Evan’s a sharp guy, and remarks on the books from Doc Howard’s library, scrawled with his compulsive doodling: “The books also lead Don Herron to posit what appears to be an original theory regarding a mental disorder that may help explain both REH’s prolificacy and emotional problems.”

Yep, original. And cool.

But if you listen to the wrong guys in the current crop of would-be scholars, you’d hear that I only had one idea — one — thirty years ago. Man, are they lucky I was on the ground doing all the work.

Still, I think I can hear the cries: “I’m the captain now. I’m the captain now. . . .”

Sure you are.

What’s the pull line from the review?

It would have to be:

“Famous Someday is proof I missed something good.”

Posted in REH | Tagged , , , , |

Tour: The Worst-Air-Quality-on-the-Planet Walk

I would have thought the Age of Legendary Tours was over, but how was I to know that one day Frisco would be blanketed in smoke from Mike Humbert’s smoldering house in Paradise?

Per all the news sources, the air quality yesterday was the absolute worst on the planet, including India. Jeez.

Well, the walk was scheduled. I stood ready in my gumshoes.

Mario Ruiz rolled down again from Portland — and confirmed that he was the guy who hopped in his car back in 2014 and drove straight down to do the tour.

A little group showed up, who had emailed about their impulse to take the hike: “We had been chatting about the actress Mabel Normand, and that led to a discussion of famous people who had TB, and that led to Dashiell Hammett. . . .”

To which I replied: “And Hammett leads to Fatty Arbuckle, which leads back to Mabel, right?”

All sharp minds on the hoof, no allusion was missed — I even revived my story about meeting Elisha Cook Jr. to amuse and dismay the crowd.

And here’s something I can’t remember happening before, where people showed up from different places: everyone on the walk had read all of the Continental Op tales.

Yeah, it’s easier now that the Big Book of the Op is out, but still. . . .

I’m thinking it might be like the end of The Magnificent Seven, where after forty years of plugging the Op series on the mean streets that my work here might be done.

Guess I could manage to do a few more walks, though.

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Two-Gun Bob: A Quick Meditation on Arriving Too Late on the Scene

Another factor in hitting the Second Sunday fan gathering was that Tom Krabacher — an academic of many years standing, but also a longtime fan (he’s planning on doing a Dum Dum next year for Edgar Rice Burroughs enthusiasts) — wanted to roll down from his lair near Sacramento and put in his two cents on Little Lulu, old TV, movies and the hot variety of topics under discussion.

From an informative moment in the talkative turmoil, I’m now looking forward to the Doom Patrol as a 13-part season coming in 2019. It’s always nice to have something to live for. . . .

Afterwards, Tom and I headed for Kim Thanh on Geary for geoduck, “the largest burrowing clam in the world,” where we continued the talk.

In recent weeks, we’ve been chewing over the perennial topic of litcrit on Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft and weird fiction, and I mentioned to him the fact that several current REH fan types really want to relegate my work on the Texas author to the “one idea thirty years ago” dustbin of history.  Of course I had more than one idea, and my various essays and books remain viable — more intellectually viable than commercially viable, to be sure.

Whereas recent releases on REH concentrate on providing basic simple information for “new readers.” Can’t you feel my contempt radiating off the webpage?

Tom has commented on this stuff before, and here’s what he’s got to say this round:


When you remarked a week or two ago that they dislike you because you got there first, you were dead on target.

The great misfortune of the current crop of wannabe critics — as far as the ongoing appearance of new essays on Howard criticism and the like are concerned — is that they arrived too late. They want to engage in big picture Howard scholarship, but everywhere they look they find that those fields have already been plowed (clumsy metaphor; sorry).

They’re stuck with the little stuff.  Like excavating the Howard fruit cellar; or writing essays for new editions of Howard stories.

My personal theory of literary criticism (or scholarship more generally) is that in most cases — there are exceptions — once a writer is recognized as having some literary importance there is only a narrow window, a couple of decades perhaps, in which most of the major foundational scholarly criticism takes place.

As an example, for me at least, Melville criticism peaked in the 1950s and that of Joseph Conrad circa 1970.  Not that meaningful scholarly work can’t occur after such a peak, but it tends to be on narrower (often trivial) aspects of the topic; the occasional new biography may appear (e.g. Andrew Delbanco’s first-rate Melville biography from about 10 years ago) but big picture stuff’s already been done.

I bring this up because I think that’s the case with Howard.  The basic work on REH has long been done decades ago now by the first wave of Howard researchers and critics  — e.g., Glenn Lord’s book, you, and your generation — and our understanding of the basic features of REH’s life and art is pretty much set.  While useful stuff is still being done around the edges — Patrice’s work on the Howard texts, Morgan’s Almuric article, Leno’s essay on HPL, REH, and “Pigeons from Hell ” — the big picture stuff has been done.

The HPL situation strikes me as somewhat more complex. I’m not sure all the foundational work has been completed.  For the most part the biographical and textual details have been pinned down — S. T. Joshi gets a lot of credit for this — but the interpretive stuff seems still in flux. Joshi’s critical views are not as definitive as he wants to believe. And that’s one of the reasons I’m really looking forward to what Haefele’s Lovecraft: The Great Tales has to say.

It’s also a reason why I’ve been reluctant to do much on my own in the form of REH or HPL scholarship/criticism, since I honestly don’t think I have anything new and original to say.

Sure, I could crank out something on “Transgender Anxiety as Manifested in Lovecraft’s ‘The Thing on the Doorstep’” for a PCA conference or the like.

But why bother.

Posted in Lit, REH | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

Sinister Cinema: Top 25

Yesterday I hit another meeting of the Second Sunday Fanzine Fans of Yesteryear, where Bruce Townley happened to mention his ten favorite movies.

To paraphrase myself, I said something like, Man, that’s not enough, and told them about the time in the late 70s/early 80s when John Law and I sat around and easily tallied up our 100 Fave Films.

Bruce is into movies (you can find many movie moments in his zine Oblong, a file of which is available free online), and he just sent me a list where he has expanded on ten, but weeded that potential 100 down to 25. If you’re also a cineaste, you’ll enjoy browsing through, I’m sure.

Any fan’s list will be — ought to be — different. I’m more of a Wild Bunch/Enter the Dragon/Saragossa Manuscript/North by Northwest/Big Trouble in Little China/My Dinner with Andre/Arsenic and Old Lace/Seven Samurai/Mr. Vampire type myself. Several off Bruce’s selection would make my Top 100, of course.

Offhand, I think the most recent film to shoot its way into my faves would be John Wick. 

But now Bruce Townley, saying, “For your consideration here’s my, more or less, Top 25 films”:
















M [1931]










Bruce even put them in alphabetical order. Damn. . . .

Posted in Film | Tagged , , |