Fri 5 Sep 2008
The latest issue of the online magazine Black Horse Extra is out, devoted primarily as always the western fiction recently put out by UK publisher Robert Hale, but again, as always, branching out in many different ways.
For example, in this, the September-November 2008 issue, the main topic is an attempt to answer the question, Can western fiction also be noir?
If I’d been asked before reading this issue, except for a tendency for traditional westerns most often to have happy endings, my answer would have been yes, of course. Happily I’m reinforced in that opinion by James Reasoner’s comments about one of his current favorite western authors, Lewis Patten (1915-1981) in a review of Rope Law (Gold Medal, 1956), about which he says in part:
“… as the posse waits for nightfall so they can close in, Patten backtracks to fill in the story of what brought the characters to this point, and it’s a years-long saga of drunkenness, prostitution, robbery, and murder worthy of any of the more contemporary Gold Medal’s. Sex serves as the motivation for most of this, and while the scenes aren’t graphic, there are quite a few of them for a traditional western published in 1956.”
Chap O’Keefe (aka Keith Chapman, who leaves comments here under one or the other of each of the two names every once in a while) follows with story descriptions of several of Patten’s other books, one or two of which I’ve read myself, reviews of which I really ought to post here sometime soon. Chap points out in each of them what in his opinion makes them noir, including the imagery of the writing.
From Giant on Horseback (Ace,1964) for example; “Rain fell, gently drizzling, shining on the slicker worn by the stationmaster, dripping softly from the eaves of the weather-beaten, yellow-frame station. The train hissed patiently as it waited for the passenger to alight. . . .”
Concerning “happy endings,” James suggests that authors were constrained into doing so by editors, and Chap follows up by pointing out that editors still have great influence in that direction today.
In that regard, he goes into specific detail with a behind-the-scenes look at what his editors wanted (and didn’t want) in two of his own most recent books, A Gunfight Too Many and Misfit Lil Cleans Up, both published by Hale under their Black Horse imprint, which makes for very interesting reading.
If you’re a fan if either western or noir fiction, you’ll want to read the whole issue yourself. And I haven’t even begun to mention any of the other interviews and news items it contains. (How old is Ernest Borgnine? And what western movie is he going to be in next??)