WILLIAM HOPSON A Gunman Rode North

WILLIAM HOPSON – A Gunman Rode North. Pyramid #225, paperback, 1956. First published in hardcover by Avalon Books, 1954.

   A while ago back I read William Hopson’s DESPERADO, and was taken by the book’s portrait of a man slowly becoming an outcast in his own community. A GUNMAN RODE NORTH isn’t nearly as compelling, but it does have its points of interest — mainly plot devices lifted from old Burt Lancaster movies.

   The story starts with Lew Kerrigan in Yuma territorial prison, whence he has gone for the sake of a beautiful girl named Kitty, who is now a gangster’s moll, or rather the mistress of Colonel Harrow, a scheming gold baron, but basically the same figure as Ava Gardner in THE KILLERS (1946).

   We quickly learn (maybe too quickly; there’s a lot of exposition in the early chapters) that Harrow was Kerrigan’s erstwhile partner in a gold strike, but Kerrigan’s stake in all this has vanished in a swirl of corporate chicanery (shades of I WALK ALONE, 1948) and Kerrigan is about to be released into the custody of the man who sent him there, a plot device from ROAD HOUSE (1948) which was not a Burt Lancaster movie, but might as well have been.

WILLIAM HOPSON A Gunman Rode North

   From this point we segue into a bit of BRUTE FORCE (1947) with sadistic prison guards and desperate convicts bent on escape, until Kerrigan is finally released and confronts Harrow, who is flanked by his hired goons — excuse, me, hired guns — and learns that he is now a pawn in another of Harrow’s nasty plans (see CRISS CROSS, 1949) while Harrow has spurned Kitty for a more socially acceptable marital prospect (back to I WALK ALONE.)

   Out on the street/riding the range once more, Kerrigan moves across a landscape peopled with noir figures: bent cops/deputies, a corrupt judge, a too-helpful stranger (back to CRISS CROSS) an old friend who happens to be an honest-cop/deputy and boring as the range is wide (back to THE KILLERS) plus hired killers (ibid) stalking him across the prairie as he pursues his lonely vengeance against all odds. Hopson also throws in a few rampaging Apaches (ULZANA’S RAID, but that came later), who add to the noir feel of a hostile universe.

   Okay so there’s nothing too original here, and the ending’s entirely too pat, but Hopson keeps the plot moving nicely, and he has a sure hand for the action scenes. And A GUNMAN RODE NORTH is fast-reading enough that it’s fired and back in the holster before you have time to say, “Who was that masked man?”