Saturday, January 26, 2008

Lariat Story, August 1934

Since I had this pulp out a couple of weeks ago to look something up, I decided to go ahead and read it. I believe it’s the first issue of LARIAT STORY that I’ve read; I own only another issue or two of this particular pulp.

It doesn’t start off particularly well. The lead “novel” (actually more of a novella) is “The Ranch of Hidden Men” by John Starr. Originally, John Starr was the pseudonym of Jack Byrne, who was the editor of LARIAT STORY at the time this issue was published. At some point, though, it became a house name, probably a year or so later when Byrne left Fiction House (the publisher of LARIAT STORY) to become an editor at ARGOSY. Byrne may be the author of “The Ranch of Hidden Men”, or he may not. Either way, it’s not a very good story. It’s the old “drifter saves the ranch from the bad guys” plot, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s so stereotypical that a story using it needs either an unexpected twist, good writing, or both. This one has neither. It has a very tired, by-the-numbers feel to it, with a lot of florid writing that just pads the word count. Even that sort of prose can be effective (see the work of A. Leslie Scott, for example), but I don’t think it works here. The novelette that follows, “Red Chaps” by Walter Clare Martin, is even worse, a humorous Western that’s not funny at all. I have a low tolerance for humorous Westerns; I like those by W.C. Tuttle, but that’s about it.

Things pick up, though, with “Whispering Knives” by C.K. Shaw, a novelette with another old plot, the hunt for the pieces of a treasure map that was split up among the prospectors who discovered a mother lode of gold, but Shaw has a nice hardboiled style that makes it a readable yarn. The four short stories that follow are even better: “Old Renegade” by Earl C. McCain concerns the hunt for a wild, killer bull in the South Texas brush country, with some rustling thrown in for good measure; “The Six-Gun Payoff” by the always-dependable Gunnison Steele (really Bennie Gardner, father of the late Barry Gardner, who was known to many of you) is an effective short-short about the redemption of an old outlaw; “Snake Sign” by Walt Coburn (one of my favorite Western pulp authors) is a murder mystery, not too hard to figure out but fun; and “The Water Cure” by E.B. Brunt is a fairly realistic cattle baron vs. small ranchers yarn set in the 1920s.

The issue is wrapped up by another “novel”, “The Fifth Horseman” by James P. Olsen. Olsen, under the name James Lawson, wrote spicy, hardboiled detective yarns about Dallas Duane, a PI who works in the Western oilfields, and I really like the stories I’ve read from that series. “The Fifth Horseman” is a little more serious. Again, the plot is one that had whiskers even in 1934: a gang of old outlaws get together again to help an old friend from the owlhoot trail who has reformed and settled down. The hero is a young outlaw who had fallen in with them. Anybody who has read very many Westerns will know how this one is going to play out, but Olsen spins his tale with such enthusiasm, including a number of over-the-top action scenes, that I found it pretty entertaining. This is the first Western story I’ve read by him, but I wouldn’t hesitate to read more.

My copy of the pulp is coverless and I can't find a picture of it on-line, so I can’t post a cover scan. It came from the collection of Barry Gardner, who’s mentioned above. Barry collected hundreds of pulps that contained his dad’s stories, but he didn’t care that much about the condition, so many of them are brittle and coverless, like this issue. I don’t really care, either, as long as I can read them and enjoy the stories, and I have to say that despite a couple of clunkers, the August 1934 issue of LARIAT STORY is pretty darned good.

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