WILLIAM COLT MacDONALD – Bad Man’s Return. Ace Double D-2, paperback reprint, no date [1952]. (Published dos-à-dos with Bloody Hoofs, by J. Edward Leithead.) First published in West Magazine, September 1946. Hardcover edition: Doubleday, 1947.


   Over the years there have been a lot of mystery writers named MacDonald (or Macdonald, McDonald, or even Mcdonald), and some of them were quite well-known, and still are. But if you’re a mystery fan only, William Colt MacDonald may be one you don’t recognize. If I were to tell you that he wrote a lot of westerns, though, maybe you’d place the name.

   He was the creator of “The Three Mesquiteers,” among others, intrepid cowpoke adventurers in a long line of B-western movies, and this is one of the novels they were in as well.

   Some of MacDonald’s western are listed in Hubin, although not this one. Most of the ones that are listed feature a western detective named Gregory Quist, but I have a feeling that more of them could easily be acceptable.

   The connection between between western fiction and detective stories is a solid one. My own feeling is that as many as 95% of all western stories contain crime, mystery or detective elements of one form or another. They come in various guises, and sometimes you have to look sharply, but if you look carefully, I think you’ll find that most westerns are nothing more (or less) than yesterday’s detective stories.


   And what’s more, not only should Al Hubin know about this one, but Bob Adey should, too. That’s right, this is a locked-room mystery, and it’s not in Adey’s book either.

   To tell you the truth, I haven’t really read as many westerns as I have mystery stories, so I can’t say that this is generally so, but it’s my impression that westerns have their own code of telling, their own sense of formal structure.

   Where I think the story is leading up to as the climax can often not be the case at all. Westerns seem to spread out plotwise in a good many directions, even more than spy or adventure thrillers do, and usually head off completely opposite from the one I think they ought to be taking.


   Sometimes it’s uncomfortable, but most of the time I give in and let the author lead me where I will.

   In this case, for example, I’d have thought the capture of the killer who frames Barry Hesman for the killing of Tucson Smith would be what the final chapter would be all about. But no, somehow that’s a matter that’s settled long before then. By that time the story has gone on to other things, most notably the saving of Anne Callister’s ranch for her. It seemed anti-climactic to me, but I guess it wasn’t for me to say.

   As for the locked room, it takes our heroes the full novel before they work it out, but no long-time reader of detective stories will be at all surprised by what [WARNING: Quickie Plot Alert] a piece of rawhide and some bear grease will do.

— Reprinted from Mystery*File 32, July 1991 (slightly revised).

[UPDATE] 01-15-12.   The last “Three Mesquiteers” movie appeared in 1943, and it’s easy to find a complete list of them online (here, for example). But I do not have a list of the books they appeared in, I’m sorry to say; the last one I have a record of is The Galloping Ghost, which was published in 1952.

   I also do not know what to make of my review above, where I say that Tucson Smith, one of the three original members of the group, was killed, and it was his murder that had to be solved. More than that, at this time it is a mystery to me.

[UPDATE] 01-18-12.   Thanks to David Smith, who reminded me that a list of Three Mesquiteer novels appeared in the WesternPulps group on Yahoo last June, and to Phil Stephensen-Payne for pointing out that two of the trio’s tales were serialized in the pulp magazines, as you’ll see below. (Taken from the online FictionMags Index.)

Restless Guns (with only Tucson and Stony) (1929)

Law Of The Forty-Fives (1933) aka Sunrise Guns

Powdersmoke Range (1934)

Riders of the Whistling Skull (1934)

The Singing Scorpion (1934) aka Ambush at Scorpion Valley

Ghost-Town Gold (1935) aka The Town That God Forgot

Bullets for Buckaroos (1936) aka Bullet Trail

The Three Mesquiteers (1944)

Bad Man’s Return (1947)

Powdersmoke Justice (1949)

Mesquiteer Mavericks (1950)

The Galloping Ghost (1955)

The Three Mesquiteers (serial) Street & Smith’s Western Story Magazine Jun 29 1935, etc.

Cactus Cavaliers (serial) Street & Smith’s Western Story Magazine Oct 26 1935, etc. [Name of hardcover edition, if any, unknown.]

[UPDATE] 01-20-12.   Thanks to “Alan in London” for providing the titles of four more appearances of the Mesquiteers, including the one from 1929 which featured only two of them. Besides adding them to the list above, I’ve changed the dates for a few others, based on the data I found in Twentieth Century Western Writers. When I get the chance, I’ll do some original research on this and make sure sure everything’s as correct as it can be.