Oliver Strange (1871–1952) was an Englishman who worked as an editor for a British publishing company during the first half of the Twentieth Century. But he also wanted to be a writer and obviously had a fondness for American Westerns, because when he tried his hand at writing a novel, the result was THE RANGE ROBBERS, a book that’s very much the literary equivalent of an American B-Western film or pulp novel.
THE RANGE ROBBERS introduces Strange’s famous character Sudden, and it proved popular enough that over the next couple of decades he wrote nine more novels featuring Sudden. After Strange’s death, the series was continued for five more novels written by Frederick Nolan under the name Frederick H. Christian. Even though THE RANGE ROBBERS was the first book published, when Strange continued the series he backtracked in the character’s history and occasionally went forward, so the publication order isn’t the same as the chronological order.
When we meet Sudden in this one, he’s pretending to be a drifting cowboy named Green. In fairly short order, it becomes obvious why he’s adopted a new identity: Sudden is a famous gunfighter and outlaw who’s wanted for various crimes all over the West. Like many a pulp outlaw, however, he’s not really to blame for most of the offenses that have been attributed to him. Despite his reputation, he’s an honorable man, a fast shot, a great fighter, and a steadfast friend. When he goes to work on a ranch owned by an old-timer who’s having trouble with rustlers, if you’ve read very many pulp novels or watched very many B-Westerns, you’ll know exactly what’s going to happen.
In fact, there’s nothing really new in THE RANGE ROBBERS, although when it was published the plot elements hadn’t had enough time to become quite the clichés that they are now. You’ve got the elderly rancher with the beautiful daughter, the rustlers, the magnificent horse that nobody else can ride, the white villains pretending to be Indians, and so forth. One of the bad guys even kicks a dog so you'll know that he's really bad. So why read this book?
Well, for one thing, even though THE RANGE ROBBERS is a fairly long novel, Strange never lets the pace slow down for very long. It’s full of incident and colorful characters and well-written action scenes. There’s a lot of Western slang and dialect that takes some getting used to, but that was common for the time period. Even though Strange never visited the U.S., his descriptions of the landscape are vivid and reasonably accurate. He was expert at crafting confrontations between the heroes and the villains, and along the way he adds some psychological drama to the plot reminiscent of the work of Max Brand and Walt Coburn. The two big twists near the end are predictable but satisfying.
THE RANGE ROBBERS is an old-fashioned, traditional Western and very entertaining for fans of that genre, which includes me. I have a couple of other Sudden novels and plan to read them soon. If you’re interested, there’s a lot of information about Strange, the Sudden series, and its history here. (Be sure and scroll down to the post by Fred Nolan.)
My reading in January
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