I’m always on the lookout for good, tough Western writers. Having read and enjoyed some of Giff Cheshire’s pulp stories, when I came across this novel by him I decided to give it a try. Set in Nevada, it’s a range war yarn. Wells Packwood, owner of the Clover Leaf spread, is trying to gobble up all the other ranches in the area. Pick Atherton buys the Mesa Ranch, knowing about Packwood’s plans but figuring he can hold off Packwood’s ambition. Packwood plays dirty, though, moving a family of nesters onto a spring and some range Atherton claims, then raiding the place, murdering the head of the family, and framing Atherton and his Mesa ranch hands for the crime.
If you’ve read very many Westerns, especially the ones published by Doubleday in the Fifties and Sixties, there won’t be much in the basic plot of this one that surprises you. It’s your basic “greedy rancher vs. tough hero who’s finally pushed too far” story. Cheshire does some nice things to set it apart, though. For one thing, there are three strong female characters in the book – Packwood’s wife, the wife of another rancher in the area, and the daughter of the nester who is murdered early on – and all of them have important parts to play in the plot. They’re some of the best-developed characters in the book as well, and I was surprised by how some of their plotlines played out. Cheshire spends a lot of time on his villains, too.
Which brings up the only real flaw in THE SUDDEN GUNS. For a guy who’s supposed to be the hero, Pick Atherton really isn’t “on-screen” much in the book and doesn’t have a lot to do except in the big showdown at the end (which is a good one). He remains something of a cipher as well, as the reader never learns much about him. But the good supporting cast makes up for that to a certain extent.
Giff Cheshire had a long, productive career as a Western writer, beginning in the pulps and producing hardback novels into the Seventies. In everything I’ve read by him, he has an enjoyably hardboiled style. THE SUDDEN GUNS doesn’t break any new ground, but it’s a solidly entertaining traditional Western and is worth reading for fans of that genre.