Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Rustlers Three - Buck Billings

When the law makes things too hot in Montana for notorious rustler Wild Will Wilson, he drifts down to the West Texas cowtown of El Centro and forces his way into a rustling ring masterminded by railroad superintendent T.K. “Track” Zuter. (This isn’t a spoiler; Zuter’s villainy is revealed right away.) Wilson proves his bona fides by wide-looping some cattle from the nearby Diamond A Ranch, owned by Jim Blair. Then Wilson comes up with an even more audacious scheme to swipe some cattle right of the very railroad cars in which they’re being shipped. Along the way, he also romances Marjorie Blair, the beautiful daughter of Jim Blair.

Then, halfway through this book, the author pulls off a nice plot twist in which it turns out hardly anything is what it appeared to be. This development would be even more effective if the dust jacket copy hadn’t given it away, but even so, it works well and plunges the reader into a rather dizzying array of complications, double-crosses, and hidden identities.

RUSTLERS THREE was published in hardback by Arcadia House in 1943 under the name Buck Billings. As far as I know, it was never reprinted, at least not under that title and by-line. Buck Billings is a pseudonym that’s been connected to prolific pulpsters Claude Rister and A. Leslie Scott, but there’s no definitive list of who wrote what. A friend of mine and I have been trying to figure that out, but it’s a daunting task involving a lot of guesswork and speculation. For example, there’s a long novella entitled “Rustlers Three” that was published in the November 1939 issue of the pulp magazine WEST under the house-name Sam Brant. This could well be the source of the Arcadia House novel. I haven’t been able to lay my hands on a copy of that issue or find a scan of it in order to compare. Neither Rister nor Scott have been known to write under the Sam Brant name, but in the world of pulp magazine house-names, almost anything is possible.

The best I can do as far as authorship of RUSTLERS THREE goes is to make an educated guess. Most of this novel reads like it was written by A. Leslie Scott, who had a fairly distinctive style. But some of it doesn’t read like Scott. He had a habit of taking one of his pulp novels, rewriting it, and adding material from a short story in order to make the yarn long enough for book publication. Something like that happens in RUSTLERS THREE, but I have to wonder if someone else (maybe Scott’s wife Lily, who wrote for the love pulps) did the actual combining and rewriting to produce the Arcadia House version of the novel. That’s some of the pure speculation I mentioned above. The one thing I can say with relative certainty is that the book wasn’t written by Claude Rister. I’m no expert on his work, but it seems very different in style to me.

But to get to the most important question, is RUSTLERS THREE any good? Well, yeah, it is. It’s a fast-moving tale with a likable protagonist and some good action scenes. It could have used a little more action, to be honest, but what’s there is exciting and well-written. I raced through this book and had a good time reading it. If you’re a fan of traditional Westerns from the Thirties and Forties, it’s worth reading if you come across a copy, which, admittedly, is likely to be pretty uncommon these days.

1 comment:

Anders Nilsson said...

If you wanna read more from Buck Billings, these 14 are seemingly all the additional titles that exist. Buying them all from Internet book dealers will cost you a fortune. There’s plenty of money in these old hardback, especially with dust covers intact. So keep an eye for them in the backwoods flea markets you happen to visit!

Gunsmoke Range, Gateway 1940
Justice Rides Alone, Gateway 1942
Lawless Guns, Cassell 1938
Lobo Trail, GH Watt 1936
Range Feud, Gateway 1940
Rider of the Dim Trails, Caslon 1936
Six-Gun Vengeance, AL Burt 1933
Sunken Valley Pass, Dodge 1938
The Owlhoot Trail, Gateway 1942
The Texas Rider, 1934
The Unbranded Thirty, Ward Lock 1946
The Wolf of the Pecos, AL Burt 1933
Trigger Pardners, AL Burt 1935
Two-Gun Harney, GH Watt 1932