Saturday, May 04, 2024

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ranch Romances, May 1967

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. That’s my copy in the scan. As usual with RANCH ROMANCES during this era, calling it a pulp is a wee bit of a stretch (it has trimmed edges and slightly smaller dimensions than a traditional pulp), but it’s certainly not a digest so pulp is the term that fits it the best, I think. And it’s certainly in the pulp tradition, having been published, at that time, for 43 years as the masthead indicates. I don’t know who did the cover, but it’s a good one.

By the time RANCH ROMANCES’ run ended in 1971, it was pretty much all reprint, but four years earlier in this issue, there are only two reprints and most of the stories were new. The issue leads off with one of those new entries, a short story by William Heuman called “Lady Killer”. Heuman was one of the great hardboiled Western pulpsters and paperbackers, but this story isn’t hardboiled at all. It’s a lighthearted tale about the town handyman courting the new schoolmarm and having to fight one of the other townies in order to take her to a dance. I don’t think Heuman was capable of writing a story that wasn’t entertaining, so this one is enjoyable to read, although a very minor piece in his body of work.

Next up is “Perris” by Lee Martin, an author who contributed several dozen stories to RANCH ROMANCES and other magazines during the Sixties. It’s about a young, pregnant woman trying to escape from the father of her child, a gunslinging killer recently released from prison. The fact that she’s pregnant and unmarried is a definite nod to the loosening of moral strictures in the Sixties, I think, although a venerable pulp like RANCH ROMANCES is kind of an odd place for that to show up. This story is okay at best. There’s not much to it and it never generates much suspense or drama.

The first reprint in this issue is the novelette “Where the Hangman Waits” by Eric Allen. It appeared originally in the First July Number, 1954 of RANCH ROMANCES. I recognize Allen’s name as the author of several Western novels set in Arkansas that I haven’t read. This story takes place next door in Indian Territory, where a town-taming lawman returns to his old stomping grounds to find out the truth when his brother is accused of murder and save him from Judge Parker’s gallows. This is the first thing I’ve read by Allen, and I found it to be okay without being overly impressed by it. He does a good job with the setting, but he has a habit of having his characters constantly call each other by name when they’re talking, a stylistic touch that always annoys me. I enjoyed this story enough that I would read more by Allen, but I’m not going to seek out his work, either.

The short story “Golden Girl” is the only credit in the Fictionmags Index for author Ken Clayton. The prose is fairly polished, though, leading me to suspect that name may be a pseudonym. This is a good contemporary Western about a former G.I. who’s prospecting for gold in Arizona. He comes across a beautiful young female rancher and her foreman, and eventually the two men clash over the girl, as you’d expect. The contemporary setting and the good writing make this one worth reading.

Gordon Redmond published four stories in RANCH ROMANCES in the mid-Sixties. That’s all I know about him. His story in this issue, “Kirby’s Woman”, is the last of those four. It’s a tale about a drifting cowboy who encounters a notorious outlaw’s woman and falls for her even though he’ll be risking his neck to do so. I thought this was going to be one of those stories with a really obvious twist ending—and it is, but it wasn’t the ending I was expecting. That elevates it a little from the average to the slightly above average.

This issue wraps up with the cover-featured novel “Fury at Painted Rock” by Will Cook. This is also a reprint, appearing originally in the Third September Number, 1954. For much of its run, RANCH ROMANCES had an odd dating system, usually two issues a month called the First and Second Numbers for that month. It’s rare for the dates to work out so that there was a Third Number some months. But to get to the story itself, which is actually a novella, I think this is the first thing I’ve read by Will Cook, although I’ve seen his name on paperbacks and in pulp TOCs for many years. He also used the pseudonyms James Keene, Frank Peace, and Dan Riordan. Like Eric Allen’s story, this one is also about a lawman returning to his hometown. In this case, the protagonist is a U.S. Marshal sent in to try to keep the peace between an old cattle baron and a bunch of homesteaders who are moving in. I wanted to like this one since it would have been good to find another new-to-me author whose work I like, but I’m afraid I found it pretty disappointing. The plot just kind of trudged along, and the writing never seemed to generate much excitement. I think I must have missed something because Cook was a popular author for a long time, and I might try something else by him, but I won’t be in any hurry to do so.

Considering that the best story in the issue is a short, very lightweight entry by William Heuman, I’d say this is a below-average issue of RANCH ROMANCES. However, I’m glad I read it because I came across something very unexpected in it. For most of its run, RANCH ROMANCES had a feature entitled “Our Air Mail” in which readers wrote in seeking pen pals. They would describe themselves and their interests and say whether they were seeking male or female pen pals, or both. The second letter in this issue’s column is from a young lady named Charlene, who was 20 years old, 5’5”, and 125 pounds, and interested in all sports including boxing and car racing. Since it really was a different world back then, people didn’t think twice about having their home addresses published in a national magazine. Our young friend Charlene was, in fact, from the same little town where I grew up and still live. Her street is about three miles from where I’m sitting at this moment. And since she was 20 years old in 1967, it’s entirely possible she’s still alive. Charlene, if you’re out there, I hope you found some good pen pals.


Anonymous said...

I've enjoyed quite a few of Will Cook's novels, and hope to read more (so many books, so little time). According to the Encyclopedia of Frontier & Western Fiction, he wrote several cavalry novels under the byline Wade Everett, which I especially liked. The Encyclopedia, incidentally, contains a nice biography of Cook. The bio alludes to his "credible and interesting characters." I also thought some of his novels, such as the cavalry stories and "Comanche Captives," were nicely grounded in history.

James Reasoner said...

I had a feeling the problem with Cook's story was more with me than with the story itself. I definitely need to try more of his work.