Friday, January 24, 2014

Forgotten Books: The Mystery of the Red Triangle - W.C. Tuttle

Our old pards Hashknife Hartley and Sleepy Stevens return in THE MYSTERY OF THE RED TRIANGLE. As usual in these novels, author W.C. Tuttle spends the first quarter of the book setting up the situation before his wandering pair of range detectives come on the scene. People in the cowtown of Cherokee and the surrounding area are living in fear because of the Red Triangle gang, a trio of mysterious killers who have committed several apparently senseless murders, always leaving behind a grisly calling card: a triangle drawn in the victim's own blood, either on the body or some nearby surface. This reign of terror goes back a year, and the local sheriff and deputy haven't been able to find the killers.

The latest murder, that of a saloon owner who was bashed over the head and then had his safe cleaned out—and a red triangle drawn on the door—seems to represent a break in the case, however. The evidence points to Jack Dean, a wild young cowboy who's the son of an area rancher. Jack was heavily in debt to the saloonkeeper, and now he's disappeared, leading folks to think that he's gone on the run after committing the crime.

This is Tuttle's cue to have Hashknife and Sleepy amble into the area. They're on the trail of a thief who stole Hashknife's horse, but they soon find themselves up to their necks in the mystery of the Red Triangle gang. As we all know, Hashknife never could resist a mystery, so he sets out to expose the killers, figure out the connection between the murders, and right all the wrongs that have been plaguing the countryside.

This leads to several shootouts, a stagecoach holdup, an explosive bank robbery, and a series of double-crosses and revelations that culminate in a gathering of suspects reminiscent of what you might find in a Golden Age mystery novel, although not quite that formal. I figured out who the mastermind was before that point, but Tuttle kept me fooled for most of the novel.

Nobody writes quite like Tuttle, blending complicated crime plots and hardboiled action with cornball humor, colorful characters, and a little romance. THE MYSTERY OF THE RED TRIANGLE is a little less slapsticky than some Tuttle yarns I've read, but his penchant for comic relief characters with goofy names is in full force. This can get a little old, but watching Hashknife at work more than makes up for it. He's a frontier Mike Shayne, always two steps ahead of the other characters and three steps ahead of the reader. Sleepy is a solid supporting character, too, and the friendship and banter between them is one of the series' strong points.

This novel is on the short side, which makes me think it probably appeared first in a pulp such as ADVENTURE or SHORT STORIES, two magazines where Hashknife stories showed up with some regularity. I haven't been able to locate anything to support that hunch, however. THE MYSTERY OF THE RED TRIANGLE isn't in the top rank of Hashknife novels along with such books as HIDDEN BLOOD and SHOTGUN GOLD, but it's still very entertaining and I had a great time reading it. If you're a Tuttle fan and ever come across a copy, you definitely should grab it.


George said...

About a year or so ago you reviewed a W. C. Tuttle western and I liked it so much I found some W. C. Tuttle books at one of our few remaining used book stores and read them. Good stuff! I'll have to be on the lookout for THE MYSTERY OF THE RED TRIANGLE.

Walker Martin said...

Concerning where this novel first appeared, a short novel of 68 pages appeared in the March 1st, 1927 issue of ADVENTURE, under the title of THE RED TRIANGLE. I just checked my copy and it starts off with a red triangle drawn on a door and there also is a character named Dean.

We have solved the mystery of The Red Triangle!

James Reasoner said...

Thanks, Walker. I figured if anybody could come up with the answer, it would be you.