Friday, October 30, 2009

Forgotten Books: Secret of Death Valley - William Heuman

Hamp Cameron comes to Mormon, a town on the edge of Death Valley, looking for the gambler who seduced his sister and then abandoned her to die. That’s a book right there by itself, right? Not in the hands of William Heuman, who often begins a book where others would probably end it. Hamp Cameron’s vengeance quest becomes something else entirely, as he finds himself caught up in a war between two rival outfits hauling borax out of Death Valley.

When I was a kid, we always watched the TV show “Death Valley Days”, which was sponsored by Twenty Mule Team Borax. So I was a little familiar with this background before I read Heuman’s book. He doesn’t go into great detail about the borax industry, but he puts in enough to be interesting. There are also a couple of romantic triangles, some shootouts, and several brutal fistfights, all told in Heuman’s terse, hardboiled prose that reminds me of the work of Ben Haas, Dudley Dean McGaughey, Peter Germano, and Gordon D. Shirreffs.

I’ve read several of Heuman’s books and enjoyed them all. Since he started out in the pulps, he knew how to spin a yarn and keep the reader turning the pages, that’s for sure. True, his work is very traditional and, yes, predictable if you’ve read very many Westerns, but there are always a few unexpected touches along the way, too, and the little moments of poetry that often crop up in hardboiled fiction. SECRET OF DEATH VALLEY is a very entertaining novel, and I intend to read more of Heuman’s work soon.


pattinase (abbott) said...

How well I remember Death Valley Days. When I first saw the desert, I pictured it even more colorless than it was from the old shows.

Laurie Powers said...

I remember Death Valley Days too. How I loved that mule team.

Darrell Smith said...

Glad to see Heuman getting his due. I've always enjoyed his books. Back in my formative years, they helped turn me into a lifelong reader of westerns.

James Reasoner said...

When I was growing up, Saturday nights in our house meant Lawrence Welk, Have Gun Will Travel, Gunsmoke, and Death Valley Days. I'd like to watch some of those Death Valley Days episodes again. I'll bet they hold up well.

Heuman is really an underrated author. I've never read a book of his that wasn't good, and most are excellent.

Anonymous said...

Have you read Heuman's Guns at Broken Bow?
I have it, but haven't read it yet. It's a nice old Gold Medal with a real grabber of a cover.
You can see it here...

It's seventh down on the right.
Try not to get distracted by the other covers.
(heh, heh)
Just try.

John Hocking

James Reasoner said...


I have GUNS AT BROKEN BOW but haven't read it yet. I agree, that's a great cover. So are all the others on that page you mentioned. I've read a good number of the books, too.