Friday, September 07, 2018

Forgotten Books: Ghost Mine Gold - Walker A. Tompkins

This short pulp novel was published originally in the September 1942 issue of MASKED RIDER WESTERN, then reprinted in paperback in 1969 by Curtis Books (the edition shown in the scan, which I got from the Internet), and in 2011 as a large print hardback from Thorndike (the edition I read).

The Masked Rider, for those of you who haven't encountered the character before, is actually drifting cowboy Wayne Morgan . . . except he's probably not, and Wayne Morgan is just a pose that the so-called Robin Hood Outlaw uses, much like The Shadow pretended to be Lamont Cranston. Only there actually was a Lamont Cranston and The Shadow just used his identity, and the various authors of the Masked Rider's adventures never make it clear whether someone named Wayne Morgan really exists or if the Masked Rider just made him up. In fact, during the course of the long-running series, we never find out much about the Masked Rider except that he battles for justice and has a faithful Indian companion, the Yaqui warrior Blue Hawk. (Any resemblance to a certain other masked rider of the plains and his faithful Indian companion is strictly not coincidental.)

Anyway, before I go too far astray (too late!), this particular exploit is by Walker A. Tompkins, one of my favorite Western authors. The story gets underway with a pretty suspenseful scene in which a stagecoach is carrying a bomb, but the driver and the lone passenger, an old prospector who has just filed a claim on a fabulously valuable lost gold mine he's found, aren't aware of their danger. Will the bomb go off, or will it be discovered in time?

It's not too much of a spoiler to say that the bomb does go off, and that it was planted by the crooked assayer who wants the mine for himself, since Tompkins reveals both of those things very quickly. The Masked Rider, in his Wayne Morgan guise, is framed for the killing and arrested, but Blue Hawk helps him escape, and then they're off after the real bad guys, the crooked assayer and his minions. The old prospector who was blown up has a twin brother, and the twin brother has a beautiful daughter, and the daughter has a beau who's a Pony Express rider, and all of them get mixed up in the adventure, too, along with the marshal and his posse who are after the Masked Rider and Blue Hawk. Everybody winds up in the crater of an extinct volcano (trust me, it makes perfect sense in the context of the story) and much action ensues.

Tompkins always brought a lot of professionalism to his pulp work. He wrote many excellent Jim Hatfield novels for TEXAS RANGERS and also contributed good yarns featuring the Rio Kid (in RIO KID WESTERN) and Steve Reese, Hank Ball, and Dusty Trail, the trio of range detectives who starred in RANGE RIDERS WESTERNS. The guys from RANGE RIDERS never made it to paperback reprint in the Sixties and Seventies, but some of Tompkins' novels from the other three series did.

GHOST MINE GOLD doesn't ascend to the upper levels of that work because the plot is a little on the thin side, but it is an entertaining yarn with plenty of good action in it. Tompkins had a knack for coming up with inventive ways to put his characters in danger, and that quality is on display in this novel. I think the ending could have been a little more over-the-top, but it's satisfying enough, and the fade-out is really reminiscent of that other masked rider of the plains. Maybe it's not a classic, but I found GHOST MINE GOLD to be a perfectly pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.


George said...

Just about every paperback I had from CURTIS BOOKS fell apart. The glue just didn't hold the pages together! Plenty of book repairs!

James Reasoner said...

It would be a pretty stiff competition between Curtis and Lancer to see which one's books fell apart worse. I'm not sure I ever read a Curtis book all the way to the end without the spine coming loose.