I'm probably fudging a little by writing about a book I had
a hand in, but the Cody's Law series is long out of print and probably won't
ever be reprinted, so it's pretty much forgotten. Besides, Bill mentioned this
book recently on an email group we both belong to, and I thought some of you
might be interested in it. Warning: this post is as much memoir as it is about
the book and has some behind-the-scenes stuff in it, so if that doesn't appeal
to you, feel free to move on. My feelings won't be hurt, I promise.
The Cody's Law series came about because the Western editor
at Bantam at the time had worked at Leisure earlier in his career and edited a
series of Westerns by Roe Richmond about a Texas Ranger named Lashtrow. Some of
you have probably read some of those books. Richmond must have been a believer
in the freelancer's adage, "Never throw anything away." Because those
Lashtrow novels were actually rewrites and expansions of novels that Richmond
wrote for the pulp magazine TEXAS RANGERS during the Fifties, featuring Ranger
Jim Hatfield. For the paperback version, Hatfield became "Lash"
Lashtrow, but the supporting characters all remained the same.
The Bantam editor approached an editor at Book Creations
Inc., the book packaging company I was doing a lot of work for at the time, and
asked BCI to come up with a Texas Ranger series similar to the Lashtrow books.
The editor at BCI was also an author and planned to write the first book in the
series, and he asked me if I would continue it from there. I agreed, of course,
since back then I never turned down work (I still don't turn it down very
often, and only when I just don't have time to do anything else). As it turned
out, the editor at BCI was too busy to write the book, so after doing an
outline and a couple of chapters he gave it to me and told me to use whatever I
wanted out of it. By this time he had mentioned the Roe Richmond/Lashtrow
connection to me and asked me if I was familiar with those books. I just said
that I was and didn't mention that I was very familiar with the original
versions, having read dozens of issues of TEXAS RANGERS including some of
Richmond's Jim Hatfield novels. I think I was the only one in this particular
loop aware of the true origin of the Lashtrow books.
So I kept the outline, rewrote the first couple of chapters
the editor had done, renamed the hero Sam Cody (I don't recall what his name
was in the first draft), and finished the book, going one step further back
than the Lashtrow books and basing my version very much on the Jim Hatfield
character from TEXAS RANGERS, while still trying to make him a distinctive
character in his own right, of course. Sam Cody was never a Jim Hatfield clone .
. . but I tried to get that same sort of Western pulp hero spirit into the
So time went by and I wrote the first six books in the
series, all published under the pseudonym Matthew S. Hart. I was doing a lot of
other work for BCI, and the editor got worried that the workload might be too
much for me. He wanted to bring in another author to write a couple of the
books. I wasn't real crazy about this idea. I felt like I could do it all (a
feeling that still gets me in trouble from time to time). But since BCI owned
the series I couldn't really object.
The editor also wanted me to team up with yet another author
on the other books, with me providing outlines and the other author doing first
drafts, which I would then edit and polish. The person he had in mind was Bill
Crider, who had written a couple of books for BCI.
Now, as it happens, Bill is my oldest friend in the writing
business and a fine author, so I was pretty pleased with this arrangement. The
first book we did together was #8 in the series, EAGLE PASS.
Which brings us to THE PRISONERS.
I've mentioned many times how Livia helps me with the plots
on some of my books. She wrote a half-page outline for the book that became THE
PRISONERS, which I developed into a much more detailed outline (the editors at
BCI loved detailed outlines). The plot involves Sam Cody having to fetch in a
prisoner from an isolated mansion on the West Texas plains during a freak
blizzard and ice storm. The family that lives in the mansion is . . . unusual,
to say the least, and gives Cody a lot of trouble as he tries to complete his
assignment, which is also complicated by the captured outlaw. So after a while
I started telling people that THE PRISONERS was the world's only
vampire/lesbian/cannibal/incest Western. Which as far as I know it is. I
believe that description is a little exaggerated, though, since I don't
remember them being vampires. But I suppose they could have been.
What's odd is that despite all those bizarre elements, I
think THE PRISONERS turned out to be a decent traditional Western with a
stalwart hero, a villainous outlaw, and plenty of ridin' and shootin'. I'm not
sure how we pulled all that together, but I believe we did.
On a related note, some years ago I was at a convention
where Elmer Kelton was the Guest of Honor, and I wound up with the job of doing
the GOH interview with him. During the interview I pointed out the rather
strange juxtaposition of having the man widely regarded as the world's greatest
living Western writer (and maybe the greatest Western writer of all time)
sharing the podium with the co-author of the world's only vampire/lesbian/cannibal/incest
Western. But hey, that's the writing business for you, isn't it? You never know
who you're going to wind up sitting next to.
Copies of THE PRISONERS, and all the other Cody's Law books,
can be found pretty cheaply on the Internet. I wrote #1 – 6, and Bill and I collaborated
on #8, 9, 11, and 12. I think they're all solid, entertaining Westerns.
One more side note: the contract was supposed to run through
#14, but after #12 had been turned in, Bantam told BCI they were cancelling the
series. In fact, they not only cancelled Cody's Law in mid-contract, they
cancelled the other three series I was working on for BCI at the same time,
effectively putting me out of work, a condition that didn't last long, thank
goodness. But for years after that whenever Livia and I got bad news, we would
groan and say, "Oh, no! We've been Bantamed!"