Thursday, April 12, 2018

Mr. Majestyk

You’re making sounds like a mean little ass-kicker, but I ain’t convinced.”

This lean 1975 novel from Elmore Leonard catches Dutch in his transition from primarily a Western author to a crime author. It is, in essence, a modern day Western, with our melon-farmer hero facing many of the same crises that stood in the way of Leonard’s pure western heroes. [Leave it to Elmore Leonard to make melon-farmers cool.]

It is a laconic western oozing with testosterone and cool and a fine way to spend an afternoon.

BTW-The 1974 flick with Charles Bronson as Mr. Majestyk and a script by Dutch is also mighty tight fare.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Sea Wolf

Let’s reverse the usual review method today. We’ll start with the opinion and end with the extract as I have chosen a lengthy one.

Jack London wrote the Sea Wolf in 1904, the year after his also classic The Call of the Wild [also reviewed on this blog.] Some may scratch their heads at this sea-faring tale being classed as a Western, but I see this hard-bitten frontier tale of overcoming hardships and forging spirit as kin to the pioneer stories of the eastern woodlands or the tales of overland prairie travels or survival tales of the southwestern desert.

This book is hailed as a classic, which can mean it’s “boring but important” or that it’s actually quite good and a touchstone. My take on this one, is the first half works beautifully. I loved Wolf Larsen’s observations delivered robustly here and there, but as it wore on it seems to sink into a bit of melodrama that is less Larsen focused. To my tastes, the novel needs Larsen to keep its heart beating.

With that said, I enjoyed it quite a bit. I’ll allow the lengthy extract to cement the theme of bootstrapping self-reliance.

"What do you do for a living?"

I confess I had never had such a question asked me before, nor had I ever canvassed it. I was quite taken aback, and before I could find myself had sillily stammered, "I am a gentleman."

His lip curled in a swift sneer.

"I have worked, I do work," I cried impetuously, as though he were my judge and I required vindication, and at the same time very much aware of my arrant idiocy in discussing the subject at all.

"For your living?"

There was something so imperative and masterful about him that I was quite beside myself -- "rattled," as Furuseth would have termed it, like a quaking child before a stern schoolmaster.

"Who feeds you?" was his next question.

"I have an income," I answered stoutly, and could have bitten my tongue the next instant. "All of which, you will pardon my observing, has nothing whatsoever to do with what I wish to see you about."

But he disregarded my protest.

"Who earned it? Eh? I thought so. Your father. You stand on dead men's legs. You've never had any of your own. You couldn't walk alone between two sunrises and hustle the meat for your belly for three meals. Let me see your hand."

His tremendous, dormant strength must have stirred, swiftly and accurately, or I must have slept a moment, for before I knew it he had stepped two paces forward, gripped my right hand in his, and held it up for inspection. I tried to withdraw it, but his fingers tightened, without visible effort, till I thought mine would be crushed. It is hard to maintain one's dignity under such circumstances. I could not squirm or struggle like a schoolboy. Nor could I attack such a creature who had but to twist my arm to break it. Nothing remained but to stand still and accept the indignity. I had time to notice that the pockets of the dead man had been emptied on the deck, and that his body and his grin had been wrapped from view in canvas, the folds of which the sailor, Johansen, was sewing together with coarse white twine, shoving the needle through with a leather contrivance fitted on the palm of his hand.

Wolf Larsen dropped my hand with a flirt of disdain.

"Dead men's hands have kept it soft. Good for little else than dish-washing and scullion work."

"I wish to be put ashore," I said firmly, for I now had myself in control. "I shall pay you whatever you judge your delay and trouble to be worth."

He looked at me curiously. Mockery shone in his eyes.

"I have a counter proposition to make, and for the good of your soul. My mate's gone, and there'll be a lot of promotion. A sailor comes aft to take mate's place, cabin-boy goes for'ard to take sailor's place, and you take the cabin-boy's place, sign the articles for the cruise, twenty dollars per month and found. Now what do you say? And mind you, it's for your own soul's sake. It will be the making of you. You might learn in time to stand on your own legs and perhaps to toddle along a bit."

Thursday, April 5, 2018

A Killing in Kiowa

This brief 1972 novel by Lewis B. Patten touches on a familiar theme for this author--a frontier outrage and the aftermath of passion skewed justice.

Here, we have the aftermath of a rape which occurs on page one that sets events in motion. This short novel is mature and treats nothing as black and white. It follows a formulary path but there is a maturity and wisdom here that had me enjoying the ride.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Spaghetti Westerns

The entire title is actually Spaghetti Westerns: The Good, the Bad and the Violent a Comprehensive Illustrated Filmography of 558 Films.

This mammoth work by Thomas Weisser receives not much love from Italian Western aficionados. Those in the know say it is rife with mistakes, and those in the know may know best, but to this reader, a minor fan of the genre, I have not encountered any discrepancies in the titles I’ve viewed. Keep in mind, Spaghettis aren’t my main viewing choice, but I do watch a few a month and thus far haven’t been steered wrong by this volume.

Make of the reservations what you will, I have found the Top Ten Lists in the back of the book interesting viewing.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Vanquished

“But remember one thing—the greatest failure of all is failure for the want of trying.”


“Keep hold on the truth. You’re the master of your world, Charley, as long as you live by and for your own life. There’s a lot of time in the day. Cover it at a steady pace, boy, and use it like a tool. Don’t lose it—don’t squeeze yourself flat. When you see a chance, take it.”

Another fine lean novel from the reliable Brian Garfield. Here the author uses an actual filibustering expedition South of the Border as the backdrop of placing men under pressure to see who and what shakes out in the end.

A long grim desert trek is the centerpiece of the tale and one can feel the harsh parched climate leeching the moisture from the skin with each miserable step taken.

Fans of Leonard and Sheriffs will find much to admire here.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Quote of the Week

He regretted the occasional necessity of giving one man authority over another because some people enjoyed that authority too much to be entrusted with it. They tended to be easily misled into an over-appraisal of their importance. It seemed to him that when a man was too thick-headed and too low-down trifling to hold an honest job, he was usually able to find some other damn fool willing to hand him a measure of jurisdiction over the lives of his betters.”—T. C. Lewellen

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Whispering Smith

“Meantime, McCloud stuck to the mine, and insensibly replaced his Eastern tissue with Western. In New England he had been carefully moulded by several generations of gentlemen, but never baked hard. The mountains put the crust on him. For one thing, the sun and wind, best of all hemlocks, tanned his white skin into a tough all American leather, seasoned his muscles into rawhide sinews, and, without burdening him with an extra ounce of flesh, sprinkled the red through his blood till, though thin, he looked apoplectic.”

This novel from 1906 is a landmark of the genre known as the Railroad tale, novels and stories that told of adventure, romance, and mystery in, on, and around railroads.

Here, novelist Frank Spearman offers us what is perhaps THE textbook example of the genre and the often-filmed tale of the railroad detective Whispering Smith. It is a novel of its time and requires patience here and there as melodrama abounds, but I found more than enough pith within the pages to get a good deal of enjoyment from it.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Bendigo Shafter

“Going on would have been simple, for travel is an escape, and as long as our wagons moved our decisions could be postponed. When one moves, one is locked in the treadmill of travel, and all decisions must await a destination. By choosing to stop we had brought our refuge tumbling about us, and our problems could no longer be avoided.

“The promised land is always a distant land, aglow with golden fire. It is a land one never attains, for once attained one faces fulfillment and the knowledge that whatever a land may promise, it may also demand a payment of courage and strength.

“To destroy is easy, to build is hard. To scoff is also very easy, but to go on in the face of scoffing and to do what is right is the way of a man.”

A later period novel from Louis L ’Amour. I’ll be honest some of his novels can strike me as sloppy or not much better than formulary, but he will occasionally have a novel that feels so from the heart, it has a rib-sticking quality to it. This volume is one of those rib-sticking works.

This novel comes from a deeply informed place and on one-hand is straight-forward simplicity in story-telling with no-frills while on the other there are moral or practical asides that give one pause for contemplation. His knowledge of the terrain rings true, he drops little bits about survival in the mountains that gibes with reality, but, again, his moral asides resonate. They tread a balance between erudite and folksy pragmatic—most importantly these asides strike me as heartfelt.

A superlative L ‘Amour novel.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

A Man Named Yuma

He heard the moan plain enough but took another step. He wasn’t sure. An adobe shed had cut off his view above and from the front yard. Keeping well out from the shed, cutting around past its mud corner, he suddenly saw the man. He was staked out, naked and spread-eagled.”

This is the opening from A Man Named Yuma, written by the always reliable T. V. Olsen. This gritty tale of the southwest matches Elmore Leonard in its leanness of prose and its laconic testosterone infused-spirit.

While being a formulary Western, it is mighty well done and well-worth an afternoon on the front porch for fans of Leonard, Garfield, Shirreffs, and, hell, Olsen himself.

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Cold Dish

Billy, you say you saw this body?”

“Yeah, I did.”

“What’d it look like?”

Silence, for a moment. “Looked like a body.”

I thought about resting my head on my desk. “anybody we know?”

The first of the popular Longmire series by Craig Johnson. The characters are wonderful, and the man has a way with observation but, to this reader, at least…the “mystery” or crime elements are so familiar, and you’ve got to spend so much time on that genre-element it drops this a grade. But that drop is only a wee bit.

I think if the novel were about Sheriff Longmire and Henry Standing Bear going fishing and shooting the breeze I’d read the whole series, but alas, there are episodic cop tropes to make it through.

Please don’t read this impression as not enjoying the novel—I did, a good deal. It reminds me of noted Western author A. B. Guthrie’s Chick Charleston mysteries, which strike me the same. Wonderful characterization, maybe a little too familiar on the mystery element.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Wearing the Morning Star

Not enough
Never enough of her.
That one dancing there dancing
Never enough

Of the smell of her body
To me
Never enough
I cannot live without her breath.”

Here’s something a little different, an anthology of Native American Song Poems edited by Brian Swann.  Mr. Swann has culled through the anthropological record to provide this mix of staggering beauty, unadulterated humanity [including the finest love-poem I’ve ever read], and open-faced bawdiness.

Within you will find women singing of vaginas as large as canoes with clitorises as large as men-and these are compliments. The anthropologist’s notes showed that these were sung by old and young women alike with no sense of it being indecent or untoward—just as we sing about the “Old Rugged Cross” with a dying man on it and it does not strike us as grisly.

I will admit there are several in here that have such an otherworldly reference system I don’t know what to make of them [yet], but overall this is a gorgeous glimpse into an alternate perception of the world around us.

A glimpse that if studied assiduously may provide a deeper and wider view than the one we currently enjoy.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Hardcase for Hire

A short novel from 1963, Clay Randall was a penname for the prolific Clifton Adams, who wrote Westerns under his own name as well.

What we have here is a story of, why would a shantytown in the middle of Indian territory occupied by nothing but riff-raff go out of their way to build an ornate opera house.

Full of human observations and odd characters. Not a vital read as this genre is chockful of intriguing reads, but reminds me again why I keep returning to this literary area.

Solid if not essential.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Hardest Ride

2 lbs dried pinto beans

 1/2-lb pork belly or 2 or 3 smoked ham hocks

 1/2-lb ham—diced

1/2-cup chorizo (Mexican sausage)—casing removed and crumbled

6 slices fried bacon—chopped or crumbled

5 roma tomatoes or 3 large slicing tomatoes—chopped

1 medium onion—chopped (delete or less if desired)

1/2-cup cilantro— finely chopped

4 cloves garlic—whole

6 jalapeƱo peppers—finely sliced (serrano peppers optional—hotter)

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 small green pepper—chopped (optional)

1 tomatillo (Mexican husk tomato)—chopped (optional)

Salt to taste (not much)  

And some folks are happy with a can of generic brand pork ’n’ beans, especially sad when you consider that back in Bud’s time, canned pork and beans were actually chock full of pork, not today’s single half-inch cube.

This award-winning Western from Gordon Rottman has heart. We follow a young cowboy and the growing relationship between himself and a mute Mexican girl.

The novel has its gritty side as well, when a cross-the-border kidnapping requires much of both protagonists. While not a classic, it is a solid read with the beating heart of the couple keeping it from standard genre fare.

The book makes much ado about the young lady’s cooking prowess, and the author is good enough to offer a recipe in the afterword. Give both the book and the beans a try, well worth your time.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Lonesome Trail & Other Stories

Come early and stay late, and bring your appetites along. Fare-you-well, my brothers!”

A 1909 story collection from B.M. Bower. Bower always had a way with the amiable folksy approach to the cowboy story which she utilizes here, but I must admit where some older works wear their charms well, this one a little less so.

A bit too ambling to warrant a rush to read this one.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Indian Scout Talks

Have you ever wondered why most great men were born in humble homes and passed their early youth in the open country? There a boy is accustomed to see the sun rise and set every day; there rocks and trees are personal friends, and his geography is born with him, for he carries a map of the region in his head. In civilization there are many deaf ears and blind eyes. Because the average boy in the town has been deprived of close contact and intimacy with nature, what he has learned from books he soon forgets, or is unable to apply. All learning is a dead language to him who gets it at second hand.”

Another fine volume from Charles Eastman [his The Soul of the Indian was reviewed on this blog.] It takes the form of a series of talks or lessons to young readers, but this reader long past Boy Scout years still found much wisdom within.

A fine read for both American Indian enthusiasts and scout-crafters culling for ideas.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Son

They could not seem to grasp that what mattered was what you did. Not what you said or thought about.”

A big sprawling novel by Phillip Meyer that is the basis for the AMC series.

Meyer has literary chops. No doubt about it.

Meyer has authenticity—the man spent time learning to bow-hunt, he has eaten raw buffalo liver on the plains and other such “get inside the skin” of the character tactics to bring realness to the novel.

The authenticity and the literary prowess are never in question.

With that said, while I enjoyed this book a good deal, I never quite felt that total immersion as in other sprawling Western sagas. Now, this may be a fault of this particular reader for often when a book doesn’t quite connect it can be that the story does not do what we the reader wants it to do; in those cases it is wise to sit back, and leave the unwritten book in our heads out of the equation and enjoy what is on the actual page.

I enjoyed The Son immensely, but it feels as if it is reaching for classic, and if I value it on that scale it falls a wee bit short.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Quote of the Week

I see a good many enemies around, and mighty few friends.”—Gunman Bill Longley from the gallows. (Longley had 32 murders to his name).

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Bugles in the Afternoon

A man must feel he belongs to something. As long as he floats around space doing little chores that start and end with his hands and never reach his heart, he’s no good to himself. Some things are real and some things are only tinsel paper that people wrap themselves in, having nothing more important to do with their time.”

This 1943 beauty by Ernest Haycox is ostensibly about Custer’s last stand, which we do encounter in the climax, but it is much more than that.

We follow soldier Kern Shafter through affairs of honor, of the heart, and of warfare. Shafter is good company, he is the Western hero writ as real, but still embodies much of the shining knight nobility that can attract when penned by a true craftsman rather than being a mere carboard cutout.

Fans of Haycox already know to expect good things. Fans of John Ford’s cavalry trilogy will find much of the same feel of humanity, honor, and the push and pull of human dynamics here.

I would also like to remark on a scene during a blizzard, Haycox [and perhaps Alistair MacLean] write some of the most realistic man vs. elements scenarios to be found. You will feel the chill in your bones.

A rightfully acknowledged classic.

Monday, January 29, 2018

A Conversation with Ace Atkins

Ace Atkins is the New York Times Bestselling author of twenty-one novels, including The Fallen and Robert B. Parker's Little White Lies, both out from G.P. Putnam's Sons.

One of the best crime writers working today, Ace has been nominated for every major award in crime fiction, including the Edgar twice for novels about former U.S. Army Ranger Quinn Colson. A former newspaper reporter and SEC football player, Ace also writes essays and investigative pieces for several national magazines including Outside and Garden & Gun.

He lives in Oxford, Mississippi with his family, where he's friend to many dogs and several bartenders.

Find out more about Ace and his novels on his official website:, on Facebook Ace Atkins, and on Twitter @aceatkins.


First things first, an explanation and unadulterated admiration. Some may scratch their heads wondering why I sought a crime-writer for a Western fiction interview, but I think open minds easily see the Quinn Colson novels as Down South Contemporary Westerns. We’ve got a conflicted small-town sheriff, good men facing bad men, hell, we’ve got a dog named Hondo, the Colson novels are as iconic as they get.

I gotta ask, is there an appreciation for the genre, or have I read too much into this? Either way, I love Colson, so I win no matter your answer.

You definitely didn't read too much into the Colson books. They are Westerns. The genesis of the novels was to write a Western based in modern-day north Mississippi. In fact, that's pretty much what I told my editor at Putnam, Neil Nyren, when we were kicking around the idea for a new series. I could switch the pickup trucks to horses and make Quinn a Civil War vet -- instead of one from modern times -- and it wouldn't change much at all.  Mississippi continues to be a place for outlaws and disorder. From the thieves to the politicians.

Did you have any Western influences percolating when creating the Colson character? I mean at the very least the dog’s name is an obvious Louis L ’Amour or at least John Wayne film reference.

Absolutely! Perhaps too many to name. I thought a lot about High Noon, The Searchers, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (a story that influenced my second Colson novel, The Lost Ones,) and even Support Your Local Sheriff. If I ever get lost finding Quinn's voice, I go back to James Garner. At his most basic, Quinn is Cooper, or Garner, the classic town sheriff. Hondo and the lever-action Winchester are definitely homages to the film with John Wayne. 

You’ve got a tight laconic style allowing sparse phrasing to the job to set mood and move the action along. This is from The Broken Places:

Bones lay next to him, as snug and tight as cheap corpses buried two for one, as Dickie slid a thick metal sheet over them and left them in darkness.”

That is tight craft. Evocative, quick, and gets the job done. Is your tight style an influence from your journalism days, or something else?

I've had so many influences over the years, from Hammett and Chandler to Hemingway to the wonderful Westerns of Elmore Leonard. Not to mention working as a reporter. In the newspaper business, you learn to choose your words carefully and make every one count. I wouldn't trade that experience for any other.


Your Colson novels are not the only work that I see these Western parallels in. Many historians see the age of the 1930s Dust Bowl gangsters as the end point of the Wild West. After all, we have a Texas Ranger, Frank Hamer, bringing down Bonnie and Clyde. Your novel Infamous allows us to follow the hapless George “Machine Gun” Kelly.

Your research here is impeccable. How important is to you to get the balance between “Here’s how it was” and the fictional narrative thrust just right?

Amongst all the 1930s gangsters, what was it about Kelly that attracted you?

Oh, man. Thanks for asking about Infamous. That's probably my favorite project and perhaps the least read. I spent a tremendous amount of time researching that novel and I have to admit about ninety percent is pretty much spot-on. I didn't have to play with the facts, because the facts were so great. It was pretty much the only true crime novel that I wrote where there was a definite beginning, middle, and end to the factual story. I chose Kelly because he had never had his own book or a good movie. He was wide open territory to explore. But I quickly found out why he hadn't been touched -- he never killed anyone, or fired that machine gun, and was pretty much bossed around by his wife. To me, that made him even more fun. I really loved that guy and loved telling his story. His story is a comedy whether George Kelly liked it or not.

If you were to have another go at a 1930s gangster, who might get your creative juices flowing?

No doubt Alvin Karpis. Someday I'll write that book. I've already started a little research in my little spare time.

You come to fiction from a past life as a crime reporter. As a matter of fact, I believe you were in the running for a Pulitzer Prize for your work on an unsolved Tampa murder which you subsequently turned into the fine novel White Shadow. Would you tell us a little about that trajectory from real-life sleuthing to the fictional page?

I came to reporting knowing that I ultimately wanted to be a novelist. Hemingway was pretty clear about any serious novelist had to spend time in the newsroom. And I was damned fortunate to be in the last old days of the profession when the printing presses actually ran. I learned a lot about people, researching, and tracking down great details. I think it took me about four novels to come around and take what I'd learned as a journalist and inject it into my work. White Shadow, about the 1950s in Tampa, was the first. 

Your novel Wicked City is about as Western as it gets. Bad town, good man is needed to clean up that town. Here, we have the added weight that you are dealing with the real-events of a truly wicked city, Phenix City, Alabama. Can I ask what drew your attention to this project?

 I definitely wanted this novel to feel like a 1950s Western. The time it's set -- 1954 -- was the zenith of the American Western in pop culture. Wicked City was a story that I'd been wanting to tell for years. I used to live about thirty miles from Phenix City and was well versed in its history. My grandfather had worked for legendary Alabama governor "Big Jim" Folsom and was no stranger to that town's underworld. My other grandfather was a bootlegger in western Alabama. I knew these people and the terrain. It was a natural story for me with echoes back to the Old West.

Another of your terrific “ripped from the historical headlines” novels is Devils’ Garden which puts real-life detective and hardboiled icon Dashiell Hammett on the Fatty Arbuckle case. Some may not realize it but this era of Hollywood is where the West went to fade. We’ve got Wyatt Earp doing a bit of film consultant work and hanging around movie sets. The cowboy detective Charlie Siringo was an overlapping contemporary with Hammett. Again, what drew you to this story?

Outside the South, I'm probably most drawn to writing about San Francisco. It was a city my father knew and loved very much. I lived there as a kid when he was coaching for the 49ers. Some or my earliest memories are wandering around The City. On a visit some years ago, I came across references to Arbuckle and a footnote that Hammett had worked the case as a Pinkerton. I was shocked no one had told that story. I pretty much dove right into that world. I was immersed in 1921 and one of the great 20th Century tragedies.

Are there any other historical works in the pipeline for you?

I never want to completely leave the True Crime Novel. I feel this is where I blend my work as a journalist, researcher, and fiction writer. The only issue is that they take so damn long to research and write! At the moment, I'm under contract for many more Quinn Colson and Spenser novels and don't have time for anything else. But I know someday that's where I'll return. That's my home. I feel like those four novels I wrote were unique and so different, blending the work of a reporter and a novelist. I definitely want to write more and have more stories in mind.

Many of your works are set in the Deep South, there is such a strong sense of place and it is clear that you are a resident and know it well. I love this quip from you where you said that your main influences were William Faulkner and Burt Reynolds. With that said, what is it about the South that keeps you coming back?

The rugged country and the dysfunction. There's no where else like it. It's also where I was born and continue to live. And right now, there is no better place in America to talk about. So many issues that I thought we'd addressed long go have raised up their ugly heads. Racism, corruption, hypocrisy. Time has turned back. The ugliness has returned but with lots of good folks who want to fight it. I think the Colson books are now more relevant than ever to discuss race, religion and politics. Nowhere else is it more divisive.

I also have to ask, what is your favorite good ol’boy Burt Reynolds flick?

Probably White Lightning. Closely followed by Deliverance and Smokey and the Bandit

You have also taken over the late Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series. Parker also wrote a couple of fine Westerns towards the end of his life currently being continued by another author. Any chance of you taking a whack at these?

Parker famously said his Spenser novels were simply the evolution of the American Western. He said all PI novels were about the gunmen from the West moving into contemporary times and the big city. I think at the very end of his career, Bob was more interested in the Westerns than anything he was writing. I know he loved going back to the source of his work for the inspiration and the wonderful simplicity. My buddy Robert Knott, who wrote the film Appaloosa, has taken on those stories and I hope he continues for a long while. He does a wonderful job.

Prior to Colson we had another series character, also based in the Deep South in the form of Nick Travers. Tell us a little about the inspiration for Nick.

Well, Nick was greatly inspired by the work of Robert B. Parker. I see so much Spenser in those early books and perhaps that's what made my transition to taking over the series easier. But I also came from a place where the classic hardboiled detective novel met blues music. I found a common ground for Hammett and Chandler with Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. When I realized blues was just another hardboiled art form, I pretty much had Nick and his world in New Orleans. Those stories are finding new life as graphic novels. The first, Last Fair Deal Gone Downcame out two years ago, with Crossroad Blues coming out this spring.

Any chance of Nick making a comeback? 

As a new novel? You never know. I would love to write another one someday. But I'd have to find the right story. I owe that guy a lot. He got my career started nearly twenty years ago!

The Travers novels are full of blues lore. You clearly know what you’re talking about here. I’m also a huuge blues fan. If you met someone who said, “I’ve never heard the blues, what’s it all about?” any top artists or works that you would point to and say, “Listen to this! That’s the blues.”

 Muddy Waters, "Hard Again" album. If Muddy and Johnny Winters shouting on "Mannish Boy" doesn't move you, nothing will.

Let’s get Western specific. Are there any Western authors or particular works that moved you as Ace Atkins the reader? To be honest, I’m simply asking, “What are your top-picks” in the hopes I find some untapped gold.

From the golden age, I loved The Ox Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg. Both the novel and the film. In fact, that story was the basis for my fourth Colson book, The Forsaken. It's one of most important and relevant Westerns we have. I'm also a huge fan of Elmore Leonard. He's the very definition of the journey from the old west to contemporary crime. He was a personal friend, a hero to me, and continues to be an inspiration. And I have to mention, True Grit by Charles Portis. One of the great novels of the 20th Century.

What’s next in the pipeline for Ace Atkins?

I just finished my seventh Spenser novel, Old Black Magic, that will be out in May. At the moment, I'm working on the eighth Colson novel, The Sinners, that will be out later this summer. And then back to both Spenser and Quinn for 2019. 

Ace, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to have this conversation. All the best to you and much success on your upcoming work.

A real pleasure! Always glad to talk about the Old West and its continued influence in pop culture. It is one of the greatest American art forms.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Western Movie Quotations

Monty: Hey Jim, see if you can find some good women and bad whiskey.

Jim: How about the other way around?

[Monty Walker played by Gilbert Roland and Jim Hadley played by Alan Ladd. Robert D. Webb’s Guns of the Timberland (Warner Bros., 1960).

This massive compilation of quotes from Western films was compiled by Jim Kane. Within you will find over 6,000 quotes from over 1,000 films.

It clocks in at 551 pages and breaks quotes down by subject, from Bad Guys to Women.

Clearly a labor of love, this is mighty entertaining browsing.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Blood of the Conquerors

Immense and empty the country stretched before him—a land of far-flung levels and even farther mountains; a land which makes even the sea, with its near horizons, seem little; a land which has always produced men of daring because it inspires a sense of freedom without any limit save what daring sets.”

This 1921 novel by former journalist Harvey Fergusson shows up on a few Best Western lists. It indeed has a Western setting, New Mexico to be specific, but the emphasis here is people and cultures, and the divide between the Spanish and the Anglos.

It is wise and profoundly cynical and eschews action for drawing character. With that said, if one is in the mood for a more contemplative work than most, and one that while not necessarily dark with violence is less than rosy in the estimation of human character and motives it’s a fine novel on that count.

This one tips the balance from entertainment to literature.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Quote of the Week

“All right, if you’re going to make your fight take your time. He’ll come shooting. Have your gun cocked, but don’t pull until you’re sure what you’re shooting at. Aim for his belly, low. The gun’ll throw up a bit, but if you hold it right and wait until he’s close enough, you can’t miss. Keep cool and take your time.” Wyatt Earp’s advice to Robert Cahill before a gunfight.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Desperate Rider

“Really to understand, you must see Conant as he existed in the world at that time. He was not an immoral man by the standards of the New Mexico Territory. Nor was he cruel in the sense of knowing cruelty.”

Rock solid author Frank O’Rourke delivers this brief 1959 novel that plays as a sort of Desperate Hours in New Mexico. Escaped convict Conant must hole up with a family that already has its own tensions and burdens. Over the course of a week we watch the dynamics tug this way and that.

I am an O’Rourke fan and find his novel The Last Chance one of my finest western reads of last year, but I found this one a bit lacking. There are spots of the usual O’Rourke strengths, but there are also long passages where not much of anything happens. We simply wait along with the family held hostage.

Friday, January 19, 2018

The Overlook Film Encyclopedia: The Western

This behemoth of a source for Western film edited by Phil Hardy strives to give us reference and critical evaluation of practically every Western produced between 1929 and 1990.

Do some films fall through the cracks? Well, yes, it is inevitable that such a thing would occur with such a monumental task, but that doesn’t make this book any less a valuable resource.

Of particular use, to this this reader at least, are the Appendices in the back of the book—notably Appendix 4 which offers Top Ten Lists [and higher numbers] from 17 critics and other scholars of the Western film to guide you to more than a few undiscovered treasures.

Also of note, Appendix 6: Selected Sound Westerns and Their Novel Sources that allows the interested Western reader to track down novels that inspire their favorite films and vice versa.

An invaluable resource for Western aficionados.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Sweeney's Honor

A man who limps is still on his feet.”

This is another rugged, sweaty and gritty tale from Brian Garfield. Lt. Thomas Sweeney, a one-armed Irishman is charged with holding a desolate crossing on the Colorado River with only 10 unhappy men at his disposal. He’s got outlaws on one side and Yuma Indians on the other ready to take that crossing.

This fast novel is from Garfield’s later period where he has refined the down and dirty gritty style that compares favorably with Elmore Leonard’s work.

I enjoyed this one a good deal, but if one is new to Garfield, might I suggest starting with Tripwire [reviewed on this very blog] for some lean and mean one-man army fun.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Quote of the Week

"I have always believed the Western people to be much truer than the Eastern people. We in the East are overcome a good deal by a detestable, superficial culture which I think is the real barbarianism. Culture in it's true sense, I take it, is a comprehension of the man at one's shoulders. It has nothing to do with an adoration for effete jugs and old kettles."-Stephen Crane

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Bitter Sage

“I’ve got the revolver,” Vesser reminded.

“I wish you didn’t have it.” Tancred hesitated. “You’ve fired a gun, Mr. Vesser. And you’ve probably hit your target.”

“I’m better with a rifle.”

“You’re not better than they are,” Tancred said, earnestly. “There’s a difference in shooting at a deer and—and a man. You have an aversion to killing—any normal man has—and whether you’d want to or not, you’d hesitate before actually pulling the trigger on a human being, They won’t. They’re killers.”

This brisk 1954 novel from Frank Gruber tells of Wes Tancred, a sort of stand in for Bob Ford, of killing Jesse James fame. We follow Tancred as he tries to live down a reputation of having killed his own legendary outlaw.

This brief novel clocks in at a mere 144 pages, and while not world-shaking in novelty, it plays the old game well and is not a bad way to spend a winter afternoon.

Monday, January 15, 2018

A Conversation With Scott Von Doviak

Scott Von Doviak is a pop culture writer for the Onion’s AV Club and former film critic for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He has written three books on film and television (Hick Flicks, If You Like The Terminator, and Stephen King Films FAQ) and contributed to the 2017 collection Approaching Twin Peaks: Critical Essays on the Original Series. His debut novel Charlesgate Confidential will be published in 2018 by Hard Case Crime. He lives in Austin, Texas.

First things first, I want to thank you for your book Hick Flicks—I absolutely loved it. With that said, would you mind telling us what made you decide to devote so much effort to what is, admittedly, a niche genre?

 It was a book I wanted to read until I found out it didn’t exist and decided I would have to write it myself. I had been to an outdoor screening of Deliverance complete with canoe trip, and before the movie started there were all these trailers for ‘70s B-movies about moonshiners and truckers and swamps. I remembered some of them from my childhood and it occurred to me that this was a genre unto itself.

Could you sum up a definition of the genre for the uninitiated?

 Everyone knows about blaxploitation, a B-movie genre that peaked in the ‘70s. Those movies appealed to an urban audience, but at the same time stuff like Shaft and Superfly was playing inner city grindhouses, rural drive-ins were flooded with cheaply-produced action movies, mostly set in the South with good ol’ boy heroes pitted against redneck sheriffs. This was hixploitation (a term that’s been incorrectly attributed to me by some, though it pre-dates Hick Flicks).

The genre, to my eyes, in some cases has an element of the Western to it. A bit of Southern Pride, yes, but often it seems to be a sort of offshoot of wild and wooly story-telling. This dialogue from Sam Peckinpah’s Convoy encapsulates what I am referring to:

They’re all following you,” MacGraw monotones.

“No they ain’t,” Kristofferson gravels. “I’m just in front.”

I may have cherry-picked there as Peckinpah was a Western legend in both film and the small screen, but do you see that connection, or am I reaching?

 I don’t think you’re reaching. These are Southerns rather than Westerns, and the stagecoach has been replaced by the eighteen-wheeler, but many of the tropes transfer over pretty easily. There’s a tendency to glorify the macho loner figure and pit him against authorities that are frequently corrupt. It’s no coincidence that Peckinpah was drawn to Convoy.

I love how generous you are with your judgments. The genre has no pretensions to art, although it may hit it now and again as with Deliverance, but you admirably take the genre on its own terms. In many cases, if the film is fast, sweaty, and has a least a chuckle or two it may have done its job. With there being so many dogs in this genre were there times that you thought to yourself, “Good Lord, I can’t take seeing another one of these”?

 All the time. I wrote the book around 2002-03, which was before the dawn of streaming, and I’m fortunate enough to live in Austin which still has a couple of thriving video stores but had more of them at the time. I’d pile up these VHS copies of things like Dixie Dynamite and The Pigkeeper’s Daughter, and I’d get some pretty strange looks at the checkout counter. I’d say the low point was my 24-hour marathon of hillbilly horror, which I chronicle in diary form in the book. Once I’d survived the likes of Blood Salvage and three Texas Chainsaw sequels, I knew I could make it through anything.

You being the expert what films would make the Scott Von Doviak Hick Flick Hall of Fame? Say a good top 5 picks.

1.      Deliverance, the one that started it all for me and probably still in my top 20 movies of all time.

2.      The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the Tobe Hooper original, a grimy masterpiece that transcends the hillbilly horror genre.

3.      Songwriter, a supremely underrated Willie Nelson vehicle loosely based on his own legend

4.      Smokey and the Bandit, a childhood favorite that still holds up as a thoroughly enjoyable comedic chase flick

5.      Southern Comfort, Walter Hill’s semi-ripoff of Deliverance that generates incredible suspense and tension in its own right

Let’s flip that over, can you name a few films that were so mind-numbingly awful you wanted to cry waiting for the third act?

 Too many to count. One that made me feel like I was losing my mind is Poor Pretty Eddy, also known as Redneck County Rape, among other titles. Lesley Uggams plays a singer whose car breaks down in a scary hillbilly town, with results both predictable and otherwise. As I said in the book, “It’s the kind of movie David Lynch might make if something heavy fell on his head.”

The genre is often cars, crashes, girls—rinse, wash, repeat, but there are more than a few sideroads taken, as in RVers vs. devil-worshippers in Race with the Devil. Can you name a few more films that may not necessarily be good, but you have an admiration for the “Wait till you get a load of this premise”?

 One particular subgenre that fascinates me is “Soul Winners,” which were shown at revival meetings in order to scare people back to the Lord. I definitely wouldn’t call them good, but they can be pretty deranged. There’s one called If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? about a communist takeover of the United States in which a soldier tells a roomful of Bible students that if they want to pray for candy, they should pray to Fidel Castro instead of Jesus. And it works!

Did the project leave you with an admiration for the genre or did it sate you for life?

 I still have an affectionate for it, which is good because I’m sort of tied to it now. People are still discovering the book, and every now and then I’m contacted for comment about some hixploitation-related development, so I guess I’m the “Hick Flicks” guy for life now.

There have been a few recent films that fit the Hick Flick definition since publication, such as Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky. Any other films of recent vintage that you would love to include in a second edition?

 I used to keep a list in case I ever got the chance to do a revised or expanded edition of the book, but it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen. In the years since the book was published, Winter’s Bone was one of the best, and I definitely enjoyed Logan Lucky. Nowadays, though, hixploitation is mostly found on reality TV, and it’s pretty depressing.

Again, I admire how you tackled a genre that has received little to no attention. Are there other genres that you wouldn’t mind shining a spotlight on? Biker flicks, Indiansploitation as in Billy Jack, et cetera.

 I’ve done a book on Stephen King adaptations and another on The Terminator and its influences, and from time to time I’ve pondered a book on Texas crime movies. I’m focused on writing fiction for now, though.

What’s next in the pipeline for Scott Von Doviak?

 My debut novel, Charlesgate Confidential, will be published in September 2018 by Hard Case Crime. It’s inspired by a famous Boston art heist and unfolds in three different time periods, with many twists and turns.

Scott, thanks for taking the time, best of luck to you in all of your ventures!

Thanks, Mark! I appreciate your interest in Hick Flicks.

Mr. Majestyk

“ You’re making sounds like a mean little ass-kicker, but I ain’t convinced.” This lean 1975 novel from Elmore Leonard catches Dutch ...