Saddle Up

Critic and blogger Cullen Gallagher knows how easy it is to get hooked on reading westerns. They’re rather like crime novels except that the characters get around on horses instead of cars, and it takes longer to get somewhere to shoot it out with somebody. But the characters still evidence that same sense of existential aloneness, sometimes burning with a fire of revenge or injustice, sometimes just trying to find a patch of Heaven where they can get away from it all.

I mention Gallagher because he’s written a lot of pieces on western writers like Clifton Adams, Jonas Ward, Will Cook, Lewis B. Patten, Ed Gorman, Richard Telfair, Dudley Dean, Donald Hamilton, T. V. Olsen and Harry Whittington. If you haven’t checked out his blog, Pulp Serenade, you really should. It’s filled with well-thought-out essays on crime and western writers, plus reviews of some great B-movies as well.

Of course, you can also find a lot of great western reviews at James Reasoner’s blog, Rough Edges, as well as Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine and Ed Gorman’s Blog. These are some of my personal favorite blogs for reading about the kind of books I enjoy publishing here at Stark House. There’s definitely a shared taste here. We’re all on a vintage wavelength, whether it be westerns, crime fiction, science fiction, pulp or whatever.

I’ve been collecting westerns myself for a few years. I recently went on a Harry Whittington jag, and the results of that marathon will be published by Stark House next year—a trio of his westerns. I can only hope that the crime fans can handle a little saddle action. They won’t be disappointed. Harry cranked out some pretty mean, lean westerns in his day.

So did Clifton Adams, whether writing as Adams or “Clay Randall.” I recently ripped through two of his early Gold Medals, The Desperado and A Noose for the Desperado, which Gallagher had recommended—hardboiled westerns at their best. The Desperado books could just as easily have been the story of the rise and fall of a crime lord of the streets of New York. Instead, we get a very rough picture of a young man who, through the lack of emotional control, becomes a gunfighter, ready to shoot anyone who either wrongs him, or just gets in his way. It’s not a pretty picture, but Adam’s visceral writing makes it feel very real. Thanks to Cullen for pointing the way to these two noir classics.

In fact, I hope Stark House can reprint a few more of these forgotten treasures of the Old West. I picked Harry Whittington to test the waters because I had been wanting to reprint another batch of his books anyway. David Wilson and I had been discussing what major theme of Harry’s we had tackled yet, and his westerns seemed the most obvious choice. So expect not only a great collection next year, but a new essay from David as well. No one knows Whittington like Wilson does.

There are other crime/mystery writers who wrote westerns. Besides some of the authors I mentioned earlier, there are Stark House authors like A. S. Fleischman, W. R. Burnett, Day Keene and Arnold Hano. I already reprinted one Fleischman western, Yellowleg (paired with The Sun Worshippers), plus Hano’s Flint (in the three-in-one called 3 Steps to Hell), as well as a couple of Ed Gorman’s “historical mysteries” earlier this year. There are so many great vintage western novels out there, someone could make a career—just as Stark House has done with crime fiction—out of reprinting them. Sure, it’s a limited market, but it’d be a crime not to give it a try…

—Greg Shepard


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