Friday, July 29, 2011

Forgotten Books: The Wrong Man - Jack Masterton

For those of you unfamiliar with the Australian publisher Cleveland, it was founded in the 1950s. Throughout that decade and on into the 60s and 70s, Cleveland published thousands of short Western novels, including the first books by Leonard F. Meares, better known as Marshall Grover. Cleveland also published the Larry Kent mystery novels, but the company's main output was always Westerns, under such imprints as Bison Western, Tumbleweed Western, Lobo Western, Santa Fe Western . . . you get the idea. Thousands of books, millions of copies, and seldom seen in the U.S., although I believe the books were distributed in England.

For some reason, I had it in my head that Cleveland went out of business a long time ago, but I recently discovered that I was completely wrong about that. Not only does Cleveland still exist, but the company continues to publish new Western novels at the rate of eight per month, as well as selling reprints of some of the older books. There's even a well-designed website where international customers can order the books.

I found out about this when I bought a box of assorted Cleveland Westerns, some old, some fairly new, from a friend of mine. I had to try one of the newer ones, so I pulled out THE WRONG MAN by Jack Masterton, published less than two years ago in October 2009. The protagonist is a hard-nosed bounty hunter named Dominic Dolan. As the book opens, Dolan is on the trail of a couple of outlaws, and when he catches up to them he discovers that they've bushwhacked another man, thinking that they're ambushing Dolan instead.

Dolan dispatches the outlaws quickly, of course. Their bushwhack victim is still alive, although just barely, and before he dies he asks Dolan to carry the news of his death to his wife and son. Dolan agrees, somewhat reluctantly, and wouldn't you know it, when he finds the dead man's family, he discovers that they're in danger from the local cattle baron who's trying to take over all the small ranches in the area.

There's not much new about this plot, although not quite everything plays out exactly like I expected it to, but if you're a fan of traditional Westerns you're likely to find THE WRONG MAN entertaining anyway. Dolan is a likable hero, the action scenes are pretty well-written, and the book is short (35,000 words, tops) and fast-moving. I enjoyed it, even though I've seen it all before.

Since Cleveland's entire output now seems to be written by either Jack Masterton or Clay Anthony, I assume that both of those are house-names. So I have no idea who really wrote THE WRONG MAN. And I think it would be a real fluke if any of you reading this were to come across a copy unless you live in Australia and find it in a used bookstore (the numbers of which are dwindling there, I'm told, just like they are in the U.S.). But I like knowing that Cleveland is still in business and still publishing short, action-packed Westerns, like the Black Horse Western line in England and some of the e-book series that are starting to gather a wider readership as well. (Rancho Diablo leads the way, as Bill Crider might say.)


Matthew P. Mayo said...

Great post, James. A couple of years ago I searched the Web for information about Cleveland, and turned up very little. I just looked again and I found the site you mentioned--fantastic! The books are difficult to find over here, but I keep scouting.

Randy Johnson said...

Bantam published a couple of series way back when. I think you've posted on them before. I eagerly snapped them up as they came out.

Chap O'Keefe said...

Good piece, James. A genuine, you could say ideal, entry for Forgotten Books. I've told this story before, but there would never have been Chap O'Keefe westerns without Cleveland. The first one, Gunsmoke Night, was written with Cleveland in mind. Their books used to circulate widely in New Zealand, where I've lived since 1967. When I sent them a letter, Jennette McNair wrote back from Brookvale, Sydney, "We currently have drawers full of unedited Western manuscripts, submitted by our regular writers who have been writing our novels profusely for the past 20 years, so we are not interested in obtaining any more stories for years to come." So Gunsmoke Night was sent to London for Robert Hale's Black Horse Western series. It was quickly followed by others like The Sheriff and the Widow and The Sandhills Shootings, both just reissued as low-priced Kindle ebooks. Interestingly, a few years later top Cleveland writers Keith Hetherington and Paul Wheelahan followed the same trail to London and are now BHW writers.