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.

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