Friday, September 12, 2008

Forgotten Books: The Hottest Fourth of July in the History of Hangtree County -- Clifton Adams

A lot of Western authors have written Fourth of July novels. It’s a situation with a lot of built-in dramatic possibilities: hot weather, small town, lots of people crowded in, etc. I believe Harry Whittington’s well-regarded Gold Medal Western SADDLE THE STORM is a Fourth of July novel. Not sure because it’s been a lot of years since I read it. I even wrote one myself, in the Abilene series. I think it was THE PISTOLEER. It’s been a lot of years since I wrote it.

THE HOTTEST FOURTH OF JULY IN THE HISTORY OF HANGTREE COUNTY is Clifton Adams’ entry in this little sub-genre, and it’s a good one. The title itself is an ironic joke, because, as it’s explained in the novel, Hangtree County is only three years old. The book is set in Oklahoma in 1892, three years after the territory was opened for settlement. All the action takes place in one day, which places the novel in another sub-genre I like, books with a compressed time span.

Marshal Ott Gillman is getting too old to be a lawman, or at least he thinks he is. His deputy is another old-timer, even though he’s still known as Kid Fulmer, just as he was when he was a young outlaw in Texas before going straight. They make a good pair, both still more capable than they think they are, but this Fourth of July tests their ability to keep law and order because of all the outsiders coming into town for the celebration. Not everyone is in town because of the holiday, though. Some of them show up because of an old grudge against Marshal Gillman, and violence threatens to break out along with the festivities.

This isn’t a Grand Hotel sort of book with a lot of interweaving storylines, as Adams keeps the focus on Ott Gillman and the danger facing him, as well as several moral dilemmas the marshal has to grapple with. The pace is deliberate, even slow, for most of the book, but the occasional scenes of violence are sudden and brutal and effective. Anybody who thinks that all Westerns are just shoot-em-ups should read a book like this, which is almost all characterization and mood. Everything leads up to a very suspenseful climax.

I haven’t read much by Adams, nothing in years, really, but I recall reading and liking several of the books in his Amos Flagg series, which he wrote under the pseudonym Clay Randall. Those were also town-set books about a local lawman. Based on his spare, hardboiled style and his sure touch with character and plot in this book, which reminded me of the work of Lewis B. Patten and Ed Gorman, I need to read more by him. (Adams also wrote several well-regarded crime novels for Gold Medal and Ace. I have those and plan to get to them soon.)


August West said...

My exposure to Clifton Adams was mainly through his crime noir fiction. Then I start reading his Gold Medal Westerns, advancing to later Westerns-"The Last Days of Wolf Garnett", "The Badge and Harry Gole." etc... James, never knew about this one - I have no idea how many Westerns he authored, but it seems there are more than I thought.
I have always enjoyed his work!

Thanks for the tip about the pseudonym Clay Randall- I never knew....


Ed Gorman said...

A Partnership With Death and The Most Dangerous Profession are two of my favorites Adams novels. The first is particularly bleak and hardboiled. His best work stands with the best of his generation. At least for me. His best work also reflects the real west as opposed to the mythic west, something I admire.

Juri said...

I've read this and remember enjoying it very much.

Anonymous said...

I have read this book along with many other Adams books and like them a lot. Some of the ones that stand out in my memory are The Most Dangerous Profession, Hard Times and Arnie Smith, and Hassle and the Medicine Man. Of the books I have read it seems that his latter books, published in hardback by Doubleday are the best. I also like the settings of his books. A lot of them are in Oklahoma and North Texas. I believe that Adams was from Oklahoma. I have recommended him several times to people in the western section of used book stores and I am glad to see that someone other than me still reads him.


Anonymous said...

One day: two 'new' authors to be on the lookout for (the other was Leigh Brackett, written up by August West today). Thanks.

As I have lamented on my own blog, it's too bad the business model of Gold Medal and Ace are gone. Would be fun to do for westerns what Hard Case Crime is doing for crime fiction.