This is a pulp I own and read recently. The scan is
from my copy. EXCITING WESTERN is one of the Thrilling Group, and I tend to
like those pulps.
Wilbur S. Peacock was a fairly prolific pulpster, writing dozens of mysteries,
Westerns, science fiction, sports yarns, and jungle adventures for a variety of
pulps during a career that lasted from the late Thirties on into the Fifties.
He’s probably best remembered, though, as an editor at Fiction House on such
titles as PLANET STORIES and JUNGLE STORIES. His novella “Riders of Rebel Range”
in the September 1952 issue of EXCITING WESTERN is the first fiction by him
that I’ve read, as far as I recall. It’s an excellent story, too, about a group
of masked vigilantes in Texas battling carpetbaggers during Reconstruction.
However, there’s a hidden mastermind using the vigilantes for his own nefarious
purposes, and it’s up to the local sheriff to uncover the real plot . . .
assuming, that is, that the lawman isn’t the actual bad guy himself.
Peacock really packs a lot into this novella. In addition to the main plot
concerning the vigilantes, we get overlapping romantic triangles, sibling
rivalry, bushwhacking, brutal fistfights, and an apocalyptic ending that
threatens to destroy the whole town. The mystery angle is handled well enough
that I really wasn’t sure what was going to happen or who would turn out to be
the hidden mastermind. I enjoyed this one quite a bit. If Peacock had written
any novels, I’d be on the lookout for them, but it appears he only published in
the pulps. I’ll certainly watch for his name in the future.
Unfortunately, the next story, “Wine, Women, and—Who Cares?” by Al Storm, is an
example of how difficult it is to write a comedy Western that works, at least
as far as I’m concerned. Humor is highly subjective, of course. But this tale
of gold miners with colorful names like Shammy and Zinger-Dip, doing colorful
things, just never amused or interested me. I did not find it a “Rib-Tickler”
as the cover claims.
Max Kesler is another author whose name I’ve seen in many pulps but have never
read until now. His novelette “A Doctor Kills a Wolf” is a timber camp story,
not a favorite theme of mine but one that can be okay if done well. The
protagonist, a disgraced doctor, lands in the middle of a timber war and not
surprisingly winds up being forced to use the medical skills he has tried to
give up, as well brawling and shooting his way through to victory. This yarn
has a nice hardboiled tone but suffers from the fact that the villain is pretty
much a cipher and barely appears in the story. It’s hard to have a good hero
without an effective bad guy. Kesler writes well enough that I would certainly
read more by him, though.
I think “The Half-Mule Sodbuster” is the second story I’ve read by Seven
Anderton. It’s a well-written cattlemen vs. sodbusters story, only in this case
there’s only one sodbuster, a stubborn man who doesn’t carry a gun but is
determined to homestead a farm even though everyone else in the valley wants to
run him out . . . except maybe the beautiful daughter of one of the cattle
baron. There’s some humor, some action, and even some surprisingly sexy stuff
(for the time period) in this story, but I thought the ending could have packed
a little more punch.
I don’t care much for stories about animals (we had a discussion about this on
the WesternPulps group recently), but “Underdog” by Harold F. Cruickshank isn’t
bad. The animals don’t talk, and the terrier of the title isn’t the viewpoint
character. As a dog vs. bear story, it’s okay.
I’ve read some truly terrible Western paperbacks by Lee Floren, but he had a
long, successful career so there must have been plenty of readers who enjoyed
his work. I’ll admit, there are some nice moments in his novelette “This Trail
to Bullets”. The protagonist is a two-fisted, gun-totin’ undercover bank
examiner, not exactly the sort of character you find in Western pulp yarns
that often, and I like that. Floren’s style is a little rough, but it has an
effective hardboiled tone in places. I enjoyed this one enough I might give
some of his novels a try again. Sometimes I warm up to an author as time goes
This issue wraps up with “Bad Medicine”, a short story by an author I’d never
heard of, Tom Hopefield. He appears to have published half a dozen stories, all
in the early Fifties. This one concerns rock climbing and a bully’s
comeuppance, and while it’s nothing special, it’s pleasant enough.
Overall, this is a good but not great issue of EXCITING WESTERN. Wilbur S.
Peacock’s story is the best and will have me keeping an eye out for his work.
Seven Anderton continues to be a solid author, and Lee Floren’s story was
better than I expected. The others were all good enough to keep me reading. I
didn’t skip any of the stories, although I did just skim through the columns
and features. I do think that by the early Fifties, the Western pulps had
suffered from the fact that most of the best authors were concentrating on
novels, both hardback and paperback.