Saturday, March 16, 2024

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Texas Rangers, October 1954

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. That’s my copy in the scan. The art is by Sam Cherry, as usual during this era of TEXAS RANGERS. What’s a little unusual is that it depicts a scene in the issue’s lead novel, which didn’t happen often on the covers of Western pulps. I don’t know if Cherry actually read this issue’s Jim Hatfield novel or the editor or art director told him about the scene, but either way, it’s quite effective.

That lead novel, “The Deepest Grave”, is a good one, too. Texas Ranger Jim Hatfield is sent to the Big Bend area of Texas to investigate the disappearance of a young Ranger assigned to uncover the thieves behind a high-grading scheme at a gold mine. The trail leads Hatfield to the mining boomtown of LaPlata, but only after he’s ambushed and suffers an arm wound, an injury that bothers him for the remainder of this novel, which is also an unusual touch. The story barrels along with almost non-stop action and features some suspenseful scenes in a mine shaft hundreds of feet under the ground. According to the Fictionmags Index, the author of this yarn is Walker A. Tompkins, and while it’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference between the Hatfield novels by Tompkins and the ones penned by Peter Germano, I agree that this one certainly reads like Tompkins’ work. It’s a really solid, enjoyable Jim Hatfield novel.

“Half a Solid Gold Mountain” isn’t exactly a comedy, but the first-person narration has a bit of a lighthearted touch about it that works pretty well. This tale of the dangerous encounter between a prospector and a gang of Mexican bandits along the border is by Frank Scott York. I don’t know anything about the author except that he wrote about three dozen Western and detective yarns for the pulps during the mid-Fifties. This one isn’t a lost gem, but it’s enjoyable.

I don’t know anything about H.G. Ashburn, either, except that he published about a dozen stories in various Western pulps during a short career in the mid-Fifties. His story “The Last Attack” in this issue is the first of those yarns. It’s a good story about a fast gun with a bad ticker and an unusual resolution to a gunfight. I liked it.

I’ve mentioned many times that I don’t care for the Jim Hatfield novels that Roe Richmond wrote under the Jackson Cole house-name. But in recent years, I’ve come to enjoy his stand-alone Western stories under his own name. His novelette in this issue, “Pretty Devil”, is really good. Two former Confederate officers, Sid Conister and Rip Razee, left homeless and broke by the war and Reconstruction, head west to Arizona Territory so Conister can claim part-ownership in a ranch, an interest he inherited from his late wife. When they get there, they find themselves immersed in troubles right out of a Southern Gothic: lurid secrets, hidden crimes, rampaging emotions. Richmond packs enough back-story and plot into this one that it could have been a full-length novel. And actually, it might have been better at that length with more room to develop the complicated story. As is, it’s still great fun to read, and I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more stories by Richmond.

“Fight or Drift” by Giles A. Lutz is a short story about a fiddle-playing drifter with a secret. Lutz was a consistently good writer and this excellent yarn manages to be both gritty and heartwarming.

I’ve also made a number of negative comments about the work of Ben Frank. I generally find his humorous Westerns, including his long-running Doc Swap series, rather unfunny. Even so, I always give his stories a try, and in “Not the Marrying Kind”, his contribution to this issue, he proves that he can write a lightweight but fairly straightforward Western yarn. It's the tale of a young rancher who has to contend not only with a pretty blonde who has her sights set on marrying him but also an escaped outlaw who blames our protagonist for him being captured and sent to prison in the first place. It’s cleverly plotted with Frank planting some stuff early in the story that pays off later and may well be the best thing I’ve read by Ben Frank.

Overall, this is an outstanding issue of TEXAS RANGERS with not a bad story in the bunch and a good Sam Cherry cover, to boot. If you have a copy on your shelves, it’s well worth reading.

No comments: