Monday, March 13, 2023

The Whistler - E.B. Mann

THE WHISTLER by E.B. Mann is a 1954 Pocket Books paperback with a nice cover by Lou Marchetti. It’s a reprint of a book published a year earlier by Greenberg Publishers, a company that I believe mostly targeted the lending library market. More importantly for our purposes, it reprints three novellas from the pulp DIME WESTERN starring a character known as The Whistler, who is actually James Bonnet Sinclair, Jr., the owner of a ranching empire he inherited from his father. But rather than being a rich cattleman, Sinclair leaves the running of that business to others and roams around the frontier seeking adventure as a range detective and Deputy U.S. Marshal. He carries two guns, is almost supernaturally fast and accurate with them, and whistles when he’s under stress or deep in thought, sort of like Doc Savage’s trilling. (By the way, I don’t think Doc influenced the character in any way, since the first Whistler story came out in the April 1933 issue of DIME WESTERN, a mere month after the first issue of DOC SAVAGE.)

My hunch is that THE WHISTLER reprints the first three novellas in the series, but I haven’t been able to confirm that since the book doesn’t use the original titles or provide any bibliographic information. The first story in the book, called simply “The Whistler”, reads like the debut of a series, though. Jim Sinclair shows up in the vicinity of one of the ranches he owns, although he keeps his true identity a secret. He’s there to investigate some rustling in the area, but he barely arrives before somebody tries to bushwhack him. Then he runs into a young fugitive who’s being unjustly blamed for the rustling, and of course, there’s a rancher’s beautiful daughter in the mix, too, as well as some crooked lawmen and a deadly gunfighter who may be a match for The Whistler when it comes to gunplay. Mann keeps things moving along at a breakneck pace, and the action scenes are great. I think this is probably “The Death Whistler” from the April 1933 issue of DIME WESTERN.

The second story in this collection, “Outlaws Rule”, uses a very similar plot. There’s an unjustly accused young fugitive (this one is wounded), a rancher’s beautiful daughter, some crooked lawmen, and a gang of rustlers. Everything plays out in much the same way, too, at a fast pace and with plenty of well-written gunfights. Mann throws in a hired killer pretending to be The Whistler, too, which certainly helps. I suspect but am not certain that this is “Guns for the Whistler” from the January 1934 issue of DIME WESTERN. I am certain that it was expanded into Mann’s 1935 novel RUSTLERS’ ROUNDUP, since I have a copy of that one and it’s the same story with the same characters, with some elements from the first story worked in to make it longer.

“Doctored Guns”, the third and final novella, starts out differently, with a bushwhack attempt in a mining town. Jim Sinclair has drifted into town on a case just in time to save an old codger from getting gunned down. This lands him in the middle of a scheme involving mining fraud and bank robbery, which just happens to be what brought him to the area in the first place. There’s no rustling in this yarn, and no rancher’s beautiful daughter, either. The only thing it has in common with the other two is the presence of some crooked lawmen. It’s the best of the three, as well, with a great pace and a smashing climax. This was originally (maybe) “The Whistler’s Gun-Warning”, from the May 1934 issue of DIME WESTERN.

The Whistler is an extremely likable protagonist, although he's not the strangest lawman ever to ride the Western plains as the book cover claims, and Mann writes superb action scenes. His gunfights are some of the best I’ve read in the Western pulps. The plots of these three novellas are a little weak, I thought, but I still enjoyed the stories very much and found them to be well worth reading. As far as I know, the other three Whistler novellas have never been reprinted, but I still have the novel EL SOMBRA to read.


ZenRuss said...

I read El Sombra a couple years ago and really liked it. It was fun stuff. I recently picked up Rustlers' Roundup and plan to read it in the near future. Two Whistlers arrive in town and no one knows which is the imposter. What a predicament!

Anonymous said...

I remember devouring this as a kid (I'm now 75), one of the first "grown-up" westerns I read. I can even remember where I bought the book, in a charity thrift shop (and I still have it). It helped turn me into a wesern fan and, ultimately, a history buff. I've learned since that Mann was involved with the firearms/hunting press, which also became interests of mine.