Monday, May 27, 2024

California Ranger - Tex Holt (Leslie Scott)

Tex Holt was a house-name used on Western novels primarily by Archie Joscelyn and Claude Rister. But several other authors used it now and then, including at least once by Leslie Scott on a novel called CALIFORNIA RANGER, published by Arcadia House in 1948.

How do I know Leslie Scott wrote this one, you ask? Well, the copy I own is signed by him, as you can see below. And even if it wasn’t, I would have known within a few pages that CALIFORNIA RANGER is Scott’s work. It opens with a vivid description of the Mojave Desert setting, and then Grant Marshal, our protagonist, happens on a trio of bad guys forcing two elderly prospectors to work an arristra, a primitive mining set-up that crushes ore so the gold in it can be retrieved. A shootout ensues, of course, with Marshal gunning down the villains.

This scene plays out exactly like it would in one of Scott’s Walt Slade, Texas Ranger novellas published in the pulp THRILLING WESTERN under the pseudonym Bradford Scott. And it just so happens Grant Marshal is described exactly the same way as Walt Slade. He even has a big horse named Smoke, and when he chases the bad guys, he shouts, “Trail, Smoke, trail!” For those of you who don’t know, Walt Slade’s horse is named Shadow, and several times in each story, he shouts, “Trail, Shadow, trail!”

All of which is to say that I strongly suspect Scott took one of his Slade yarns and rewrote it into the opening of this novel, something he frequently did in his career. I’ll give him credit, though: he doesn’t just change Walt Slade’s name to Grant Marshal and move the setting from Texas to California. The way the book plays out, I think the rest of it was probably newly written. And it’s a good one, too, as Marshal, who is on the trail of the owlhoots who murdered some of his friends, winds up in early day Los Angeles and becomes a California Ranger. There are shootouts galore, several villainous schemes foiled, and a beautiful, mysterious young woman who is tried up with the case somehow. Marshal uncovers the identity of the mastermind behind the gang that’s been wreaking havoc (said mastermind’s identity will be pretty obvious to anybody who’s read more than one or two of Scott’s novels), and everything wraps up in a very satisfactory fashion.

Some modern readers probably find Scott’s prose, especially his descriptions, florid and overwritten. Not me. I enjoy his detailed, immersive descriptions. A lot of times when I run into things like that in other authors’ books, I skim through those passages. I don’t know what it is about Scott’s work, but he holds my attention effortlessly. And his action scenes, oh, my, I can see the muzzle flashes and smell the powdersmoke. Admittedly, his plots are often repetitive, which is why I space out reading his books, but I’ve never read one of his books from before 1965 that I didn’t enjoy. The ones after that are inconsistent and usually weaker but still readable.

There was a British paperback edition of this novel, a Canadian hardback, and a Spanish translation but I don’t know in which form. Those are the only reprints of CALIFORNIA RANGER as far as I know. Many of the copies of the Arcadia House hardback for sale on-line attribute it to Archie Joscelyn, but you can take my word for it, this is definitely a Leslie Scott novel and I had a great time reading it. If you’re a fan of his work, I’d say it’s worth tracking down and reading. If you haven’t sampled his work, a lot of them are available as inexpensive e-books on Amazon under his own name and as Bradford Scott. If you’re a fan of action-packed traditional Westerns, you should give them a try.

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