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.