Saturday, February 04, 2012

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: 10 Story Western, November 1948

This is another pulp that I own and read recently.  As usual with a Popular Publications pulp, it has an eye-catching cover with that vivid yellow background and bright red logo, just like Popular's DIME WESTERN.  I'm not sure I've seen another case of a bad guy using a spur as a weapon on a pulp cover, but with those sharp rowels, it makes sense.

As usual for this title, the lead "novel" is more like a novelette, and it's by an author who's not one of my favorites, Tom Roan.  "I'll Tame Any Town!" (the editors at Popular loved their exclamation points) is the story of a gunfighter known as Hell Morgan, who comes to clean up the wild Wyoming town of Rattlesnake Rock, which is under the thumb of outlaw brothers Gun and Big Pistol DeMoanie.  Roan seems to have liked bizarre names like that, especially for his villains.  Like Dan Cushman, he's an author whose work often doesn't appeal to me, and that's the case here.  This isn't a bad story, but I never could get very interested in it.

Moving on to the stories that are actually billed as novelettes, they're considerably better, which isn't surprising considering who wrote them.  Tom W. Blackburn and H.A. DeRosso were consistently good pulp authors.

Blackburn's "Juan Poker's Gallows Goal" is a little unusual in that it's set in California not long after it becomes a U.S. territory, while tensions between the Yankee newcomers and the Californios who lived there when the area was still part of Mexico are high.  Adventurer and all-around shady character John Poker, or Juan Poker as he's known to most people, is recruited by the U.S. government to act as a secret agent and get the goods on a criminal mastermind who's out to take over California and make it into his own little empire.  In the course of this assignment, Poker is framed for murder and the people who are supposed to be his allies wind up trying to hunt him down.  This is an excellent story, full of action, plot twists, and political intrigue to go along with the gunfights.  Blackburn wrote at least a dozen or so stories in the Juan Poker series for 10 STORY WESTERN, and I'll definitely be on the lookout for the others.

The other novelette, "The Cold Running Iron", is by one of my favorites, H.A. DeRosso.  It's set in one of the fictional mountain ranges DeRosso liked to scatter across the West, the Predicadores, and is narrated by a former rustler known as Cold Iron Smith who wants to put his criminal ways behind him.  As always, though, the past makes that difficult, and so does the beautiful wife of the rancher Smith works for.  To me, DeRosso's stories often have some of the same feel as a Gold Medal crime novel, and that's true in this yarn.  It doesn't quite belong in the top rank of his work because it's a little rushed and probably could have benefited from more wordage, but it's still very good and for my money the best story in the issue.

As for the short stories, one of the best in the issue is by the other well-known writer from Cross Plains, Texas, C.S. Boyles, who wrote under the name Will C. Brown.  "Button Savvy" centers around an imaginative boy, the son of a sheriff, whose fantasizing about battling badmen becomes real.  The plot is pretty predictable, but the story is well written and effective, and Boyles, not surprisingly, does a fine job of capturing life in a small cowtown.

John Jo Carpenter is one of several authors here whose work I hadn't read before now.  His story "Hangover in Helltown" packs a lot of plot and back-story into a yarn that's mostly a domestic drama about a blacksmith struggling with a drinking problem and a cattle baron's son who wants to marry a divorced woman over his father's objections.  The plot is a little unusual for a Western pulp and the writing is pretty good, but the story never really came together for me and the ending left me scratching my head.

"Fog It, Pilgrim – or Kill" is by Reynolds Phillips, an author I'd never even heard of, let alone read.  It's a good story, too, the old "tenderfoot turns out to be tougher than he looks" plot, but very nicely done.

Richard Brister's "Railmen Come Up Scrapping" is a decent little actioner about a range hog trying to force a former railroader off his land.  Brister is probably best known for his biography of Wild Bill Hickok, but he turned out some good fiction, too.

"Twin Terrors of Texas" is a short-short about a mild-manner Dallas storekeeper who has two large, rambunctious twin sons.  Someone like Robert E. Howard probably could have made a colorful, action-packed tall tale out of this plot, but in the hands of author Jimmy Nichols, it reads more like a synopsis than an actual story.  I didn't really care for it.

"Blood is Thicker – and Hotter!" by Dennison Rust is an interesting story for a couple of reasons.  First of all, it's a well written, fairly suspenseful story about a couple of old trail pards who wind up on opposite sides of the bars in a jail cell.  There's also the question of who actually wrote it.  The name "Dennison Rust" strikes me as pretty blatant pseudonym, and my first thought was that the author was really Bennie Gardner, whose most famous pseudonym was "Gunnison Steele".  Also, the story is fairly short and concerns a lawman and a prisoner, two things that are common in Gardner's work.  Seems pretty obvious, doesn't it?  The only thing that makes me wonder is a passing reference to an outlaw known as Gentleman Jack D'Arcy.  D.L. Champion, the originator and one of the principal author of the Phantom Detective novels, also wrote as Jack D'Arcy.  (Champion's initials stand for D'Arcy Lyndon.)  So the question becomes, is the name totally coincidental, or was Bennie Gardner acquainted with D.L. Champion and nodding to a friend, or was Dennison Rust really D.L. Champion himself, although I don't find any indication on-line that Champion ever wrote any Western stories?  Or, I suppose, was Dennison Rust the real name of the person who wrote this story?  Based on reading it, I still vote for Gardner, but it intrigues me.

The final short story in this issue is definitely by an author who created a well-known pulp hero, Paul Chadwick, who wrote the first Secret Agent X novel.  "Redmen Blaze the Way" is about an Indian attack on a wagon train and its aftermath.  There's not much to it, but it's all right.

So overall, this issue of 10 STORY WESTERN, like most issues of that pulp, is a mixed bag, with two very good stories – the DeRosso and Blackburn novelettes – some other entertaining yarns, and a few I didn't care for.  That's not unusual for this title.  I've found that 10 STORY WESTERN wasn't as strong most of the time as STAR WESTERN and DIME WESTERN, Popular's flagship titles in the Western field, but there are enough good stories to make it worth reading.


Walker Martin said...

Nice review of what I consider to be one of the better second rate western pulps. Like you mention, Popular Publication's top westerns were STAR and DIME WESTERN.

Things really changed in just a few years; just about all the pulps bit the dust in the early 1950's. The digests took over the newstands as far as fiction, but this did not include the western genre at all. ZANE GREY WESTERN MAGAZINE was around and GUNSMOKE WESTERN lasted a couple issues, but for the most part the western short story was dead. I guess the western TV series replaced the short fiction story format.

Morgan Holmes said...

I have been picking up pulps with stories by Clarence S. Boyles/Will C. Brown. He is one of my favorite western writers. A shame no one ever interviewed him about life in Cross Plains and his classmate Robert E. Howard.