Fri 24 Aug 2012
KENNETH FOWLER – Jackals’ Gold. Doubleday, hardcover, 1980. Dell, reprint paperback, June 1981.
I have a few of Fowler’s westerns in paperback, but until I started to do some research about him before writing this review, I did not realize how even more prolific he was writing short stories for the pulps in the 1940s, mostly for titles such as Dime Western, Star Western, New Western, .44 Western, and so on. Of special note in that regard, he was the editor for the first two of these magazines between 1944 and 1946.
He seems to have written only ten western novels, though, two under the pen name Clark Brooker. The first was Outcast of Murder Mesa, a Gold Medal paperback original under his own name in 1954. Jackals’ Gold was his final novel, published when he was 80, though perhaps it was written earlier, as there is no sign of age at the helm of the rough and tumble western adventure it is.
It begins as the story of Rachel Carr, who poses as the widow of Brad Gamble, a prospector who hit it rich then died, leaving his wife a small fortune in gold. Unknown to her, however, is that the dead man had two partners, two men whom he pulled a fast one on, and two men who want the gold back.
Gold, according to the author — and who am I to disagree? — does strange things to people. Added to the mix are several other mysterious riders who follow Rachel and her two “guardians” as they head back to Salt Lake City in a small wagon, or who sniff out their hidden cache along the way.
It’s a tough trip, and Fowler tells it well, even as the major point of view changes to that of Caine Joritt, one of the dead man’s two former partners — see above — who finds himself keeping a much closer eye on Rachel than he expected. Fist fights, gun shots in the night, crashing rivers and sudden violent death are the order of the day, with little to no dialogue to slow things down even an inch in most of the book’s final eighty pages. Good stuff, and interesting characters, too.