C. C. WADDELL & CARROLL JOHN DALY – Two-Gun Gerta. Chelsea House, hardcover, 1926. Serialized in four parts in People’s Magazine, October 1 through November 15, 1923. Available as a PDF download from Vintage Library, a possibly censored version.

    THERE isn’t much to say about Yavisa except that it is hot and dirty. But then all the towns in Mexico are hot and dirty; so I’ll put it that Yavisa is a shade hotter and dirtier than anything else along the border.

   That is the authentic voice of Roger Francis ‘Red’ Connors, ex-Hollywood stunt man and cowboy star (“You want to remember that I’d had two years’ experience dare-deviling for the films under Milt Leffingwell. As a matter of fact, I’d worked almost the same stunt in one of my ‘Reckless Rudolph’ pictures, as you’ll recall if you’ve ever saw ‘The Pit of Perdition.’), and all around tough guy come South for adventure and about to be up to his neck in it when he encounters the beautiful and fiery green eyed hellion, ranch owner Gerta O’Bierne: “She had a couple of heavy Colts strapped about her waist; and for all her sweet-sixteen look and her quiet manner, I figured that they weren’t just a bluff. Give her half a chance, and she’d use ’em.“

   He has hardly ridden into Yavisa when he spies beautiful Gerta pinned by local bandit and mustache twirler Colonel Manuel Esteban, old Crooked Mouth: “Half Mexican and half something else, I took him to be, but all murder. He looked like the bad man in the movies, only more real. A yellow, splotchy face under his broad-brimmed sombrero, with eyes as cold and deadly as a rattlesnake’s, and a cruel, crooked mouth that ran halfway up his cheek on one side as the result of an old knife scar.”

   In short order Red has saved Gerta and is hired as foreman on her ranch, but it is hardly smooth sailing from there, as soon Gerta is kidnapped, and even once he rescues her Red has to face her jealousy over saloon girl Rosita.

    But with the help of his horse, “El Flivver!…EL Hennery Ford! The devil caballo!” and his Colt .45 automatic, Red is a match for just about anything the Old West or Old Mexico can throw at him save perhaps Gerta.

    Cannon to right of me; cannon to left of me. I couldn’t go back, and I couldn’t go forward. Looked like I was ketched, eh, what?

   But it takes more than a squeeze of that sort to decompose Red Connors:

    “Hold fast!” I barked like a Amsterdam Avenue conductor to this pillowsham I was loaded with.

   Then I flings myself with her over the balcony railing, and hangs by one hand. Henry Ford is just underneath me, his back about two inches from my dangling toes.

    “Whoa, Henry!” I says, and he stands like a rock.

   Then I let go, and lands pretty as you please square in the saddle, with the lady jolted but unhurt still in the hollow of my arm. Another second, and we was streaking it for the archway and the great, open spaces.

    Bang! A red-hot stripe flicks along the side of my neck, and I hears another bullet go zipping past my ear.

   Red, of course, gets the girl and the horse, and at one point has a two way conversation with Henry Ford the likes of which you never encountered in Zane Grey, and it is all insane and mad fun written in the indomitable style of the much maligned Carroll John Daly, who for my money is one of the most sheerly entertaining bad writers to ever hunt and peck deathless prose onto the written page.

   Exactly what C. C. Waddell contributes is hard to guess, because Two-Gun Gerta reads like pure Daly, and Red Connors, like Three Gun Terry Mack, is just a rehearsal for the urban gunfighter/private eye Race Williams soon to emerge from Daly’s white hot imagination.

   It is pure pulp, and Red, Henry Ford, and Gerta are all well worth meeting: ”She’d been heaven and hell. But through it all, she’d been Gerta. And there wasn’t nobody like her.”

   There “wasn’t nobody” like Daly either, or this B Western of a two fisted adventure novel out of Tom Mix by way of Mickey Spillane.

Note: This book is important to the development of the hard-boiled genre for three reasons. Most obviously it is an early work of Carroll John Daly, who, whatever your feelings about his work, is the onlie beggetor (to borrow a Kiplingesque term from O. F. Snelling), of the modern hard-boiled private eye.

   Next, historically this book is further evidence of the ties between the Western and the hard-boiled school of writing where the former genre’s penchant for colorful language, fast action, and smart independent noble heroes with guns was transplanted to the Urban canyons of the Big City, while the quieter pleasures of the detective novel were supplanted by gangsters, floozies, femme fatales, gunmen, gamblers, crooked politicians, and corrupt cops.

   Hammett and Chandler both touch on distinctly Western settings at least once each in their work, and Gardner actually wrote mysteries with Western settings, while Black Mask as often as not included one Western in many issues..

   Finally, Red Connors is only a breath away from Daly’s first two private eyes, Three Gun Terry Mack and Race Williams. Hard going as this book may be for some readers, it is historically important to the genre.