Friday, June 04, 2010

Forgotten Books: Lawless Guns - Dudley Dean

Lawless Guns
The protagonist of this novel, Chase Iverton, has chosen a tough path for himself. Following the Civil War, Chase, a Texan who fought for the Union, returns to his ranch in the Big Bend county of West Texas, finds himself surrounded by former friends who now despise him as a turncoat, and makes things even worse for himself by marrying the daughter of his late father’s worst enemy. It’s no wonder that as the novel opens, a mob wants to tar and feather Chase. That’s hardly the worst thing that happens to him before LAWLESS GUNS is over, though.

Dudley Dean (real name Dudley Dean McGaughey, who also wrote Westerns as Dean Owen, Bret Sanders, and assorted other pen-names) was one of those authors who really liked to torment his heroes. This book is no different, as Chase Iverton has to deal with rustlers, Mexican revolutionaries, and a wife he may or may not be able to trust. McGaughey piles troubles on his head until it seems impossible for Chase to overcome the odds against him, but somehow, he’s tough enough to do so, even though he’s hardly the superheroic figure you find in some Western novels. McGaughey also throws in a plot twist or two that I wasn’t expecting.

McGaughey belongs in the same group of hardboiled Western authors who came to prominence in the genre in the Forties and Fifties: Lewis B. Patten, H.A. De Rosso, Giles Lutz, and William Heuman, to name a few. He could be as gritty as any of them, and the climax of this novel is pretty dark and harrowing, especially for a book published in 1959. There’s very little heroic about it, but it sure is effective.

I really admire McGaughey. For more than thirty years, he worked steadily in the paperback field, in addition to his Westerns turning out hardboiled mysteries as Dudley Dean, John Dudley, and Hodge Evans, plus the occasional movie novelization, TV tie-in, or hardboiled sleaze novel. If you haven’t read his work, LAWLESS GUNS would be as good a place to start as any, but really, I’ve never read a book under his various pseudonyms that I didn’t enjoy.


pattinase (abbott) said...

I can easily see this plot in crime fiction if you take away the horses and throw in a city street.

Anonymous said...

I'll add this one to my Westerns TBR list. Thank you, James. I recently read a Donald Hamilton originally published by Gold Medal, I believe. Maybe they were contemporaries.

Ed Lynskey

James Reasoner said...

Hamilton and McGaughey were indeed contemporaries, Ed. McGaughey started selling to the Western pulps in the mid-Thirties, which means he broke in about a decade before Hamilton, but he continued to write well up into the Seventies.

George said...

I've had a fistful of Dudley Dean books on my shelves for years. Time to read one after your excellent review!

Chap O'Keefe said...

Read one, George? Read 'em all! I wish I had more on my own shelves. Don't forget -- late in his career McGaughey ghosted most of the Lassiter books by Loren Zane Grey. There's a helpful checklist at
Thanks to James, Steve Lewis, Victor Berch and Bill Pronzini.

Evan Lewis said...

I see a lot of Dean Owen stuff. Was that his busiest Western pen name? As for "Dudley Dean", that seems the opposite of a hardboiled pseudonym.

James Reasoner said...

Yes, he wrote about three times as many Western novels as Dean Owen than he did as Dudley Dean, his second most prolific pen name. The other pseudonyms were used on short-run series. Plus there were dozens of stories in the Western pulps by-lined Dean Owen.

I agree with you about the Dudley Dean name.