Western Fiction

MAX BRAND – Valley Thieves. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1946. Reprinted many times, including Pocket #668, paperback, January 1950. First serialized in Western Story Magazine, Oct 28–Nov 25, 1933.

   Jim Silver, also known as Silvertip, so called for the small tufts of gray hair up above his temples, comes on the scene relatively late in this tale, but the story’s a doozie from page one on. A newcomer to the West, a bold braggadocio of a man, but likeable for all that, tells a woman who has quickly caught his fancy that he can bring her Jim Silver’s horse for her to ride, but not only that, but the wolf who is the man’s constant companion.

   No one, of course, believes him, but lo and behold, that is exactly what he does. But then disaster happens, as both horse and wolf are stolen from him. It seems that Barry Christian, Silver’s mortal enemy, recently escaped from prison, may have had a hand in it, but no matter who the thief may be, it is essential that both Parade and Frosty must be found and returned to their master.

   When it comes to the Silvertip series, Max Brand was not just writing westerns, he was writing legend. He was writing mythology. Jim Silver is the purest, the most honest man you could ever hope to know, and if he is on your trail, you had best never sleep at night.

   The result, the book at hand, is one with the substance of cotton candy, and as enjoyable. To allow the series to continue, or so my sense of the matter is, the tale ends both a little abruptly and predictably, but until then, it’s a mile a minute through some of well-designed Western prose you’ll ever read, bar none.

       The Silvertip series —

1. Silvertip, 1941.
2. The Man from Mustang, 1942.
3. Silvertip’s Strike, 1942.
4. Silvertip’s Roundup, 1943.
5. Silvertip’s Trap, 1943.
6. The Fighting Four, 1944.
7. Silvertip’s Chase, 1944.
8. Silvertip’s Search, 1945.
9. The Stolen Stallion, 1945.
10. Valley Thieves, 1946.
11. Mountain Riders, 1946.
12. The Valley of Vanishing Men, 1947.
13. The False Rider, 1947.

   This list is tentative and subject to verification. Publication dates are of those of the hardcover editions, not the prior magazine versions.


WILL C. BROWN – The Border Jumpers. E. P. Dutton, hardcover, 1955. Dell #878, paperback, 1956. Reprinted as Man of the West, Dell #986, paperback, 1958.

MAN OF THE WEST. United Artists, 1958. Gary Cooper, Julie London, Lee J. Cobb, Arthur O’Connell, Jack Lord, John Dehner, Royal Dano, Robert Wilke. Screenplay by Reginald Rose, based on the novel The Border Jumpers, by Will C. Brown. Directed by Anthony Mann.

   Lincoln Jones, on an uncomfortable train journey from Crosscut to Fort Worth, finds himself beset by Beasley and Billie: a tin-horn gambler and a saloon chanteuse trying to separate him from $600 the citizens of his small town have scraped together for him to hire a schoolteacher. But that’s the least of his worries as the train is robbed at a wood stop, speeds off, and he finds himself abandoned in the wilderness with the two con artists.

   Even that pales, however, when it develops that the train robbers, still close by, are the remains of an outlaw clan run by the notorious killer Dock Tobin — Linc’s uncle.

   We quickly find that Linc was raised by his Uncle Dock; raised to be a killer like the rest of the family, until the day he escaped and started making what’s known in Westerns as a decent life for himself. That life is shattered now as the demented (and still very lethal) old man takes him back into the fold, despite his glowering cousins Claude and Coaley, who would as soon kill Linc and Beasley (“I say we open ‘em up and leave ‘em here.”) and indulge themselves with Billie.

   It’s a situation rife with tension and dramatic potential, and author Brown develops it with the speed and precision of an able pulp-writer, fleshing out characters and background colorfully and adding bits of unexpected excitement to keep us off-balance — there are two brutal and unsettling strip-tease scenes — until he wraps the thing up a bit too patly. But it’s even more fascinating to see how director Anthony Mann and screenwriter Reginald Rose turned it into a piece of Pure Cinema.

   Gary Cooper brings his graceful authority to the role of Linc, along with a certain aging melancholy perfectly suited to the situation. He’s matched evenly with Julie London, projecting that sexy disenchantment she could do so well. Surrounded by murderous degenerates, she shoots them a look that seems to take it as just another bad hand in a crooked game. Arthur O’Connell, on the other hand, is delightful as a scrabbling, scheming angler, frightened and desperate, his agitation pitched perfectly against Ms. London’s weary composure.

   Among the bad guys, Lee J. Cobb has the showiest part as mad Dock Tobin, but I prefer the typecast meanness of Robert Wilke, Royal Dano’s off-beat lunatic and Jack Lord’s wolfish juvenile delinquent. Best of all though is John Dehner as Claude, the smartest and most dangerous member of the clan. There’s a really fine scene where Linc and Claude have a quiet talk and Coop tries to make him see the insanity of living like this while Dehner insists on loving and protecting the crazy old man. It’s a moving and sensitive moment (much like the one between Robert Ryan and Terrence Stamp in Billy Budd a few years later), and it lends dramatic weight to the shoot-out when the characters have to confront each other.

   Said shoot-out is a high point in the work of a director who excelled in complex action scenes, as the characters maneuver through a ghost town, running, jumping and throwing shots back and forth as they jockey for position until, weary and near death, they pause for a final sad exchange before finishing it off.

   This confrontation is set in a ghost town, the perfect visual metaphor for the waste and emptiness confronting our hero. And where the book wraps things neatly, the movie leaves a lot of emotional loose ends to dangle intriguingly in the viewer’s mind. Indeed, as the two survivors make their way to the fade-out through a bleak landscape, one recalls the tension, brutality and emotional rawness of this thing and asks, “What the hell just happened?”

   What happened was a great movie.


TOM LEA – The Wonderful Country. Little Brown, hardcover, 1952. Bantam Giant, paperback, A1190, 1954. Reprinted many times since.

THE WONDERFUL COUNTRY. DRM Productions/United Artists, 1959. Robert Mitchum, Julie London, Gary Merrill, Albert Dekker, Pedro Armendariz, Jack Oakie, Charles McGraw, Leroy “Satchel” Paige, Victor Mendoza, Chuck Roberson and Chester Hayes. Screenplay by Robert Ardrey, based on the novel by Tom Lea. Directed by Robert Parrish.

   One of those instances where seeing the movie prompted me to read the book, which I found very different but just as fine.

   As the novel starts, Martin Brady enters the story as an unlucky rider who breaks a leg while on a gun-running errand in a Texas border town. As he spends months recovering, surrounded by curious townspeople and shifty business associates, we learn that when he was a boy of fourteen in Missouri he murdered the man who killed his father and fled to Mexico where he has made his living for the last fifteen years as a pistolero for a wealthy Mexican land-owner.

   We also learn about the citizens of the town and the soldiers at the nearby Army Outpost: Gruff & thoughtful Doc Stovall who sets Brady’s leg; Major Colton, the new Post Commander and his tearful, unhappy wife; Captain Rucker of the Texas Rangers and his fiercely loyal men; the shopkeepers and soldiers in and around the town…. Lea takes time to evoke them all but manages it without slowing his story down.

   Ah yes, the story: As Brady recovers he finds himself growing closer to the community. It seems no one is interested in the unsolved murder of a no-good years ago in Missouri. The townspeople are warming to him, and Captain Rucker would like to recruit a man who knows Mexico and can speak the language. Brady seems set to rejoin the human race…. until he kills a man in a fight and has to flee back south of the border again where more grief awaits him till he can find a way back into humanity.

   Lea has his own unique way of recounting Brady’s labors as a hired pistolero; he gives us the expected bursts of terse action, quite well handled, but what he concentrates on is the ordinary unglamorous hardship of getting around in a hostile land. He makes us feel the heat, the cold and the ache in your bones crawling through wet grass on a cold night, or the saddle-soreness of long, long rides and the gritty business of pursuing and fighting hostile Apaches, lending a tactile realism to things most Western writers just ignore. He also does a skillful job of keeping his bad guys off-stage, lowering like clouds gathering at the edge of the story, then thundering in for a torrential impact. The result is a book I’ll come back to again.

   They couldn’t capture all of this in the movie; the film is set in that perpetual sunny Summer that seems a staple of the Western; characters are changed around, the plot is simplified, but The Wonderful Country is a film to treasure.

   Robert Mitchum, a great actor who phoned it in too often, gives himself fully to the part of Martin Brady: scruffy and unshaven for most of the movie, he evokes that kicked-around look he did so well in Out of the Past, combined with the leathery toughness you need in a Western.

   He’s supplemented with a worthy cast. The movie doesn’t have time to for all the personal details in the novel, but makes up for it with sharp performances from memorable actors.

   Charles McGraw evokes Doc Stovall in a few telling lines and gestures; Pedro Armendariz and Jack Oakie strut their arrogance and cupidity; Albert Dekker, Satchel Paige and Gary Merrill make tough fighting men, and even bit players like Chuck Roberson and Victor Mendoza (both as local bullies) stay in the memory long after their brief time on screen has flashed by. And the nasties kept off-page in the book are given a few memorably menacing shots early in the film so they seem to come out of the story naturally when it’s time to bring them on.

   Best of all is Julie London as the unhappy officer’s wife. No tears for her, though; Julie plays it with a sexy toughness that seems to bubble up out of the Texas heat and spread across the screen. Add to that a manner of frank self-appraisal, and we get a characterization of unusual depth and a few surprises.

   Director Parrish handles the action well enough, but this is basically a film about the characters. And it’s a memorable one.

L. L. FOREMAN – Last Stand Mesa. Ace Double 47200, paperback original, 1969, bound with Mad Morgan’s Horde, by Philip Ketchum. Reprinted as a solo volume: Ace 47201, no date stated (shown).

   At a spare 126 pages, this western novel still has enough fast-paced action and staying power to keep a reader going through an entire cross-country airplane flight, even interrupted every so often by short naps and offers of pretzels and soft drinks, with time left over for an even meatier private eye novel from the 50s as well. Or so it proved for me.

   Even though the book opens with Mike McLean on the run from a sheriff’s posse on the way to Mexico, he’s portrayed sympathetically enough that we instinctively know he’s not a ruthless outlaw of any shape or form, just a guy who’s down on his luck and who made a mistake. And so he proves to be.

   After McLean saves an elderly gent, a tinhorn gambler named Timothy Sean Mario O’Burrifergus — or Ould Burro for short — from imminent death from a gang of disgruntled former acquaintances, the two down-on-their-luck fugitives join forces and take a detour from their foray into Mexico. They settle down instead in what turns out to be the middle side of an incipient range war, caught between two ranchers, one also the leader of a gang of outlaws, but each of whom wants to control the entire valley.

   There is a girl, of course, a roundup and a stampede, a fancy dance night interrupted before it’s over by hatred and gunfire, a fake wedding and a deadly ambush with a story-shaking outcome — all I say, in a mere 126 pages. A book with almost everything but a major twist or two in the plot, only minor ones. Just enough staying power to keep a reader reading, but alas, none whatsoever afterward.

Reviewed by DAN STUMPF:

LUKE SHORT – Station West. Houghton Mifflin, hardcover, 1946. Bantam #139, paperback, 1948. Serialized in The Saturday Evening Post from 19 Oct to 30 Nov 1946. Reprinted many times.

STATION WEST. RKO, 1948. Dick Powell, Jane Greer, Agnes Moorehead, Burl Ives, Guinn “Big Boy’ Williams, Steve Brodie, Raymond Burr and the ever-popular Regis Toomey. Screenplay by Frank Fenton and Winston Miller. Directed by Sidney Lanfield.

   Luke Short always had a way with gritty characters and down-and-dirty stories, and here’s one of his best. John Haven, a cavalry officer working undercover, gets dispatched to investigate the theft of Army Uniforms at the fort near the mining/logging town of South Pass Wyoming and quickly discovers that the quirky crime is merely a prelude to something much more grandiose and sinister.

   From this fairly conventional start, Short builds an atmosphere of pervasive evil and compulsive treachery, painting South Pass as a snowbound Western Gomorrah: a town run by corrupt bosses, rife with casual killings, where larceny is a way of life and life is nasty brutish and short, to coin a phrase.

   To be sure, there are some good folks here: the upright Cavalry Captain and his beautiful daughter; the hard-working widder woman working as Haven’s liaison; a few miners and freighters and cooks… but the impressive thing about Station West is how the author pushes his protagonist through a plot filled with a near-constant sense of danger and double-cross. Short keeps us guessing about the moves and counter-moves in a story that bucks and jumps like a toboggan on a bumpy slope — an apt comparison since he also evokes the chill of a Wyoming winter in a way that kept me shivering.

   As I watched the film made from this, it suddenly occurred to me that the TV character Peter Gunn must have been based on Dick Powell’s tough-guy persona; they show the same wry cynicism, share the lop-sided grin, are quick with a quip or a punch, and handy with the ladies as the plot requires. That has nothing o do with this review — just thought I’d throw it in here and look at the ripples.

   Anyway, the movie Station West works a few changes on the book. For one thing it swaps the frigid Wyoming locale for sunny, picturesque (and familiar) Red Rock area around Sedona Arizona. And they write in another character: where the criminal gang in the book is run by a couple of nasty tough guys, the outfit in the movie is headed by Jane Greer, who runs her unlawful enterprise with an iron fist, much as Barbara Stanwyck would do (more convincingly) a bit later.

   The Greer character lends a neat noirish tone to a film that carries it nicely; there’s enough night in this movie to put a Yukon winter to shame. We also get Raymond Burr as a crooked lawyer, Agnes Moorehead, and Guinn “Big Boy” Williams as a sadistic strong-arm reminiscent of his turn in The Glass Key (1935).

   The film carries over the fights, shootings and double-crosses from the book and carries them well, and it even makes room for a few brief and quirky turns by some good character actors, but one of these puzzles me:

   Burl Ives sings the song under the title credits and has a showy bit as a philosophical hotel clerk (you know the type) but he gets NO BILLING! His name never appears on the cast list or even in the musical credits. I did some research on this and found that Ives was blacklisted by the HUAC in 1950, which led to a rather controversial phase in his life and career, and I wondered if this might have something to do with it, which led to some deeper thought about the nature of hypocrisy and how one can deny the obvious simply by keeping a straight face…..

   But all that is mere idle speculation. And these thoughts passed like breeze, which man respecteth not. Station West is a fine book and a fun noir Western, and you should enjoy them both.

Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:          

LOUIS L’AMOUR – Reilly’s Luck. Bantam, paperback original, 1971. Reprinted many times.

   I have a theory that the reason so few of Louis L’Amour’s novels have done well on screen is that his quality as a writer doesn’t lie in story and character alone, but in his voice and small details that are almost impossible to translate to the screen. The same, by my estimation, is true of John D. MacDonald. Both men have had successful screen translations, but most often their work seems to lose something when it moves to film.

   Reilly’s Luck is a good example of the qualities that illustrate my point: it is a strong well written western on classical lines with a story worthy of Greek myth, and yet as cinematic as it would seem I can’t really see it working on screen.

   Valentine Darrant’s mother Myra abandons him in a snowstorm to the mercies of Will Reilly, a young gambler who like most L’Amour heroes is a little too good with a gun. Reilly is angered at first, but soon warms to the child and takes him under his wing as father and mentor.

   “Always give yourself an edge, boy. You may never need it, but it saves a lot of worry. Learn to depend on yourself, and if you expect nothing from anyone you will never be disappointed.”

   With Reilly, Val kicks around the West from one trail town to another, from San Francisco to the capitals of Europe, gambling, working, and adventuring, but always haunted by why he was abandoned, and an unvoiced threat from his past. It is not until Val reaches maturity that things come to a head and he finds cold blooded gunman Henry Sonnenberg paid to kill him — by his own mother with a Russian nobleman from his European adventures involved.

   L’Amour liked his themes from classical literature and he certainly works them here. Will Reilly is a sort of Charon ushering Val to manhood, and you can certainly see Myra as Medea murdering her own children when one interferes with her ambition. Val himself could be Jason or Theseus easily. Myra Fossett, Val’s mother, is certainly the most unusual woman in a L’Amour novel that I have encountered.

   Obviously this sounds as if it would be a natural on screen. But the fact is the qualities that make a good L’Amour novel, the complexities and the details, just don’t transfer to the screen anymore than the savage commentary on the world of a MacDonald novel do. Like MacDonald, who he does not otherwise resemble, L’Amour’s plots aren’t really the point. You read them to be in their world, to experience them and not merely the story they tell.

   The experience of reading L’Amour doesn’t translate to the screen as well as an Elmore Leonard or Luke Short western for instance. Here, and in many L’Amour works, the plot meanders a bit, a quality that is admirable in a novel but less so in a movie. Most of Reilly’s Luck would have ended up on the cutting room floor to the detriment of the novel and disappointment of L’Amour’s readers.

   This one is one of my favorite L’Amour novels, penned later in his career and more ambitious than earlier titles. It’s a fairly big book, close to 300 pages, with a great many characters and a fairly busy plot. I’m sure many L’Amour fans dislike it for that reason, but for whatever reason I found Val Darrant’s quest an entertaining read, and Will Reilly a memorable companion for Val and for myself.


MARVIN H. ALBERT – The Law and Jake Wade. Gold Medal #553, paperback original, 1956; Gold Medal #756, 2nd printing, movie tie-in edition, 1958.

THE LAW AND JAKE WADE. MGM, 1958. Robert Taylor, Richard Widmark, Patricia Owens, Robert Middleton, Henry Silva, DeForest Kelley. Screenplay by William Bowers, based on the novel by Marvin H. Albert. Director: John Sturges.

   I’ve never been a big fan of Marvin H. Albert, but this ain’t bad. Like all the best Gold Medal originals, it starts with a crackle of mysterious action as Marshal Jake Wade travels to a nearby town to break Ben Swift, a condemned killer, out of jail. The jailbreak is handled with the terse violence one expects in a Gold Medal, and we soon learn that Marshal Wade himself used to ride what they call The Outlaw Trail, and he’s repaying Swift back for saving his life back in those days. Been me, I’d a let him hang, but that wouldn’t have made much of a book, I guess.

   It seems Wade hates and fears Swift, who has been trying to find him for more than a year — the result of a misunderstanding over the loot from their last job together, which was last seen in Jake’s possession. Jake buried the loot in a fit of remorse, and has built himself a decent life, as they say in westerns, complete with a career as an upright lawman and a fetching fiancée named Lorna, but none of this makes a damn to Ben, and soon we’re off on a long, punishing ride to recover the loot, with Jake and his bride-to-be the unwilling captives of Ben and his henchmen.

   The ensuing action is pretty gripping, what with raiding Comanches, blizzards, rugged mountains, and the ever-present tension as Jake works to maneuver his captors to destruction. But the real emphasis is on the relationships between the characters, as it quickly becomes apparent that our hero won’t get away from these owlhoots until he understands them.

   And likewise, he won’t be able to rescue Lorna until she understands him. A nice touch this, and it lifts the story a bit out of the ordinary — as does the climax, when Jake realizes he can’t really escape at all, and calmly waits for his fate to overtake him.

   Albert evokes some fine tension by concentrating on the small stuff: the effects of having one’s wrists tied for days on end, the constant attention to keep Jake and Lorna secured and apart, and the careful cat-and-mouse maneuverings of Jake and his captors. But this is primarily a book about the characters, and he does an exemplary job of balancing thought, feeling and action…. plenty of action.

   When they filmed this in 1958, MGM and producer William Hawks did well by it: they got director John Sturges, back when he was lean & fast, Robert Surtees to photograph it, and William Bowers to fashion the script. Bowers specialized in comedy-westerns, including Alias Jesse James and The Sheepman, and he even injected some humor into Henry King’s fatalistic The Gunfighter. Here, he imparts a laconic lilt to the proceedings that makes the action scenes somehow more intense and brutal by way of contrast.

   The blizzard is omitted, probably for reasons for reasons of economy and expeditious film-making, but they don’t stint on the wide-open scenery and they even provide a highly cinematic ghost town for the Comanche fight, and the final showdown—possibly borrowed from Yellow Sky, but no less exciting for that. And the acting….

   The acting is what academics call top-notch, with the performers slipping easily into their parts. Robert Taylor plays the marshal Randolph-Scott-style: tight-lipped and square-jawed, the perfect foil for Richard Widmark’s talkative and brutal bad guy. Patricia Owens (who starred in The Fly that same year) has little to do as the fiancée, but she does it capably. And Widmark’s gang includes Henry Silva, Robert Middleton and DeForest Kelly, who had a nice line in smiling cowboy bad-guys in those pre-Star Trek days.

   The only thing that puzzles me is why they changed so many names: Ben Swift becomes “Clint Hollister;” Lorna becomes “Peggy” and Henry Silva’s character, named “Henry” in the book, is now “Rennie.” Most puzzling of all, a major character named “Otero” in Albert’s novel is listed as “Ortero” in the credits.

   I guess it’s just one of those unsolved mysteries of The Cinema. Don’t let it spoil the movie.

Editorial Comment:   It wasn’t planned; it’s only one of those great cosmic mysteries of the universe called a coincidence. But Jonathan reviewed this same film on this blog exactly one year ago today.

Reviewed by DAN STUMPF:         

ERIC ALLEN – Hangtree Country. Pyramid G-329, paperback original, 1958; 2nd printing, March 1965.

   The first work of a prolific western author, but I’m afraid Hangtree Country will stay in my mind primarily because of a dreadful gaffe by the publisher.

   Author Eric Allen hangs his plot on a familiar peg, then handles it with some distinction. As the story opens, Buck Caldeen rides into town and surrenders himself to the local lawman. It seems he just killed a local nasty, with some justification perhaps, but this is the outskirts of Fort Smith Arkansas, and he can expect little in the way of empathy from Judge Parker.

   Flashback to a year earlier, and Buck Caldeen is riding into town after five years of ramblin’ — the result, it seems, of a romance gone bad. Buck no sooner gets back to his old stomping grounds than he learns that his brother Rube is in Judge Parker’s jail for shooting a man in the back. Moreover, Rube refuses to say anything about the killing, and it looks like he will soon end his days at the end of a rope.

   Unless of course Buck can find out the reason behind it all.

   What follows is nothing in the way of the great western writers like A.B. Guthrie or Milton Lott, but it is a bit out of the ordinary. No gunfights, bushwhackings or barroom dust-ups, just a feel of quiet tension and emotional growth as Buck scours the countryside looking for clues, witnesses and what-have-you, finds himself relating to those around him, understanding why his old romance turned so bad, and finally learning what made his fine and upstanding brother shoot a man in the back — and why he must die for it.

   These are the central themes of Hangtree Country: Why did Rube do it? And How can Buck discover the reason? And it coulda been a contender, as they say. Unfortunately, on the very first page of Pyramid’s first edition, the blurb page, right inside the cover, we read:


   “Maybe we got too much Cherokee blood—but we feel a very special way about our women. I had to kill Murch after what he did to Sally — make sure he couldn’t talk,” Rube went on. “He ran and I put every slug I had into his back.”

   “If anybody knows why I shot Murch, you’re going to have to kill him, Buck — kill for the pride of the Caldeens.

   “I’ve killed for it — that’s why they’re hanging me in the morning.”

   And there you have it. Everything the hero is trying to learn for more than a hundred pages, everything the reader should be turning pages to find out, all laid out for you before the story even starts. Well crap.

   I’ve heard stories before of publishers doing dirt to their authors, but this one takes its own unique place. And I’m afraid it spoiled what might have been a pretty good read.

Reviewed by DAN STUMPF:         

RICHARD MATHESON – The Gun Fight. M. Evans, hardcover, April 1993. Forge, paperback, November 2009.

   It’s a nail-biter.

   A lean, taut tale of three days in a small Texas town when a rumor gets out of control and a deadly ex-lawman finds himself called out to kill an impulsive youngster in “an affair of honor” based on nothing but gossip.

   Now I have to say here that I don’t know much about Gossip because I never engage in it; when I hear a second-hand story that reflects discredit on someone (usually Steve) I just discuss it with ten or twelve people and see what they think. But I have to say that Richard Matheson paints a vivid word-picture of a false report taking on a life of its own as it grows and feeds on itself and human nature.

   Along the way he also generates a whole lot of tension as we see the various characters move away from tragedy and lurch back toward it again, the effect enriched by Matheson’s skill at sketching out characters quickly, vividly and believably. There’s not a whole lot of action here, but I think you’ll find The Gun Fight impossible to put down.

Reviewed by DAN STUMPF:         

PAUL DURST – Die, Damn You! Lion #75, paperback original, 1952.

   I just can’t resist a book with a title like Die, Damn You!, so I’d have bought this in any event, but to my pleasant surprise. it proved to be well worth reading, a noirish, hard-boiled Western, with a moody, idiosyncratic Loner spurred on by vengeance, running into gangsters, goons, femmes fatales, false faces, double-crosses, some very stylish violence (At one point a man sets fire to his own bed to get a rattlesnake off his chest! and a complex storyline the results in lines like:

   “One thing you boys forgot,” Clint said as calmly as he could, “Those papers that were in that safe. I left them with instructions to be opened in case anything happened to me…. Writing all that down was a good way to keep Ring from crossing you up. But when this other business started they could do you as much harm as they could him…. How else could I know all I just told you? And how do you think Miller was so sure of where he stood with Cober? He stole the papers out of Sadie McGowan’s safe. When we caught up with him, his widow gave us the papers. Ring must’ve figured we’d get the papers from Miller. That’s why he sent Lobo….”

   The author even adds a Mask of Dimitrios touch by keeping the bad guy central to the plot but off-stage till the very end. I have no idea who author Paul Durst is — or was — but he writes a lightly enjoyable, fast-moving mystery/western that’s easy to take.


Some Bibliographic Notes [Steve]: One online bookseller says: “Paul Durst is the author of thirty-one books under his own name and various pseudonyms.”

   From Crime Fiction IV, the following:

DURST, PAUL (1921-1990); see pseudonyms Peter Bannon & John Chelton.
Backlash (Cassell, 1967, hc) [Michael Carmichael; U.S.]
Badge of Infamy (Cassell, 1968, hc) [Michael Carmichael; Israel]
Die, Damn You! (Lion, 1952, pb) [Texas; Past] Mills, 1955.
The Florentine Table (Scribner, 1980, hc) [London]
Paradiso County (Hale, 1986, hc)

BANNON, PETER; pseudonym of Paul Durst, (1921-1990)
If I Should Die (Jenkins, 1958, hc)
They Want Me Dead (Jenkins, 1958, hc) [Missouri]
Whisper Murder Softly (Jenkins, 1963, hc) [Missouri]

CHELTON, JOHN; pseudonym of Paul Durst, (1921-1990)
My Deadly Angel (Gold Medal #524, 1955, pb) [Florida]

   From bookfinder.com, the following appear to be westerns under his own name:

Ambush at North Platte (John Long, 1957)
Bloody River (Lion, 1953)
Dead Man’s Range (Robert Hale, 2009; previous printing?)
Gun Doctor (Avalon, 1959)
Johnny Nation (Mills & Boon Diamond W Western, 1960)
Kansas Guns (Avalon, 1958)
Kid from Canadian [??] (World’s Work, 1956)
Prairie Reckoning (Gold Medal #619, 1956)

   Plus: A Roomful of Shadows, Dobson, 1975. “… his childhood autobiography – from four to twelve – in the American Middle West during the 1920s and ’30s. This era comes alive through the eyes of a small boy who is ‘half-orphan’, introspective, and full of wonder at the unpredictability of life.”

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