Friday, September 20, 2013

Forgotten Books: The Black Bulls - John Benteen (Ben Haas)

One of the things that sets the Fargo series apart from other Western series is that author Ben Haas makes Neal Fargo a globe-trotting character. Fargo's adventures take him all over the world, from Panama to the Philippines, from Alaska to Argentina. That's where he is in THE BLACK BULLS, riding across the pampas, hanging out with gauchos, and learning how to use a bolas as he tries to recover a herd of valuable bulls used in breeding stock for bullfights.

Another thing that appeals to me about the Fargo series is that he's an expert in just about anything. In the last of these books I read, WOLF'S HEAD, he works as a lumberjack and can top trees like an old hand at the job. In THE BLACK BULLS, Haas explains that when Fargo was a young man he worked for a short time as a bullfighter's apprentice, so he's highly skilled in a bull ring, too. Having Fargo turn out to be an expert in whatever he needs to do in order to survive is a very pulpish touch and reminds me of Doc Savage. It's a testimony to Haas's skill as a writer that he makes all this utterly believable. If he says Fargo can be a toreador and survive in the ring against a killer bull, that's fine with me.

This series also reminds me a little of Ian Fleming's James Bond books. There's always a larger-than-life villain who torments Fargo before they wind up facing each other in a final showdown, even though they lack the colorful names that Fleming always tagged on his bad guys. Of course, with a larger-than-life hero, you've got to have a matching adversary for him. In this case it's German agent Wilhelm von Stahl, who is taking over ranches in Argentina to provide beef for the German army. (This book is set in 1917, right after the United States enters World War I.) Von Stahl is a Prussian dueling master, so you know he and Fargo are going to face off in a swordfight sooner or later. It's a good one, too. As is this entire book, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Fargo is one of the finest high adventure series ever written. I've said it before, but if you haven't read any of them, you really should.

UPDATE: Here's the cover for the forthcoming Picadilly Publishing reprint of this book.


BV Lawson said...

Thanks for our review, James! I'm hosting the FFB links for Patti Abbott today, but she'll be back next week for Patricia Highsmith day - and as I noted to Evan Lewis, she did write for Western Comics in the 40s, I believe.

Nik Morton said...

Thanks, James for this. I've got Piccadilly's first Fargo, but judging by this review I should be getting a lot more!

Anonymous said...

Thanks to your (multiple) recommendations of the Fargo series, I picked up a few books a week or so ago, reading the first one now. Enjoying it so far. Personality-wise, he reminds me a bit of Parker -- so much so that I'm kinda surprised no one mentions it in all the reviews I've read online. Taciturn manner, super-competent, relentlessly practical almost to the point of amorality -- all very Parker-like. And the Lee Marvin connection is a bonus:)

Richard Prosch said...

Also like the Bond stories, Fargo often gets to lead men into a spectacular final confrontation with the villain -- explosions included! Great stuff.

Juri said...

I remember reading this and liking it a great deal.

Jack Badelaire said...

I just posted my review of the first Fargo book over at Post-Modern Pulps. What a ride! I can't wait for further volumes to be released.