Friday, February 10, 2023

Mad Morgan's Hoard - Philip Ketchum

For thirty years, from the late Twenties to the late Fifties, Philip Ketchum was a very prolific pulpster, turning out hundreds of Western, detective, and adventure yarns for a wide variety of pulps under his own name and several pseudonyms, most common among them Carl McK. Saunders. Overlapping his career as a pulp writer, during the Fifties and Sixties Ketchum was also very busy writing dozens of well-regarded paperback original Westerns and a few novelizations of Western movies.

MAD MORGAN’S HOARD was published as half of an Ace Double Western (with a nice cover by John Leone, by the way) in 1969, the same year that Ketchum died. I don’t know if it was his final novel, but it may well have been. If so, it’s a pretty good one to go out on. Drifting cowpoke Brad Collier, who was a successful rancher until his wife died and he suffered some financial reverses, is riding through what seems to be southern New Mexico Territory (Ketchum isn’t real clear on that) when he’s ambushed and suffers a minor head wound. But he manages to kill the man who bushwhacked him.

Seeking medical help in the small town he passed through earlier, he discovers that the ambusher worked for the local cattle baron. Brad is locked up and seemingly bound for a hanging when a mysterious stranger rescues him and entangles him in a search for $50,000 in missing bank loot. It seems that Mad Morgan, an eccentric old codger who has a small ranch in the area, may know where the loot is hidden. If he doesn’t, his beautiful wildcat of a granddaughter probably does.

Not surprisingly, several different factions are after the missing gold, and most of them don’t care whom they have to hurt to get it. Brad tries to navigate through this tangled mess and gets shot a couple more times for his trouble. Brad has quite a capacity for punishment. I don’t think it’s giving away too much to say that eventually everything gets sorted out satisfactorily.

Ketchum writes well in a spare, hardboiled style and gives the reader well-developed characters and a good plot. Brad Collier is a tough, stubborn, yet likable protagonist. MAD MORGAN’S HOARD has two romantic subplots, and both of them are handled very well. My only complaint about the book is that the ending isn’t quite as effective and dramatic as it could have been. I seem to have had a run of books like that in my reading lately. I enjoyed this one anyway, and if you’re a fan of traditional Westerns, it’s worth your time, as are all of Philip Ketchum’s books that I’ve run across.

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