Saturday, March 09, 2024

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Thrilling Western, July 1952

This is a pulp I own and read recently. That’s my copy in the scan. The cover is credited on the Fictionmag Index to Sam Cherry, and after looking at the faces, I do believe it’s Cherry’s work, but it’s also kind of an atypical cover for him.

It's also a little unusual that the lead novella in this issue, featured on the cover, is a story by an author who had never appeared in the pulps before. In fact, “Blood on the Lode” is one of only two stories credited to James D. Pinkham in the FMI. A novelette by him appeared in MAX BRAND’S WESTERN MAGAZINE in 1953. I wondered briefly if the name was a pseudonym for a better-known Western writer, but I decided that probably wasn’t the case. Pinkham’s style is distinct enough that I don’t recall encountering it under any other name.

And it’s a maddeningly frustrating style, too. The story is one that hasn’t been done to death in Western pulp fiction and is reasonably accurate historically, too. In 1853, a pair of California Rangers are sent to a mining boomtown to clean up the lawlessness there. The heroes, Luke Corbin and the Alamo Kid, are Texans who rode with the Rangers there while Texas was a republic, and they’ve followed their old commander, Captain Harry Love, to California. So far, so good. Corbin and the Kid are fine protagonists. In their new job, they’re up against a crooked judge and a gambler/saloon owner who’s the mastermind of a gang of claim jumpers. Or is he? His beautiful, redheaded partner in the saloon is known as the Flame and has some secrets of her own. This is good stuff, and it’s done well in stretches with some great action scenes.

But then everything lurches to a halt as Pinkham spends several columns of dense prose summing up his character’s activities. Corbin wanders around talking endlessly to various characters, and Pinkham doesn’t even give us interesting dialogue, just dry recaps of what’s being discussed. Then we’re off again on another well-done ambush or shootout, but the previous scene has robbed the story almost completely of any momentum. He keeps up this pattern all the way through the story.

Despite those flaws, there’s enough to like in “Blood on the Lode” that I wish Pinkham had written more. He could have been a promising author.

I’ve never cared for Ben Frank’s work, although the readers must have because his Doc Swap series of humorous stories ran for a long time in TEXAS RANGERS. His story in this issue of THRILLING WESTERN is a stand-alone, “The Lucky Horseshoe Case”, in which a couple of cowpokes try to become private detectives. I told myself to give it a fair chance, but it’s just awful and I only made it through a couple of pages.

The “Man’s Business” referred to in Gile A. Lutz’s story of the same name is a gunfight between two ranchers over a waterhole. However, things don’t turn out as you might expect. This is a pretty minor story, but Lutz was a solid pro and makes it readable and entertaining.

“There’s Trouble in Hardpan” is the third Swap and Whopper story by Syl McDowell that I’ve read recently. This is another humorous series that I never liked, but for some unfathomable reason, I’ve started enjoying them. Tastes change, I guess. This novelette finds the two drifting protagonists running across an orchard in the middle of the desert and clashing with a cantankerous veterinarian. As always, it’s lightweight stuff, but it moves right along and is mildly amusing.

Steuart Emery wrote a lot of excellent cavalry stories for various Western pulps, most of them appearing in TEXAS RANGERS. But there’s one in this issue of THRILLING WESTERN called “Phantom Sabers”, and it’s the usual top-notch job from Emery. It features a clash between a bookish young lieutenant and an overbearing captain and winds up with a very clever twist when a patrol is surrounded and on the verge of being wiped out by Apaches. As far as I know, Emery never wrote any Western novels, which is a shame.

This issue wraps up with “Chalk Butte Conflict”, a novelette by Ben T. Young in which a Texas cowboy wins a Wyoming ranch in a poker game. He’s too fiddle-footed to settle down, so when he arrives in Wyoming, he plans to sell the spread as quickly as he can and move on. The foreman who works for the local cattle baron rubs him the wrong way, though, and the cattle baron has a beautiful daughter (what cattle baron doesn’t?), so our protagonist decides to stick around for a spell and trouble inevitably erupts. I don’t recall if I’ve ever read anything else by Young, who wrote around a hundred stories, mostly Westerns, during the Forties and early Fifties, but this is a very good story, told in an appealing breezy style, with a likable protagonist and plenty of action. It ends this issue on a high note.

So this issue of THRILLING WESTERN is a mixed bag with no truly outstanding stories but a couple of very good ones, several that are entertaining, and only one clear miss, as far as I’m concerned. It’s about as middle-of-the-road as you can find for a Western pulp, but I enjoyed reading it.


Dick McGee said...

Sounds like this Pinkham fellow was okay at plotting, good at action scenes, and couldn't write dialog to save his life and tried to substitute raw exposition in place of it. That about right?

If so, pity he didn't find a writing partner. Lot of authors (especially in scifi) did their best work in de facto pairs, often with a spouse or SO contributing uncredited assistance. When one or the other worked on their own you could usually really notice.

James Reasoner said...

The dialog that's there is okay, nothing special, but certainly serviceable. But it's possible he just wasn't comfortable with it.

Dick McGee said...

Strange. I wonder if he was really struggling with a word count limit and his solution was to synopsize the "boring" stuff.