Thursday, June 21, 2012

Noteworthy Reads: the ED RIVERS series by Talmage Powell

Thanks to the magic of eBooks and the vision of the good folks at Prologue Books (among others), long out-of-print books and genre series are getting new life breathed back into them. The mission statement of Prologue, in fact, is to: "Bring back to the reading public books that help shape the genres we know and revere today … to shine the spotlight on authors who may have been significantly influential on the current state of publishing, but who have never really received their due for one reason or another."

Toward that end, Prologue has re-released the entire series of Ed Rivers novels by Talmage Powell. For those not in the know, Ed Rivers is a Tampa-based PI circa late 1950s/early 1960s. Actually, he works for the Nationwide Detective Agency and is in charge of their Southeast Office. But, at least for the cases detailed in these novels, he operates pretty much the same as any of the more lone wolf-type PIs we see elsewhere.

There are five titles in the series. They are, chronologically: The Killer Is Mine (1959); The Girl's Number Doesn't Answer (1960); With A Madman Behind Me (1961); Start Screaming Murder (1962); Corpus Delectable (1964).

The titles were somewhat sensationalistic and not terribly evocative of the content (neither of which was uncommon for the era), but the writing and plotting were a cut above much of what else was being done in the genre.
Not only that, Powell dealt with themes that were rather daring for the time (an accused child molester; a WWII vet possibly committing murder while suffering PTSD – or shell shock, as they called it back then; a psycho bent on revenge), and avoided almost completely stereotypical plot devices relying on hoods and dames and blazing guns. Still, there's plenty of action to be found in these tales—Fisticuffs; the hero getting roughed up and frequently conked unconscious; gunplay; and no shortage of beautiful women.

It is the range of colorful characters that Rivers encounters and the sweltering Tampa setting that Powell paints so vividly that also helps to set these books apart.
The dialogue is a little too formal and flowery in spots, but Rivers is compassionate and insightful and plenty tough when he has to be. He's not above appreciating the pretty ladies who cross his path, but otherwise he comes across as tenacious and professional and refreshingly reluctant to toss around an over abundance of wisecracks. He is described frequently as "bearish" and homely or, as he himself puts it, having a mug that: "Women either get a charge from or want to run … and men either fear or trust to the hilt." He carries a .38 and a knife sheathed at the nape of his neck, the latter coming in handy almost as often as his gun.

Powell was a popular writer from the late 1940s through the '60s and wrote in various genres, though primarily mysteries, including a Mission: Impossible TV tie-in.
All and all, the Ed Rivers series is a very good entry in the PI genre and well worth checking out. The books certainly fit into the category of never having "received their proper due", and that's a damn shame.
You can check out all of these titles and more at .

Sunday, June 17, 2012


The other night on The O'Reilly Factor (yeah, I like Bill O'Reilly and I watch Fox News – deal with it), Bill had a brief interview with Brian Wilson and Mike Love of the Beach Boys. Near the close of the segment, O'Reilly thanked his two guests and then said: "You guys and your music are part of my life."

That statement—or, more to the point, the sentiment behind it—really struck a chord with me. It set me to thinking …

What are the "parts" that make up our lives? For most of us, our parents and siblings, spouses and children, friends and co-workers, personal experiences, etc.—the loved ones and things closest within the orbit of our family and day-to-day routines make up the major "parts" … and, ideally, the most important ones.
But another important part, the part that helps us deal with what is often the grind of that day-to-day existence our lives can become, is our entertainment. Our pastime. Where we go, what we do to escape the grind, to "get away from it all".

Sometimes these escapes can be as simple as hearing an old favorite song on the radio. When you're a certain age (like O'Reilly and me, for example) and you hear the strains of "California Girls" or "Sloop John B", you are magically transported back to a different time and place—the time and place you were at when you first heard those songs. A time and place where you were young and the world around you and your responsibilities in it were far different … A time and a place and a song and a memory that have now become part of your life.

For the purpose of the rest of this blog and the audience it is likely to reach, I want to concentrate that theme on books and reading.
Books and reading have been part of my life for almost as long as I can remember, certainly for as long as I have been able to read.
I remember reading coloring books, not so much for the pictures I could color but for whatever simple story the series of pictures told … I remember reading comic books … I remember the Whitman Classics adaptations of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and Robinson Crusoe (the first books I ever really owned) … I remember the old Classics Illustrated comic books (and the agony of ordering them through the mail and then having to wait for their arrival) – the only place I ever really "read" classics like Moby Dick, Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers, etc. … I remember purchasing Tarzan and the Lost Empire with its wonderful Frazetta cover off a drug store spin rack in Antioch, Illinois … I remember buying Mickey Spillane's The Girl Hunters off that same spinner …

I could go on and on.
Books have always been a part of my life. A big part.

I still have that original copy of The Girl Hunters. It's been with me for nearly fifty years now. Longer than the blessed 41-plus years I had with my beloved Pam. Longer than I've had my daughter and grandchildren in my life. It has survived countless "moves" from  house to house, town to town, state to state. From where I am writing these words, I can turn my head ninety degrees and see it amongst the other Spillane titles on my shelf of all-time favorites that contains my own personal Holy Trinity—Spillane/Mike Hammer, MacDonald/Travis McGee, and Hamilton/Matt Helm.

I remember when Pam and I were first married and our daughter was a baby, we didn't have a lot of extra money so we never really "went out" much, except for movies (drive-in double features) on a fairly regular basis. Pam didn't work outside the home, except for a brief period after our Michelle started school; after all, she was busy raising two "kids". She would always make sure I had "book money", though, even if we had to scrimp somewhere else.
On Mondays when I would return to work, some of my other co-workers would have tales to tell about partying or driving into the city for this or that event over the weekend. When they'd ask me what I did, I seldom had much in the way of anything exciting to report and I always suspected they may have felt a little sorry for me. What they didn't know (or understand) was that, via my books, I went thousands of places and did hundreds of things they could never dream of doing.
The truth of the matter is: I'm the one who feels sorry … for anybody who doesn't read.

In 1998, when I agreed to relocate from Illinois to Nebraska for the company I'd been employed by for many years, I spent nearly six months out in Nebraska alone while Pam stayed back in Illinois (also alone, but with our daughter and grandkids close by) trying to sell our house there before she moved out with me. By then I'd had some modest success with my own writing, though still was holding down a full-time job and getting very caught up in the grandparent thing. I'll admit (and Pam always knew it, too) that at first there was a part of me that had this cockeyed, romanticized vision of me in my motel room each night —free from distractions, no family obligations—pounding relentlessly on my keyboard like a dedicated pulp writer of old, churning out stories right and left, at a pace I'd never before come close to achieving.
Well, it didn't take very long to find out I was lonely and miserable as hell. I pecked away at writing and got down some worthwhile stuff that eventually turned into a book and a couple short stories, but my heart wasn't really in it and the pace of my output was no better (maybe worse) than before.

So you know what sustained me more than anything else during that long, lonely time?
That's right … Books. Reading. I found a used bookstore in a nearby town and there I was immediately among comfortable old friends who helped immeasurably in getting me through that blue time.

Yeah, books—some more specifically than others—have always been an important part of my life. I don't see that changing. In fact, when I give that final spasm and gasp that last ragged breath, I'd say it would be a real safe bet you'll find a book or my Kindle reader not very far out of arm's reach.

Persevere — WD

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Available Now - THIS OLD STAR

Available now in eBook format --- THIS OLD STAR, my 2010 Peacemaker Award-winning short story (still available, too, as part of the Bad Cop-No Donut anthology for those who prefer printed material). Now on Kindle and Smashwords, coming soon to Nook, Apple, etc.
This is a gritty, suspenseful, bittersweet tale of good men having to make hard choices between right and wrong on the Western frontier. It's one of my favorites, I think you'll enjoy it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


In the past couple years—largely in conjunction with the surge in e-publishing and the growth of blogs, Tweets, and so forth—a number of "old school" terms for popular fiction seem to have come back into vogue.

"Noir" gets freely—too freely, in my humble opinion (or IMO, just to show I'm "with it" as far as current vernacular)—applied to just about anything and everything. I'm expecting the noir line of Archie Comics any day now …

On a happier note, "hardboiled" seems to rightfully be getting recognized as a style that can be found in a much wider range of genres and/or sub-genres than just detective mysteries.

For the most part, the umbrella under which all of this gathers is good old-fashioned pulp fiction—another term back in prominence.
I've known for some time that I was a writer of hardboiled fiction. It's all I ever wanted to be. I cut my writing teeth on hardboiled PI fiction with my signature Joe Hannibal character. Hardboiled Magazine—the small press publication I started way back in 1985, and is continuing yet today under the guidance of Gary Lovisi—pretty much made the statement on where I stood and what my goals were. The Western fiction I've more recently branched into also has an undeniable hardboiled edge to it, as does the handful of other things I've written—including last year's NIGHT SPOOR, a hit man vs. vampire novel that I consider hardboiled horror.

But, for all that, I somehow never thought of myself as a pulp writer. Not that I considered myself above being categorized that way, and sure as hell not because I ever considered the words I put on paper to be great lit-ra-cha in any sense.
What it was, I've decided upon retrospect, is that I figured I was born too late and had missed the boat on being a pulp writer. After all, everybody knows the "golden age" of pulp was the 1930s and '40s. Ancient as I am, I don't go back quite that far.
Hell, I even came in on the tail end of the paperback boom of the 1950s thru the '80s. My first novel came out in 1988 and was in hardback. Fantastic as that was (and here's a little insight into how that quirky little mass I call a brain operates), it wasn't nearly as thrilling as when that same title was re-issued in paperback a couple years later, followed by my first paperback original! Now we were cooking. And then I was able to really feel complete as a writer when I finally spotted one of my titles on the rack at a used book store (see, I told you my thought process is a little quirky).

Anyway, I still never had thoughts of calling myself a pulp writer until fairly recently.
There should have been some hints as far back as '85 when I did Hardboiled—what the hell was that if not a modern-day pulp magazine? I even did the covers on yellow paper so it would look similar to old, yellowed pulp pages.
And on the Joe Hannibal listing at Kevin Burton Smith's terrific Thrilling Detective web site (, Mr. Smith wrote some time back that the Hannibal stories and novels were "recommended for those of you who aren't getting enough pulp in your diet"; he went on to call me, thanks to Hardboiled, "a kind of spiritual leader to what I like to call 'The New Pulp'." And in a 2005 response to the site, I myself wrote: "I aim never to lose my pulp roots, and my inclination toward hardboiled is etched pretty firmly … "
Finally, in 2010 and '11, after I'd done a couple stories for David Cranmer's excellent  Beat To A Pulp web magazine ( and started getting involved in blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc., I started to get a sense of how an even newer pulp era was starting to catch on in the world of e-publications and participating readers/writers.

What ultimately drove the point home for me came after I'd written COUNTERPUNCH, a novel in the popular Fight Card series created by Paul Bishop and Mel Odom. My friend (full disclosure) Lynn F. Myers Jr. wrote a review of the book in which he stated: "COUNTERPUNCH is pulp, yes pulp, and it is very good … Dundee would have been very popular as a writer for Black Mask or Dime Detective in the olden days."

It was one of those smack-yourself-in-the-forehead moments.
Lynn was exactly right. COUNTERPUNCH was, intentionally, a pulp novel. So were (albeit less consciously) all of my Joe Hannibal stories and books, my Westerns, and everything else I'd ever written … I was a goddamn pulp writer!

Yeah, maybe I'd missed the "golden age" of pulps … and then I fell between the cracks of the paperback boom … but now, in a new century, in my sixties, retired from a full-time job in the real world and thereby writing more prolifically than I'd ever been able to before … I'm doing what I always felt I was born for.
I am a genre pulp writer.
And you know what? I am damned proud of it.

Persevere --- WD

Thursday, June 7, 2012


Available now - eBook re-issue of a previously out-of-print Joe Hannibal mystery thriller. This one is special to me for a couple reasons: First, I wrote it at the request of my late beloved Pam; Second, I was able to dedicate it to my frie...nd Andrew Vachss. Anyone familiar with Andrew and his work knows how highly he regards dogs. My Pam was a dog lover, too, and especially loathed abuse of dogs (or any animal). There'd been reports of dog-nappings and dog-fight rings in our area just prior to this and Pam wanted me to do a story exposing that kind of thing ... This book is the result. I hope you give it a try --- if you do, I think you'll like it.See More

Sunday, June 3, 2012


Tucked up in the northwest corner of the state, largely unheralded, often unheard of, even by residents as nearby as the Sandhills or even on the hinge of the panhandle, lies one of Nebraska's most distinct land features.

Located within the confines of the rolling Oglala National Grassland and not too far off the flank of the better known Pine Ridge region that runs off to the east, near the northern boundary of the state, the Toadstool Badlands present a stark, beautifully eerie landscape of bleached-white, clay-based rock formations that could have been sliced off and transplanted from the moon.

Covering only a couple square miles, the Toadstools pale in spectacle to the more famous South Dakota Badlands. Yet the sometimes grotesque, ever-eroding, ever-changing rock formations to be found here—among them, many that are blunted and rounded-off at the tops like mushrooms, hence providing the name bestowed by early travelers to the area—create a unique and memorable visual beauty all their own.

Once covered over by a wide, shallow river, the badlands were a depository for volcanic sediment and a watering/grazing area for various prehistoric animals such as small horses, camels, huge land tortoises, gigantic pigs, and even a type of rhinoceros—all leaving behind a fantastic fossil record that causes the region to be known yet today as part of a rich Fossil Highway.

The Toadstool Badlands today are maintained by the National Forest Service and are referred to as Toadstool Geological Park. The park is open 24-hrs a day all year round. It is accessible via a remote, rugged, unpaved road. Upon arriving at the grounds, there is a small visitor parking/picnicking/camping area. Beyond that, lay the twisting trails leading up through the heart of the rugged, stark beauty.
I have been to the Toadstools many times. Thanks to my rickety old bone-on-bone knees, gone are the days when I can hike back through the heart of it. But I still make it out there almost every year, at least once. I never get tired of just drinking in the raw beauty of "Nebraska's badlands".

In fact, the place has so intrigued and inspired me that I've used it twice as the setting for two different works of fiction. First there was a Joe Hannibal short story (make that a long short story, inasmuch as it came in at about 10,000 words) titled "Bad Day In The Badlands", which appeared in the December 2010 edition of Rick Helms's fine but unfortunately now-defunct eZine, Back Alley).
More recently, the Toadstools also play a prominent part in my just-released Lone McGantry western, Reckoning At Rainrock.
In the latter, I may have embellished the layout a wee bit (dramatic license, don't you know) … But for the most part, in both cases, I treated the area with all the respect it is due and tried my best to capture some sense of its distinct grandeur.

I have tried to do likewise with this post.
So if you're ever out Nebraska-way—you know, that flat, brown, boring place that most people dismiss as they watch it sliding by their side windows while cruising through on I-80—take a jog off the beaten path and see what else Nebraska has to offer … and the Toadstools sure wouldn't be a bad place to start.

Persevere — WD