Friday, November 24, 2017

Forgotten Books: A NOOSE FOR THE DESPERADO by Clifton Adams (1951)

In Desperado (reviewed HERE) (no relation to the song I don't like), we saw how "Tall" Cameron ran afoul of the scallywags and carpetbaggers ruling his Texas home town, rode the owlhoot trail under the expert tutelage of notorious outlaw Pappy Garret, and had his hopes of returning to his old life and love shattered.

It's now a month later. Tall is on his own now, and resigned to his fate. He hardly ever thinks of that little gal and that little Texas town anymore, except when he's forced to. 

In the first book, Tall was riding all over creation, learning things and regretting things and killing people dead. But this time, except for a few forays into the desert, takes place in the little border town of Ocotillo, Texas, where all the habitants, aside from the ruling class of gringo outlaws, appears to be Mexican (or, in today's jargon, undocumented aliens). 

The Boss of Ocotillo has a sweet racket. Granting refuge to wanted badmen (hence the presence of Tall Cameron) gets him a large and vicious gang ready to do his bidding - which is to ambush, rob and murder smugglers bringing stuff up from Mexico.

Tall, being a basically good guy, doesn't like it much, but has little choice. To make things tougher on him, he meets a rundown drunk who serves as his conscience, and a wide-eyed young Texan who idolizes him. Unlike Tall, this kid still has a chance to return to his gal and his law-abiding life. 

He also meets a hellcat in the form of a hot young senorita. This femme fatale situation seems to be the typical Gold Medal temptress who leads the protagonist to his doom, but Adams twist expectations by giving Tall the determination to fend her off and use her for his own purposes.

While I enjoyed Desperado, I liked this one even better. That's likely because all the coming-of-age and apprentice-outlaw business was out of the way, and Tall could get right down to the tough stuff. It's also more cinematic. I felt like I was reading a movie. Desperado was made into a film, so why not this one? Attention filmmakers: It ain't too late!

This book is full of great hard-boiled lines. Some samples:

His lips were red and raw-looking, like an incision in a piece of liver.

Anger swarmed all over me like a prairie fire.

Looking into his eyes were like looking into the windows of a deserted house.

Bama's eyes were twin, silent screams for whisky. 

Their heads turned toward the door as if they had been jerked on a string.

He looked about as excited as a dead armadillo.

His eyes popped out as if they had been punched from behind with a pool cue.

He was traveling the road to hell on a fast horse.

Somebody had gone to Austin and brought the capitol building to Arizona and tied it on my back.

He couldn't have been more pleased if I had handed him Texas with a fence around it.

Made me wish Adams had written more adventures of Tall Cameron. But he didn't. There are only these two, and they're available now from Stark House.



Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Battle of DAVY CROCKETT, Round 2: Fess Parker vs. Mac Wiseman



Two more of the many BODC releases of 1955. Fess Parker recorded the ballad at least four times, but this was the first released. His was the second biggest seller of the year, following Bill Hayes'. We'll hear Fess's other efforts further down the road. Mac Wiseman recorded another (and much smoother) version later, too. 

Saturday, November 18, 2017

YouTube Theater: The CAPTAIN AMERICA you don't want to see! (1990)


This film was planned as a theatrical release in 1990, but was so bad it was delayed two years and then released direct to video. Still it has folks like Darren McGavin, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox in it, so how bad can it be? Well, it has Billy Mumy in it, too. You've been warned.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Forgotten Books: DEATH TAKES AN OPTION by Neil MacNeil (aka W.T. Ballard)


Based on the number of published novels, W.T. Ballard has to be ranked as one of the most productive of "Cap" Shaw's Black Mask Boys. After his Black Mask days, he went on to write mysteries under his own name and others, and westerns as Todhunter Ballard and others. As of 1979, the year before his death, Steve Mertz tells us he had written 95 novels, more than a thousand shorter works, and fifty film scripts. 

In 1958, with Death Takes an Option, Ballard began a new series starring the private detective team of Tony Costaine and Bert McCall. And for reasons unknown (at least to me), he chose to write under the pen name Neil MacNeil.


The gimmick of two private eyes for the price of one was a good one, and the book covers play them up as partners. But based solely on Death Takes an Option (I've yet to read the others), Costaine is the boss, and does 90% of the detective work. McCall pops in and out, less often than I'd like, doing secondary investigative work, drinking, being irresistible to women and providing comic relief. In short, he's not really a partner - he's a sidekick. Not that there's anything wrong with that. 

While Costaine is your stock hardboiled P.I., being smart, tough, handsome, and flexible in the morality department, McCall is a free-spirited giant who talks like a hipster. He calls Costaine "Dad" (as in "Daddy-o"), and sums up philosophy with the line, "Three things I don't dig. Finks, falsies and fags."


This being 1958, Ballard wasn't worried about offending the LGBTQ community, and an effeminate thug and his partner are referred to as "Rosebud," "blond queen," "daisies" and "girls." There's also plenty for women to object to. Meeting the secretary Costaine is assigned, he immediately addresses her as "Kitten," "honey" and "sweet." There are also naked ladies in this book - and naked men, too - none of whom show the slightest inhibition. 



Costaine and McCall specialize as business detectives, and in this case they're hired to find out why a company accountant has committed suicide. The job leads them from California to Las Vegas, with a side trip into the desert. It's all competently told, and the patter between Costaine and McCall is entertaining. I would have liked a little more of it, and a little more involvement from McCall, but Ballard wrote the book without asking my opinion. 

The Costaine and McCall series continued for four more books, pictured here. In a 1979 interview conducted by Steve Mertz (you can read the whole thing HERE), Ballard said this about the series:


I developed the idea and editor Dick Carrol was enthusiastic. Then he died and Knox Burger took over. Burger was wary of the MacNeil byline because he knew the real Neil MacNeil of Washington. D.C., and my use embarrassed him although it was an honest family name for me. Knox did his best to kill the series. However, the books were popular and went back into reprint over which Knox had no control. It dragged on until Knox felt it was safe and then did kill both the nom and the series. I had no recourse. Knox left the house soon afterward, but the series was gone.