Thursday, August 13, 2020

Classic Westerns: The Death Riders - Jackson Cole (A. Leslie Scott)

The older I get, the more I seem to crave “comfort reading”, as I’ve seen it referred to. I’ll still seek out new authors, but I return more and more often to those whose work I know I’ll enjoy. For example, A. Leslie Scott, pulpster, paperbacker, and creator of Texas Rangers Jim Hatfield and Walt Slade, two characters whose adventures I’ve been enjoying for more than 50 years now.

I recently read THE DEATH RIDERS, a 1952 paperback by Scott published by Pyramid Books under the house-name Jackson Cole. After creating Jim Hatfield for the first issue of the pulp TEXAS RANGERS back in 1936, Scott was one of the main writers on the series until 1950, but at that point, he and Tom Curry, the other principal Hatfield writer, were either fired from the magazine or quit. (I’ve always suspected the former, although I don’t know if that’s true or, if it is, why.) Scott moved right over to Pyramid and continued writing novels about Hatfield, only they were paperback originals now instead of appearing in a pulp magazine. I suppose he figured he had the right to do that since he created the character. (Some of Scott’s Hatfield paperbacks are rewrites/expansions of novels he wrote for TEXAS RANGERS, and I used to have a list of which ones and where they came from, but that was lost in the fire of ’08.) After a few years, Ned Pines, who was still publishing Hatfield novels by other authors in TEXAS RANGERS, under the same Jackson Cole house-name, got tired of this and demanded that Scott stop writing paperbacks about Hatfield. Scott complied, switching his efforts over to a long-running series featuring Texas Ranger Walt Slade (whose pulp adventures he chronicled for years in THRILLING WESTERN). Even though it was basically the same situation as with Hatfield, right down to Scott occasionally cannibalizing a pulp story, Pines evidently didn’t object to this and Scott continued the Slade series until 1971. (My apologies to those of you who have read previous posts in which I pontificated about this situation.)

To get back to THE DEATH RIDERS, it’s a very typical Jim Hatfield novel as written by Scott. Hatfield, also known as the Lone Wolf, rides into an area on an assignment from his boss, Cap’n “Roarin’ Bill” McDonald of the Texas Rangers, intent on rounding up a gang of robbers, rustlers, and killers who have been raising hell in the region. This time around, the gang is known as the Death Riders, because they wear black masks with luminous white paint on them to make their faces look like skulls. One of the local ranches is run by a pretty girl whose father and uncle have both been killed by the Death Riders, and Hatfield befriends her (without any romantic interest) and the Gabby Hayes-like old-timer who works for her. Pretty quickly, Hatfield figures out what’s really going on and who the criminal mastermind behind everything is, but while he’s searching for proof of his theory, he battles the gang’s various schemes, sometimes foiling them but sometimes failing to do so. Jim Hatfield is pretty much superhuman, but not all the time.

Eventually, of course, Hatfield is captured by the bad guys, escapes, locates their hideout, and in a big showdown uncovers the identity of the gang’s leader. It won’t come as a big shock to most readers. The plots in these books aren’t exactly complex. But at the same time, Scott usually brings in some nice twist or interesting angle, and that’s true in THE DEATH RIDERS. I didn’t have everything figured out, and Hatfield was ahead of me on a couple of points.

Nobody reads Leslie Scott’s books for the plot, anyway. I certainly don’t. I read them for the vivid (some would say flowery) descriptions of the settings, the breakneck action, and the touches of light humor that run through the books. In a way, Scott’s work reminds me a little of W.C. Tuttle’s. The humor’s not as broad, the plotting not as deft, and Jim Hatfield and Walt Slade aren’t the same sort of compelling character that Hashknife Hartley is. But a lot of the appeal of the two writers is the same, resulting in an entertaining mix of Western action, mystery, and humor. Scott’s not an author I read frequently anymore, but when I do, I always have a great time with his books. THE DEATH RIDERS is no exception.


Cullen Gallagher said...

Do you know if Scott left behind a memoir or any writings about his own career?

James Reasoner said...

Not that I'm aware of. I ought to see if I can get in touch with his son Justin Scott and ask him.

Bold Venture Press said...

I have several issues (but nowhere near a complete set) of WRITER'S DIGEST from the 1930s and 1940s. Occasionally, I'll notice a byline which is significant to me today, but meant nothing twenty-five years ago, when I first acquired the majority of these issues. I think I may have seen A. Leslie Scott's byline in at least one issue. I'll scour the pages.

Alas, sometimes a random WRITER'S DIGEST article is the closest we'll get to a memoir from certain writers ...

Spike said...

Scott and Tuttle are two of my favorite Western authors. One knows what one is getting with a Slade novel and it is a perfect length enjoyable time.