ERNEST HAYCOX -Sundown Jim [or “Red Harvest Rides the Range”}. Little Brown, hardcover, 1937. Grosset & Dunlap, hardcover reprint, 1938. Pocket Book #573, paperback, 1949. Reprinted many times since. Film: 20th Century Fox, 1942, with John Kimbrough as Sundown Jim Majors.

   Haycox tended to make his heroes working men: miners, ranchers, freighters and such, but here the focus is on Jim Majors, a US Deputy Marshall sent to the town of Reservation, fast becoming a sanctuary for wanted men, to clear out the owlhoots and generally set things straight.

   Turns out, Reservation is the Western equivalent of Hammett’s “Poisonville,” a town so rife with corruption, warring factions and shifting alliances that it’s hard to tell who’s on which side at any given moment and fatal to misjudge. One sure-enough outlaw, Ben Maffit, has his eye on Katie Barr, daughter of the local cattle baron, and keeps his felonious followers allied against the smaller ranchers, but some of these lesser cattlemen are as bad as the Barrs and scarcely better than Maffit’s misfits – in fact, sometimes not as good.

   The situation is ripe for violence and Haycox ladles out plenty, done up in his terse, visceral style, but he also peoples the tale with some well-rounded and even memorable characters, and gives them enough ink to spread their wings and fly about the pages a bit. And this in turn motivates the plot as violence spreads throughout Reservation’s environs.

   There’s a dandy few pages here where, having de-fanged the cattle baron, Majors persuades the smaller ranchers not to take advantage of his weakness. They do it anyway, with decidedly mixed results, and then blame Majors for the ensuing tragedy. And it works on the page because Haycox has given us a few short scenes of each man debating the situation and deciding on violence.

   I have to say that the characters of Majors himself and Katie Barr never break free of the Hero and Heroine mold, but they don’t really need to; Haycox keeps things moving fast enough to cover for it, and the back-up band makes it all ring true.