Saturday, October 17, 2015

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Trails, February 1935

This is a Western pulp that I own and read recently, so I can talk about the stories for a change. That's a cover scan from the actual copy I read, as well. Art by Delos Palmer Jr. Thanks to Bill Crider for sending this one to me.

This one leads off with a full-length "novel" (more of a novella, really) by Frederick C. Davis, best known as the creator and author of the novels in the Operator #5 series, as well as the Moon Man yarns from 10 DETECTIVE ACES. It's part of Davis's series about Duke Buckland, which ran for twenty stories in WESTERN TRAILS from 1934 to 1937. Buckland is a wanted outlaw who goes under the name Black Jack Spade, but he's really a good guy despite having the law after him. His young partner is Kit McCane. Buckland's trademark is leaving a jack of spades behind every time he kills a villain or eludes a sheriff, but in "Colt Queen", he and McCane run up against a female bandit calling herself the Queen of Spades who always leaves one of those behind as her calling card. She's really the beautiful but dangerous Dell Clanton, and she has reasons of her own for luring Buckland into a trap. I don't think Davis was quite as comfortable with Westerns as he was with the superspy sagas in OPERATOR #5—this yarn is a little repetitive in both plot and language—but there's plenty of nice action, Buckland and McCane are likable heroes, and Dell Clanton turns out to be a pretty interesting character. This is the only Duke Buckland story I've ever read, but I wouldn't hesitate to dive in to another one if I came across it.

"Maverick Law" is the first thing I've read by Francis P. Verzani, not a well-known Western pulp author at all, although he was fairly prolific in the early to mid-Thirties. This novelette combines a couple of familiar plots, the child-raised-by-outlaws story and the save-the-ranch story. It's told in a nice, breezy style and has plenty of action, but it's really predictable, has too much "yuh mangy polecat" dialect, and never rises above the level of just okay.

Clyde A. Warden is another writer whose work I haven't encountered until now. When I looked at the first page of "Double-Barreled Decoy", his novella in this issue, I got excited for a minute because under his byline it said "Author of Clan of the Coltmen". This caught my attention because "Coltmen" (or "Coltman") is an oddball word frequently used by one of my favorite Western pulp authors, J. Edward Leithead. I've seen it only one or two other times in stories by other authors. Also, the name Clyde A. Warden reminded me a little of Wilson L. Covert, Leithead's most common pseudonym. So I thought at first I might have uncovered another Leithead pen-name.

However, upon reading the story, I'm convinced that it's not by Leithead after all, and the mystery of who Clyde A. Warden really was remains. (Of course, he actually could have been Clyde A. Warden, whose byline appeared frequently in Western pulps for more than twenty years.) "Double-Barreled Decoy" is part of his long-running Bert Little series, which appeared in WESTERN TRAILS from 1930 to 1938, with at least 69 stories featuring the stalwart hero. Bert Little's background really isn't clear in this one, but it's obvious he's some sort of freelance good guy. At the request of a lawman friend, he takes on the job of bringing outlaw Harry Baxter to justice. That task is complicated by the presence of a beautiful young woman who may be Bert's best friend or his deadliest enemy, he's not sure which.

Unlike the Verzani story, "Double-Barreled Decoy" is written in clean, fast-moving prose with good action scenes and some emotional depth. The plot may be fairly standard stuff, but Warden does a fine job with it and left me thoroughly entertained. I'd definitely like to read more of his work.

"Branded in Lead" by the ubiquitous (at least in the Western pulps) Larry A. Harris is the story of a man who takes up the owlhoot trail when the girl he loves chooses his half-brother over him. This one has a lot of scope for a short story, covering almost a decade in time, and it's written in Harris's smooth prose, as usual. The ending is a little lacking, but overall I liked it.

Not surprisingly since it was written by James P. Olsen, another of my favorites, I thought the novelette "Trigger Tempest" was excellent. It's a cattlemen vs. sheepmen story, an ancient plot but well-handled by Olsen, even though the hero's name, Burnin' Cole, is a bit groan-inducing. Fine action scenes, though.

The last story in the issue is "Gun Smith of Tonca" by Joe Archibald, who wrote detective stories, aviation yarns, and sports stories in addition to a lot of Westerns. Since he was a veteran pulpster, you'd expect the prose to be smooth and readable, and it is. The plot, about the aftermath of a stagecoach robbery, is fairly complex for a short story, with a couple of nice twists. This is another entertaining tale.

All in all, this is a fine issue of WESTERN TRAILS, never one of the top pulps but a consistently good one. The stories range from fair to excellent, and I really enjoyed reading it.

UPDATE: Will Murray advises me that Clyde A. Warden was that author's real name. Thanks, Will! I need to find more of Warden's stories.


Bruce Harris said...

Amazing, high quality entertainment for the price of 15 cents!

Ed Gorman said...

Davis is one of my favorite pulpsters. Did not know he wrote any westerns. Thanks for the information, James.

James Reasoner said...

Davis wrote quite a few Westerns, including another series in WESTERN TRAILS about a character called The Jingling Kid, as well as some of the Jim-Twin Allen series under the name Hal Dunning. (I think Dunning was a real guy, but a lot of the stuff under his name was ghosted.)

Unknown said...

Glad you enjoyed it.

Ed Gorman said...

Thanks for the information, James. Davis waste busy guy.

S. Craig Zahler said...

Thanks for the detailed review. I enjoy reading story-by-story breakdowns of pulps, especially when they are critical and well written, as is you review. Keep 'em coming!