Friday, August 02, 2013

Forgotten Books: Wolf's Head - John Benteen (Ben Haas)

This entry in Ben Haas's superb Fargo series finds soldier of fortune Neal Fargo in the Pacific Northwest. As a favor to his old friend, former president Theodore Roosevelt, Fargo signs on to help a timber company get a huge shipment of logs downriver to Puget Sound. A rival company will stop at nothing, up to and including sabotage and murder, to stop that from happening. But the bad guys hadn't reckoned on Fargo.

If you want to learn something about logging in the early 20th Century, this is the book for you. Haas obviously knew a lot about the subject and communicates it in clear, easy to understand prose. This is no dry educational tract, though, because Haas mixes in the background with plenty of action scenes, and nobody, with the possible exception of Robert E. Howard, ever wrote action btter than Ben Haas. Shootouts, epic fistfights, a desperate duel with axes, large scale gun battles, forest fires, and millions of tons of logs rampaging down a flooded river . . . well, you get the idea.

And of course I loved every bit of it. The Fargo series is one of my all-time favorites. My only quibble about it is that Haas spends a little too much time in each book filling in Fargo's background and going over the weapons he carries. But that's a very minor point. The offbeat settings and plots, the relentless pace, and the smooth, action-packed prose much more than make up for it. Great stuff, and if you haven't read any of the Fargo books, you should.


Anonymous said...

You are right, this is a fine Fargo.
There's a scene where our hardbitten hero uses a bit of logging equipment as a lethal weapon that jumped out at me, and the climax is one of the author's best, but the whole book really satisfies the craving for pulp action and thrills.

And you're right about the logging stuff, too.
Haas had a great, and veiled, skill at filling his short, fast novels with historical detail. If a reader takes the time to check some of the things Haas mentions in passing (guns, cigarettes, etc, even colorful characters only glimpsed for a paragraph or two) they are almost always historically accurate. No mean feat for a guy writing several novels a year in the time before the internet.

I'm still working my way through the Fargo and Sundance series, but hit a wall when I came to the books from 1973-1974 that were not written by Haas. To put it politically, they do not compare well. At all.
Did anybody ever learn who wrote the three Fargo novels done when Haas quit?

John Hocking

James Reasoner said...

Lynn Munroe speculates that "John W. Hardin" might be Norman Rubington, who wrote the Sundance novel THE COMANCHEROS under that name. I've never read any of the "Hardin" Fargo novels, but I've read THE COMANCHEROS and it's odd, to say the least, and not very good.

Howard Andrew Jones said...

Ah, a fine entry in the series. Really, I couldn't say that there were any bad Fargos. All were good and some were superb. Sundance had a couple of mediocre entries, but its highs were just as satisfying as those from the Fargo books.

I'm very, very glad Hocking led me to Haas, who has become one of my favorite writers.

RJR said...

Fargo is absolutely my favorite Western series of all time. And maybe my favorite series in any genre. Haas also did Sundance, which I didn't like, as much.


wayne d. dundee said...

I agree on all counts. I always liked the Fargo series immensely, never could get into Sundance.
I agree, too, that the "reviews" of Fargo's weapons and background in each and every flippin' book got a little tiresome ... On the other hand, the part of me who went through some journalist training, appreciates that a writer should always assume that he is reaching a reader for the first time and therefore owes sufficient background on that which he is writing about. It bugs me almost as much when an extremely popular writer like, say, Robert B. Parker would start a book with (as an example): "I was sitting in my office and Hawk walked in" ... and then proceed with some dialogue and the set-up of the story. What office? Who is Hawk? Who is "I"? Of course, because Parker was/is so extremely popular we all knew the answers. Still, that kind of thing always seems a bit presumptious to me ... In the end, I guess I prefer Benteen's little "reviews" of Fargo and his weapons. After all, it's not like they really got in the way of plenty of slam-bang action.

Jack Badelaire said...

I'd seen these here and there over the years, but you've convinced me to pick this particular Fargo title up - Amazon had a Very Good quality used copy for $3 plus S&H.