Friday, November 02, 2012

Forgotten Books: Flint - Gil Dodge (Arnold Hano)

Whenever a book comes out of nowhere for me, when I read a book I'd never even heard of and find that it's spectacularly good, these days that book often comes from Stark House. That's the case with FLINT, a Western originally published in 1957 under the by-line Gil Dodge. The real author behind that name is Arnold Hano, perhaps best known as the editor of the influential paperback house Lion Books but also a fine writer himself. FLINT looks like a typical Fifties Western paperback, doesn't it?

Well, it isn't. Not hardly, to quote John Wayne in BIG JAKE.

The set-up isn't that unusual, though. The narrator, Flint, is a hired killer who has put up his gun and "retired" to a small farm in Arizona. He's living there under an assumed identity because he's wanted in any number of states and territories, and he's also living on borrowed time because he suffered a serious wound during a shootout with a posse several years earlier, and the lingering effects of that injury are sure to kill him at an early age.

Flint just wants to be left alone, but then a representative from a Colorado cattle baron shows up and threatens to expose his real identity to the law unless Flint travels to Colorado and kills a couple of men for the cattle baron. Reluctantly, Flint accepts the job.

That's a fairly standard plot opening, but Hano's fine writing elevates it. Flint is a compelling narrator, a well-read, well-spoken, deeply melancholy man. Despite that, you might think you know where this one is going.

Once Flint reaches Colorado, though, the story begins to take one unexpected turn after another. Not everything is what it appears to be, and after a while you start to wonder if Flint himself is the person he seemed to be at first. Hano peels away the layers of deception slowly and carefully, and FLINT becomes a classic novel of lust, murder, and bleak desperation, as much so as any of the Gold Medals, Dells, etc., from the same era.

This is one of the best Western noir novels I've ever read. In its style, in its characters, in the risks it attempts (and pulls off), FLINT is remarkable. I give it a very high recommendation, and luckily you can read it in the new Stark House volume in which it's included, 3 STEPS TO HELL, which also includes the novels SO I'M A HEEL (originally published under the name Mike Heller) and THE BIG OUT. I'll be getting to them pretty soon, I expect.


Peter Brandvold said...

Great review, James. I have the book on order.

I wish Stark House would reprint Gil Brewer's only western, SOME MUST DIE. I'd like to read that, too, but all the old paperbacks are over 25 bucks.


Paul Bishop said...

Okay, you sold me. Ordering it up now ...

Kent Morgan said...

Is that the same Arnold Hano who wrote the baseball book, A Day in the Bleachers?

George said...

I'm ordering it, too! Sounds great!

James Reasoner said...

Yes, the same Arnold Hano. I hadn't heard of A DAY IN THE BLEACHERS, but the intro in 3 STEPS TO HELL talks about it, and it sounds so intriguing I may have to see if I can find a copy.

Todd Mason said...

Hano did good things at Lion, and I'd heard his writing's praises sung before, but I don't think I've read his work (unless camouflaged, of course).

Stark House probably deserves some more of my money.

Walker Martin said...

A DAY IN THE BLEACHERS is a baseball classic and was written in 1955. It gives an account of a game in the 1954 world series between the New York Giants and the Cleveland Indians. Hano decided at the last minute to attend the game and the book describes his experience which includes seeing Willie Mays stupendous catch.

It just shows how times have changed. In 1955 it was possible to get an inexpensive ticket to a world series game. Now the tickets are over $100 plus I heard even some parking was a hundred bucks.

Kent Morgan said...

I was disappointed when I finally got a copy of A Day in the Bleachers from a friend a few years ago. It didn't live up to the hype. As for World Series tickets, I paid $120 for a seat in row 7 of the left field stands at Tropicana Field for the first game of the 2008 Series between the Rays and Phillies. The guy who gave me the book told me last week that a friend of his son had paid more than $200 for a seat in the upper deck at Yankee Stadium during this year's playoff series between the Yankees and Tigers. I believe ticket prices these days are set by Major League Bsseball not the teams.