Friday, April 21, 2023

Comanche Vengeance by Richard Jessup

 


Ryan had bellowed for one of the cowhands to bring coffee up to the rim, and Sarah’s hands were so cold she could hardly hold the tin cup. She did not drink all of the coffee. She kept half of it and stuck her trigger finger into the warm liquid, grimacing in pain when the needles started biting the flesh back to feeling. But it worked, and once she had the right forefinger loosened up, she stuck it in her mouth to keep it warm.

This 1957 Gold Medal novel from Jessup runs an early Hannie Caulder revenge trail. Where the cinematic Hannie had to be taught to be ready for the vengeance trail, Sarah Phelps has no need of a teaching hand.

After a vicious opening she hits the trail and falls in with a gentle but steadfast companion who aids and abets the long road to vengeance with no expectation of return.

A lot of territory and time is covered in 126 pages—at a higher page count the novel might pack an increased wallop for further scene development but Jessup still has the chops to make the terse version of the revenge trek more than interesting.

A solid Western novel.

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

“Stickeen” by John Muir

 


I never have held death in contempt, though in the course of my explorations I have oftentimes felt that to meet one's fate on a noble mountain, or in the heart of a glacier, would be blessed as compared with death from disease, or from some shabby lowland accident. But the best death, quick and crystal-pure, set so glaringly open before us, is hard enough to face, even though we feel gratefully sure that we have already had happiness enough for a dozen lives.

This 1909 short story by noted American naturalist, John Muir, has the merit of the author’s grand way with describing Nature [with a capital N] in all its glory.

Nature here being a glacier in Alaska.

The location of the story and it being a dog story, as Stickeen is the name of the loyal hound here, unfortunately brings immediate comparisons with other Yukon dog stories, notably those by Jack London.

Where Muir is, indeed, emphatic with his eye for landscape, he lacks the vigor, the immediacy, the hunger for blistered raw life that London has.

While not a bad story, the shadow of London loomed so large while reading that I could never shake the thought, “Brother Muir, I dig your life and love of the outdoors, but Jack beat you to this realm and he wins with two-fisted brio.”

Monday, April 17, 2023

“You Can’t Win ‘Em All” Starring Charles Bronson & Tony Curtis

 


What would happen if you took the tropes of a Spaghetti Western, the kind where you have two lovable rogues in pursuit of a casket of jewels, added in saloon fights, Turkish cave villages instead of Mexican adobe villages, switched the gunplay from six-gun to machine gun, kept the horses and set it all in the Turkish Revolution of 1922 as opposed to the Mexican Revolution?

Well, the result may look very much like this film.

The two leads play well together, the original director, Howard Hawks, may very well have turned this into something more.

As it is, it is fast, fun, and not a bad way to spend 90 minutes.

I, for one, would have loved to see these two leads take a second shot at teaming up.

Friday, April 14, 2023

“Danger Hole” by Luke Short

 


Our supper was pretty horrible--not the food, of course, but old Mrs. Moore. She had a voice like a file with which she dispensed lies and gossip with the abandon of a malicious child. Old Mr. Moore, who had a mechanic’s love of a fact, talked under and around her in a soft, slow way, chiding her gently and picking up the pieces of destroyed reputations and putting them together again.

This novella is one of the 100 Best picks by Mr. Lewis.

It originally appeared in a 1948 issue of Western Bonanza.

This amiable tale is an example of the range that the Western story can be.

There is an assumption of those unfamiliar with the genre that there is any width and breadth in story. That all must be rough and rowdy tales and gunplay must play a part.

Some, yes, to be honest, most tales go that route.

And there are many fine tales in that vein, but those tales always have a whiff of inevitability to them. Just as a crime novel must always, ultimately, be about the crime itself, the mystery plot must glue itself to the crime or you have nothing.

The Western shoot ‘em up, no matter how insightful elsewhere, must run the rails to get to the confrontation.

But the Western story also allows expansive room that most other genres do not enjoy.

In this novella, not one shoot-out.

Not one fistfight.

Not one “Steel-eyed stranger” to be wondered at.

It is a tale of a small town, a flooded mineshaft, and the economic future that is pinned upon being able to pump the shaft free.

It plays as a sort of working man’s Main Street.

It is a fine solid tale, one easily appreciated by those who like their Westerns refreshingly expansive in definition.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

“Man on the Wagon Tongue by Elmer Kelton

 


For Coley’s skin was as black as a moonless night.

Maybe one reason Hall had held his silent so long was that the other cowboys accepted Coley and rode alongside him as if he were the same as the rest of them. The only time you could tell his color meant anything was around the wagon at night, and at mealtime. Coley always toted his bedroll out to the edge of camp, a little apart from the others. Come mealtime, he waited till last to take his plate, and he only sat on the wagon tongue, to himself. Nobody had ever told him he had to, and likely no one would have said anything to him if he hadn't. But he had spent his boyhood in slavery. He would carry the mark of that, even to the grave. He remembered, and he presumed little.

One of Mr. Lewis’ 100 Best Western Story selections.

It is a tail of prejudice on a cattle drive.

I’m of two minds regarding this tale.

The first mind sees the above passage and all others that deal with the day-in, day-out experiences of Coley and the begrudging Hall as tersely limned and mature in observation.

The second mind views the descent to formula shoot-out and redemption of views as a little less than satisfactory.

It can be read that Hall’s “acceptance” comes only after having his life saved, that is, a response to a debt.

It seems to me, that an acceptance of Coley as a man on his own terms may have kicked this one into an A level for this reader, but that is not the path it takes.

With that said, it is still a solid B Western.

Monday, April 10, 2023

Guns of Diablo Starring Charles Bronson

 


Is it television or is it a theatrically released film?

The is answer is…Both.

ABC ran the television show The Travels of Jamie McPheeters starring a young Kurt Rusell, Charles Bronson co-starred as wagon master Linc Murdock.

In 1965, Bronson’s star was rising so the final episode was re-cut and assembled for theatrical release.

It has the feel of episodic television and leans more to the romantic than the action side of things.

Bronson, is, well, Bronson…virile and believable.

He does have one notable moment of fisticuffs where he is attempting to walk away from a fight, then changes his mind.

There are also a couple of surprisingly adult scenes between Bronson and Susan Oliver that raised my eyebrow asking, “This was on TV in 1964?”

Not a must-see, but this Bronson fan enjoyed it.

For further viewing, dig up on YouTube Kurt Russell discussing the time he gave Charles Bronson the gift of a skateboard.

Friday, April 7, 2023

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“The Promise of the Fruit” by Ann Ahlswede

 


Sighs and sniffling and throat clearing came from the far corner of the room where two old men haggled softly over the pawns on a chess board. The corner was dim as twilight. Cullen turned his head to stare at them, seeing bent spines and white, tufted hair and withered hands reaching out to touch the pawns with such anxiety that life and death hovered over the board, and each breath was a shallow jealous effort. Time dribbled away between the withered fingers.

Another of “The 100 Best Western Stories” as selected by Mr. Lewis, and it is indeed a honey.

This tale from 1963 is full of bitterness as a jaded and injured soldier returns home from the War Between the States. He has had it with fighting and finds a town that has changed as much as he has.

He also finds that the genie of violence is not so easy to put back into the box; simply because one has decided they have had enough, does not make the decision universal for all.

Jaded, world-weary, mature fare.

Easy A.

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

The Poison of War by Jennifer Leeper

 


Regina’s mother was born in a brothel and died in one nearly five years before Frank pursued Regina for murder. Regina’s father, a drunk like Russell’s dad, died from his life inside the bottle when his daughter was nineteen, leaving her with only memories of a childhood where she was on her own. He hadn’t abused her, but she was neglected. It was a well-distributed fact among those that knew her. This included Frank. Regina’s only sibling, an older brother, was imprisoned in California for selling stolen car parts. He was the only one in Regina’s family who had left the reservation, and he wasn’t even a free man. Varying strains of alcoholism; from a drunk, maternal uncle stumbling off a bridge, to a paternal aunt beaten to death by an alcoholic boyfriend, had claimed Regina’s extended family. That left no one to question in that bloodline. She was cursed, but only in the way that everyone on the reservation was cursed.

This volume came from a list titled “The 24 Best Mystery Novels Featuring Native American Detectives.

It is a bit brief to be called a novel and that may be part of the problem.

The extract clearly shows craft, it has the isolation of Reservation life down pat.

The hook, or crime itself is suitably baroque to attract initial interest but…it moves so quickly to justify the chess moves of solving the “big mystery” character and motivation becomes a bit blurred.

Keep in mind, this evaluation may just be me, I am increasingly impatient with “murder” stories, crime stories as they seem to all remind me this is exactly what Dashiell Hammett was doing in the ‘20s and early 30’s and no matter how well-written [and this one is that] we wind up in the same place Hammett was almost 100 years ago.

There are allowances here and there for variation in the crime itself or the personal peccadillos of the investigator, but essentially all seems to be spinning wheels in a single man’s rut.

As one can tell, this crime-jaded reader is no reliable indicator of the quality of this genre.

I always want something more than just another episode.

Leeper has chops, but I’ve seen this show before.

Leeper gets high marks, the demerits are mine.

Monday, April 3, 2023

“The Bounty Man” Starring Clint Walker

 


A 1972 TV-movie that has Clint Walker playing against type.

Clint seems to be shadowing the other Hollywood Clint in this tale of a driven bounty hunter.

Our first scene in which Walker offers a choice to a captured outlaw, “You can go in the saddle, or over it” sets the tone.

Walker’s presence is always an asset but, his inherent decency and a very standard script and journeyman direction do the film no favors.

What does shine here is Richard Basehart chewing it up as a villain.

No great shakes, but not sorry I viewed it.

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