Friday, April 24, 2020

Forgotten Books: Rails West - Logan Stewart (Les Savage Jr.)

Les Savage Jr. was one of the stars of the Western pulp field for more than a decade, from the time he broke in in the early Forties to his early death in 1958 at the age of 35, from complications of diabetes. He was one of the stalwarts of the Fiction House line, with many of his stories appearing in LARIAT STORY, FRONTIER STORIES, and ACTION STORIES, but he also sold to WESTERN STORY and various Popular Publications Western pulps. His work has maintained a solid reputation over the decades, and much of it is still available.

During the Fifties, when the pulp markets were drying up, Savage sold several novels to Gold Medal that were published under the pseudonym Logan Stewart. RAILS WEST is the first one of those I’ve read (that’s my copy in the scan) and it’s a good one. The protagonist is Scott Walker, who comes back from the Civil War to find that his father and two brothers in Kansas have been burned out by Conferate guerrillas and moved on west somewhere. With them is a young woman they’ve taken in who Scott intends to marry, if he can just find out where they’ve settled.

He catches up to his family in Laramie, where he’s reunited with them just in time for trouble to break out because of a land swindle scheme in which they’re ensnared. Violence ensues and all the Walker family is forced to go on the run. Scott is separated from the others yet again, falls in with a Union Pacific construction crew working on the transcontinental railroad, and winds up doing something he never would have expected, pinning on a star as the town marshal in a hell-on-wheels settlement at end of track. Then old enemies show up, and all the trouble that engulfed Scott before threatens to erupt again.

This novel is a combination of the railroad and town tamer plots, and while there’s nothing really new in it, Savage makes these traditional elements seem fresh by peopling his yarn with complex, realistic characters, fine hardboiled writing, and gritty action scenes. Much like the work of L.P. Holmes, the appeal isn’t so much in what he’s doing but rather in the way he does it. RAILS WEST is a very solid, entertaining Western novel.

On a bibliographic note, this novel is an expansion of a novella entitled “Six-Gun Sinner”, published in the May 1950 issue of the pulp WESTERN NOVELS AND SHORT STORIES. It was reprinted by Leisure under the title WEST OF LARAMIE, under Savage’s real name, and an e-book version is still available on Amazon. It’s well worth reading, although I’ll admit, I’m glad I was able to read the original Gold Medal paperback.


Peter Brandvold said...

Thanks for reviewing this one, James. I love Savage. I had this one between all of my recent moves but never read it for some reason. I just downloaded the ebook.

Anonymous said...

A very good one, unfortunately he died untimely. His best novel, probably, is "Return to Warbow", basis for the homonymous movie directed by Ray nazarro in 1958, starring Philip Carey, Catherine McLeod, Andrew Duggan and Jay Silverheels.

James Reasoner said...

I haven't read RETURN TO WARBOW and I'm not sure I even own a copy, but I'll be checking on that.

Chap O'Keefe said...

At the time I was embarking on the Chap O'Keefe books for Black Horse Westerns, the line's UK publisher, Robert Hale, was also reissuing several classics (Haycox, Brand, MacDonald etc.) in that attractive hardcover format. RETURN TO WARBOW was published by them in November 1993. Ex-library copies occasionally pop up in the usual places.