I had read and enjoyed some of Giff Cheshire’s pulp stories, but I’d never read one of his novels until NIGHT RIDERS, originally serialized in RANCH ROMANCES in June and July of 1951 and reprinted in hardback by Five Star in 2006 and in paperback by Leisure in 2007. I read the e-book of the Leisure edition, which is still available from Amazon.
Horse wrangler Tully Gale is bent on romance when he drifts into the malpais country. He met a girl on the
stagecoach who is on her way home to take over the ranch she’s inherited. But
almost right away, Tully runs into trouble from a shady, brutal mustang hunter
and then finds himself finagled into the middle of a range war over water
rights. He also finds himself in a romantic triangle with the ranch girl and
the beautiful widow who owns the hotel in the nearby settlement. Things get
more complicated when some of Tully’s allies seem to turn into enemies.
I really have a mixed reaction to this one. The romantic angle is handled well, with a frank attitude about sex that’s unusual to find in a Western from this era. (Cheshire also wrote a number of softcore novels for Beacon Books under the name Carlton Gibbs.) There are some good action scenes here and there, including a very well-done fistfight. The water issues, while not uncommon in Westerns, aren’t as overused as some other plot elements.
But man, for long stretches, this is one dull book. Tully rides here and thinks about this, then rides there and thinks about that. Slam-bang action scenes that seem about to erupt never materialize. Cheshire’s prose just slogs along. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I hated NIGHT RIDERS, but I was considerably disappointed.
The book features a bonus story in the novelette “Blood Oath”, which was published originally under the title “Colt Fever!” in the October 1949 issue of .44 WESTERN. The protagonist, Quincey Caine, isn’t a typical Western pulp hero. He’s a lawyer who came west to practice, but as the story opens, he’s a gun-shy drifter whose nerves are wrecked because the stagecoach he and his young wife were on was attacked by Indians and she was killed. He can still use his fists, though, as he proves when he’s attacked by a bully and defends himself. This lands him in the middle of a battle over some railroad right-of-way that will be valuable when a spur line runs to the area.
There’s plenty of action in this one and some good characters, especially a 12-year-old orphan who befriends Caine and proves to be tougher and more competent than most of the adult characters. I really liked the way Cheshire kept things moving right along. As disappointed as I was in NIGHT RIDERS, I was impressed by “Blood Oath”. Maybe Cheshire was just one of those authors who was better at shorter lengths, or maybe NIGHT RIDERS isn’t one of his better novels (why reprint it if that’s the case?), or maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for it.
The question is, do I read more by Giff Cheshire? I think I do. I have one of his novels written under the name Chad Merriman sitting a couple of feet away from me as I type this, in fact. I’ll definitely give it a try. But not in the near future, I expect.