TODHUNTER BALLARD “The Dragon Was a Lady.” Novella. First published in Ranch Romances, July #2, 1949. Collected in Lost Gold: A Western Duo. (Five Star, hardcover, March 2006; Leisure, paperback, April 2007).

   As W. T. Ballard, the author of Lost Gold was a prolific writer of hard-boiled fiction for the detective pulps in the 30s and 40s before switching over to paperback originals in the 50s and 60s. Somewhere along the way he seems to have decided that the kind of mystery and detective fiction he wrote was on the way out, and he switched to writing westerns almost exclusively.

   Which is not to say that he wasn’t writing westerns all along, going back to the mid-30s, at the same time he was writing for Black Mask and other detective magazines. “The Dragon Was a Lady,” the first tale in this western duo was first published in Ranch Romances, and at just over 40 pages is by far the shorter of the two.

   The story is a bit of a trifle, perhaps because it was written for a “love pulp,” but it’s fun to read, nonetheless. In it a young woman comes out West after her father dies and finds a lawyer running the show. Unknown to her but far from a secret from the local townspeople, including a husky fellow who operates the town newspaper, the lawyer is one of those guys who gives lawyers a bad name.

   She goes as far as setting a wedding day, but while clad in her wedding dress, she decides to learn the truth at last, and to fall in love, but for real this time. Just as everyone reading this issue of Ranch Romances when it was fresh on the newsstands knew from the very first page. And exactly how they wanted it.

   The second half of the reprint paperback consists of the short novel “Lost Gold.” I’ve temporarily misplaced it, though, so that the moment this is all I call tel you about it.