This is another fine early novel by Lewis B. Patten. It opens in the middle of the action, as Matt Springer, the foreman of the vast Fortress Ranch, is about to lead his men into the dreaded Outlaw Canyon in an attempt to recover a herd of rustled cattle. What makes this even more difficult than it would be otherwise is the fact that the rustlers were led by Wes Knudson, the son of Fortress’s elderly owner Chris Knudson – who also happens to be like a father to Matt.
Other than Ed Gorman and H.A. DeRosso, no Western author puts his characters through more emotional torture and turmoil than Lewis B. Patten. In OUTLAW CANYON, after setting the scene Patten launches into a series of flashbacks that establish why Wes Knudson hates his father so much that he’ll lead a gang of outlaws against him. The plot, which involves adultery, murder, and general mayhem, is gritty to say the least, and as is often the case in a Patten novel, there are some sex scenes that are pretty graphic for the era, since OUTLAW CANYON was published in 1961. All of it leads up to the expected big showdown at the end.
Veteran Western readers probably won’t be surprised at any of the plot twists in this book, but odds are they’ll be entertained. Patten’s prose is tough and fast-paced and there’s plenty of action. Despite the fact that his books always have relatively positive endings, his vision of the West is a consistently bleak one, and the characters who manage to achieve happiness usually pay a high price to do so. Most of his books are well worth reading, and OUTLAW CANYON certainly falls into that category.