Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Backroads Bookscouting: North on Route 507

A few weeks ago, my bride and I embarked on one of our occasional road trips, hunting for old books and other items of interest. Here’s part one. Part two follows.


We always take the old Route 30 out of Portland, mostly because it’s a much nicer drive than the interstate, and also because it goes through Scappoose, where there are often interesting finds to be had at the Goodwill.

There weren’t any real rarities this time, but I did not leave empty-handed. I fell for these two oddball takes on the masked-adventurer genre.

The Rise of Renegade X is a juvenile hardcover that was apparently the first of a series by Chelsea Campbell. It sounded like a fun read from the jacket copy, a sly parody that is still a real adventure story in much the same vein as Sky High.

The other one just sounded so batshit crazy I decided I had to risk a dollar on it. Desire In Disguise is from the romance subgenre that is often referred to as a ‘bodice-ripper,’ which is to say a palpitating just-barely-not-pornographic take on the more standard Regency romance tale. Here’s the blurb: THEY CALLED HER THE CRIMSON WITCH. Born Genevieve Saint-Georges, she had reigned as the belle of Paris until the French Revolution sent her fleeing for her life. Now, masked in scarlet, the salt breeze whipping through her hair, she is the beautiful, brazen sea capitaine who leads her pirate crew in the name of freedom — and revenge. THEY CALLED HIM THE BLACK MEPHISTO. Notorious spy and mysterious master of disguise, the black-masked bandit of the seas, only he can match Genevieve exploit for exploit, sword thrust for sword thrust, as he dares to rescue the innocent from the guillotine. Only he can awaken her sleeping senses with the softest, most seductive caresses till she is burning with liquid fire, beyond passion, and the sweet prisoner of… DESIRE IN DISGUISE.

Now, I know that sounds pretty standard for this sort of story, but here’s the twist– Black Mephisto and Crimson Witch are married to one another in their civilian lives, but they don’t know it because they never take their masks off, not even when they are making burning passionate whoopee. So the masked pirate each one is cheating with is, in reality, the boring old spouse that drove them to cheat in the first place. And you thought Nite Owl and Silk Spectre were kinky about costumes.

The book itself is… well, this is one where your reviewer would say, this is a good example of this sort of thing for those of you who like this sort of thing. It doesn’t quite live up to the weirdness of its premise and there are few surprises. But for a buck it was okay.

I had rather better luck over in the ‘vintage’ section.

Thrift stores rarely have someone on staff knowledgeable enough about books to judge what is genuinely worthy of being called “vintage,” but they often have a shelf with the label and I usually can find something interesting there. This time I found two. Neither is especially valuable but they looked entertaining enough to drop a couple of dollars on.

The Exploits of Tommy Hambledon is one of those Doubleday Crime Club omnibus editions. I’ve always had a soft spot for these; they are usually great samplers and I’ve been meaning to get around to “Manning Coles” (actually, the two-person writing team of Adelaide Manning and Cyril Coles) for about a decade now. Hambledon was a proto-James Bond, a gentleman spy-slash-adventurer cut from the same cloth as Richard Hannay or Ashenden.

The other one, Randy Starr Above Stormy Seas, is one of those young-adult adventure series so prevalent in the early part of the twentieth century. This one wasn’t a Stratemeyer title, though it might easily have been. Beyond that, and the fact that this was the second in the series, I have been able to find out almost nothing about Randy and the Sky Flyers. I did discover, looking at this eBay photo, that there were at least three books in the series.

It’s not especially surprising that there is so little information to be found, since the whole aviation-hero genre is such a rarefied collector thing any more that even the most popular series are mostly forgotten. Even G-8 or the Sky Kings are a deep dive into pulp fandom these days.

With that, we resumed our journey northward, crossing the Columbia River into Washington at Longview and heading up to Centralia, where we found a congenial Motel 6 to crash for the night.

The following morning we found a nice little diner next door for our traditional sloppy road-trip breakfast.

The Hometown Family Restaurant is clearly catering to truckers and other travelers craving comfort food, and does a decadent omelette. But what endeared them to us is that they have an ongoing book swap. Leave a book under the tree, take another one.

Why a Christmas tree? I don’t know. Our waitress just shrugged helplessly when I asked her. But the book swap is a live organic thing that she assured us was very popular. There were comics for the kids, too.

After breakfast, we went across the street to the Centralia Goodwill, another place where I’ve often found good stuff. This time it was these two titles…


Day of the Dolphin is another one I’ve been meaning to get around to for years, and this was a nice hardcover. Not a true first, but still in amazing shape for a book from 1973. As for Great Stories of the West, well, I never can resist a western anthology. This one didn’t duplicate any of the others I have at home so I went for it.

Done with the books, I went back to find my wife, and passing the toy section I saw this magnificent toy aircraft carrier.

It was huge, almost three feet long. I am embarrassed to admit what a wave of covetous lust went through me at seeing this– it was exactly the sort of awesome playset I remembered wishing for from my youth, like this one or this one — but we really have no place to display such a thing. So I settled for a picture.

With that it was time to be getting on our way, so we headed east out of town to Route 507.

This was partly because we much prefer it to I-5, but also because usually when we are on it, it’s Sunday, and everything is closed. But this was a Monday, and we were determined to see if there was anything of interest in the way of antique malls or thrift stores or even real bookstores. I did not hold out much hope for the last, because despite our rep as being a hippy-dippy liberal state, Washington is actually a really red state with two blue dots, Seattle and Olympia. With the exceptions of Whidbey Island, and of Bellingham (a college town) you generally don’t find much in the way of real bookstores beyond the two big cities.

You do find other oddities. This is the Bucoda Community Center. They are SERIOUS about Halloween in Bucoda.

The town itself is only about four blocks long but they had an entire block of it surrounded by freight containers. It looked like some sort of hideous train derailment, but when we circled to the back of it we saw that it was the Haunted House.

An entire block long. One fourth of downtown Bucoda is dedicated to this. They are hardcore. Respect.

But it was a little further north, in Yelm, that we stumbled across the highlight of our trip.

Yelm is hardly more than a wide spot in the road, but we found that it is home to a really world-class used bookstore.

A Novel Bookstore was one of the nicest places Julie and I have run across in all our years of doing these trips. You could lose yourself in there for hours and we did spend over an hour there just looking.

Out on the dollar cart we found a beautiful hardcover of Arthur Hailey’s Airport, not a true first, just a Book Club edition, but absolutely pristine. The jacket was a little yellowed but that was IT. I always liked the movie series but I’d never gotten around to the original novel, and it was just a buck, so it went into the pile.

Tough Towns just looked interesting. I’d gotten a taste for this kind of anecdotal history book from researching my own Western novel and a quick riffle through the pages showed it was a classy book with a lot of old photos, so I figured why not.

The Garrett Files was an impulse buy, largely because I’m very fond of Cast A Deadly Spell and Darkworld Detective.

That and the cover art were enough to seal the deal.

The best score on the trip was this one, though. Second Contact by Mike Resnick.

As it happens this was a hardcover first, yes, but it’s not particularly rare or sought after. The reason I say it was the best score of the trip is just because it’s a terrific book. I started it that night and couldn’t put it down. Part legal thriller, part hard science fiction, it reads like a mashup of Robert Ludlum and Arthur C. Clarke, but with the headlong pulp momentum of Spillane. Hugely, hugely recommended.

That was pretty much it for the road trip; by the time we were done it was getting late and we decided just to power through to home.


And there you have it. I should add, though, that if you are intrigued enough to click on those Amazon links above and choose to do some shopping, we get a little taste here at the Junk Shop. Even if you don’t buy the thing we link to here, if you buy ANYTHING after using our link to get to Amazon, we get a referral fee. It helps us out and keeps us from putting up annoying advertising.

Back next week with something cool.


  1. Edo Bosnar

    Ha! Interesting that you mention Darkworld Detective – just read it a few weeks ago. Lots of fun, and Kamus of Kadizhar has always been one of my favorite of the Weird Heroes.
    Desire in Disguise sounds like something that could be tweaked into a pretty funny movie. As it is, your description reminds me a bit of Chaykin’s Mighty Love.

    Anyway, great column. Just the salve my brain needed at the end of a jam-packed, headache-inducing working weekend. And I just love that picture of the Novel Bookstore – looks like heaven…

  2. Aaron

    That battleship is from Rescue Heroes. One of my nephews has it and has been set up in my parents’ basement for years. Yes it is huge and the former child in me was envious of my nephew when he first got it.

  3. Greg Burgas

    I just love that you stop in Scappoose. In all our years there, we never, never, never, never thought of ever stopping in Scappoose, but I’m not surprised you do! That’s such a nice drive from Astoria. And the bridge at Longview is wonderful – we used to cross it and then turn around and head back just to cross it!

  4. Jeff Nettleton

    Great as always. It’s been quite a while since I was able to walk into a great old bookstore and just soak up the aura of old paper.

    I can understand the aircraft carrier envy. I got the Flying Aces aircraft carrier, when I was young. It had polystyrene Corsairs, which you could launch from either a main catapult (a shuttle running down a track, with the plane hooked to a rubber band, which launched when you hit the end) or a waist catapult (just the rubber band, with the plane positioned in a peg hole; press the peg and launch the plane). That thing was about 3 feet long, with great detailing. The best carrier toy, though, was one my dad made for me. I was fascinated by carriers and he took out our encyclopedia set, created a set of plans, cut out the pieces of wood and put them together and painted it. It was perfect! He completely surprised me with it and I treasured it for years.

  5. fit2print

    You’ve got a great track record with me as far as reviews of reading material (graphic and otherwise) are concerned.

    Still, just for the sake of getting a second (and, okay, third) opinion, I plugged “Mike Resnick Second Contact” into Google.

    Here’s what I got from what are (arguably) the two preeminent arbiters of good taste:

    Publishers Weekly: “Resnick weaves a tight and well paced SF murder mystery with a pleasingly logical, yet unexpected resolution.”

    Kirkus Reviews: “Resnick has certainly tagged the way the modern military mind works. Pity he couldn’t do better than decorate it with old-hat plotting and cardboard characters.”

    Well, that was helpful!

    I’m still gonna give it a go…

    1. frasersherman

      I tried Mike Resnick’s The Doctor and the Roughrider and it was horrible. Every other page seemed to be someone infodumping about how awesome Theodore Roosevelt was. And he was, but I really would have liked more plot, less history lesson.

  6. Le Messor

    Rise of Renegade X looks like it could be set in Gotham!

    How did you even know that Desire In Disguise was a costumed adventurer thing from that cover? 🙂
    From the blurb, it sounds like a gender-flipped Scarlet Pimpernel and Marguerite Blakeney.

    The Garrett Files looks like a portal fantasy staring a noir detective?

    1. How did you even know that Desire In Disguise was a costumed adventurer thing from that cover?

      I read the jacket flap, too. It was facing out and I was curious. Once in a while these will surprise you. This one, for example, though it ticks all the boxes for a bodice-ripper and is unapologetically romantic, is also actually a really good western.

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