Friday, December 26, 2014

Forgotten Books: Killer Country - Jackson Cole (A. Leslie Scott)

We wrap up the Forgotten Books series for another year with an old favorite of mine, an author I've been reading for close to 50 years. In the early Sixties, when I was volunteering in the local public library, I came across some Western paperbacks that looked interesting in a batch of books somebody had donated. They were about a Texas Ranger named Walt Slade, and they were written by an author I'd never heard of, Bradford Scott.

Well, I read them and thought they were great, so I started buying the new Walt Slade paperbacks that came out every month. Of course, I had no idea at the time who Bradford Scott really was or about the history of the Walt Slade character, but I didn't care. I just read the books and enjoyed them.

But over time I also discovered and became a fan of a paperback series about another Texas Ranger, Jim Hatfield, published under the name Jackson Cole. By then I was aware of pulps and eventually learned that the Jim Hatfield novels being published by Popular Library had appeared originally in the pulp magazine TEXAS RANGERS. It struck me that the style varied considerably from book to book, so I figured out that Jackson Cole must not be a real person, but rather several different authors. And one of them wrote an awful lot like Bradford Scott...

Well, it's too late to make a long story short, but let's move along. Bradford Scott, for those of you who don't already know this, was really Alexander Leslie Scott, a prolific pulp author who also wrote under the names A. Leslie and A. Scott Leslie. He even had some poetry published in WEIRD TALES. In 1936 Scott created the Jim Hatfield character in the first issue of TEXAS RANGERS, in a novel called "The Lone Wolf Rides". Several years later, in the pages of THRILLING WESTERN, a pulp published by the same company, he came up with the Walt Slade character and wrote a long series of novellas about him under the name Bradford Scott, while continuing to write some of the Jim Hatfield novels as Jackson Cole. Scott didn't write all the Hatfields, but he and Tom Curry tied for the largest number of entries in the series at 55 novels.

Then in the early Fifties, Scott stopped writing for TEXAS RANGERS and the other pulps, and I don't believe I've ever heard exactly why. But he moved right over into the new paperback market and took the Jim Hatfield character with him, writing a series of novels for Pyramid Books featuring the Hatfield character. Some of these books were rewrites of Hatfield novels from TEXAS RANGERS, and some were new stories.

Ned Pines, the publisher of TEXAS RANGERS, got wind of this and demanded that Scott stop writing Hatfield novels for Pyramid, since he (Pines) was still publishing the character in the pulp and using the Jackson Cole house-name. Scott resurrected the Walt Slade character from THRILLING WESTERN and starting using him instead in the novels from Pyramid Books. Evidently Pines didn't mind about that. (Slade and Hatfield are almost, but not quite, carbon copies of each other.) Again, some of the early Walt Slade novels were rewrites of pulp stories, but for the most part they were originals. The series was very successful, too, running for more than a hundred books and lasting until 1971.

But to get to the real subject of this post (at last!), the novel KILLER COUNTRY is a Jim Hatfield story from the period when Scott was doing them for Pyramid. I don't know if it's a rewrite or an original. Hatfield is sent to the border country in West Texas to find out who's responsible for terrorizing the Mexican villages on both sides of the Rio Grande. Farmers are being crucified on giant cactus plants, staked out on anthills, thrown into snake pits, and other assorted atrocities. Mysterious night riders are striking terror into the area. Rustling and stagecoach robbery are rampant. In other words, plenty of work for a hard-ridin', hard-shootin' Texas Ranger to take care of.

Hatfield does just that, of course, wading through a flurry of ambushes and a myriad of suspects as he tries to uncover the identity of the hidden mastermind who's really behind all the trouble. Scott's plots nearly always follow this formula, but he throws in a few nice twists in this one and I actually wasn't sure who the villain would turn out to be until the end.

Scott is noted for a couple of things: his flowery, long-winded descriptions of the scenery (he was getting paid by the word for his pulp stories, after all) and his over-the-top action scenes. He's in fine form on both scores in KILLER COUNTRY. Actually, his work has had a considerable influence on my own writing as far as the action scenes go, although I don't write the same sort of long descriptive passages at all. KILLER COUNTRY has some nice lines and a breakneck pace, and I really enjoyed reading it. A lot of modern readers probably wouldn't like it because it's silly and unrealistic, but those things don't bother me when I'm in a nostalgic mood.

Leslie Scott was an interesting writer with a tendency for getting the most financial return out of his work. He rewrote some of his Hatfield novels, changing Hatfield's name to Jim Woodward, and sold them to lending library publishers. The early Ace Double BADLANDS MASQUERADER, published under the Leslie Scott name and featuring Walt Slade, is actually a rewritten Hatfield novel from TEXAS RANGERS. In the early Fifties he wrote soft-core erotica for the hardcover publisher Arco Books and later resold the novels as paperbacks to Beacon Books. He also wrote a number of stand-alone Western novels for Arcadia Books that are a notch above most of his paperback originals. His wife Lily was also a pulp writer, and their son Justin Scott is a writer as well and still in the business, having published a number of well-regarded mysteries and currently writing thrillers with Clive Cussler. I just like Leslie Scott's work, although I don't think it would be to everybody's taste. A couple of his Jim Hatfield novels, including KILLER COUNTRY, are currently available as e-books, and used copies of many of his books are easily found on-line.


Walker Martin said...

My favorite cover is the March THRILLING WESTERN by Arthur Mitchell, which shows a scene that every cowboy had to learn to do well: roping a calf.

I've never managed to find an original cover painting by Mitchell but after reading this article I looked on ebay and found out about a book on Mitchell that I didn't know about. I just ordered a copy of MITCH by Dean Krakel for only $6.99 plus postage.

Thanks James. I'm always happy to spend money on pulp art books.

Jim Griffin said...

I can never get enough information about Leslie Scott and Jim Hatfield. Did you catch my little tribute to Hatfield (and his horse) in my Ranger Named Rowdy novel, THE BLIZZARD?

Thanks for this fine post, James.

Morgan Holmes said...

Robert E. Howard really liked Scott's poem "Cravetheen the Harper" that appeared in WEIRD TALES.

James Reasoner said...

Yep, I saw that. One more good reason to read THE BLIZZARD.

I don't think I've ever read any of Scott's poetry. I'll bet the imagery is pretty vivid.

Martin OHearn said...

That Justin Scott is Leslie Scott's son explains a Texas Ranger's being named Texas Walt Hatfield in the Isaac Bell novels. I noticed that tribute but never made the connection.

James Reasoner said...

Martin, I didn't know about Walt Hatfield. I've got to read those books!