Sunday, January 12, 2020

The Cincinnati Kid by Richard Jessup

An excellent tale about humans testing their limits and their human qualities. That sounds like a stretch for a story about stud poker, but Jessup does it well in this short novel. Because while the story appears to be about poker, really it’s about the Kid of the title. It’s like the description of a cigarette someone once gave me: smoking itself—whether for satisfying an oral fixation or looking cool or whatever—isn’t really the object of putting fire to a cigarette and inhaling the fumes from its immolation; instead, a cigarette is actually just a transport device for nicotine. In this case, the novel—The Cincinnati Kid—uses poker to show the reader who the Kid really is.

This is only the second novel by Jessup I’ve read. The first—a western titled Wyoming Jones—isn’t nearly as good as this story. It’s essentially a pulp western featuring some hardcases driving a plot to its conclusion. The Cincinnati Kid is an honestly hard-boiled novel about people maneuvering to control the events in their lives. The tone is consistent and believable from start to finish. Whether Jessup’s writing improved between 1958 (Wyoming Jones) and 1963 (The Cincinnati Kid) or he could handle contemporary settings better than westerns, I can’t say. Maybe the latter is more on target, for Ed Gorman (whose discerning eye for writing I’m willing to trust) has stated about Jessup’s pre-western writing,

We first see Jessup in the early `50s when Gold Medal was promoting him as their own angry young man. The books were thick and dealt with social themes such as race and juvenile delinquency. I haven't read them in years but I remember liking them.

Or perhaps Jessup was sufficiently inspired and influenced by Walter Tevis’ The Hustler (for like Tevis' Fast Eddie, the Kid is a young gun who challenges the top player in his field) to sustain the proper voice throughout the novel. 

There's honesty and reality in that voice. Jessup relies on some of his own history to flesh out the laconic Kid: according to a 2017 article from The Poker News, Jessup spent time working as a dealer in a Harlem gambling joint, which allowed him to play with the professional card-players’ jargon so believably in the novel. Further, there’s the sense of emptiness in the Kid’s background. Jessup spent his youth growing up in orphanages, and the reader’s realization that the Kid’s quest--at least part of that quest--throughout the tale is to build a family may come after turning the last page. It’s evident in how he relates to the other card players in his circuit, especially to his mentor, The Shooter; in how he reacts to the departure of “his woman,” Christian Craigie, and how he talks with her afterwards.

As an aside, I was surprised that this novel—which takes place nearly entirely in St. Louis—veers off to the Ozarks near its midpoint, predating Daniel Woodrell’s remarkable narratives set in the Ozarks; but the Kid’s adventures there are quite different from the sorts of tales Woodrell’s characters live out in those hard-scrabble backwaters.

Jessup handles all these elements masterfully, never showing off to appear “literary,” but telling his tale in its pared-down style and disguising it as just a genre novel. The scenes of the poker match between the Kid and Lancey—“The Man”—are marvelously handled and Jessup builds tension in this stretch of prose seemingly effortlessly. (If all you know is Texas Hold'em, you owe it to yourself to read this and learn about stud poker.) By the end of the tale, Jessup has allowed the reader to see the depth of the Kid’s character without ever pointing it out explicitly. He does this so well, it’s quite possible the reader knows more about the Kid’s values than the Kid may know about himself.

It’s really an excellent novel. It’s short, too, so you can probably read it in a day or over a weekend. I recommend it.

Maybe now I’ll watch the Steve McQueen movie.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Tex Rickard, boxing promoter

George Lewis Rickard, known as Tex, died January 6, 1959—four days after his 59th birthday.
He was a true entrepreneur. He launched the New York Rangers franchise of the National Hockey League in 1926. He owned the team until his death.

Tex was the primary force behind building the third incarnation of Madison Square Garden in 1925. It was located at Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets in Manhattan.

Rickard was an innovator. Between 1921 and 1927, Tex raised the popularity of boxing by promoting a number of fights for “The Manassa Mauler,” world heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey. For the Dempsey-Charles Carpentier bout in 1921, Tex was responsible for the first live radio broadcast of a title fight and the first million-dollar fight.

Tex promoted the July 4, 1910 Fight Of The Century in Reno, Nevada, between former heavyweight champion and “Great White Hope” Jim Jeffries and reigning heavyweight Jack Johnson. 15,760 fans paid $270,775 to watch the bout. Tex sold the film rights to the match for $101,000.
In 1906, while running a saloon in Goldfield, Nevada, Tex organized the first boxing matches in that state.

After moving to Alaska in 1895 during the Gold Rush, Tex earned and lost several fortunes. As owner of The Northern Saloon in Nome, he befriended famous lawman and gunman Wyatt Earp. And in 1900, he met down-on-his-luck bareknuckle boxer Jean St. Vrain—an encounter that would lead to a very different sort of fight.

You can read about the results of their meeting in FIGHTING ALASKA, a Fight Card book, now in paperback, by clicking here.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Pre-publication review for AIRSHIP HUNTERS

Writing partner Jim Beard and I are very pleased to let you know AIRSHIP HUNTERS has received a very nice pre-publication review from Dave Brzeski. You can visit Dave's British Fantasy Society site and read his review by clicking here or by using the following URL:

Meanwhile, Meteor House reports that the deadline for pre-orders has been extended to July 13! Check out the details by clicking here.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Interview on PulpCrazy blog

Jason Aiken is the brain behind a blog-and-podcast combo, PulpCrazy. He posts reviews, interviews, and all sorts of pulp-related items sure to interest fans of fun, exciting speculative fiction.

Jason recently posted an interview he conducted with Jim Beard and me about our soon-to-be-published novel, Airship Hunters. He did a nice job of asking the right questions. The book will be released at PulpFest in Columbus, Ohio. Here's the promotional copy for the book:

A thrilling novel of turn-of-the-century intrigue and mystery!
It is 1897 and the skies are haunted by mysterious airships and unfathomable secrets.

Tasked with hunting down these strange vehicles of the air and determining their origin and intent, two U.S. government agents toil under unusual conditions to supply their shadowy superiors with information. But that information proves to be as elusive as the airships themselves.

Ride with Agents Valiantine and Cabot across the Midwest as they encounter reports of strange lights, phantom soldiers, unreliable witnesses, and the ultimate source of their airborne prey.

They are the Airship Hunters, and they cannot be waylaid from their path to uncover the greatest mystery of them all.

 PulpFest is scheduled for August 13-16. It is a very enjoyable convention focused on pop culture--particularly the pulp magazines that thrived as the primary form of mass entertainment from the end of the 19th century until the middle of the 20th century, and served as the birthplace of some remarkable characters: Tarzan and John Carter, Sam Spade and the Continental Op, Elmore Leonard's western heroes, Mickey Spillane's tough guys, Louis L'Amour's western characters, Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers, A.E. van Vogt's Black Destroyer (the inspiration for Ridley Scott's Alien), John W. Campbell Jr.'s Thing From Another World (the basis for John Carpenter's Thing), and more.

Remember, Airship Hunters will be released as a limited edition! By pre-ordering by July 1, you will receive a signed copy and your name will appear in the Acknowledgments. Please note: The number of copies printed of Airship Hunters will be determined by the number of pre-orders. The book will be published this summer. Only a small number of copies will be printed beyond the number pre-ordered. What this means: the only way to guarantee you'll get a copy of this book is to pre-order it. You can do that at the Meteor House Press site by clicking here.

Thanks for your patronage! Enjoy Jason Aiken's interview with Jim and I by clicking here.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Essay on Fighting Alaska at Venture Galleries

Paul Bishop, number one gym rat and fitness trainer at the Fight Card series of books and a talented author, has graciously posted my essay on writing my Fight Card entry, Fighting Alaska, "Fighting Alaska with Gold, Greed, and Gamblers," at the Venture Galleries. Venture Galleries is a "marketing and publishing house that showcases, promotes, and markets the works of talented Indie authors and artists who are building a niche in the marketplace." You can find the essay by clicking here. And many thanks to Paul.

The eBook edition of Fighting Alaska is available at Amazon. I anticipate the print edition to swing into existence in the coming weeks. I'll post here when the print edition is also available.

Many thanks for your patronage!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Now available: FIGHTING ALASKA, the eBook version

My entry in the Fight Card series, Fighting Alaska, is now available as an eBook at Amazon. You can find it by clicking here.

You can also find my article on writing Fighting Alaska, "A Fighter's Trail to the Alaskan Gold Rush," at the Fight Card site. Read the article to find out why Charles Bronson's photo is included with this post. Click here to visit the site and see the article.

For those who prefer paper and ink over Kindle pages, the print version should be available soon.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Coming this week: Fighting Alaska

I join the ranks of the Fight Card writing stable with the upcoming publication of Fight Card: Fighting Alaska. I'm looking forward to this release. It will appear first as an eBook, and the print version will follow soon after. The cover is by Carl Yonder.

The Fight Card series of books works this way: the eBooks are published under the house name, Jack Tunney. The subsequent print versions appear with the authors' actual names.

The Fight Card series was launched by authors Paul Bishop and Mel Odom and was "inspired by the fight pulps of the ’30s and ’40s – such as Fight Stories Magazine – and Robert E. Howard’s two-fisted boxing tales featuring Sailor Steve Costigan."

Many of the stories are set in the boxing milieu of the 1930s and '40s. However, there are stories set outside those confines. For example, one series of tales within the Fight Card ring feature Sherlock Holmes in boxing-related mysteries. My entry, Fighting Alaska, occurs during the turn of the 19th Century to the 20th. Here's the promotional blurb:

1900 Alaska … Gold, greed, and gamblers – a dangerous combination in a gold rush boomtown. Itinerant boxer Jean St. Vrain has a lifetime of rootless wandering behind him and ten years of knuckle-busting boxing, bar bouncing, and disillusionment. He wants to call quits to the fight game, but he needs a way out. Joining a mob of desperate men heading for the Alaskan gold fields, Jean is caught between crooked judges, crooked businessmen, a soiled dove, and infamous gunman Wyatt Earp and his cronies. With his future looking as harsh as the Alaskan landscape, Jean has one chance left – fight again.