Friday, March 18, 2016

Forgotten Books: Don of the Black Serape - Walt Coburn

(This isn't exactly a rerun since it's never been posted on the blog, and likely none of you have ever seen it before, but like last week's post about J. Edward Leithead's BLOODY HOOFS, I wrote this review about 15 years ago for the WesternPulps Yahoo group. You can tell it's old by the comment that DON OF THE BLACK SERAPE is the first thing I'd read by Walt Coburn. Of course, I've read dozens of Coburn novels and stories since then, enjoyed most of them, and posted about many of them here. But I think this review is still relevant, so here it is. By the way, I couldn't find a cover scan of the pulp in which DON OF THE BLACK SERAPE first appeared, and the cover of the collection in which I read it is no great shakes, so no image this time.)

Just read this short novel from the March 1927 issue of NORTH-WEST STORIES. Not really an appropriate place for it to be published, since the story takes place in Mexico, but what the hey. The important thing is that this is the first Walt Coburn story I've read, and I thought it was great. It's set a year or so after the end of World War One and is about a couple of Americans trying to save a beautiful senorita from her evil father. There's some complicated backstory, a lot of action, and plenty of tough guy dialogue that sounds more like one of Robert Leslie Bellem's Dan Turner stories than a Western. Here's a paragraph where one of the heroes is talking to the other:

"Now you're percolatin' on all six cylinders, skipper. Say, you sure spoiled Pasqual for parlor work. Only that I hate to poke a lady in the jaw, I'd have busted that dame so hard she'd sleep a week. Her and that Pasqual guy pulls this Romeo stuff to get your goat, see? Her dolled up in your miss's Sunday-go-to-church rags, lollygaggin' around with this bullfighter bird, makin' chili love under the shelterin' palms. But I bet they don't try to pull no badger game on the next gringo."

This is brilliantly goofy stuff, and I don't mean that in a condescending way at all. There's a definite connection between Westerns and the hardboiled detective fiction of the Twenties and Thirties, and this story is another example of it. I have to read more of Coburn's work. Luckily, the large print volume that contains this story, THE SECRET OF CRUTCHER'S CABIN, has two more Coburn short novels in it.

(And going strictly by 15-year-old memory here, one of the other short novels, SENOR SATAN, is pretty good, while THE SECRET OF CRUTCHER'S CABIN is one of Coburn's more mediocre efforts. I own a copy of the collection, so maybe I'll reread all three of them one of these days, but since I still have a bunch of stuff by Coburn I haven't read, it's kind of doubtful. The book is worth it, though, just for DON OF THE BLACK SERAPE, or at least that's how I remember it.)


Todd Mason said...

Oddly, my review this week has similar origins. Odd that they entitled the collection after the weakest story, but de gustibus. And, looked at hemispherically, Mexico is still northwesterly as countries go...

Post cataract lens replacement, large print books can be a boon...pity about the paper and, as you note, the covers, too often...and the western/crime fiction crossover to fantasy and sf, back when, and other sorts of adventure writing, historical and otherwise...

Sean McLachlan said...

That's some crazy writing!
I was wondering if you knew much about an old pulp writer named Donald Barr Chidsey. He wrote quite a bit for the pulps in the 1930s and 40s, drawing on his experience as a sailor in the early part of the century. I just read his novel The Flaming Island, and when I reviewed it for Goodreads I had to add it since no one had mentioned it before! He became well-known later in life as a nonfiction writer, usually historical and maritime books.
Anyway, I searched through your site and found some interesting tidbits, but I was hoping if you know more about him that you'd dedicate a post to him sometime. He was a fun writer, and waxed eloquent whenever he wrote about what was obviously his great love--the sea.
Love the blog. It's one of the few I read regularly when I travel. Those hits from Morocco? Those are me. Keep on writing!

James Reasoner said...

Chidsey is a long-time favorite of mine. I've read several of his novels and a bunch of his pulp stories. His South Seas yarns that appeared in ARGOSY during the mid-Thirties are great. I also really like his series (also in ARGOSY) about jewel thief Eddie Savoy and the insurance investigator who's pursuing him, Nick Fisher. Those stories would make a very nice reprint volume. I pulled his novel PANAMA PASSAGE off my shelves and will try to read it soon. The back of the dust jacket has a good photo of him and some biographical information, so I'll include a scan of it with the post. Don't look for it right away, but in the relatively near future if I can manage it.