Friday, October 07, 2016

Forgotten Books: The Comstock Lode - Tom Curry

THE RIO KID WESTERN has long been one of my favorite Western pulps. I discovered the Rio Kid character through paperback reprints published by Curtis Books during the Seventies, read many of those, and went on to collect and read quite a few of the original pulps. The Rio Kid is Captain Bob Pryor, former Union cavalry officer, who wanders through the West with his sidekick Celestino Mireles in the years following the Civil War, getting into all sorts of adventures. The “gimmick”, if you will, of this series is that the novels are placed in historical settings and always feature historical characters in supporting roles.

THE COMSTOCK LODE is an early Rio Kid novel from the October 1940 issue of the magazine, although I read it in the Curtis Books paperback edition. That's my copy in the scan. The Kid and Celestino throw in with a group of immigrants whose wagon train has been attacked by Apaches and then travel on with them to the silver mining boomtown of Virginia City, Nevada, where the pilgrims hope to find their fortunes. Things don’t work out that way, largely due to the evil villainy of a gang of killers known as the Night Riders (not a very original name for a gang of pulp villains . . . but hey, I once wrote a book called THE NIGHT RIDERS, so who am I to talk?). Real-life mining engineer Adolph Sutro puts in an appearance, as do the Apache chief Victorio, army scout Al Sieber, and none other than former Virginina City journalist Samuel Clemens, already famous as Mark Twain. After a lot of riding and shooting and being framed for murder, the Kid exposes the hidden mastermind behind all the trouble and with some help from his friends cleans out the Night Riders.

I think I read this one thirty-some-odd years ago, but I didn’t remember anything about the plot, which doesn’t really matter because it’s pretty predictable anyway. I don’t read books like this for the plot, though. I read them for the same reason I watch B-Western movies: they make me feel like a kid again. Stalwart heroes, despicable villains, and action, action, action. Of course, it helps if the writing is good, too, and it certainly is in THE COMSTOCK LODE. The author, Tom Curry, created the series and wrote more of the novels than anyone else, although other authors, most notably Walker Tompkins, penned some excellent Rio Kid yarns along the way. Curry had a long, prolific career as a pulpster. A former journalist, he got his start writing hardboiled crime tales that were good enough to crack the leading magazine in the field, BLACK MASK. By the mid-Thirties he had become a steady member of editorial director Leo Margulies’ authors stable at Ned Pines’ Thrilling Group. Curry not only created and wrote the Rio Kid, he was one of the regular authors of Jim Hatfield novels in TEXAS RANGERS under the house-name Jackson Cole, ultimately contributing 55 Hatfield novels, the same number as series creator A. Leslie Scott. Curry also wrote novels for the other two Thrilling Group Western character pulps, THE MASKED RIDER WESTERN and RANGE RIDERS WESTERN, along with countless stand-alone novellas and short stories.

As the pulp era wound down in the Fifties, Curry retired from writing to work in industry, but in the Sixties he returned to writing for Leo Margulies again, turning out several of the Buck Duane novellas that Margulies’ Renown Publications published in the digest ZANE GREY’S WESTERN MAGAZINE under the house-name Romer Zane Grey. After writing so many Jim Hatfield novels, these novellas featuring a lone wolf Texas Ranger must have come pretty easily to Curry. During this period he also ghosted one of the Walt Slade paperback novels for his old stablemate Les Scott, under the name Bradford Scott, and wrote two of the Sundance novels under the house-name Jack Slade, RENEGADE and HONCHO. I’ve always found Curry to be a dependably entertaining Western author and am always happy to read his work.

Now, as an aside, when I started reading the paperback edition of this novel, I thought it was in really good shape for a book published by Curtis, a company notorious for publishing books that fall apart when you read them. My copy seemed nice and tight . . . but by the time I finished, the glue had come loose and the pages had separated from the cover. If there was ever a company that published more shoddily produced books than Curtis, I’ve never run across it. Even Manor Books from that era hold together better. Despite that, Curtis put out a lot of books that I’ve enjoyed over the years, and as long as the text is all there, I can live with the books falling apart. By this point, it’s almost part of Curtis’s charm.

Tomorrow as this week’s Saturday Morning Western Pulp, I’ll have the cover of this novel’s original appearance.


Peter Brandvold said...

Great blog as always, James. I'd never heard of Curry but I'm going to look for him now. Thanks for another edi-cation!

Stephen Mertz said...

You're spot-on with your comments about the "charm" of Curtis Books being that they fall apart when you read them. I've found that a thin line of Elmer's Glue along the broken spine, with the pages reset against it and allowed to sit overnight, will hold up far better than the original binding.