Since no one else seems to be doing Westerns in this Forgotten Books series, I thought I’d continue for a while. H.A. De Rosso is another of my favorite Western authors. He wasn’t prolific at novel-length works, turning out only a handful of books in a career cut short by a mysterious death that might have been suicide or an accident. He wrote a lot of short stories and novelettes for the pulps, though, some of which have been collected during the past ten years. Several of his novels have been reissued as well.
THE DARK BRAND is one of those novels. It opens with the hero, Dave Driscoll, in jail for rustling, but the fellow in the next cell has it even worse. He’s going to be hanged the next morning for killing a bank teller during a robbery. This doomed hombre is a hardscrabble rancher with a wife, a son, and a failing spread who became a bank robber to help his family. Because of that, he’s hidden the money he got away with and refuses to tell anyone where it is, including the brutal sheriff who wants the loot for himself.
However, when Driscoll gets out of prison three years later and returns to the same town, he finds that a lot of people believe the condemned man told him where the money was hidden, and now there are various factions who want to force him to lead them to the loot by any means necessary, including torture. Driscoll really doesn’t know where the money is, but he wants to find it to help the hanged man’s wife and son.
None of De Rosso’s heroes are actually very heroic, and Driscoll fits that mold. He’s a brooding, emotionally tormented man who’s sort of forced into doing the right thing most of the time. What he goes through in this book doesn’t make him any more cheerful, that’s for sure. The story takes place near a mountain range called the Sombras that figures in some of De Rosso’s other books. The name certainly fits because there’s a somber air that hangs over THE DARK BRAND. And the title itself is an indication of the mood here, of course. Actually, THE DARK BRAND is regarded as one of De Rosso’s less bleak books, which tells you how grim he can sometimes be.
Fittingly, De Rosso writes in a spare, fast-moving style, and there are some excellent twists in the plot here, the sort that I should have seen coming but didn’t. His work has echoes of Cornell Woolrich and David Goodis, but what his books most remind me of are the noir Westerns of Ed Gorman. If you like any of those writers, I highly recommend that you pick up THE DARK BRAND or any of De Rosso’s other novels or short story collections.