As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve come around to being a fan of Ernest Haycox’s work, especially the numerous novellas he published in various Western pulps during the late Twenties and early Thirties. LONE RIDER, published by Popular Library in 1959, reprints two of those novellas, “The Black Clan” from the June 10, 1931 issue of SHORT STORIES and “Lin of Pistol Gap” from the May 14, 1930 issue of WEST (which was published by Doubleday at the time, although later on it was one of the Thrilling Group pulps published by Better/Standard).“The Black Clan”, which is retitled “Lone Rider” in this paperback reprint, finds drifting hardcase Jeff Rawlins taking a job on the right side of the law for a change: protecting an isolated horse ranch from a family of outlaws who have their own town high in the hills. Rawlins finds himself saddled with untrustworthy allies, plagued by crooked lawmen, and ultimately bushwhacked, only to be helped out by a mysterious young woman. It’ll come as a surprise to absolutely no one that the young woman is connected to the outlaw clan Rawlins is trying to bust up. There’s also an enigmatic gunman who comes in and out of the story, sometimes befriending Rawlins, other times opposing him, and I’ll admit, even with several decades of experience in plotting these things myself, I didn’t know what to make of this character or how Haycox was going to resolve the conflict between him and Rawlins. That sort of uncertainty is a nice change of pace, and overall this novella is a top-notch yarn with plenty of action and good writing.
Overall, LONE RIDER is a nice little reprint package and a vintage paperback worth picking up if you’re a Western fan and come across a copy. I’ll continue reading these Haycox pulp novellas when I find them.