TRAILIN'! is one of those odd hybrids, a Western contemporary with the times in which it was written. In fact, it opens in
, at a Wild West Show in New York City , and has the hero, young Anthony Woodbury, leaping into his car after the show for a fast drive out to his father's estate on Madison Square Garden Long Island.
But from there, things change in a hurry. While at the Wild West Show, Anthony has accepted the challenge offered up by a Westerner and ridden a wild bucking bronco. You see, despite his Eastern upbringing, Anthony has always been interested in riding and shooting and such Western pursuits. When he gets home, it's not long until his father is accosted by a mysterious stranger and killed in a Western-style gunfight. Anthony sets off after the stranger, which is where the title of the novel comes in, and of course the trail leads west to the "mountain-desert" in which nearly all of Max Brand's Westerns are set.
TRAILIN'! uses the old "tough tenderfoot" plot to great effect, as Anthony uncovers secrets about his father, the mysterious killer, and his own heritage. Any modern reader is going to see the book's big revelation coming very early on, but at this late date you shouldn't expect to read Max Brand and be surprised.
No, you should read the work of Frederick Faust, the real name of Max Brand, for the distinctive prose that makes him almost a genre unto himself, for the breakneck action scenes, and for the sheer emotional torment he puts his characters through. Faust can really pile on the angst, but he breaks it up well with gunfights, fistfights, and desperate chases, usually on horseback.
TRAILIN'! is a little long for its plot, but to Faust's credit, he kept me reading anyway. His best work was in the novella length, I think, but I've enjoyed all of his full-length novels that I've read. Originally published in the pulp ALL-STORY WEEKLY in 1919, this is only Faust's second novel, following his debut THE UNTAMED. If you're a Max Brand fan, it's well worth reading, and if you've never sampled Faust's work, it wouldn't be a bad place to start. It's as old-fashioned as it can be, but sometimes that's exactly what I want, so I enjoyed it a great deal.