Saturday, January 28, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Texas Rangers, April 1954

This is a pulp I own and read recently. That’s my copy in the scan, with the usual excellent, evocative cover by Sam Cherry.

The Jim Hatfield novel in this issue is “The Seventh Bullet”, written by Walker A. Tompkins under the Jackson Cole house name. Tompkins was the third-most prolific author of Hatfield novels after Leslie Scott (who created the series) and Tom Curry, who between them wrote a little more than half the series’ entire run. Tompkins wrote a bunch of them, though, and the ones I’ve read have ranged from very good to excellent.

By the Fifties, the Hatfield stories were a little grittier and more realistic than the ones from the Thirties and Forties, and “The Seventh Bullet” is no exception. As it opens, Hatfield is in a West Texas cowtown to pick up a prisoner: a member of a counterfeiting/smuggling ring that has been flooding the country with fake ten-dollar gold pieces. The prisoner also murdered the local sheriff, leaving the lawman’s beautiful blond daughter to pin on the badge and take the varmint into custody.

Hatfield’s mission seems simple: deliver the prisoner to Austin. But of course, things don’t work out that way. The prisoner is rescued by a shadowy gunman wielding a six-shooter that somehow fires seven bullets instead of the usual six. Naturally, Hatfield’s not going to let a prisoner get away, and in the process of going after him, the Ranger sets out to bust up the counterfeiting ring and discover the mastermind behind it.

Tompkins keeps things moving along at a brisk pace with plenty of action, and as usual, he throws in some clever plot twists, too, such as the method the villains use to smuggle the phony coins into the country. “The Seventh Bullet” isn’t in the top rank of Tompkins’ Hatfield novels, but it’s a solid, very entertaining yarn.

Moving on to the backup stories, first up is a short story entitled “The Brass Ring”, by an author whose work I’m not very fond of, Ben Frank. This is a stand-alone, not part of Frank’s two series featuring Doc Swap and Deputy Booboo Bounce. It’s a mild little comedy, the sort of thing Frank specialized in, featuring a good-hearted rancher who’s too much of an easy touch for hard-luck stories and is always broke because of it. It’s really predictable but pleasant enough that I read the whole thing.

“Ride to Tucson” by W.J. Reynolds couldn’t be more of a contrast. This is a grim, violent, suspenseful yarn about a man and woman trying to escape from a band of marauding Apaches in Arizona Territory. I’ve read several stories by W.J. Reynolds and been impressed by them. This is another good one. I don’t know anything about Reynolds except that between the mid-Forties and the early Seventies, he wrote about 120 Western and crime stories for assorted pulps, digests, and men’s magazines. I’m always glad to see his name in a Table of Contents.

George Kilrain was a pseudonym used by one of my favorite Western writers, William Heuman, for approximately 30 stories in various Western and sports pulps in the decade between the mid-Forties and the mid-Fifties. The Kilrain novelette in this issue, “Too Tough”, is, in fact, the final story to be published under that name. And it features one of the most unusual protagonists I’ve come across in Western pulps: a two-fisted, fast-shootin’ ventriloquist. Sad Sam Bones is a vaudeville performer, a comedian and song-and-dance-man as well as a ventriloquist, who travels the West performing with different theatrical troupes and also righting wrongs. In this tale, he helps out a theater owner in a mining boomtown whose shows keep getting sabotaged. This results in a number of fistfights and shootouts in which Sad Sam’s enemies keep underestimating him because, going by his description, he looks a lot like Don Knotts. And how I would have loved to see Don play the part on TV! Anyway, the ending of this story really makes it seem like Heuman intended it to be the first of a series, but as far as I know, it’s Sad Sam’s only appearance. That’s a shame, because this is a great story and I really enjoyed it. (Heuman also used the Kilrain name on two novels, SOUTH TO SANTA FE and MAVERICK WITH A STAR, both published as halves of Ace Doubles.)

You know Gordon D. Shirreffs’ work is nearly always good. He rounds out this issue with the short story “The Hollow Hero”, about a deputy marshal’s clash with a notorious gunman recently released from a 20-year stretch in Yuma Prison. The man claims he wants to go straight and even opens a law office, but are his old killer instincts still there just waiting to be unleashed? This one has a decent plot, some nice action, and a clever resolution. It’s minor Shirreffs, but that’s still pretty darned good.

Overall, this is an exceptional issue of TEXAS RANGERS with a good Jim Hatfield novel, a terrific story by William Heuman, and solid yarns by Gordon D. Shirreffs and W.J. Reynolds. Even the Ben Frank story is inoffensive and mildly entertaining. If you’re a TEXAS RANGERS fan and have this one on your shelves, it’s well worth reading.


Anonymous said...

I have this issue and now am very tempted to read it. I do like the Texas Rangers series including most of the shorts. Even the Roe Richmond Hatfield’s aren’t bad (though much less enjoyable than other ghosts). The last Hatfield I read had man eating pigs and a psychotic villain. Great stuff.

I was going to finally start reading “Two Gun Gerta” a Western (semi comic by my flip thru) co-authored by Carroll John Daly, whose Race Williams stories and novels I have devoured (as well as some other of his hard boiled stuff). Very curious about this.

James Reasoner said...

I'd like to read TWO GUN GERTA, too, if I can ever run across an affordable copy. I like Daly's work a lot. I agree about Richmond's Hatfield novels. He's my least favorite of the Jackson Coles other than Clark Gray, who wrote only two Hatfields. I feel a certain gratitude toward Richmond, though, because of his connection to a series I wrote many years later, which I talk about in this post:

Sai S said...

I'm starting to appreciate these 1950s issues of westerns more than I did previously. I felt that most of the pulps leaving the field and paying very low rates must have attracted crap.

But I'm turning out to be wrong. Most of the western stories from the 50s I've read so far are more hard-boiled and adult - sex is present if not described explicitly, violence is graphic and painful to read, characters are allowed to fall in and out of "love", greed and lust are often visible motives for villainy and the hero's badge is tarnished.

The non-series stories in Texas Rangers sound like they were similar caliber to those in the Shadow. Meant as filler but really a school for emerging writers like Shireffs and Elmer Kelton. Mixed with some road-apples.

The editor of Texas Rangers was Jim Hendryx Jr., the son of the pulp writer. He knew good quality writing.Sai

James Reasoner said...

I agree. There are some great stories in the Western pulps of the Twenties, Thirties, and the first half of the Forties, but I think the overall percentage of good stories goes up in the post-war era. There are some great hardboiled yarns in TEXAS RANGERS and RANCH ROMANCES during the Fifties.

Charles Gramlich said...

Sounds like something I'd enjoy