Wednesday, April 23, 2014

King of the Gunmen

KING OF THE GUNMEN features two Western novellas by L. Ron Hubbard, the title story that appeared in the July 1938 issue of WESTERN YARNS, and "The No-Gun Gunhawk" from WESTERN ACES, November 1936.

"King of the Gunmen" finds famous gunfighter Kit Gordon dying of thirst in the desert, pursued by a posse because he's been framed for a murder committed by an old enemy of his masquerading as him. When Gordon is rescued by rough-edged sheriff Rainbow Jackson, he conceals his identity from the lawman. The sheriff has problems of his own, a bloody feud between the local cattlemen and some sheepherders who have hired a small army of gunmen to come in and take over. The sheriff has sent for help, but all he gets is an ineffectual circuit judge who's been paid off by the sheep interests. The judge puts four local cattlemen on trial for murder, which leads up to a showdown between the two factions in which Kit Gordon will have to take a hand and reveal the truth about himself if he wants to help the star packer who has befriended him. Of course, the old enemy who framed Kit for murder is working for the sheepherders, too, which makes his decision even easier.

In "The No-Gun Gunhawk", Hubbard uses a plot he's used before, that of crooked vigilantes hanging victims on trumped-up charges in order to grab their land. What makes this yarn interesting is the protagonist Pete McLean, the son of a famous gunfighter who promised his dying father that he wouldn't become a gunman, too—despite being fast on the draw and accurate with his shots. When Pete runs afoul of the vigilantes (because he's been forced to change clothes with a fleeing owlhoot), his vow may be tested before he untangles the mess and helps the old rancher and his daughter who have befriended him.

Both of these are traditional plots, but Hubbard handles them well and keeps the action moving at a brisk pace. There's nothing ground-breaking here, but they're entertaining traditional pulp Western yarns and that makes KING OF THE GUNMEN worth reading.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Death Waits at Sundown

This L. Ron Hubbard Western collection features three novelettes that originally appeared in the pulp WESTERN STORY: "Death Waits at Sundown" from October 1938; "Ride 'em Cowboy" from July 30, 1938; and "Boss of the Lazy B", from September 10, 1938.

"Death Waits at Sundown" finds Texas gunfighter Lynn Taylor trying to save his kid brother from the gallows. Falsely accused of murder, Frank Taylor has been framed by the head of the local vigilance committee. The vigilantes, who are actually outlaws, are using trumped-up charges to get rid of small ranchers so they can seize their spreads. There's a very nice sense of tension and suspense in this one as the reader waits to find out if Lynn can clear his brother's name in time to save his life.

"Boss of the Lazy B" has a bit of a legal thriller element to it, as a famous defense attorney who has retired to the West for his health takes up the case of a notorious outlaw at the urging of his daughter, who thinks the man isn't getting a fair shake. The question is whether or not this will backfire on the outlaw's advocates and put them in danger.

"Ride 'Em, Cowboy!" is my favorite story of the three, even though it's actually the simplest. It's a rodeo yarn that finds a world's champion bronc rider competing against the girl he loves, who hates him for some reason that he can't fathom. Lots of colorful rodeo action in this one, and the romance element works well and feels believable, something that doesn't always happen in Western romances.

Hubbard's writing is colorful and fast-moving in all three of these stories, and his handling of the action scenes is excellent. DEATH WAITS AT SUNDOWN is a fine collection, well worth reading for Western pulp fans. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Trick Soldier

This collection features three stories of the Marine Corps fighting bandits and rebels in Haiti and Nicarauga: "Trick Soldier" from the January 1936 issue of the pulp magazine TOP-NOTCH; "He Walked to War" from the October 1, 1935 issue of ADVENTURE; and "Machine Gun 21,000" from the December 1935 issue of DYNAMIC ADVENTURES.

"Trick Soldier" is the story of two old enemies from boot camp being assigned together ten years later and how that grudge puts them both in danger. "He Walked to War" finds a Signal Corpsman with a reputation for laziness transfers to aviation so he won't have to walk all over Nicaragua stringing telephone wire and dodging bullets, only to have that effort backfire and put him in an even more hazardous situation. "Machine Gun 21,000" is about an absent-minded officer who loses a machine gun to rebel forces and has to recover it if he wants to salvage his career.

Hubbard's writing is crisp and effective in all three of these military yarns, which bear the stamp of authenticity and capture the era between the World Wars quite well. My favorite of the trio is "Machine Gun 21,000", which also includes a couple of nice plot twists that I didn't see coming. This is another good collection of Hubbard's pulp stories.

TRICK SOLDIER e-book on Amazon

TRICK SOLDIER paperback on Amazon

TRICK SOLDIER audiobook on Amazon

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Branded Outlaw

“Branded Outlaw” is a Western novella originally published in the October 1938 issue of FIVE-NOVELS MONTHLY under the pseudonym Barry Randolph. The hero is Lee Weston, a young man from New Mexico who has gone off to Wyoming and acquired something of a reputation as a gunfighter. He returns home to his father’s ranch in New Mexico in response to a plea for help, only to find the ranch house burned down and his father dead. Lee knows that one of his father’s old enemies from trail-driving days has recently purchased a ranch in the area, so he’s convinced that the rival cattleman is responsible for what happened to his father. But when Lee gets shot up and it’s the old enemy’s beautiful daughter who rescues him and nurses him back to health, he figures there’s maybe more going on in the valley than he realized at first. If you’ve ever read many stories from the Western pulps or watched any Western B-movies, you won’t find any surprises in the plot of this one. I was impressed, though, with the quality of the writing. Vivid but not long-winded descriptions of the setting, a very fast pace, good action scenes, and believable dialogue combine to make this a pretty entertaining yarn.

"Branded Outlaw" e-book on Amazon

"Branded Outlaw" paperback on Amazon