Friday, February 02, 2018

Forgotten Books: The Odds Against Circle L - Lewis B. Patten

Over the years, Lewis B. Patten has become one of my favorite Western authors. His books always have a dark tone to them, and that’s certainly true of THE ODDS AGAINST CIRCLE L, a paperback original published by Ace in 1966 and later reprinted (the edition I read). In this one, Taggart Landry has returned to his hometown, which sits in the middle of the vast Circle L ranch owned by his father. Tag is the black sheep of the family, having run off a couple of years earlier because he’s jealous of his older brother. After leaving the ranch, he fell in with the proverbial bad company and got mixed up in a bank robbery in which a man was killed. Tag didn’t pull the trigger, but in the eyes of the law, he shares equally in the blame.

Now, after splitting from the gang and drifting for two years, he’s gotten word that his father is very ill and returns home because of that, even though his brother hates him and even threatens to kill him. Then, wouldn’t you know it, his former partners in crime show up and threaten to expose his part in the bank robbery unless he helps them loot the Circle L. What these murderous outlaws really have in mind is taking over the ranch, and Tag doesn’t see any way out of helping them without endangering his still seriously ill father.

Patten was always one to put his characters through hell, and that’s certainly true in THE ODDS AGAINST CIRCLE L. Tag Landry absorbs a considerable amount of punishment, both phyical and mental, as the situation gets worse and worse until he’s finally forced to fight back. Everything comes to a fairly satisfactory conclusion. Despite the darkness of his plots, Patten’s work seldom falls into the category of Western noir, so you can count on endings that aren’t necessarily happy but aren’t tragic, either.

THE ODDS AGAINST CIRCLE L is a little too thin, story-wise, to make it into the top rank of Patten’s novels, but it is a solid traditional Western that provides a couple of hours of good reading. I enjoyed it.


George said...

I've picked up a dozen or so Lewis B. Patten novels based on your enthusiasm for this writer.

James Reasoner said...

I hope you enjoy them, George. Patten is inconsistent, especially in his later books, so if you don't like one, try another.

Anonymous said...

My introduction to Lewis B. Patten were his Double D westerns which I checked out of the library. Over the years I have concluded that he is a writer well worth spending money on. But I haven't read, "The Odds Against Circle L." I will be looking for it. Thanks for the fine review, James.

Jim Meals

Anonymous said...

Just read Patten's "Death Rides the Denver Stage." It's actually a Civil War novel set in Colorado and New Mexico, wrapping up with the Battle of Glorieta Pass. The hero seems a bit immature, engaging in a fist fight pretty much for the fun of it at the beginning of the novel, and he does a lot of agonizing as he chooses between two women and then thinks he's lost the one he wants. Initially, he's not sure which side he supports in the war, either. Patten clearly had done some homework about the Civil War and Glorieta Pass. I liked it a lot.

Andrew McBride said...

Very interesting post, James. Patten was one of the western writers who got me interested in reading westerns, long before I thought of writing them. His 'angle' seemed to be Colorado and the Cheyenne. The first of his I read was about a white man who fights alongside the Cheyenne after the Sand Creek massacre. Would that be WHITE WARRIOR, I wonder? Like a lot of these very prolific authors he sometime spread himself too thin, and his view of Native Americans varied from sympathetic to demonising them. But I still have BONES OF THE BUFFALO about the Cheyenne outbreak of 1878, which is sympathetic, powerful and moving.