Saturday, September 23, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Exciting Western, September 1952

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 by.

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.

1 comment:

Todd Mason said...

Peacock was a pretty uninspiring editor of PLANET STORIES (and therefore probably JUNGLE STORIES, perhaps from the period of the less-engaging Ki-Gor stories, but I've read others praise his western writing. I suspect his issues of NORTH-WEST ROMANCES at the same time (early '40s) were perhaps a bit better (he was indeed editing both PLANET and JUNGLE as well). Here's the FictionMags Index on this issue:

Exciting Western [v24 #1, September 1952] ed. David X. Manners (Better Publications, Inc., 25¢, 130pp, pulp, cover by Sam Cherry)
Details supplied by Tom Daniels.
6 · Trail Blazers · William Hopson · cl
9 · Cow Country News Roundup · Anon. · cl
10 · Riders of Rebel Range · Wilbur S. Peacock · na; illustrated by C. A. Murphy
19 · Sagebrush Sam Says— · Anon. · ms
27 · Society Note · Pecos Pete · pm
44 · Wine, Women, and—Who Cares? · Al Storm · ss
51 · Lame Johnny · Norman Renard · ts
52 · A Doctor Kills a Wolf · Max Kesler · nv
59 · Sagebrush Sam Says— · Anon. · ms
70 · The Half-Mule Sodbuster · Seven Anderton · nv
75 · Cartoon Fun · Bo Brown · ct
86 · How to Whip an Injun · Allan K. Echols · ar
87 · Underdog · Harold F. Cruickshank · ss
95 · Cowboy Quiz & Cryptogram · Anon. · qz
96 · Wilderness Know-How: How to Make Camping-Out Fun · Syl MacDowell · cl
98 · This Trail to Bullets · Lee Floren · nv; illustrated by J. Dreany
103 · Sagebrush Sam Says— · Anon. · ms
118 · Bad Medicine · Tom Hopefield · ss