Friday, December 10, 2010

Hard Case Western

I've said it as a comment to a blog post here and there, but let's make it official: besides their great Hard Case Crime line, Charles Ardai should've set up also a line called Hard Case Western. Many of the Western novels of the late fourties, fifties and early sixties could also be catered to the audience of the hardboiled and noir literature, and many of the books from bygone decades would very well be worth reprinting.

This idea came to me many years ago, but I was reminded of it, when Cullen Callagher started posting reviews of hardboiled westerns on his delightful blog, Pulp Serenade. You can see some of the reviews here (Harry Whittington: Desert Stake-Out), here (A.S. Fleischmann's Yellowleg, basis for an early Peckinpah film), here (Frank Castle's Dakota Boomtown) and here (Gil Brewer's rare entry into the genre, Some Must Die), but do read all of his blog, I guarantee it's worth your while.

All of those novels could well be published under the Hard Case Western by-line. I have some other recommendations:

Marvin Albert: Posse at High Pass, Fawcett 1964 (Albert wrote also excellent crime novels as Al Conroy and different other nyms; this is a great Western thriller)
Jack April: Feud at Five Rivers, Dodd Mead 1955 (Broadway script writer's only Western novel, great noirish atmosphere in a story of revenge)
Frank Castle: Brand of Hate, Tower 1966 (Cullen said nice things about Dakota Boomtown, this is a very good tale about guy who sells guns to Indians, but winds up being double- and triple-crossed)
Merle Constiner: Short-Trigger Man, Ace 1964 (if there's a blueprint of a hardboiled Western, this is it)
William R. Cox: Comanche Moon, McGraw Hill 1959 (unbearably suspenseful thriller of the people trapped by Indians, noir in its tones of despair and disappointment)
H.A. DeRosso: .44 (need I say anything more about this?)
Steve Frazee: Desert Guns, Dell 1957 (became a bad film with Roger Moore, but the book is gripping, full of action)
Philip Ketchum: Harsh Reckoning, Ballantine 1962 (is there a more noir title than that?)
James B. Chaffin (Giles Lutz): The Wolfer, Belmont 1962 (weird story about wolf-hunters, living in caves, full of action)
Richard Meade (also known as Ben Haas): Big Bend, Doubleday 1962 (man has to go to Mexico to avenge wrongs)
D.B. Newton: The Wolf Pack, Bantam 1953 (great thriller about a gang terrorizing a whole city, compares to The Violent Saturday and preceded it by two years)
Dudley Dean (also wrote as Dean Owen): Six-Gun Vengeance, Fawcett 1953 (great claustrophobic and hysterical noir)
Gordon Shirreffs: Too Tough to Die, Avon 1964 (just gotta love that title! Boetticher-like minimalism and hardboiledness)
Luke Short: Blood on the Moon, 1948 (I haven't read this one, but the film that was based on this, with Mitchum, would be just too great to pass)

Any early Western by Brian Garfield would also fit the bill, and so would anything by Donald Hamilton, whom Hard Case Crime has already reprinted. A later addition could be Jack Ehrlich's The Fastest Gun in the Pulpit from 1973: funny and violent. I'm also sure many new writers would like to try their hands at a Western, and I'm sure someone like James Reasoner has a noir Western in him, and so do Joe Lansdale, Tom Piccirilli and others.

Having said all of the above, I do know that the market for Western paperbacks is limited and that the market for paperbacks is diminishing, but who says one can't have a dream?


Cullen Gallagher said...

Thanks for the mention on your blog, Juri. And for the recommendation of Frank Castle -- really looking forward to reading more of him.

And the other books you mention all sound great. I just read a short story of his in a Donald Hamilton edited anthology that I really liked called "The Hangman."

Todd Mason said...

Hard Case could become Fawcett Gold Medal come again...but then they'd need a Hard Case Lesbian line, too...a nod to Fawcett Crest, and a Hard Case (Hard Shell?) PEANUTS line might have to follow. Bill Crider wouldn't mind.

Unknown said...

You're right, Juri. Westerns with hardboiled and noir elements are not a new idea. Nor even a forgotten one.
Although the publisher is not too keen, several of today's Black Horse Western novelists attempt a "Hard Case" flavor and I've written about this at the online Black Horse Extra. Try "Can a Black Horse Be Noir?" (September 2008), "Blast from the Literary Past" (March 2009) and "Justice and the Western" (March 2010).

Juri said...

Yes, Chap, you're right, I read the first one of your articles and should've linked to it, but I clean forgot about it. I'll add the link later on.

Unknown said...

Due to my deep interest in the American West I've read over than a 1,000 novels, in my own language (Italian) and in original. So I can suggest some titles for further reading, in the field of western noir.
Robert W. Krepps's "Gamble my Last Game".
Then the works of a famous horror writer that produced few western: David Case with Black Hats, The Fighting Breed and above all Plumb Drillin' (aka Gold Fever) very tough and ruthless like the deserts of the southwest that are his location, a novel originally set to be a movie starring Steve McQueen before the actor's untimely death in 1980.
Elmer M. Parsons works:
Texas Heller (1959)
Fargo (1968) Very, very good!
The Easy Gun (1970)

Last but not least a masterpiece (a one shot in the genre by a famous Political anthropologist: Ted C. Lewellen) by the title of "The Ruthless Gun" (I personally guarantee for the high standard quality of this one, also if in the States it seems that no one remember it). A story of revenge with particular connotations that I have read at least five times!
Best from Italy,
Tiziano Agnelli