Saturday, August 10, 2013

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Story, April 26, 1941

This is an issue that I own and read recently, and as usual with these, the scan is from the actual copy I read. The cover by H.W. Scott isn't as good as others I've seen by him, but it's serviceable.

By the 1940s, Walt Coburn's work had become more inconsistent, but most of his stories were still pretty good, especially the ones that appeared in WESTERN STORY, the dean of Western pulps. The lead novella in this issue, "Come All You Texas Rangers" isn't set in Texas, as you might expect, but rather in Montana. Its protagonist is the son of a Texas Ranger, however, and the roots of the story go back to Texas, where a herd of cattle was rustled from Bill Loren's father and driven north. Bill is trying to track down the rustlers and is posing as a riverboat gambler to do so, and as the story opens he's about to be hanged for a murder he didn't commit. From there Coburn springs plot twist after plot twist, most of which don't come from too far out in left field, before wrapping things up with a nice showdown between Bill and his sidekick, an old mountain man known as Shale, and the two main villains of the piece. "Come All You Texas Rangers" isn't in the top rank of Coburn's work – it has a certain air of by-the-numbers about it – but it's an entertaining yarn.

Perry Westwood's "Guns by Proxy" makes use of a very standard plot, that of the drifting gunman who saves a small rancher and his family from a rapacious cattle baron, but it's well written with plenty of good action. I don't know anything about Westwood, but something about his prose that's hard to pin down makes me think he might have been British. His style reminds me a little of some of the British Western authors who have written for the Black Horse Western line.

Tom Roan is an author whose work I've found to be inconsistent, but his short story in this issue, "Blizzard Justice", is a good one. A young cowboy breaks out of jail during a snowstorm to solve the murder for which he's been framed and winds up snowbound in a line shack with a dangerous assortment of characters. Coincidence maybe drives the plot a little too much, but Roan keeps things ripping along at a good pace.

Seth Ranger was really Frank Richardson Pierce, a fine writer who was prolific in the Western pulps under both of those names. His story of an old desert rat prospector, "Hard to Kill", is something of an oddity in that it's set partially in the Old West and partially in more modern times. It's a good yarn, too, about land development and a crooked developer, the sort of thing that Pierce did about as well as anyone in the Western pulps.

"Caribou Trek" is a wildlife story about a caribou bull trying to escape from a pack of wolves. While the author, Jim Kjelgaard, was quite possibly the best at this story of story and this particular one reads pretty well, I'm still not a big fan of the sub-genre.

"Secret of the Frying Pan" by Mojave Lloyd is a mystery story, with a murder to solve and a hidden map that leads to a valuable mine. The hero is a tinker who has invented a whistle he wears on his nose. Really. This one is just a little too offbeat for me and I didn't care for the author's style, but I'll admit that the plot had a nice twist.

Also in this issue are an installment of a serial by Walker Tompkins, "Wagon Wheels West", and the usual WESTERN STORY features about guns, mining, and travel and a pen-pal column, none of which I read.

My overall verdict is that this is a slightly below average issue of WESTERN STORY. The Coburn and Pierce stories are good, the Roan and Westwood stories are not as good but still enjoyable, and the other contents pretty forgettable. But I still had a good time reading it.


Walker Martin said...

The interesting thing about the H.W. Scott cover is that the scene is depicted from a different or unusual angle. I noticed there were several WESTERN STORY covers during the late 1930's and early 1940's showing views from high up or down close to the floor. In other words, not the usual shoot 'em up between two cowboys.

I took almost 200 duplicate WESTERN STORY magazines to Pulpfest and priced them at only $5.00 each in order to sell them. The biggest bargain at the convention but most collectors were not aware due to the usual prejudice against westerns.

Rick said...

That sounds like a bargain. Did you sell them all?

James Reasoner said...

I would have bought some if I'd been there, even though I probably have more issues of WESTERN STORY than I'll ever read.

Walker Martin said...

Yes, I did sell them all and they were in decent condition with covers and nice paper. At first a few collectors bought some scattered copies and then they all sold to one astute collector.

I can identify with James when he says he has more issues of WESTERN STORY than he will ever read. I now only lack 11 issues which means I have over 1250 issues. A lot of good reading there. Now if I can only skip the poor stories!

For instance, I like Walt Coburn a lot but as has been pointed out on Rough Edges, he liked to drink and this sometimes affected his fiction. But then again, writing while drunk might lead to a two fisted, slam bang, hardboiled tale of the west. Unfortunately sometimes these stories made no sense.

David Cranmer said...

My money is on the cowboy hanging off the cliff.

James Reasoner said...

You nailed it about Coburn. His stories are always fun to read, but sometimes they get so overloaded with back-story and plot twists dragged in from far, far out in left field, the stories become nonsense. At the top of his game he was one of the all-time best. The occasionally frustrating thing is that later in his career, he was still capable of that from time to time, so you never know if one of his stories is going to be a real gem or a dud. Luckily, even the duds are usually fun to read.

I think you're right. A true cliffhanger!

Anonymous said...

Hello James
Perry Westwood was a pseudonym used by L.P. Holmes. He wrote one western under this pen name: SIXGUN CODE (Gold Medal 299)

James Reasoner said...

Westwood's definitely not British, then! I'm not surprised I thought the story was pretty good. What little I've read by Holmes I liked quite a bit. Got to read more.

James Reasoner said...

And thanks for the info, Anon.

Anonymous said...

I was thinking that I read somewhere that L.P. Holmes was born in England. But I may be wrong.

James Reasoner said...

I seemed to remember that Holmes was born in England, too, but nope, according to an autobiographical blurb he wrote for one of his Ace Double novels, he was born January 4, 1895 in Summit County, Colorado. Fred East, who wrote a bunch of Westerns as Tom West, was born in England, as was William MacLeod Raine.

Steve M said...

20th Century Western Writers has him down as being born in Breckenridge, Colorado, 4th Jan. 1895. Died 30 Dec. 1988. It mentions that he also wrote asssss Dave Hardin; Matt Stuart; Perry Westward.

In the notes by Jon Tuska it says he had stories published in all the western pulps and specifically names WESTERN STORY. It says he wrote 51 novels and 700 pulp stories.

Steve M said...

There is a English western writer called B.J. Holmes.