MARK SABIN – Winchester Cut. Gold Medal #144, paperback, 1951. recycled as Stranger from Arizona: Dodd, Mead, hardcover, 1956, as by Norman A. Fox. Also Dell #969, paperback, 1958; and Avon, paperback, 1987.

   I’ll use any excuse to sample a Gold Medal, and the title of this one intrigued me, winking up from a neat pile of paperbacks in a used book store on the main drag of an old hippie town somewhere in Ohio. So I bought it, then a few weeks later I cracked it open and found:

   He saw the basin first from a high promontory that gave him a far glimpse of dun grassland and the deep brown of grazing cattle. In the last sunlight, autumn haze lay over the land, making all things deceptive; a river sparkled in the immensity below, and ranch smoke lifted here and there, and a town’s roofs showed. He had a speculative moment, sitting his saddle and seeing all this; but a remembrance of his mission rose and stood stark in his consciousness, and all his thinking became a far cry out of the yesterdays.

   So I knew at least this guy loved to write. The ensuing pages filled out a book that’s nothing special, really, but a solid read.

   Clint Tracy arrives in Montana emotionally scarred by a Texas range war, battle hardened and ready for the heady ranchers’ feud he finds brewing. But he has his own agenda, and it has more to do with the people involved than with land or cattle. The characters turn out to be fairly standard types: tough old rancher, willful daughter, hot-headed son, etc. but the author writes them as if he’d just thought them up, and the result is they never seem as cliché’d as they really are.

   Sabin/Fox leans on the mystery of Tracy’s mission (which ain’t all that mysterious) a bit heavily at times, but he fills the story with enough riding, fighting and shooting to keep it lively, and when the range war finally erupts, it’s intelligently done. Nobody blunders for the sake of convenience, and Sabin/Fox’s lean prose carries the action very nicely indeed.

   Winchester Cut won’t get on anyone’s Ten Best List — Hell, it’ll never even make a Top100 — but it makes for an entertaining hour or so of the kind of fast-moving reading they just don’t seem to write anymore.