Friday, March 09, 2018

Forgotten Books: The Return of the Kid - Joseph Wayne (Wayne D. Overholser)

Wayne D. Overholser is one of those writers whose books have been around on library and used bookstore shelves as far back as I can remember. For some reason, though, I’ve never read much by him. A few novellas and short stories originally published in the Western pulps, but no novels that I can recall.

However, I recently came across a large print hardback of his 1955 novel THE RETURN OF THE KID and decided to give it a try. This novel was published in hardback by Dutton under the name Joseph Wayne, a pseudonym shared by Overholser and Lewis B. Patten. Evidently, some of the Joseph Wayne books are by Overholser, some by Patten, and some are collaborations between the two men. But since the copyright on this book was renewed by Overholser and it’s been reprinted more than once under his name, I assume it’s one he wrote without Patten.

As you might guess from the title, THE RETURN OF THE KID is a prodigal son yarn. (One minor problem is that nowhere in the book does anybody refer to the protagonist as “the Kid”. But I digress . . .) Jim Dunn returns to his hometown in Colorado after three years as a drifter. He’s the son of the biggest rancher in the area, who has died under mysterious circumstances several months earlier, after marrying a beautiful, much younger woman. It was this marriage, in fact, that caused the trouble between Jim and his father and led to his leaving home. Now his father is dead and the widow and the sinister foreman she’s hired are poised to take over and cut Jim out of his inheritance. He doesn’t intend to let that happen.

But then not everything turns out to be exactly the way Jim believes it to be, and more than one person surprises him. One thing that’s not a surprise, though, is that somebody keeps trying to kill him, and lots of bullets will fly before he sorts everything out.

As you can tell from that set-up, there’s not much in this book that you haven’t seen many times before. In that way, THE RETURN OF THE KID reminds me of the work of L.P. Holmes, who also used standard plots in his novels but wrote them extremely well. Overholser wasn’t the writer that Holmes was, though, at least not in this book, so I had a little trouble with the predictability of the plot and the deliberate pace early in the book. The story never does work its way up to much of a gallop.

However, Overholser has a deft touch with his characters, and the action scenes are good and tough. There are just enough plot twists to keep things interesting. I can see why Overholser had a long, successful career as an author of traditional Westerns, even though I didn’t think THE RETURN OF THE KID was anything special. I enjoyed it enough that I’ll read more by Overholser, but it’ll probably be a while before I get around to it.


Todd Mason said...

I picker up the BEST WESTERN STORIES volume by Overholser that Pronzini and Greenberg put together in that series when it was new, and those were better than good...perhaps not one of his best efforts, this, and perhaps part of why it went out under the less distinctive pseudonym originally...I haven't yet read any of his novels...perhaps he was also someone simply better in short form...

Maurice said...

I don't remember the name of the first Overholser novel I read. But, I have from that first one enjoyed his books. His DESPERATE MAN is my favorite. I read and re-read it.
I own the one in the review, but don't remember anything about it. Thanks for the honest review. I always enjoy your writing and story telling.

Anonymous said...

I have always enjoyed Wayne Overholser's novels. He was prolific and, of course, some of his books are better than others but he is a writer who is always worth reading. Thanks for the review, James.

Jim Meals

Juri Nummelin said...

From my notes I see I've enjoyed at least these novels by Overholser:

A Gun for Johnny Deere, 1963
as by John Daniels: Ute Country, 1959
as by Lee Leighton: Bitter Journey, 1968
as by John S. Daniels: Stage to Durango, 1966
as by John S. Daniels: Killers from Owl Creek, 1967

Will Robertson said...

On the strength of Maurice's post above recommending Overholser's novel DESPERATE MAN, I decided to give it a read, and I've just finished it today -- and Maurice was right, it's very good. The story gripped me and carried me along in the same way SHANE did (though the plots are quite different), possibly because Overholser's 1st-person narrator is (like Shane) the youngest member of his family and renders starkly insightful and disarming observations throughout the book, which is centered around a thumpin' good mystery. This story was quite enjoyable.

If you've got this book, James, you may want to give it a read when you have time.

James Reasoner said...

I appreciate the recommendations of DESPERATE MAN and have ordered a copy of it. Will let you guys know what I think of it when I've had a chance to read it.