William MacLeod Raine was one of the most popular Western authors for a long time, but he’s almost completely forgotten today. I’d read one of his novels a while back and enjoyed it, so I figured it was time to try another one. GUNSIGHT PASS has the added attraction of being an oilfield novel as well as a Western, and I nearly always enjoy those.
Before the oil boom occurs near the town of Malapi, though, the first third of the novel is a more traditional Western, as young cowboys Dave Sanders and Bob Hart take part in a cattle drive that earns them a couple of bad enemies. Dave has a smart, fast pinto pony, but two crooks steal the horse and Dave and Bob leave the drive to try to track them down. This leads to a shootout that leaves Dave on the wrong side of the law.
Some authors would have then followed Dave’s career as an outlaw and his efforts to allow him to clear his name, but in this case his fundamental decency results in him getting caught and sent to prison. (I get the impression that most of Raine’s protagonists are really decent hombres, even when they might be better off not to be.) When Dave gets out of prison several years later and returns to Malapi, he finds that the oil wildcatters have moved in and the rancher he used to work for is now in the oil business, and his old pard Bob Hart is in charge of the drilling. And sure enough, one of Dave’s old enemies is on hand, too, still up to no good.
One thing that always stands out in Raine’s work is its authenticity. All the details of ranch life and working with cattle ring true, and so does his portrayal of life in the oil patch. It’s hard, dirty work, like cowboying, so it comes as no surprise that Dave and the other punchers take to it. The plot meanders along rather episodically, but eventually it all builds up to a very satisfying showdown involving old enemies and unexpected allies. And of course there’s some very mild romance along the way, as there usually was in Westerns from this era.
Raine’s prose is on the old-fashioned side, as you’d expect (GUNSIGHT PASS was published originally in 1921) and kind of melodramatic at times, but if you can put yourself in the right frame of mind it reads very well and the book flows nicely. It’ll probably be a while before I read another William MacLeod Raine novel, but I’ll definitely read more by him at some point. (I read this in a free e-book edition from Amazon, but I’ve included cover scans of some of the earlier editions with this post.)