Friday, February 14, 2020

Forgotten Books: Rider From Nowhere - Joseph Chadwick

The first novels I read by Joseph Chadwick were Jim Hatfield novels in TEXAS RANGERS and Steve Reese novels in RANGE RIDERS, and I didn’t like any of them very much, didn’t feel like Chadwick had a good grasp on those well-established characters. However, in recent years I’ve read some of his stand-alone novellas in various Western pulps and enjoyed them a lot. So I didn’t hesitate to try RIDER FROM NOWHERE, a 1952 Gold Medal that’s the first stand-alone novel by Chadwick that I’ve read.

It starts out great. Ed Hazzard (good name) is a saddle tramp but once was the ramrod of a big ranch owned by an Eastern syndicate, before a cheating wife led to his downfall. When his horse dies under him and he’s set a-foot, he “borrows” a mount belonging to the great Espada ranch in New Mexico Territory, which is owned by ruthless cattle baron Matthew Kirby. Hazzard really does intend to work off the loan of the horse, but when he’s caught by some of the Espada cowboys, Kirby orders him tied to a wagon wheel and whipped (the aftermath of which you can see in the cover above, scanned from the copy I own and read). That’s Kirby’s beautiful redheaded daughter Flame on the cover, looking aghast at her father’s brutality.

Hazzard vows vengeance on Kirby and everybody else on Espada, of course, and for a while it looks like that’s what this book is going to be about. But then Chadwick cleverly brings in several other plot elements, including competing Spanish land grants, legal wrangling, hired gunslingers, several beautiful women, stampedes, and a prairie fire. Whew! Unlikely alliances are formed, good guys turn bad, bad guys turn good, and Chadwick juggles everything expertly, pacing out the plot twists with action scenes and nicely handled characterization.

There’s nothing ground-breaking in RIDER FROM NOWHERE, but Chadwick does such a good job with the traditional elements that this is a very solid hardboiled Western novel. It’s maybe a little bit leisurely at times (it probably would have been better as a 160 page paperback, rather than a 190 page one), but I still enjoyed it a great deal. I have several more Westerns by Joseph Chadwick on my shelves, as well as some Ace Double mysteries he wrote under the name John Creighton, and I look forward to reading them.

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