First of all, there are no wolf dogs in this book. There’s a town called Wolf Dog, as well as a river and a mountain range, but no actual wolf dogs. The novel was published originally in hardback by lending library publisher Phoenix Press in 1946. Then it appeared in the October 1947 issue of COMPLETE COWBOY NOVELS MAGAZINE with a great cover that I posted here on the blog a while back. I liked that cover enough that it inspired me to seek out a copy of the book. What I wound up with is the 1951 Lion Books paperback edition. That's my copy in the scan above. But like the pulp version, this cover is misleading, too, as no fight between a hatchet-wielding hombre and a fella shooting at him ever takes place in the book’s pages.
Now that we’ve covered that, what’s WOLF DOG RANGE actually about? It’s a range
war story, as tough cowboy Pete Manly travels from Texas to Montana to answer a
summons for help from Jeff Ring, the old-timer who raised him. Ring has
relocated his ranch to Montana, and now the owner of the neighboring spread is
trying to force him out. Ring is in financial trouble, too, because the local
banker absconded with the deposits and left the old rancher almost broke. Pete
figures something shady is going on, especially when some badmen hold up the
train he’s coming in on, for the express purpose of murdering him. He survives
that attempt, of course, and also makes the acquaintance of a beautiful young
woman who’s also traveling to the town of Wolf Dog. (Why is everything in the
area called Wolf Dog? Unfortunately, the author never tells us.) When he
arrives, Pete sets out to get to the bottom of several suspicious happenings
and prevent his old friend’s ranch from being taken over.
You can tell from that brief description that WOLF DOG RANGE is a very traditional Western novel. That’s not surprising, because the author, “Will Watson”, was really Lee Floren, who made a living for several decades by writing very traditional Western yarns for the pulps and for a variety of paperback publishers. Floren is a maddeningly inconsister writer. I don’t know much about his background, but when he’s writing about cattle and ranch life, his work has a ring of authenticity that at times rivals Walt Coburn. The long sequence in this book about a roundup carried out during an unexpectedly early snowstorm is excellent, as is the aftermath of a chinook wind that melts the snow. Floren’s action scenes are generally good to very good, too. Where his writing gets clunky is in dialogue and in the scenes were the characters are interacting without any gunplay or fisticuffs. Some of that is so perfunctory that it reads like scenes he outlined but forgot to flesh out. There’s too much of that in WOLF DOG RANGE.
And yet . . . there are some great characters in this book, including the old rancher’s Apache sidekick and a Chinese range cook who reminded me of Connie from Milton Caniff’s classic TERRY AND THE PIRATES. There are also some poignant moments that work really well. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never been a fan of Floren’s work and so I haven’t read that much by him, but without a doubt, WOLF DOG RANGE is the best of his novels that I’ve read so far, and I’m not saying that to damn with faint praise. It’s not without its flaws, but I found it to be a solidly entertaining traditional Western.
It could’ve used some wolf dogs, though.