Pulp Story Review, Robert E. Howard

Blue Flame of Vengeance Review

Blue Flame of Vengeance (originally titled Blades of the Brotherhood and first published in Red Shadows in 1968)

by Robert E. Howard

This short story was never published in Howard’s short life time and was finally published more than thirty years after the author’s death.  The story, as many Howard stories often do, opens sans the title character between a duel between the offended Jack Hollinster and a nobleman named Sir George Banway near the shore of an English town.  Sir George had offended Jack by publicly slandering, Mary Garvin, the woman he loves.  The local magistrate halts the duel after Jack’s quicker blade wounds Sir George’s arm.  While the magistrate considers the matter of honor concluded, the two men seek a clash of rapiers to the death.  However, each second as well as the magistrate break up the two men before it becomes lethal. Image

Jack Hollinster decides to walk the English shore line to cool his head where he encounters a tall swordsman dress in black with a slouch hat, the only bit of color about him a green sash made of fine silk.  The wanderer introduces himself as Solomon Kane and speaks with Jack who is still furious from the duel.  Kane has come here seeking Jonas Hardraker, whom some call The Fishhawk.  Out on the sea is a black ship keeping its distance from the English settlement and Kane believes it to be the Fishhawk’s.

Later, Jack Hollinster wakes from nightmares to discover from his Mary has been abducted by Sir George.  Jack takes with him Sam who told him of the fiend’s deed to go to Banway’s home to rescue poor Mary.  Jack and Sam reach the dilapidated home of Banway, and before Jack can find entrance he is betrayed by Sam.

When Jack awakens he finds himself in the the large cellar of the Banway estate bound hand and foot.  He is surrounded by garish and dangerous pirates as well as Sam and Sir George.  Mary is bound to a great oak ring with him in the cellar where the couple is taunted by Sir George.

The carousing pirates at interrupted by Solomon Kane who had infiltrated the Banway estate.  Armed with two wheellock pistols Kane seeks to rescue Jack and Mary and pierce the black heart of the Fishhawk with a pistol bullet.  The Fishhawk realizing he is dead-to-rights frees the captives and taunts Kane.  He calls Solomon a coward for not having the courage to face him in an honest duel. The ploy works as Kane hands his pistols to Jack and prepares to duel the Fishhawk in a fight with daggers.  Kane armed his dirk and the Fishhawk banishing a wicked-looking Turkish dagger.

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     The Blue Flame of Vengeance is only complete story that Howard wrote about Solomon Kane that has no fantastic or supernatural elements to it.  Even the uncompleted fragments of Kane stories alluded to some sinister supernatural start.  It may have been the lack of any fantastical elements that prevented Howard from being able to sell this story.  It is merely a work of swashbuckling action without any of usual weirdness to it.  This does not take away from the story.  The swordplay and action scenes are Robert E. Howard’s usual visceral and vividly descriptive style the author is known for.  As are the expertly crafted visages of the pirates.  I felt like I was there in the cramped cellar with these brigands.

This story may also be one REH’s more dialogue heavy stories.  Unfortunately, the author tends to be a little weak there, but in Blue Flame of Vengeance to conversing is serviceable.  The character of Mary is largely a plot device which like Red Shadows and nearly every other Howard story with notable exceptions (Red Nails being one) is very typical for him.

As I stated before, I’m a bigger Solomon Kane fan than Conan fan, and I enjoy this story as standing apart fro the other Kane stories having no supernatural element.  It is a good read and well worth it for a fan of swashbuckling action, sword and sorcery, and 1930s pulp stories.  In terms of Solomon Kane stories I rate it a little less than middle of the road.

Bottonline: This is the one Kane story without any supernatural elements that is a decent enough read.  However, it is a little less than average writing for Robert E. Howard and not likely to sway someone who is not already a fan.

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Pulp Story Review, Who-Done-It

Out the Window Review

Out the Window (Copyright 1977)

by Lawrence Block

This short story about crime and detection is one many tales about fictional private investigator Matthew Scudder.  The story starts with Matt describing a waitress named Paula.  She worked at place called Armstrong’s.  She wasn’t much of a waitress, but she did something in Matt’s opinion a lot people didn’t. She tried.

After hearing about woman who jumped to her death Matt decides to head into Armstrong’s and say hello to Paula only to find she hasn’t been.  She wasn’t fired either.  She was the jumper from her seventeenth floor apartment.

Paula’s sister Ruth Wittlauer, talks with Scudder back at Armstrong’s.  Ruth knows that her sister didn’t commit suicide. If she was going to kill herself, she would have taken pills not jump out the window.  She was murdered, and Ruth thinks it was her boy friend Cary McCloud.  Ruth tries to hire the ex-cop Matt to find out what really happened.  As Matt says. “She had five hundred dollars and a dead sister, and parting with one wouldn’t bring the other back life.”  He finally decides to take some of the money hopes to earn them.

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This is fantastic who-done-it story, that I’m not too ashamed to admit I was a little slow to solving and never had put all of the pieces together by the end.  Matt Scudder is one the classic archetypical private eyes and very easy for the reader to like.  This story can be found in Great Tales of Crime and Detection anthology.  It has some other good detective/who-done-it stories if you enjoy a good mystery.

Bottomline: This is very good short story and it easy to understand while there are so many Matthew Scudder stories as he is very much a classic private detective character.

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