Thu 20 Dec 2012
WILLIAM HOPSON – Desperado. Century #118, paperback original, 1948. Reprinted as Long Ride To Abilene: Avon #837, paperback, 1958; MacFadden 40-146, paperback, 1964.
I picked up Desperado by William Hopson because of the cover, and stayed with it because of the text. Hopson was apparently a prolific writer for the pulps (and later for Gold Medal) and his work offers that unique fast prose and hard edge that seem to typify both forms at their best.
The story starts with Jude, a farm boy with wandering feet, who hooks up with a passing cattle drive, makes some friends and helps navigate the outfit to Kansas City. Once there he gets in a shooting scrape on behalf of his employer and when he comes out alive he’s offered a full-time job on the boss’s ranch.
But things around the spread get dicey fast — which is really want you want in a Western, now isn’t it? Jude discovers someone is coming up behind his boss, not just rustling his stock, but worse: eating away at his good name and influence around those parts.
When Jude survives a couple more shooting scrapes and his opponents don’t, he gets a reputation as “that hired gun from Kansas City” and the decent folk and ordinary cowhands shun his company as disreputable or just plain unhealthy. Hence the title, I guess.
Hopson can write. He knows something about ranch life and he can put it across to the reader in a way that conveys all the work and none of the boredom. He handles the action scenes capably, and structures his plot with a pace and economy that’s pretty much lost in these days of mega-books.
I did wonder a bit at how a sod-buster like his hero got so apt with a gun, and the ending softens what might have been a really powerful finish, but these are the conventions of the Western form, and you can’t really fault the author for sticking to them. By and large, it’s a worthwhile book to spend a couple hours with, and one that stays surprisingly in my memory.