Friday, January 23, 2015

Forgotten Books: Rustler of the Owlhorns - Jim O'Mara (Vernon L. Fluharty)

This book begins by dropping us right in the middle of the problems faced by rancher Clay Tennant. Clay's brother Frank has inherited the family ranch following their father's death, leaving Clay with only a single section of land where he's trying to build up a herd. Naturally, this results in a lot of friction between the brothers. On the side, Clay works for Parr Battles and Ed Blount, owners of the Trans-Mountain Cattle and Land Company, which provides beef for the Indian reservations in the area. But Battles and Blount are involved in a crooked deal with the Indian agent, and Clay's brother Frank is part of it. When Clay finds out about it, the conspirators take action to see that he can't ruin their scheme. Almost before Clay knows what's going on, he finds himself framed for rustling and then murder. The rest of this book concerns his efforts to extricate himself from this deadly situation, while also being torn between his beautiful but selfish fiancee and the neighboring rancher's daughter (also beautiful, but tomboyish) who has always secretly loved him.

I really went back and forth in my reactions to this book. After getting off to a nice running start, the plot then takes forever to develop, and many of the elements, such as the romantic triangle, are stereotypical and predictable, even allowing for the time period. A couple of other minor annoyances, both relating to the women, are that except for a slight variation in hair color, they're described in almost the same words, and Fluharty has a habit of referring to their "small faces", which bothered me for some reason.

However, the action scenes are well-handled, and during the second half of the book, Fluharty succeeds in creating some genuine suspense regarding the outcome. He tightens the screws so much on his hero that I really had to wonder how Clay was going to get out of his troubles. The resolution is maybe a little far-fetched, but believable enough that I bought it. I wound up enjoying the second half of the book enough to more than balance out its predictability and lapses in style.

Here are some review quotes from the paperback edition:

"There is no relaxation of tension in the writing of this Western. The author pictures his characters strong and real, the action fast and rough. The book will please Western fans." -- Wichita Eagle

"The reader of Westerns is, or should be by now, quite well adjusted to villains of assorted degrees of perfidy, but Jim O'Mara's RUSTLER OF THE OWLHORNS introduces a skunk who takes all medals and silver casters for slick-as-grease skunkiness. A cracking good plot. Grade A from soda to hock." -- NY Times

"Two feuding brothers, a disputed will, a mercurial lass, and a murder bring plenty of excitement to the U Bar Ranch." -- Oakland Tribune

"There is action aplenty in this one, a good twisty plot, and a minimum of gunplay. One thing you can certainly say for this writer--each of his yarns shows a steady improvement." -- Hoofs and Horns

Somehow, I don't think many of the current reviewers for the New York Times use expressions like "from soda to hock".

1 comment:

George said...

If there's a "mercurial lass" in the story, I'm interested!