Friday, July 27, 2012

Forgotten Books: Ramrod - Walt Coburn

Originally published in 1960, this is one of Coburn's later novels. It's the story of Johnny Lee and Ed Mullins, the only survivors from a violent feud between two Texas families. Lawman Joe Parbury, who knew both families, turns in his badge, takes the boys to raise, and moves to Arizona to start a ranch. As Johnny and Ed grow up, the hatred between them (which Coburn implies is inherited) grows stronger despite Parbury's efforts to raise them as brothers. The young men conceal that hatred from the outside world, though, and appear tobe the best of friends. Until both of them fall for the same girl.

The plot twists and turns with the usual Coburn revelations from the characters' past. The theme that runs through most of Coburn's work is that dark secrets from the past never stay hidden forever but inevitably work their way to the surface and cause trouble for characters in the present. No other writer I've read is so obsessed with this idea, with the possible exception of Ross Macdonald. Sometimes Coburn's plots get so convoluted that they border on the ridiculous; in other books, such as this one, everything comes together and works very well, producing an ending that's quite satisfying, if a little maudlin.

Another appealing thing about this book is that it's a modern Western (relatively speaking) set in the 1920s or '30s, and much of it has to do with the world of professional rodeo, with which Coburn was obviously very familiar. He doesn't dwell on this background, but there's enough of it to give the book an added dimension from the usual Western novel. This is a good solid yarn, and very entertaining.


Ron Scheer said...

Good review. From the sound of it, the girl that comes between the two boys is the problem. It's a theme I find often in western movies...I enjoy western novels set in the 1930s. Currently reading LONESOME ANIMALS, which gets a lot of mileage out of that convergence of western characters and the Great Depression.

George said...

I have a fistful of Walt Coburn westerns. Time to read one after this fine review!

Steve Lewis said...

While I've read plenty of Walt Coburn stories from the pulps, I'm like George. I've never read one of his paperback westerns, and I have a fistful too. I hate to admit it, but it's been a while since I read a western paperback, by anyone. I enjoyed your review enough that maybe this is the kick in the butt I need.