Monday, October 21, 2013

Ten More Western Authors I Like

Here are ten more Western authors whose work I really enjoy, although, as usual, some of them can be inconsistent.

Peter Dawson – In real life Peter Dawson was Jonathan Glidden, brother of Frederick Glidden, who wrote as Luke Short. I believe Jon began writing after Fred did, but both were prolific contributors to the pulps during the Thirties. If I recall correctly (and someone please correct me if I don't), Jon Glidden won some sort of contest with his novel THE CRIMSON HORSESHOE, which was serialized in WESTERN STORY and then published in hardback by Dodd, Mead, starting him on a very successful career as a novelist. He continued to write for the pulps through the Forties but concentrated on novels after that. The paperback reprints from Bantam Books were so popular that after Glidden's death Bantam hired another author to write paperback originals under the Dawson name. I've never read any of them, but I've been told they're not nearly as good as the ones Glidden wrote. I first discovered Peter Dawson's work by reading the novel TRAIL BOSS when I was in the seventh grade, and I've read many of his books since then. Several volumes of his pulp work were published in paperback by Leisure in recent years.

Peter Field – This is a bit of a cheat, since "Peter Field" is a house-name and a number of different authors used it. But when I was a kid checking out books from the bookmobile every week, I went through every Peter Field western they had, which was quite a few. The books were published in hardback, first by William Morrow (more on that in a minute) and then by Jefferson House. All the ones I read back then were in the Powder Valley series and featured the adventures of Pat Stevens, a horse rancher in Colorado, and his sidekicks: short, roly-poly Sam and tall, gaunt, eyepatch-wearing Ezra. I had no clue then that Peter Field wasn't the author's real name, but I know now that all of the novels from the Fifties and Sixties were written by Lucien W. Emerson. Later on I discovered the earlier books in the series, written at first by William Thayer Hobson, the president of William Morrow and the husband of bestselling novelist Laura Z. Hobson, and then later by various hands, most notably Davis Dresser, a.k.a. Brett Halliday his own self. Dresser was the primary author of the series during the Forties, when his Mike Shayne series was also going strong. In these earlier books, Pat Stevens was still a rancher, but he was also the sheriff, and he had a wife, too, who had disappeared by the time I started reading the books in the early Sixties. In addition to all this, the Peter Field name was also used on several stand-alone Western novels, all of which were written, I believe, by Harry Sinclair Drago.

Peter Germano – Best known under his pseudonym Barry Cord, Germano wrote under that name and several others. His stories began appearing in the Western pulps in the mid-Thirties, and by the late Forties he was writing novels under the Barry Cord name. During the Fifties he was one of the main authors of Jim Hatfield novels for the pulp TEXAS RANGERS under the house-name Jackson Cole, and some of his entries are among the best in the entire series. Later on he became a prolific author of paperbacks, turning out many novels for the Ace Double line as well as other publishers. Some of these novels were rewritten and expanded version of stories he originally wrote as Jim Hatfield novels. As is the case with most of the Western authors I like, his style was terse and hardboiled, and his stories are well-plotted with plenty of action.

William Hopson – Another author who started in the pulps and then became a prolific paperbacker, Hopson has an odd style that takes a little getting used to, but once a reader is accustomed to it, his prose is very effective. His work is inconsistent. His Masked Rider "Guns of the Clan" is almost unreadable, while his later stand-alone novel GUNFIGHTER'S PAY is an excellent yarn with one of the best action climaxes I've found in a Western. If you try something by him and don't like it, it's probably worthwhile to try something else.

Peter McCurtin – One of the great mysteries in Western publishing, Peter McCurtin was long thought to be a house-name, but it appears there really was a writer and editor by that name who worked primarily for Belmont/Tower/Leisure. His best work is probably the Carmody series, published under his own name. These are tough, gritty action Westerns and very well-written. All of them except the first book in the series are in first person, something of a rarity in Westerns. Later, McCurtin wrote another series under the name Gene Curry about a character named Saddler, who is basically Carmody again. He also wrote some of the Lassiter novels under the house-name Jack Slade, including THE MAN FROM DEL RIO, the first Adult Western I ever read and a real eye-opener at the time. McCurtin continued the Sundance series after Ben Haas's death, and while I don't like his entries as much as the earlier books, they're solid Westerns. He also wrote men's adventure novels and a couple of hardboiled private eye novels that are well-regarded by some fans of the genre. I haven't gotten around to reading them yet, but I will one of these days.

Leonard F. Meares – I first encountered the work of Len Meares in the Bantam paperbacks published under the name Marshall McCoy. These were thin Westerns in two series: Larry and Streak, and Nevada Jim. I enjoyed these books and read them all. Checking the copyright pages, as I did even then, I figured out that these were reprints of books originally published in Australia. I never dreamed, though, that many years later I would be good friends by correspondence with the author, whose name was really Marshall McCoy but rather Leonard F. Meares. Beginning in the mid-Fifties, he wrote more than 800 novels, most of them Westerns and primarily under the pseudonym Marshall Grover, although he used other pen-names as well. I read dozens of them and always enjoyed them. Fast-moving, well-plotted, with very appealing characters. About half of his output consisted of the Larry and Stretch series (the characters' names were changed slightly in the American editions, for some reason), a couple of drifting Texans with a habit of getting into trouble. Toward the end of his life, Len's Australian publishers cancelled the series, but since they had a contract for foreign rights in the Scandinavian countries, they insisted that he continue writing the books so that they could be translated. I know it bothered him to write these books knowing they would never appear in English. But still he carried on, still with as much enthusiasm as he could muster for the work. He was a great friend, and to this day I miss hearing from him.

D.B. Newton – Another veteran of the pulps, D.B. Newton wrote some of the Jim Hatfield novels in TEXAS RANGERS, as well as entries in the Rio Kid and Masked Rider series. Branching out into paperback novels, he wrote RANGE BOSS, the book regarded as the first modern-day mass-market paperback original. For Berkley he wrote a series about Jim Bannister, unjustly accused of being an outlaw and forced to go on the dodge. As Dwight Bennett, he wrote a number of excellent stand-alone Western novels for Doubleday's Double D line. Finally, he created and wrote several novels in the Stagecoach Station series for Lyle Kenyon Engel's Book Creations Inc. These were published by Bantam under the house-name Hank Mitchum. Engel intended for Newton to write all the books in the series, but with them coming out every two months, he couldn't keep up that pace and BCI enlisted other authors to contribute novels as Hank Mitchum, eventually including me. I've always taken great pleasure in the fact that I wrote shared a house-name with someone who wrote Jim Hatfield novels, since TEXAS RANGERS is one of my all-time favorite pulps. Newton's novels are good solid Westerns, nothing flashy about them. Maybe not quite as hardboiled as some of my other favorites, but still excellent reading.

Dudley Dean McGaughey – Best known for his books under the names Dean Owen and Dudley Dean, McGaughey also wrote under house-names and other pseudonyms, including, you guessed it, some Jim Hatfield novels. His Hatfield novel "White Gold of Texas", one of the stories reprinted in paperback by Popular Library, is one of the best in the series. McGaughey also wrote mysteries and soft-core erotic novels and movie novelizations and TV tie-in novels. Tough prose and good plots are to be found in all his work. He was the sort of versatile, top-notch paperback author I've always enjoyed and admired.

Walker A. Tompkins – Another veteran of TEXAS RANGERS and the Jim Hatfield series, Tompkins wrote many of those novels as Jackson Cole throughout the Forties and Fifties, and they're all good. He wrote lead novels for the other three Western hero pulps published by Ned Pines, RIO KID WESTERN, MASKED RIDER WESTERN, and RANGE RIDERS WESTERN, along with scores of stand-alone stories for nearly every Western pulp in existence. He was a stalwart in WILD WEST WEEKLY during the Thirties, writing under several different names, and some of that work comes in for some criticism in Bill Pronzini's SIX-GUN IN CHEEK. Admittedly, a lot of Tompkins' early stories and novels are pretty over-the-top. But by the late Forties he had matured into the author of a number of fine stand-alone Western novels, some of them expanded from stories that originally appeared in the pulps.

Harry Whittington – Justly famous for his hardboiled mystery and suspense novels, Harry Whittington's Westerns are just as dark and lean as his crime yarns. His novel TROUBLE RIDES TALL was adapted into the TV series LAWMAN starring John Russell and Peter Brown. SADDLE THE STORM, the story of a frontier town celebrating the Fourth of July, is probably his best Western, as the festivities bring one dark secret after another into the open. Any of Whittington's Westerns, whether from Gold Medal, Ace, or Ballantine, is well worth reading.

I see this installment is even more long-winded than the previous one. The usual caveats apply. If you try books by all these authors, there'll be some you don't like. But I'll bet there'll be some you will.


Walker Martin said...

This second list of 10 more western authors has two writers that I like alot: Peter Dawson and Harry Whittington. I've read some of the others but they did not impress me to be mentioned as favorites.

We need more discussion like this post about western authors of the past. Too many of the pulp writers are in danger of being completely forgotten. It is true that we are living in the golden age of pulp reprints but the western reprint collections are few and far between and don't sell as well as the hero pulp and detective pulp reprints.

Jon Tuska deserves our thanks for reprinting some collections showing the work of such writers as T.T. Flynn and Walt Coburn.

I guess the best method of reading these writers remains collecting the old paperbacks from the 1950's and 1960's and collecting the original western pulps, especially the titles shown on the Saturday Morning Pulp posts. These western magazines are still easy to find and mostly quite inexpensive. I've seen hundreds at Pulpfest for instance. At one time these magazines were very popular on the newsstands and as a result back issues are not rare.

Richard Prosch said...

Another swell list. Really appreciate the inclusion of McCurtin and your quick overview of the house names. Confusing sometimes, especially on Lassiter. Here's a good Whittington ACE Double (both by the author): Drygulch Town / Prairie Raiders

Charles R. Rutledge said...

James can you recommend any Westerns written in first person? I know third is the norm but I enjoy reading in first. Not surprisingly a lot of the private eye guys have first person Western, Estleman, Pronzini, Gorman and such. Wondered if you had any favorites?

James Reasoner said...

McCurtin's Carmody and Saddler series are first person, except for the first Carmody book. A number of Louis L'Amour's Sackett novels are in first person, as well as the stand-alone TO TAME A LAND, which is probably my favorite L'Amour novel. A few of Lewis B. Patten's novels are in first person, but I don't recall the titles at the moment. I'll look around my shelves and see what else I come up with, and maybe some other readers will weigh in with recommendations. I enjoy the first person Westerns, too, although to the best of my memory right now I've never written any novels that way, only a few short stories.

James Reasoner said...

Oh, yeah, the first ten or twelve Gunsmith books by Bob Randisi are in first person, too.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Appreciate the recs. I will track some of those down.

James Reasoner said...

Another first person Western you need to look for is HELL TO PAY by J. Lee Butts, one of the best Western noirs I've read.

Juri Nummelin said...

Several authors here whose work I've liked as well. Whittington's novelization of the Elvis western CHARRO is also good, though the film is supposedly very bad. Tells something of Whittington's abilities.

Richard Heft said...

Patten's FIGHTING RAWHIDE aka SUNBLADE is in first person.