Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Weekly Quote: A Man's Spurs

"When I envied a man's spurs then they were indeed worth coveting."

-Zane Grey

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Shotgun Bottom by Bill Burchardt - Western Novel Review

I like my western novels without telephones and cars so this purchase was an accident.  The cover of SHOTGUN BOTTOM just didn’t give it away.  Had I known more about the author BILL BURCHARDT, I shouldn’t have been surprised, as he commented in TWENTIETH CENTURY WESTERN WRITERS 2nd Edition that he “was fascinated by the untold stories of the Oil Rush Wild West”, the time period in which this novel is set.  

At any rate, SHOTGUN BOTTOM is a darn good read.  It’s set in the early oil boom days and autos are new enough that they are rare but not so new that folks have never seen one. The telephone is only mentioned once, but the autos (there are two) play key roles in the story.  Despite the “modern” elements, it reads pretty much like your standard western story.

The oil boom town is called WILD HORSE and next to it is an unincorporated area called Shotgun Bottom which is filled with “dancehall girls, card shark gamblers, hop peddlers, bootleggers, and hijackers” who prey on the oil roustabouts who work the oil rigs; the “swivel-necks” and “jarheads”.  And Shotgun Bottom, naturally, is out of the Marshal’s jurisdiction, “but from this street his troubles came.”   And troubles there were aplenty.

The Marshal is FRANK LEDBETTER who comes to Shotgun Bottom at the request of his friend BUCK LOFLIN, a local merchant.  Ledbetter has been in the army but was tired of it and didn’t see any future there so he decided to take his friend’s offer.  He was appointed Marshal in a special election to complete the former marshal’s term.  BURT TOLLER, the former marshal, not wanting to end up dead, decides it’s safer to be the jailer.  That doesn’t turn out to be “safer” at all.

Cover of Shotgun Bottom by Bill Burchardt

Ledbetter and Loflin continually push the town council to incorporate Shotgun Bottom to allow Ledbetter to clean it up.  Half the town council wants to incorporate it, the other half refuses to go along.  The two friends are puzzled as to why the mayor and his father, who pretty much “owns” the town, are so set on keeping Shotgun Bottom out of the city limits.  Toller gives Ledbetter a clue and he works on it until he discovers the truth.  

The mayor’s father “OLD JUDGE” ED GUTHRIE owns the land and all of the property  in Shotgun Bottom and charges untaxed rent.  In addition to that, his son RICHARD "RICHIE" GUTHRIE, tired of his tightwad father not sharing the wealth, charges higher rents when he collects and, unknown to his father, he pockets the difference.  

When Ledbetter figures it out, he tips the Shotgun Bottom businessowners off which causes a row between Richie and his father.  This, however, doesn’t get him any closer to persuading the town council to vote Shotgun Bottom inside the city limits.  He needs to persuade one of the council members to change his vote.  

While he and Loflin are pondering how to change the vote, his troubles with the wilder elements in Shotgun Bottom continue to plague him.  Things heat up when his jailer, Burt Toller is killed by a man whose bail is set by the local money-grubbing lawyer (who is making money off the crooks he springs from the jail).  In running down the killer, Ledbetter gets into a fistfight with him and the killer falls under an approaching train.  Now the killer’s brother wants Ledbetter killed!

As mentioned, there are two autos in the story.  One is owned by Ledbetter, although he seems reluctant to drive it much.  It’s never clear whether it’s his own personal auto or the county purchased it for him.  The other auto is owned by TAYLOR BEACHEM, the same local money-grubbing  lawyer, who also has political aspirations.  Beachem’s wife, BEAUTY desperately wants to learn how to drive the car despite being both frightened of the car and of her abusive husband.  She is so humiliated by his treatment of her in public while he tries to ‘teach’ her how to driver, that she eventually gives up and decides to take the car out in secret to learn on her own.  

She continually has car problems (choked engine, out of gas) that find her directly in front of Loflin’s business.  Naturally, she turns to Loflin for help in getting her car started.  This leads to Beachem suspecting she’s having an affair with Loflin and he ends up beating her mercilessly.  Although she has not been having an affair with Loflin, because of his kindness, she does go to his warehouse for help to get away from her husband.  By the novel’s end, a romance has developed between Loflin and Beauty.

The Marshal’s auto plays a role in a little romantical interlude too.  Mayor Richard Guthrie met a woman while he was away at college and has brought her back as his fiancee to meet his parents.  Her name is CATHERINE PARKER.  Her initial impression of Ledbetter is negative and she has a number of unpleasant encounters with him that don’t improve her opinion of him.  She considers him a “great ruthless brute” compared to her “gentler” Richard.

However, her “Richie” has changed from the witty, light-hearted fellow she met back East and she is unimpressed with her future in-laws.  MRS GUTHRIE’s bad grammar and “eternal whining” and Judge Guthrie’s bombastic pontificating and uncouth manners repulse her.  In the meantime, she takes a trip to the county seat looking for sewing material and instead of taking the train back to Wild Horse, she accepts an invitation to ride back in the Marshal’s auto. She accepts the ride out of curiosity about Ledbetter and hopes to “interrogate” him.

In his attempts to find a way to incorporate Shotgun Bottom, Ledbetter made a trip to the county seat to file to run for mayor in Wild Horse. And by chance, found the key to persuading one of the council members to change his vote.  He runs into Catherine (literally) and, partly to make up for knocking her package out of her arms and partly because he’s attracted to her, he offers to give her a lift back to Wild Horse.  He deftly turns her interrogation around on her and gets information out of her regarding her relationship with Richie and his parents.  She doesn’t find out the answers to the questions she was posing but finds herself seemingly “interrogated” by him! It’s an amusing scene.  She’s so rattled that when they arrive in Wild Horse, she forgets her package.

Back in Wild Horse, the town council meets and, as Ledbetter had hoped, Shotgun Bottom is voted into the city limits.  And so he and his friend Loflin set out to shut down the saloons and hop house in Shotgun Bottom.  

This makes Mayor Richie Guthrie mighty angry.  He hires an outlaw to kill Ledbetter.  As the killer and his gang descend on Ledbetter, Richie barrels into town in a buggy so he can watch, and close on his heels is Catherine who is dead set on sneaking out of town on the midnight train (after a scene with Richie which frightened her).

Beauty, in the meantime, has decided to divorce her husband and needs to get away to protect herself from him.  After the fighting in Shotgun Bottom, Ledbetter and Loflin get both Catherine and Beauty on the train with plans to join them at Catherine’s family home back East.

There’s a lot to like about this book. The story is great and moves along nicely. It’s definitely a page turner with lots going on.  There’s two good men, friends Ledbetter and Loflin, doing what they can to help people, but frustrated by their inability to do anything to make the town safe for families and in Loflin’s case, to stop Beachem from abusing his wife.  Then there’s one woman escaping an abusive marriage while another is about to enter into an unhappy marriage, only narrowly escaping it by fleeing under the cover of night.

The writing is top-notch with great character descriptions. The one of Frank Ledbetter, as viewed by Catherine, reveals why she saw him as a “great ruthless brute”, initially:

“Frank Ledbetter was a big man, 6 feet three or four at least, she guessed, a rugged man whose movements suggested physical power as strongly as the long strides of the huge horse he rode, a bold faced man who’s rockhard features spoke of no fear, as did the flat calm syllables of his laconic voice.”

Burchardt enriches the novel with Ledbetter’s private musings about life and the town dynamics as well as his self-introspections.  

“Was it that life found longer use for those who held strong, never retreating except perhaps to lie and bleed awhile, then to rise and fight again, facing hard up to that which had to be done? Was it that somehow life simply and callously cast aside those who sought refuge, those who tried to hide from the storm, those who retired from the fray, whether from lack of courage or from just plain weariness?”

“He was concerned about the girl, but he was concerned, and properly so, about himself. For, and Frank Ledbetter forced himself to form the words, definitely and clearly in his own mind, I want that girl myself. All right, he thought, now that’s decided. Now what am I going to do about it? I can’t let her marry Rich Guthrie. But how in the hell am I going to keep her from it? There was another consideration, these vague yearnings that kept plaguing him about the town. Frank tried, but he could find no voice for them, no way to organize them into any solid meaning or purpose. But something you sure as hell is eating on me, he thought, and I can’t keep on just riding around this town we week after week, sitting high and dry on this horse or sporting around in my shiny new automobile, and doing nothing about it.”

The place names are awesome too: Palace Billiards, The Joyland Rooms and Hog Shooters Place.

I own one other novel by Burchardt and plan to look for others.  He wrote at least nine novels and over three dozen short stories.  His favorite subjects were the oil rush boom towns, stories set around the heritage of the Oklahoma Indian tribes and the Spanish-Americans. 

Back Cover of Shotgun Bottom by Bill Burchardt

Favorite lines:

“Boy, you hit the hornets nest with a stick tonight.”

“Go set your can back behind them mules’ tails!”

Fistfights 4
Gunplay: 3
Cigars lit up: 3
Knifings: 1

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Runnin' Molasses

"He oughtn't have tried to throw a gun on me--whatever his reason was...I've seen runnin' molasses that was quicker'n him."


Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Boss of the Lazy 9 by Peter Field - Western Novel Review

Front Cover of The Boss of the Lazy 9

PETER FIELD is one of the western authors I only just discovered after getting interested in the genre. The name is one of the many pseudonyms of HARRY SINCLAIR DRAGO who wrote over 80 western novels. THE BOSS OF THE LAZY NINE is a pleasant cattlemen versus rustlers story that focuses as much on the romance as the battle against the rustlers.

The lead character is ACE GILBERT. His full name is Asher Laird Gilbert. I love the opening explanation of all if his names: “Asher Laird; Ash, to a few of his friends; Ash to friend and foe alike; Asher to Ruth Cameron, who was to be Ruth Gilbert one day; and Lord Gill to Ruth Cameron’s sister, Kay, who was an impertinent minx at best and lacking in proper respect for her elders….”

The various nicknames say much more about those who assigned them to him than they say about him.

The story opens with some of the local ranchers trying to persuade Ace to lead up their vigilante group. Most of the ranchers that are being hit by rustlers are on one side of the river, while Ace is on the other. He explains that he doesn’t want any part of a vigilante group. In his place, the ranchers have elected a newcomer named JIM TALBERT to lead the vigilante group. They’ve openly stated that they intend to hang rustlers as they find them and the sheriff is backing them.

Ace explains that until the rustlers start taking his cattle, he’ll keep out of it. But if, and when, the rustlers begin working his side of the river, he’ll take care of the problem himself; not ask for help from the other ranchers. And he won’t be hanging them as he finds them. He’ll let the law have them.

Things escalate though when Ace’s youngest cowhand gets shot to pieces by the rustlers. He makes it back to the ranch to report what he’s seen and how he got shot up, but dies at Ace’s feet. Naturally, Ace is hell-bent for leather to find out who is responsible so he and his cowhands strike out in search of the rustlers. 

He finds that the responsible party is the notorious BUCK WILBER outlaw gang who have robbed banks and nearly wiped out ranches in other counties with their rustling ways. Wilber is dead, but his right hand man ONE-SHOT FARLEY is putting the gang back together.

Ace finds out about their plans to rob the town’s bank, but the gang hits the bank earlier than expected before Ace can warn the bank manager.

Ace gets another shot at the gang though when he learns they intend to hit the bank again because they missed the big haul. Ace tells the banker to take the money out of the bank and hide it. He then organizes his cowhands and the other ranchers to surround the bank to set a trap for One-Shot Farley and his gang.

Despite his serious task and stubborn determination, Ace is a good-humored character. His casual attitude puts him at odds with his fiancee RUTH CAMERON who is more reserved and formal. She’s been away for a year touring Europe. He, understandably, is excited to see her again and greets her with an enthusiastic kiss at the train station. Such a public display of affection doesn’t sit right with her and she is aloof and cool.

To complicate matters, a beau she met on the return voyage drops in for a visit--at her invitation. GORDON WALLACE is British and his overly-stilted speech paints him as two-dimensional caricature. His lines are limited to saying things like “By george, Gilbert, that’s perfectly ripping! Decent of you, ol’ chap.” He doesn’t play any role in the major events. His only part in the story is to monopolize Ruth’s time in order to put Ace’s relationship with her in jeopardy.

Ruth’s sister Kay is another matter. She’s Ruth’s opposite. She’s friendly and outgoing and much less reserved than her sister. We are told from the start that she harbors a secret love for Ace.

Their father is STEVE CAMERON who is good friends with Ace and pleased that Ace will be his son-in-law and they can combine their ranches. Unfortunately, their friendship hits a ripple when Ace tells Cameron that his foreman WES LUCKERT is involved in the rustling. This angers Cameron but he confronts Luckert anyway.

Luckert has quietly replaced all of Cameron’s hired hands with his own, so when he and Cameron have words, he leaves the ranch and takes all but one cowhand with him. And when he leaves, he vows to kill Ace Gilbert.
Back Cover of The Boss of the Lazy 9

This sets off an interesting chain of events. First, Steve Cameron rides out in the direction of Ace’s ranch to warn Ace. Then his daughter Kay rides out on her own. She, knowing that Ace has taken out looking for the rustlers, quickly figures out where he may be headed and decides to take a shortcut. She stumbles on the outlaws before Ace does and overhears their plans to kidnap her father! She hears other things she doesn’t understand. For one, the outlaws have some type of information that could jeopardize her father’s re-election as state senator. And for another, they need to keep her father out of the picture until the fifteenth of the month.

She’s unable to prevent her father’s kidnapping but with the information she provides Ace, he is able to figure out what the gang is planning and when.

While Ace is riding all of over the country looking for the rustlers, meeting with Kay and her father and making plans with the other ranchers to set up a trap for the outlaws, Ruth Cameron and her British beau are taking leisurely rides around the ranch and going to dances. Things don’t look good for our hero.

But in the end, Ruth tells Wallace she can’t marry him because she’s promised to Ace. But poor Ace, now having discovered that he’s fallen in love with Kay, feels bound to marry Ruth anyway because she turned Wallace away after all his wooing. So gosh darn, everyone’s unhappy. Or are they? Despite the dilemma, it all works out and there is a delightful double wedding at the end.

Ace is a fun character and his playful attitude with Kay is entertaining. While not top-notch writing, it’s a nice read.

Favorite lines:

"I’ve always made it a practice to kill my own snakes."

"You just call the dance and by God, we’ll play the music!"

Cigarettes lit up: 3

Cigars lit up: 1

Gunplay: 2

Fistfight: 1

Ambush: 2

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A good Man...and dead.

"It is brutal.  Only I never could see the sense in having folks look at your tombstone and say, 'He was a man who didn't believe in violence.  He's a good man...and dead."

-Louis L'Amour

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Give Your Hat a Ride

"Use your head for something more than to give your hat a ride, can't you?"


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Weekly Quote: Boldness and Foolhardiness

"There was a mighty sharp difference between boldness and being foolhardy.  Graveyards were filled with folks who hadn't noticed."

-from Nelson Nye's FIGHT AT FOUR CORNERS

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Weekly Quote: Going Somewhere

"If you're going somewhere you might as will get gone."

-from Hank Mitchum's DODGE CITY

Saturday, September 30, 2017

I had never heard of STEVEN C LAWRENCE so I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up this book.  Turns out NIGHT OF THE GUNMAN is a doggone good read. I will definitely be looking for more by Steven C Lawrence.

The story opens with the funeral of the town’s longtime sheriff.  OLD JACK BENT had been the town’s sheriff for 16 years and was well-liked.  He had hired MATT DONOVAN four years earlier as his deputy to help him tame the wilder elements of the town during its trail driving heydays. Now that the sheriff’s gone and the trail driving days are behind them, the town council don’t feel they need a “quick gun” who commands a higher pay so they don’t want Donovan as sheriff.  

Instead, when they realized he was dying, the town council sent for the sheriff’s son JOHNNY BENT to be their new sheriff.  Despite the fact that Bent had a falling out with this father before hitting the trail five years earlier, they are hopeful he will be much like his father. Until election time, Donovan is serving as the sheriff with the expectation that Bent will most likely replace him.  In the meantime, they insist Donovan take Bent on as a deputy.

Unbeknownst to the town council, Bent has been riding the outlaw trail with the NATE DRAGO gang.  In addition, the minute he heard his father was dying, he started planning to rob the town’s bank.  He views being a lawman the perfect cover.  He can keep an eye on Donovan and be in a good position to kill him, if necessary.

The bank robbery doesn’t quite go as planned.  The Drago gang gets away with the money in the vault, but they kill the banker and Nate Drago’s kid brother is seriously wounded by a gunshot from Sheriff Donovan’s gun.  They aren’t able to keep ahead of the posse and so Drago’s kid brother is captured and taken back to town to the doctor’s office and then later moved to the jail.

The gang circles back and the rest of NIGHT OF THE GUNMAN is spent with the gang holed up in the saloon and Drago and Bent plotting how to get Drago’s kid brother out of jail.  

Things get complicated when one of Drago’s men is captured and another one is seriously wounded in a gunfight.  Then Bent has second thoughts about hitting the outlaw trail again.  He wants his share of the loot and to help Drago get his kid brother out of jail, but he also wants the sheriff position and the he receives from the townspeople.  On top of that, he wants Sheriff Donovan’s fiance SUSAN WELLS.  He makes a deal with Drago to keep his involvement with the robbery and the gang a secret and plans to kill Sheriff Donovan.

Our lead character, Matt Donovan isn’t entirely comfortable with Bent.  Some sixth sense and subtle clues have him distrusting Old Jack Bent’s son.  He has no solid evidence to back up his suspicions but he keeps Bent close and watches and listens to everything he does and says.  This causes tension and eventually a fight between him and Wells.  She grew up with Bent and even dated him when they were younger.  She considers him a friend and doesn’t understand Donovan’s distrust or why Donovan won’t ask the townsmen for help fighting Drago.  

The townspeople favor Bent more and more as the story progresses which, coupled with Donovan’s suspicions, causes some tension between him and the town council.   Bent’s subtle hints that Donovan may not be a good sheriff doesn’t help any.   And of course, his special insight, due to his role with the gang, gives him an extra edge over Sheriff Donovan, making him look more confident and capable.

The whole town is on ‘lockdown’ with Drago and his much reduced gang holed up in the saloon with his hostages and Donovan holed up in the jailhouse with two key witnesses to the robbery, Bent and the jailhouse keeper.  They try to get food into the jailhouse several times but are unsuccessful.  The mercantile owner wouldn’t open the doors because he’s afraid of retaliation; for good reason.  And Donovan doesn’t want Wells to bring food from her restaurant because he doesn’t want Drago to know of his connection to her.  

A further complication develops when Drago’s kid brother die.  Bent and Donovan both agree it’s best to keep the information from Drago.  Donovan’s reasons are to keep Drago from taking revenge on the whole town.  Bent’s reasons are to make sure he gets his part of the loot and Drago doesn’t kill him for not getting his brother out of there sooner.  

Things come to a head when Drago sets the doctor’s house on fire. Donovan decides it’s time to lead Drago out of the town and away from it’s citizens.  He tells Drago he’s transferring the kid and the other prisoner to another town.  He grabs some horses and a wagon and puts the now dead Drago kid in the wagon. By this time, he knows Bent is in cahoots with Drago so he puts Bent in the driver’s seat with no gun.

The rest of the book is about his race out of town and the subsequent gunfight with Drago in the hills.  After the fighting is over, the townspeople, with Wells in the lead, traipse into the hills to see if anyone survived the gunbattle.

Definitely a book worth reading again.

Back Cover - Leisure Book (1974)

Cigars lit up: 2
Pipe: 1
Gunplay: 6
Bushwhacking: 2
Murder: 1

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Weekly Quote: A Man's Mistakes

"A man is measured by his mistakes, whether he climbs on them or is buried by them."

--from Archie Joscelyn's SHERIFF OF RED WOLF