H. A. DeROSSO – .44 .  Lion #129, paperback original, 1953; Lion # 145, paperback, 1956. Leisure Books, paperback, 1998.

   Harland is a reluctant gunfighter. He got sucked into it without wanting to. He beat a famous gunslinger in a drunken pique, and his reputation grew and followed him. He only wanted to be a hired hand. But anytime he got hired these days it was because the rancher wanted him to shoot somebody. They’d say he was just another hand. But they’d lie.

   Finally he figured he might as well accept his fate. If he’s gonna have to gunfight, he might as well get paid for it.

   His first hired kill is a man named Lancaster. He tracks down the man, out beyond the range in the middle of no man’s land. Betwixt some craggy straggly chasm. Lancaster stops and waits.

   What are you following me for, asks Lancaster. I mean to kill you, Harland responds. You mean you were hired to kill me. Well go ahead and draw.

   And they draw. And Lancaster has him beat. Handily. No doubt. But he sadly smirks and doesn’t fire. And Harland does, his finger jerks, the bullet flies, and Lancaster dies. Smiling.

   Now Harland is wracked with regret. Why didn’t Lancaster fire? What was that sad smile about. What the hell is going on? So Harland he can’t let it go. He has to find out what was behind Lancaster’s desire to die.

   Harland turns detective trying to figure out why he was hired to kill Lancaster. Turns out Lancaster and a couple of other men made off with $100,000 in a train robbery. Then Lancaster screwed his partners and made off with the plunder.

   But the partners don’t want Lancaster dead — at least not until they get their grubby hands on the loot. So who was it then? Who is it that wants Lancaster dead, that already has their hands on the money, that made a gunfighter give up the ghost?

   Harland can’t stop til he finds out, meanwhile falling in love with Lancaster’s widow. A woman who all the men fall for and long to protect.

   Til death do they part.


   If this were a straight urban crime novel, it’d be riddled with clichés. But as it is, it takes a typical noir and marries it seamlessly with the typical western. Perfectly, paradigmatically. It shows the way. Typical noir + typical western = atypical masterpiece. Like a bulgogi burrito.

   If anyone ever wondered if western noir was a thing, this is it.

   If it sounds like your bag, it surely is. And if it don’t, it ain’t.