Saturday, March 26, 2016

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Triple Western, December 1952

I’ve grown increasingly fond of novellas and short novels as I get older (the result of less time to read and a dwindling attention span, I suspect), so it makes sense I’d like TRIPLE WESTERN, a pulp devoted to them. Recently I pulled the December 1952 issue off my shelves and read it, and as expected, I had a fine time doing so. The scan, as usual, is from the copy I read.

The issue leads off with Frank Castle’s “Brothers in Blood”, which is really the only story long enough to be called a novel. I estimate it’s around 40,000 words. It starts off as a standard range war plot, with the villain out to take over the ranch owned by brothers Saul and Hal Baxter. Saul and Hal really don’t get along that well, but they share a determination to hang on to their spread.

From that typical opening, Castle brings in some surprises, including some long-buried family secrets reminiscent of Ross Macdonald and a pair of overlapping romantic triangles. His distinctive style, which is really dominant in the Lassiter novels he wrote as Jack Slade, is already somewhat on display with its missing verbs, odd tenses, and abundance of commas. Castle makes it work, though, and the story just races along in very entertaining fashion. I enjoyed this one a lot.

Steuart Emery had a long and prolific career in the pulps, dating back to 1919, although he seems to be mostly forgotten today. For the first three decades of his career, he produced primarily war and aviation stories, with a few detective yarns thrown in. By the Fifties, though, he was writing mostly cavalry stories for various Western pulps in the Thrilling Group, like this issue’s novella “Apache Dawn”. I’d read some of Emery’s stories in TEXAS RANGERS and recall liking them, so it’s no surprise I enjoyed this one, too.

Emery is a very traditional plotter, so don’t look for many surprises in his stories. “Apache Dawn” makes use of the old “frontier-seasoned officer vs. by-the-book officer from back east” plot, with a romantic triangle thrown in as well. It plays out just about as you’d expect, but Emery writes so well the predictability doesn’t matter much. The numerous battle scenes are excellent, and the beleaguered hero is very likable. There’s a surprisingly good heroine in this story, too, who definitely doesn’t fade into the background as sometimes happens in Western pulp yarns. Overall, “Apache Dawn” is a suspenseful and very effective tale. I was impressed enough I ordered a copy of one of Emery’s air war novels, since I’ve never read anything except his Westerns.

About thirty years ago I went on a Luke Short binge, reading a couple dozen of his novels in fairly short order. These days I still read one now and then, or one of his pulp novellas like “Lead Won’t Lie” in this issue. It’s a reprint from the September 9, 1939 issue of WESTERN STORY. Short, whose real name was Frederick Glidden, usually had a hardboiled tone to his stories, and this one is no different. Jim Hutchins is the only survivor of a violent frontier feud, and when he drifts to a different part of the country and starts a ranch in partnership with another man, trouble soon crops up again when Jim’s partner is murdered and he’s framed for the killing.

As it turns out, that’s not the last murder Jim is framed for, as the plot of “Lead Won’t Lie” becomes pretty complicated. Not Erle Stanley Gardner-complicated, mind you, but still pretty complex for a traditional action Western. Glidden does a good job with that action, too, as Jim Hutchins has to unravel the scheme and expose the real killers in order to save his own hide.

This issue wraps up with an 8-page short story by another master of the genre, Gordon D. Shirreffs. “Gun Runners of the Gila” is a fairly early effort from Shirreffs, but it has the great hardboiled action scenes he’s famous for. The plot concerns a man who’s trying to find out who’s responsible for a wagon train massacre in which his brother died. The story feels a little rushed—there’s enough plot to have supported a novelette—but it’s still quite enjoyable.

From start to finish, this is a fine issue of TRIPLE WESTERN. If you own a copy or happen to run across one, it’s well worth reading.

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