Monday, August 10, 2009

The Lassiter Series by Jack Slade

In the comments a couple of posts back, John Hocking mentions the Lassiter novel A HELL OF A WAY TO DIE, which was published in at least a couple of different editions under the Jack Slade house-name. Years ago someone – and at this late date I don’t recall who it was – told me that Ben Haas had written this early entry in the Lassiter series. I read it and thought it was possible, but at that time I hadn’t read as many of Haas’s novels as I have now.

Then there was some discussion on the WesternPulps group about the series, and someone pointed out a website put up by relatives of the late Peter Germano (better known under his pseudonym Barry Cord) that included A HELL OF A WAY TO DIE in a list of Lassiters written by Germano. I had forgotten about that until John’s comment, so I checked my shelves and found that I have a copy of A HELL OF A WAY TO DIE, as well as THE MAN FROM LORDSBURG, another Lassiter written by Germano, according to the website. I skimmed through them, and they certainly appear to be by the same author. The styles are very similar. So I’m thinking that maybe I made a mistake attributing A HELL OF A WAY TO DIE to Ben Haas.

That’s not the end of the story, though. This German website has a list of the Lassiter novels, and it attributes a different book to Haas. Here’s the list of the Lassiter series from that website, along with the best guesses for the actual authors:

LASSITER, W.T. Ballard
BANDIDO, W.T. Ballard
THE MAN FROM YUMA, Peter Germano
THE MAN FROM CHEYENNE, W.T. Ballard
A HELL OF A WAY TO DIE, Peter Germano
HIGH LONESOME, Ben Haas
SIDEWINDER, Peter Germano
THE MAN FROM DEL RIO, Unknown
THE MAN FROM LORDSBURG, Peter Germano
GUNFIGHT AT RINGO JUNCTION, Peter Germano
FUNERAL BEND, Peter Germano
THE MAN FROM TOMBSTONE, Peter Germano
GUERRILLA, Unknown
THE BADLANDERS, Tom Curry
GUTSHOOTER, Unknown
HELL AT YUMA, Unknown
RIDE INTO HELL, Unknown
BLOOD RIVER, Unknown
RIMFIRE, W.T. Ballard
APACHE JUNCTION, Unknown
DURANGO KILL, Unknown
THE MAN FROM PAPAGO WELLS, Unknown
LUST FOR GOLD, John M. Flynn
HANGMAN, John M. Flynn
CATTLE BARON, John M. Flynn
WOLVERINE, John M. Flynn
FIVE GRAVES FOR LASSITER, Peter Germano
BIG FOOT’S RANGE, Unknown
BROTHER GUN, Unknown
REDGATE GOLD, Unknown

W.T. Ballard has generally been credited as the creator of the series and the author of the first four novels, but this list attributes the third book to Germano, based on his records, so that’s probably accurate. I wonder if RIMFIRE, coming quite a few years after Ballard’s other books in the series, might be a retitled reprint of one of the early books. As for THE BADLANDERS, I’ve read it and I’m convinced it actually is by Tom Curry. I was reading a lot of Curry’s pulp work at the time, and a lot of his style tags show up in the Lassiter novel as well. Curry wrote two books in the Sundance series at about this same time, also under the Jack Slade house-name, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if some of the other Lassiters where the author hasn’t been identified were his as well. John M. Flynn, author of four books in the series, was better known as mystery writer Jay Flynn. I believe Bill Pronzini knew Flynn and has written about him in MYSTERY SCENE. Of course, I’m most interested in reading HIGH LONESOME to see if I think it was written by Ben Haas. I don’t believe I have a copy of that one right now, but I’ll be keeping an eye out for it. The Lassiter
novels still show up fairly regularly in used bookstores.

By the way, some of these books were reprinted with “Zane Grey’s Lassiter” on the cover, which I think was just a marketing ploy on the part of the publisher. This Lassiter is not the same character as the hero of RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE . . . although there was a series of novels featuring that character ghosted by Dean Owen and perhaps others under the name Loren Zane Grey.

Now, at this point the real question is: who cares about any of this stuff? Well, me, for one, and I hope at least a few of you reading this. But I still have vivid memories of buying my first Lassiter novel, THE MAN FROM DEL RIO, brand-new off the spinner rack at Lester’s Pharmacy and reading it one summer day in 1969. I’d been reading Zane Grey, Max Brand, and Clarence E. Mulford, so that Lassiter novel, with its grittier violence and slightly graphic sex, was a big change for me. The Lassiter books, not the Jake Logan series, are the first true “Adult Westerns”, as the genre came to be known, and as such, they have some historical importance in the Western field. Over and above that, though, some of them are pretty darned good books and worth checking out if you happen to run across any of them. (Fair warning, though: some of them are pretty bad, too.)

8 comments:

Randy Johnson said...

I don't remember my first Lassiter, but I read most of those titles as they came out new. I too never thought it was the same character from "Riders" and was surprised at Dorchester's release of Brother Gun as the Zane Grey character.
Now I need to find High Lonesome myself and read it for comparison. I read it many years back, and as I loaned many books out that I never got returned(you'd think I would learn), it's long gone.
Back then, i was much less sophisticated and had never heard the name Ben Haas until many years later. All I knew was Jack Slade and John Benteen. As far as I knew, they were real names.

Anonymous said...

Well, oddly enough High Lonesome was the second Lassiter I read, after A Hell of a Way to Die. And it was so good that I ended up buying most of the books in the series in the vain attempt to find another one as good as it was. That it was written by Ben Haas is a real kick in the head for me. His take on Lassiter is to make him into a frontier crossbreed of Parker and Mike Hammer-- a noir-shaded prose version of the classic spaghetti western anti-hero. Not a good guy in any way, except perhaps for the fact that he is very good at killing people who are even worse than he is.

James, my notes show that I thought Gunfight at Ringo Junction might be by the same author as High Lonesome. The treatment of Lassiter's character was the same (he's actually a pretty easygoing fellow in some of the books)and the author's prose style was very similar, right down to a a very uncharacteristic euphemism for...um...dalliance.
I'll have to look both books over again.
Thanks for this post, James. Glad I'm not the only guy who is fascinated by this stuff.

John Hocking

Juri said...

I really liked Ballard's first Lassiter. I've read one of those that are attributed to Germano, but I didn't care for it. It was sloppily constructed and Lassiter was more cynical than in the Ballard one. It was, I think, FUNERAL BEND.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great overview of the Lassiter books, James. I recall reading a few back in the 1970s, or earlier. They were pretty good. I don't recall them by title, but now I've got a list now to work from.

Ed Lynskey

Charles Gramlich said...

Thanks for the inside info. I have not read any of these novels but will definitely try to find some of them.

Steve M said...

I've got all but four of the Lassiter books, and as they've been republished so many times I've been trying to work out the true order they were published in.

Rimfire is the same book as Lassiter. I've often wondered why they'd republish an early book with a different title - this was also done with the Sundance series too: The Wild Stallions being published again as Ride the Man Down.

Anonymous said...

I have a few Lassiter books, but haven't read them yet. I just recently bought A Hell Of A Way To Die because I thought it was by Ben Haas. Now I will be looking for High Lonesome.

Danny

bish8 said...

Thanks for all this info. I enjoy the minutia of this kind of collecting. It difficult sometimes, however, with house name books, to come in and really enjoy a title and then be dissapointed by others written by other pens. But, I guess that's better than being disapointed by the fist book in a series you read and not reading anyother, so missing some gems.