Saturday, October 31, 2015

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Texas Rangers, April 1956

This being Halloween, I took that as a good excuse to read an issue of TEXAS RANGERS I've been meaning to read, since the Jim Hatfield novel in it features a monster. As always with pulps that I own, the scan is from the actual copy I clutched in my grubby little fingers.

The Hatfield novel, "Canyon of the Lost", is one of the shorter entries in the series, probably between 25,000 and 30,000 words. The author (more on that later) packs a lot into it, however. Jim Hatfield, the famous Lone Wolf, is sent to the West Texas border town of Gallejo to meet up with another Ranger and investigate reports of a gang smuggling opium into the country from Mexico. When Hatfield gets there, however, the other Ranger is dead, having been murdered by some sort of monster that lurks in the sinisterly named Lost Canyon. A famous photographer has also gone missing, his beautiful blond daughter shows up to look for him, and a gang of outlaws led by a masked mastermind known as The Black Buzzard is also running amok. Needless to say, Hatfield has plenty of hard ridin' and fast shootin' to do before he sorts everything out, solves the mysteries, and delivers hot lead justice to the bad guys.

This novel has long been attributed to Peter Germano, who wrote many of the Hatfield novels in the Fifties, as well as a number of novels under the name Barry Cord (some of them, in fact, rewrites of his Hatfield novels). But now, having read "Canyon of the Lost", I'm convinced that Germano didn't write it. The style just doesn't seem like his usual terse, hardboiled prose to me. Nor is it the work of either Walker A. Tompkins or Roe Richmond, the other two main Hatfield authors from that era. If it really isn't by any of those three, I have no idea who actually wrote it. Lin Searles is known to have written at least one Hatfield novel, but I've never read it so I can't compare this one to it. (I realize there are probably only half a dozen people in the world who care about this, but what can I say? I'm one of 'em.)

Whoever the real author is, "Canyon of the Lost" is an odd yarn, and not just because it has a monster in it. For the most part, it's not very well written, with some awkward prose and a plot that flounders around all over the place. As for the monster, except for a few scenes the author really wastes the whole set-up. However, the story does have a goofy charm about it and some nice action scenes. It's nowhere near top-rank Hatfield, but I liked it better than the stories by Roe Richmond or Clark Grey.

Moving on to the other stories, they're by authors who aren't that well-known, with a couple of exceptions, but they seem to be real people, not house-names. First up is "The Foot-Loose Kid" by Philip Morgan, which isn't really a very good title for this tale of cattlemen vs. nesters and a ranch hand who finds himself torn between the two sides. It's a well written story, though, with enough "woman interest" it easily could have appeared in RANCH ROMANCES.

"Man Afraid" by Robert S. Aldrich is about a deputy who has to take on three outlaws even though the whole town thinks he's a coward. This is another good story, with a really nice final line.

While never a big name or enormously prolific, Kenneth L. Sinclair had quite a respectable career in the pulps, turning out scores of Westerns, detective and G-man stories, and aviation yarns from the early Thirties to the mid-Fifties. His novelette in this issue, "Killer Beware", is a Western mystery with an unusual protagonist, Matt Dorban, who hauls hay for the ranchers in the area. Dorban's partner is framed for killing a supposed rival for the affection of the local sheriff's beautiful young widow. There's enough lust, greed, and crime in this one that it would have made a good Gold Medal novel. I really enjoyed it.

"By Gun and Fang", a short-short by Pete Curtis, is about a deadly encounter between an outlaw, a lawman, and a panther. A bleak and effective story.

J.L. Bouma is probably the best-known author in this issue. He was a prolific contributor to the Western pulps from the mid-Forties throughout the Fifties and published more than a dozen paperback Western novels. He's also supposed to have written some of the Coxeman novels under the Troy Conway house-name. I've read a few of his Western novels and found them to be competently written hardboiled yarns. The same description applies to "Lone-Hand Posse", his novelette in this issue. It's a vengeance story about a man pursuing the three outlaws who murdered his wife, and as you might expect, it's pretty dark. But it's well written and has a halfway decent twist at the end, and I liked this one as well.

James D. Lee's "Within the Barridade" is about a wagon train under attack by Apaches, and for the most part, it's a suspenseful tale that's marred somewhat by the author apparently confusing Apaches with Comanches or some other Plains Indian tribe. This is the only story by Lee listed in the Fictionmags Index. It's good enough that he should have been able to sell others and may well have since the FMI isn't complete.

"Lawman's Widow" is by Ferris Melvin Weddle, an author unknown to me. It's about a lynch mob, the lawman's widow of the title, and her reaction to the mob. Not a bad story, but there's not much to it.

All in all, this is an unusual issue of TEXAS RANGERS because the Jim Hatfield novel is actually one of the weaker stories in it. Not really bad, just not up to the level I've come to expect from that series. The novelettes by Bouma and Sinclair are the best stories. I'm glad I read this one, but it's not in the top rank of TEXAS RANGERS issues.


Walker Martin said...

TEXAS RANGERS had a long run, 1936-1958, and a little over 200 issues but by April 1956 the pulps were just about dead. Only TEXAS RANGERS and SF QUARTERLY were able to last until 1958 and RANCH ROMANCES continued on through the sixties until 1971.

The smaller digest format was in and the pulps were out, not to mention the influence of the paperbacks and TV. There are many reprint collections now but as James indicates, nothing beats reading the real magazine.

S. Craig Zahler said...

Thanks for the review, Mr. Reasoner. Which issue of Texas Rangers would you recommend as the single finest?

And a question for Mr. Adventure, Walker Martin---I'm looking for the three March 1922 issues of Adventure, and have checked the usual places (eBay, Amazon, Abe books), but found not one of them, excepting only a coverless issue I've no interest in. Earlier you mentioned the idea of me asking advanced collectors such as yourself about locating any advice or recommendations here for this trio...?

James Reasoner said...

That's a hard question to answer, but the December 1938 issue is certainly a very good one. The Hatfield novel "Lone Star Silver" is a good one and one of the longest in the series. It's by Leslie Scott, the creator of the character. There's also a Long Sam Littlejohn story by Lee Bond, the longest-running back-up series in the magazine, and a short story by Gunnison Steele (Bennie Gardner), always a dependable author. It's hard to go wrong with any of the issues from the Thirties and Forties. The back-up stories in the Fifties are probably better, with lots of appearances by authors such as Gordon D. Shirreffs, Giles A. Lutz, and H.A. DeRosso, but the quality of the Hatfield novels is more inconsistent, with sub-par entries by Roe Richmond, Clark Gray, and Joseph Chadwick.

Walker Martin said...

Concerning the 3 issues that Craig is looking for, there used to be pulp dealers who sold by mail and would find issues that were wanted. Richard Minter, Jack Deveny, Claude Held, Gerry de la Ree, Harry Noble, Robert Sampson, and others provided me with hundreds, in fact thousands of back issues. But they are gone now.

Though ebay, abebooks, etc, may not have the 3 March 1922 issues of ADVENTURE at this moment, keep looking and they will eventually show up. I know I've said this many times, but I can't stress enough the importance of attending the two big pulp conventions(Windy City and Pulpfest). I've been attending them since 1972 and they are the main reason I have a large collection of fiction magazines. Not only pulps but digest crime and SF magazines, and some slicks also, not to mention a room full of literary magazines.

I know people complain about the expense of the hotel rooms, travel, food, etc, but believe me, it's worth it. The Windy City Pulp Convention had 140 tables and thousands of pulps and artwork. Pulpfest had over 100 tables also. It's not just the pulps and books that you will find but also the contacts you will make with other dealers and collectors. Contacts that lead to life long friendships and future pulp deals. I've never heard anyone that regretted attending a pulp convention. A few dealers may have griped that they didn't sell enough but for collectors, it's like heaven to spend 3 or 4 days in a big room full of books and pulps.

S. Craig Zahler said...

Mr. Reasoner-- thanks for the recommendation. I'll look for that exact issue. I'm already a Gunnison Steele fan, so that's a bonus.

Walker Martin. Thanks for the information. If my schedule permits, I'd certainly like to attend these conventions, and currently I am talking with some local pulp fans about setting one up in the little town in which I live--New York. I hope to have more news on that soon...
I just finished an issue of Strange Detective Mysteries, and I'm reading an issue of Argosy right now...

Walker Martin said...

Craig, that's great news about a possible NYC pulp convention. Please keep us informed of any news.

My set of ARGOSY is just about complete from the teens to the early 1940's. It became a quality men's magazine at that point. I used to have many issues going back before the teens and even into the 1880's and 1890's but I found the fiction so dated that I no longer have the early issues. ARGOSY is very collectible and the issues in the 1930's are available at the pulp shows for inexpensive prices. The 1920's are getting harder to find.