Fast on the Draw by Tex Elton (aka: Thomas P. Kelley)

THOMAS P KELLEY Fast On The Draw

Fast on the Draw by Tex Elton was published by Pastime Publications of Toronto, Canada.¬† This digest-sized paperback carries no copyright date but would be circa 1947 to very early 1948. English publisher Pemberton’s (aka: T. A. & E. Pemberton Ltd., as they are otherwise known) contracted Pastime to publish books on their behalf, due to strict paper rations in effect during and after the war. Hence why the red-circle on the cover sports no cover price. The Canadians didn’t fill it in, leaving it up to the English to do so. This further allowed Pemberton’s to export unsold copies to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, etc.

The artwork is signed lower right by Canadian comic, humorous postcard, and magazine artist Wilf. Long; he is scarcely known in name, however, among SF and Fantasy aficionados, readily known for creating the gorgeous cover art to Thomas P. Kelley’s The Face That Launched a Thousand Ships¬†which concerns the most beautiful lady in history, Helen of Troy (as a brunette) and the infamous Trojan War. In this novel, the narrator discusses the search for the burial and entombment of Helen, as rumor holds she was placed under a sleeping spell and…well, I won’t ruin the plot. Every serious collector ought to own a copy of that book, as it was Kelley’s first novel in 1941. Noteworthy fact: The first 4 chapters also appear in the ill-fated pulp Eerie Tales (July 1941) and the cover art depicts Helen of Troy as a slim blonde. Experts argue whether The Face That Launched a Thousand Ships was the first original Canadian-published fantasy novel, or not. The precise release date of the paperback is unknown and perhaps only Canadian fanzines may provide the most conclusive evidence.

Speaking of Thomas P. Kelley, Tex Elton is the alias of that worthy Canadian ex-boxer. He is best remembered in the pulp fiction community for his contributions to the American magazine Weird Tales. As I have already covered Kelley in prior posts (click on his tagged name) I won’t delve further. In fact, I covered another western by Kelley, via this publisher, earlier…the cover artist on THAT COPY was not signed but may be Wilf. Long, too.

This tale involves two Texas cowpunchers: Ham Spaulding is an older cowhand tagging along with recent college law graduate Joe Mondell, who prefers to ride the saddle than practice law. Having a falling out with his father, Joe forks leather and Ham follows him. The pair are penniless after being robbed (Joe) and the other loses his shirt gambling (Ham). Desperate for cash, they accept a job with a farm threshing outfit, not realizing the awful task ahead. Stranded penniless for a couple weeks of hard labor, they demand their earnings at gunpoint and depart. It’s not long before the chase is on and the pair steal a small boat and maroon themselves on a small island midstream. With the river running high, the pair sit tight and take their bearings…but come morning, they discover someone else has been on the island. Boot prints litter a worn path, which leads to a log. Looking in, they discover the looted cash from a recent bank heist. With the law already after them for having their earnings paid by gun, and now discovering the bank heist money in their hands, the duo is rightfully panic-stricken. Should they be found with the loot, nobody will believe they are innocent. Can you say “lynch-mob”?

Thomas P. Kelley expands what would have read as a fun short story into a long novella, filled with his usual expert padding and seemingly mindless dialogue. In the end, after various mishaps, they enlist the aid of the local marshal, who is running for office against the local sheriff (he’s up for re-election). Convincing the marshal of their innocence (actually, he’s certain they are insane, and nearly guns them down) the pair retreat under cover of darkness with the marshal, to the island, and remain hidden, waiting for the real bank robbing McCoys to make their entrance…the rushing heights of the river water is dropping, which means a navigable path by horse from land will be assured. The robbers are likely to make that trek and retrieve the loot.

And so embarks a nightly silence for days until a trio do ride across the river and make for the island. The three then attempt to capture the heist-men alive, but Joe plugs one to death (after the gunner pulls on Joe) and the other pair each run down their men. The marshal is gobsmacked to discover the identities and his run for office is assured.

Now, no proper western novel is complete without some form of lady-interest, and there is one, but she scarcely figures into the novel at all, except as a side distraction.

Fast on the Draw is blurbed as:

The story of two Texans who found themselves stranded and broke in a frontier city where Colts were Kings and each packed a deckful of death on his hip.”

Does this novella hold up to such a bold statement? Not really. I was searching for more gunplay, more dead men, but truly, we only obtain two dead men (a sheriff’s deputy being the actual first murder) but that aside, anyone interested in Kelley literature may wish to try to hunt themselves a copy, as a curiosity, at the least.

Good luck!

Fast on the Draw by Tex Elton (aka: Thomas P. Kelley)

“Same Song, Next Verse” by Max Steeber and Richard Bernstein (1953)

PANTHER 91 Same Song, Next Verse
Same Song, Next Verse by Max Steeber and Richard Bernstein Panther Books 91, 1953

In 1953, UK publisher Hamilton & Co., via their mass market paperback line Panther Books, published two books within the same month, co-authored by Max Steeber and Richard Bernstein.

Those books:
Same Song, Next Verse – Panther # 91
One If by Night – Panther # 93

Both writers are Americans from the Hollywood film industry, and both books are likely rejected film scripts that they reformatted into novels, which only found an available print market in England.

Richard Bernstein was born August 8, 1922 in Rochester, New York and died October 29, 1983, in North Hollywood, California. During the late 1940s-1970s, he was a screenplay and film writer along with producer on various films.

Max Steeber is the alias of Maximilian Petrus Ribbers; he was born on January 10, 1919 and died on February 22, 2011 in Van Nuys, Los Angeles, California.

Jointly, the two also worked on the film The Gun Hawk.

The cover art to Same Song, Next Verse is by John Richards, and features an iconic dangerous blonde in yellow attire; in the background, a hulk-like brute. Reading the yellow strip at the top of the cover, you know immediately the brutish fellow with the Three Stooges-esque “Moe” haircut is a boxer.

The story opens with boxer Tony Alvarez mentally drifting back in time over the sequence of events that landed him in a car with two strange fellows: his promoter and a hanger-on, essentially.

Tony only knows how to fight. That’s his occupation, and he means to get to the top of the game and be rich. But he is always in hock to his promoter, throughout the novel. Snatches of his memories flit by quickly and without any real consistency or warning to leave any reader confused. We know in one moment Tony finds his father dying from a knife-wound, and learning the killer’s identity; he finds the slayer and despite knowing he’s up against a professional killer, wades into the knife-man; bloodied, Tony eventually disarms and kills him. The knife-man was already a wanted man for Tony’s father’s murder, and now Tony has added his own name to the role-call of wanted men by the local police. With his promoter’s aid, they flee the city. (Despite later in the novel returning to his hometown, no further mention of this murder is made, nor is he arrested.)

The rest of the novel is a succession of boxing fights, all wins, and his promoter taking a swing at a beloved New York boxer. Tony is supposed to lose, but instead, he wins and they rake in the moola. Naturally, the mob aren’t happy. We all know you don’t mess with the mob.

Through it all, Tony wants this night singer and stripper named Connie (the canary on the book’s front cover) to be his wife. He eventually strong-arms her into marrying him, crushing her hands until they bleed into his own meaty palms. Once the ceremony is complete, she hauls off and slaps him and disappears. He’s deeply angered but his promoter convinces him to ignore her (he can’t) and move along, that she will come back…only things take a turn…

The mob. They want their money. The promoter refuses to have Tony take the fall, because he can’t convince Tony to do any such thing. It’s not in his genetics. So, they beat the promoter viciously (no details given) and suddenly he placates them, that he will find a way.

So, he over-trains Tony, and keeps him drinking too much. Add fuel to the fire, he knows that Connie is sour over the marriage. Visiting her privately, he convinces her to join him in ruining Tony before the big fight. The mob stands to win BIG if Tony falls.

Enter Tony, going to Connie’s pad; she liquors him up and he discovers something wrong with the firewater. When the phone rings, he beats Connie to the phone and hears his promoter’s voice on the other end asking to know if the plan went through without a hitch. Realizing he’s been slipped a mickey, he departs without even dealing Connie any harm! Fast-forward, Tony is in the ring, his promoter missing, and getting out-boxed. He can’t seem to connect, deliver a solid blow, he’s too sluggish, and despite all this, refuses to throw in the towel. Eventually, he is K.O.’d

His fast fall from grace, his promoter fleeing town with his wife, and penniless, he attempts to abandon the squared ring and obtain a normal slob’s job. No go. Every job he takes, he destroys. He can’t even drive a simple route without destroying 3 trucks! Some years pass, he’s absolutely destitute, and makes one last try at the ring. He survives his bout, wins, but the cost is he loses vision in one eye.

Despite his eyesight loss, he determines to head West for another scheduled fight, but plays chicken with an approaching train, which he is certain he can beat. He is speeding recklessly across the terrain. He’s crossing the tracks at an angle in which he can finally turn his good eye along the rails and the bright head-beam of the locomotive obliterates Tony…

Naturally, the heavy-weight champion of the rails wins. It always does.

“Same Song, Next Verse” by Max Steeber and Richard Bernstein (1953)