Saturday, February 24, 2024

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Double Action Western, September 1953

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. That’s my copy in the scan. The cover is another by A. Leslie Ross, even though it’s not credited as such. The distinctive hats make me confident that it’s Ross’s work, as does the sketchiness of the background which was common on his pulp covers from this era.

I don’t recall if I’ve read anything by Richard Brister before (and I’m too lazy to look it up), but I’m impressed by his lead novelette in this issue. “Death Rides for Doom Ranch” (I’m betting editor Robert W. Lowndes came up with that title) has an unusual protagonist: a doctor sent to prison for the mercy killing of his best friend who had cancer. After escaping, the doctor heads west, where a disastrous train derailment gets him involved with a rancher and the rancher’s beautiful daughter. At this point, I was expecting a save-the-ranch story, albeit with an offbeat protagonist, but that’s not what Brister has in mind. Instead he introduces the local sheriff, who’s in love with the rancher’s beautiful daughter, and what we get is a story that mixes psychological suspense and soap opera, with very little action. What’s surprising to me is how much I enjoyed it anyway as Brister kept me flipping the pages to find out what was going to happen. That takes some skillful writing. I’m going to have to delve deeper into Brister’s work.

As we all know from the Internet, Leo Tolstoy has taught us that there are only three plots in fiction: A man goes on a journey. A stranger comes to town. Godzilla versus Megashark. (I’m sorry. I just really like that meme.) Barney Stuart’s short story “He Just Walked Away” takes place entirely in the small town of Tall Timber, Montana, so it doesn’t really fit the first category, and there are no monsters in it, so this must be a “stranger comes to town” story. The stranger is a bad guy, too, and it looks like he’s going to cause considerable trouble until one of the locals takes action against him in an unusual manner. There’s a sort of twist ending that’s not very surprising, but it is effective. This is Barney Stuart’s only credit in the Fictionmags Index. A pseudonym? Who knows? But it’s a decent little yarn.

“Command Performance” is by David James, a fairly prolific pulpster whose work appeared only in pulps from Columbia Publications, which always makes me suspect a house-name. Be that as it may, this story has an interesting protagonist, too: a former New York City police detective who has to move west for his health and winds up becoming the sheriff of a mining town. A famous female opera singer comes to town for the opening of its new opera house. The sheriff has a crush on the opera singer and gives everybody he arrests the choice of sitting in jail or buying a ticket for the opening night performance. That results in a packed house, but cowboys and miners being what they are, chaos ensues. This is a decent setup and the story is mildly amusing, but in the end it doesn’t amount to much and seems like it needed another plot angle or two to make it interesting.

C.C. Staples wrote about 50 Western and adventure stories for various pulps between the late Thirties and the early Fifties. His story in this issue, “Golden Boy”, is about an Arizona Ranger on the trail of a horse thief turned murderer and kidnapper. It’s not bad, plenty of action and fairly well written. I’m not going to rush out and look for more stories by Staples, but I enjoyed this one.

Robert Sidney Bowen is probably best remembered for his air war stories, but he wrote quite a few Western and detective yarns, too. “Gambler’s Pot” in this issue is a rare Western pulp story in that it’s written in first person, by a crooked gambler who has a plan to bilk a successful rancher. Naturally, things don’t work as he expects. There’s really not much to this story, but Bowen was a good enough storyteller to make it readable, if not memorable.

Norman Ober wrote a lot for the Columbia pulps, mostly sports stories but some Westerns, too. His story in this issue, “Election in Creek Bottom”, is a comedy about a crooked saloon owner running his own candidate in the election for sheriff, only to have the scheme backfire on him. It’s a fairly amusing yarn and could have made a good movie starring, say, Don Knotts.

“Drygulch Range” by E.E. Clement uses the save-the-ranch plot that I thought I was going to get in Richard Brister’s story, only this novelette doesn’t have an offbeat protagonist. Instead, our hero is the usual drifting cowpoke, in this case stalwart Texan Steve Crane who is on his way to the Black Hills of South Dakota to start a horse ranch there. A reference to the Spanish-American War places the time period of this one around the turn of the century. Crane encounters a pint-size rustler hunter and then the little boy’s beautiful older sister shows up and mistakes Crane for a rustler, too, at least at first. A little bit later, a bushwhacker tries to ventilate him. Yep, our boy Steve shore is ridin’ into trouble.

While the plot of this one may not be anything new, Lowndes does an excellent job of spinning an entertaining yarn. He gives us a tough, likable protagonist, plenty of action, and a few humorous touches. Some of the “yuh mangy polecat” dialogue is so over the top, I’m convinced his tongue was firmly in his cheek as he wrote this, but if he’s making a little fun of the genre’s conventions, he’s doing it in a very affectionate way. I enjoyed this one a lot, and I’m going to have to go through my stack of Columbia Western pulps looking for more E.E. Clement stories.

There are also several fact-based features by Lauran Paine, Lee Floren (writing as Lee Thomas), and A. Hyatt Verrill, but as usual I just skimmed these. I don’t actually read features in a Western pulp unless they’re about some historical subject in which I’m particularly interested.

This is a pretty solid issue of DOUBLE ACTION WESTERN, another good example of how Lowndes, as an editor, could make something out of almost nothing (the magazine’s tiny budget). There are no truly outstanding stories, although the Brister and the Clement novelettes come close, but they’re all readable and entertaining.

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