WILLIAM COLT MacDONALD – Powder Smoke. Berkley Y814, paperback original; 1st printing, August 1953. Berkley Medallion X1718, paperback 1969. Five Star, hardcover, 2005. Leisure, paperback, 2006. (The latter two editions also include the short novel The Son of the Wolf.)

   There’s some justification for this book to be included in Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV, but I’m sure Al knows best, and in spite of all the criminal activity in it, it’s not.

   Most of the tale is taken up with the attempt by “Powder Smoke” Peters, owner of the PSP ranch, to clear young Owen Thorpe from the charges that he killed his brother. The main evidence against Owen is the fact that his gun is found on the ground next to the body, so obviously the case is not that strong to begin with.

   The sheriff, Milton Lapps, is not so very bright, and this also helps keep the case alive. (At one point Powder Smoke nicknames him “Mental,” which tells you something about the book, but I’m not sure what.) I kept waiting for the big twist at the end, but even though I know it’s already come and gone, I feel as though I’m still waiting.

— Reprinted from Nothing Accompliced #4, November 1993, slightly revised.