Saturday, December 22, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ranch Romances, 2nd December Number, 1948

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. Since it’s a Christmas issue, it’s appropriate to the season, and anyway, the little kid on the cover reminds me very much of, well, me. I frequently asked Santa to bring me toy guns and cowboy outfits for Christmas. The scan is from the copy I read.

The featured novella is “Cowtown Cavalier” by Paul Evan Lehman. The protagonist, Ken Mason, is searching for the crooked banker who ruined his father when he winds up involved in a range war between a beautiful young woman and a greedy cattle baron, an express company robbery, and several murders. I’ve always thought of Lehman as one of those competent, reasonably entertaining writers whose work doesn’t leave much of an impression. This novella is a little above that level, because it’s actually a well-structured mystery in addition to being a good action Western yarn. There are a number of suspects, the hero does some decent detective work, and it winds up being a pretty satisfying mix. This may be the best thing I’ve ever read by Lehman.

Frank C. Robertson had a long, very successful career as a Western writer, both as a pulpster and a novelist. His short story, “Taming of Cat McCoy”, is a slight yarn about a bitter, ex-con bronco buster who finds love and redemption. But it’s very well-written and goes down easy. I just wish there had been a little more to it. I need to read more by Robertson.

Elsa Barker has an actual Christmas story in this issue, “Sheriff for Christmas”, which is about a schoolteacher who turns down a marriage proposal from the local sheriff because her father was a lawman and she’s afraid she’ll worry herself to death like her mother did. And sure enough, before the story is over, the sheriff who proposes to her does wind up in danger. I don’t recall if I’ve ever read anything else by her. She was a prolific contributor to RANCH ROMANCES, and her career goes all the way back to THE SMART SET in 1901! This is a pretty good yarn, predictable but well-written, and it has some nice Christmas spirit to it.

I haven’t been impressed by the science fiction and fantasy I’ve read by Robert Moore Williams (the genres for which he’s best known), but his short story in this issue, “The Trail Home”, isn’t bad. It uses the old plot of the outlaw who has gone straight and is trying to cover up his past, only to be forced by circumstances to buckle on his guns again, but Williams does a pretty good job with it and produced an enjoyable yarn.

“Duchess of the Salty Dog” is by an author I hadn’t heard of, Pat Johns. That’s probably because Johns (don’t know if that name is male or female) published only a few stories in RANCH ROMANCES and nowhere else. This one has an intriguing protagonist, a former saloon singer who gets involved in rustling and a dangerous ambush, but in the end I didn’t think it amounted to much.

There are two serial installments in this issue. I normally don’t read serials unless I know I have all the parts, so I skipped the first installment of “Desert Quest” by Dorothy L. Bonar. However, if it’s the final part, I’ll sometimes go ahead and read it, and since “Roll, Bright Wagons” by Isabel Stewart Way is a story about a traveling circus in the Old West (a subject that interests me) and wraps up in this issue, I started to read it. However, the character names got the best of me: Blaise Aregood (the hero), Twonnet Juvenal (the heroine), Gus Snavely (the villain—I guess Snidely Whiplash was out of town). Plus the circus is traveling through sheep country, and I don’t read Western pulps to read about a bunch o’ dang sheepherders! And the writing didn’t seem that good to me (despite Way having a long, prolific career as a contributor to RANCH ROMANCES and the other Western romance pulps, as well as an author of nurse novels), so I didn’t finish this one.

Rounding out the issue are the usual features and departments, which I skimmed except for a two-page poem by S. Omar Barker, “Cowboy’s Christmas Bride”, which like all of Barker’s work is humorous and well-written.

Most of the RANCH ROMANCES I’ve read are from the Fifties, when the magazine was part of the Thrilling Group, but in 1948 it was still published by Warner and edited by long-time editor Fanny Ellsworth, so the tone is slightly different, a little more emphasis on the romance part of the title than there would be later. However, the lead story, Lehman’s “Cowtown Cavalier”, could have appeared in any of the regular Western pulps of the era. It’s the best story in this issue, but the ones by Robertson, Barker, and Williams are well worth reading, too. All in all, I enjoyed this issue of RANCH ROMANCES quite a bit and am glad I read it.


crayle said...

A fun review and I LOVED the cover -- thanks for posting it.

Now back to watching THE TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD!

James Reasoner said...

TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD is a wonderful movie. I've written about it here on the blog.

Todd Mason said...

Robert Moore Williams was definitely about getting it out Thursday rather than good from pretty early on in his career, but some of his earliest work I recall finding to be pretty affecting. "Robot's Return" at least. I should reread it. I only remember the faint impression.