Our old pards Hashknife Hartley and Sleepy Stevens return in
THE MYSTERY OF THE RED TRIANGLE. As usual in these novels, author W.C. Tuttle
spends the first quarter of the book setting up the situation before his
wandering pair of range detectives come on the scene. People in the cowtown of
Cherokee and the surrounding area are living in fear because of the Red
Triangle gang, a trio of mysterious killers who have committed several
apparently senseless murders, always leaving behind a grisly calling card: a triangle
drawn in the victim's own blood, either on the body or some nearby surface.
This reign of terror goes back a year, and the local sheriff and deputy haven't
been able to find the killers.
The latest murder, that of a saloon owner who was bashed over the head and then
had his safe cleaned out—and a red triangle drawn on the door—seems to
represent a break in the case, however. The evidence points to Jack Dean, a
wild young cowboy who's the son of an area rancher. Jack was heavily in debt to
the saloonkeeper, and now he's disappeared, leading folks to think that he's
gone on the run after committing the crime.
This is Tuttle's cue to have Hashknife and Sleepy amble into the area. They're
on the trail of a thief who stole Hashknife's horse, but they soon find
themselves up to their necks in the mystery of the Red Triangle gang. As we all
know, Hashknife never could resist a mystery, so he sets out to expose the
killers, figure out the connection between the murders, and right all the
wrongs that have been plaguing the countryside.
This leads to several shootouts, a stagecoach holdup, an explosive bank
robbery, and a series of double-crosses and revelations that culminate in a
gathering of suspects reminiscent of what you might find in a Golden Age mystery
novel, although not quite that formal. I figured out who the mastermind was
before that point, but Tuttle kept me fooled for most of the novel.
Nobody writes quite like Tuttle, blending complicated crime plots and
hardboiled action with cornball humor, colorful characters, and a little
romance. THE MYSTERY OF THE RED TRIANGLE is a little less slapsticky than some
Tuttle yarns I've read, but his penchant for comic relief characters with goofy
names is in full force. This can get a little old, but watching Hashknife at
work more than makes up for it. He's a frontier Mike Shayne, always two steps
ahead of the other characters and three steps ahead of the reader. Sleepy is a
solid supporting character, too, and the friendship and banter between them is
one of the series' strong points.
This novel is on the short side, which makes me think it probably appeared
first in a pulp such as ADVENTURE or SHORT STORIES, two magazines where
Hashknife stories showed up with some regularity. I haven't been able to locate
anything to support that hunch, however. THE MYSTERY OF THE RED TRIANGLE isn't
in the top rank of Hashknife novels along with such books as HIDDEN BLOOD and
SHOTGUN GOLD, but it's still very entertaining and I had a great time reading
it. If you're a Tuttle fan and ever come across a copy, you definitely should