Friday, April 23, 2010

Forgotten Books: Alaska Steel - John Benteen (Ben Haas)

This is the second volume in Ben Haas’s outstanding series about soldier of fortune Neal Fargo. It opens in Hollywood in 1914, where Fargo is working temporarily as an actor, of all things, playing a villain in a silent Western movie directed by Thomas Ince. Ince is the only real-life character to make an appearance in this novel; the hero of the picture is fictional, as is a beautiful actress Fargo meets.

Ince wants Fargo to continue making movies and claims that he can be a big star, but Fargo isn’t interested in make-believe. Having lived a life of adventure, he needs the real thing. So when the actress, Jane Deering, asks him to go to Alaska and find out what happened to her husband, who disappeared there several years earlier while prospecting for gold, Fargo agrees without hesitation. He’s less enthusiastic about the idea of Jane coming along with him to look for the missing man, but she convinces him.

Naturally, things don’t go well, and Fargo and Jane wind up in all sorts of danger in the gold fields of the untamed Yukon country. There are vigilantes, a mysterious killer, blizzards, and assorted mushing around on dog sleds and snowshoes. As usual, Haas spins his yarn in tough, hardboiled prose without a wasted word to be found. He’s one of the best pure action writers I’ve ever run across. This one shows a few signs of hurried writing, but the story sweeps along at such a swift pace I didn’t really care. ALASKA STEEL is a prime example of a short, gritty adventure novel, and like all of Ben Haas’s work that I’ve ever encountered, it’s well worth reading.


Anonymous said...

You're right, while this is maybe not the best of the Fargo novels, it's still full of good stuff.

The opening in old Hollywood is excellent, with a couple fine moments, including a telling conversation with the film star Fargo is working with. When the man admits to admiring Fargo's need to escape the pretend drama of movies and Hollywood, and go live a genuinely dangerous life, Fargo objects, saying that he's little better than a drunkard, craving that which will inevitably get him killed, buried far from home, and forgotten.

A surprisingly sober, reflective moment for a paperback 'action-adventure' hero of the 1970's.

John Hocking

Richard Prosch said...

I've continued to really enjoy the Fargo series. Did Haas also write for the Lassiter series? I have HELL OF A WAY TO DIE here that I thought was him.

James Reasoner said...

It's hard to say for sure with the Lassiter series. A HELL OF A WAY TO DIE was credited to Haas for quite a while, but current thinking is that Peter Germano actually wrote it. HIGH LONESOME is the Lassiter title generally credited to Haas now. I wish Leisure had kept better records.

George said...

I have some FARGO novels...time to find them and read a couple.

Richard R. said...

What is that he's holding on the cover illustration? Some kind of special rifle? Is the is precursor or forcursor (if there is such a word), of the thing McQueen used in Wanted: Dead or Alive?

Whatever, it sounds interesting, and just as soon as I read all the OTHER things I've gotten after reading FFB in the last year or so, I'll get this.

Richard R. said...

I guess that should have been "forecursor".

AndyDecker said...

Fargo has always great moments.

I will never forget the ending of BORDER JUMPER´S, which I read for the first time 35 or more years ago.

It´s a typical coming-of-age story where Fargo teaches a young cavalryman survival under fire only to muse about his predictable death because after getting the taste of fighting he will go to the trenches of WWI.

Just a few lines, but it illustrated the difference between your typical western adventure and the senseless industrialized slaughter of the the modern war.

Like Mr. Hocking wrote, not bad for a paperback ´action-adventure´ hero of the 1970´s.

James Reasoner said...

It's hard to tell in the little scan, but he's holding a rifle of some sort in his left hand, with his body blocking the view of most of it.

That's the actual copy I read, by the way, and I did indeed pay .99 for it. I'd reveal the location of the excellent used bookstore where I bought it (not Half Price Books this time), but I'm keeping that all to myself. Bwa ha ha!

Bob Randisi said...

Fargo is my all time favorite western series. Also really liked Gilman's Steele books, which were VERY similar, right down to the white hair and the shotgun.


Damon Sasser said...

Fargo and Sundance were two of my favorite western series, as was Edge. Brings back a lot of good memories of days long ago when my life was a hell of a lot simpler.