This is a pulp that I own and read recently. That’s my battered, scribbled-on copy in the scan. When I see a math problem written on a cover or in a book, I can’t help but wonder about the person who wrote it and what they were trying to figure out. I like that vague connection with previous owners/readers of the book or pulp. At any rate, I think the cover art is by George Rozen. It sure looks like other Thrilling Group Western covers attributed to him.
The Jim Hatfield novel in this issue, “The Empire Trail”, is by A. Leslie Scott
writing under the house name Jackson Cole. There’s no question this is Scott’s
work, as the story revolves around plot elements he used over and over:
smugglers bringing contraband over the border from Mexico in pack mule trains; owlhoots
under the command of a mysterious mastermind trying to stop the railroad
expanding into a new area; an underground stronghold from which Hatfield has to
escape; Hatfield working undercover and not revealing that he’s a Ranger; and
multiple suspects for the true identity of the outlaw boss.
So if you’ve read other Hatfield novels by Scott and liked them, you ought to like this one, because even though the plot is familiar, he’s really at the top of his game as far as the writing goes. I love Scott’s work because of the vivid (some might say florid) descriptive scenes and the over-the-top action scenes. “The Empire Trail” is full of both. The pace races along, and for once I was truly uncertain for a while who the villain would turn out to be. Usually, I can pick him out as soon as he appears. This is top-notch Scott and Hatfield, the kind of pulp Western yarn I’ve been reading and enjoying for close to 60 years, and I had a great time with it.
The Hatfield novel is long enough that there are only two short stories in this issue, “Doc Swap’s Fiddle Talk” by Ben Frank and “Things Happen in Threes” by Barry Scobee (the only pulp writer with a mountain named after him; you can look it up). I’m not a fan of the Doc Swap series, but I read this one, which features Doc Swap’s dangerous encounter with a bank robber, and it’s okay. The Scobee story is about a superstitious rancher and a drought, and it never engaged my interest at all. Reading these sure made me miss the days when Lee Bond’s Long Sam Littlejohn stories were the regular back-up series in TEXAS RANGERS.
So if you have this issue, you can safely skip the short stories, but you definitely should pull it down from the shelf and read “The Empire Trail”. It’s one of the best Jim Hatfield novels I’ve read in a while.