Thursday, October 16, 2008

Friday's Forgotten Book: Half Breed, by Clint McCall

I took another day off (I've been having back problems and my masseur told me to rest for a few days) and read some non-work books. Well, nothing I read is absolutely non-work, but at the moment I'm not writing a reference book on Australian Western writers.

So it was like rest to me when I picked up a Finnish translation of Clint McCall's Half Breed. McCall is a pseudonym and I think this was written by Keith Hetherington, one of the best Australian paperbackers - who's still working full time. I don't know when Half Breed was first published, but I believe it's a product of the sixties. It might also be from the seventies, since the hero is a half-breed and the portrait of him is certainly sympathetic, even though the guy is a born crook, a sociopath and a killer. Furthermore, I believe that the original publisher is Cleveland, which has been the foremost publisher of Australian Westerns. All their books are, I believe, 96-page booklets. Someone really should compile a bibliography of Australian Westerns! The Finnish translation (roughly Doomed To Be a Criminal) is from 1981 (I read a 1990 reprint which I bought for 20 cents recently) and belongs to the long-lived Lännensarja series. [Lännensarja = The Western Series. Not very imaginative, huh?]

Half Breed is a tale of Billy Slaughter who's given no slack, because he's a half-breed, and he's fast living the life of crime, smuggling rifles to Indians, robbing banks and trains and finally killing someone. He takes another identity and even ends up married, but then he's recognized and he's sentenced to jail. He gets out for good behaviour, but after getting his revenge he starts all over again.

The story is episodic, but it doesn't lack dramatic impact. McCall writes solid hardboiled prose and moves things along swiftly. Even without any padding he creates a sympathetic picture of young Billy and finally, it seems, has him a happy future.

I've been wondering about one thing: how come Australian Westerns are always so solid and good, when their crime fiction with series like Larry Kent and Marc Brody is so awful? Of course they had Carter Brown, but I don't think he really is up there with even his second-rate American counterparts. (It's been years since I read anything as by K.T. McCall, so won't say anything about theose books.) Now, of course they have writers to be taken seriously, such as Peter Corris and Shane Maloney.

I also read a Finnish Western from the early eighties. It was part of the FinnWest series, also published as a booklet (shorter than 96 pages, though), and published anonymously. My bet on the writer's identity is Juhani Salomaa, who also created the character in the mid-seventies. Clint McCall was definitely better, I'm sorry to say. It had impact, while this lingers on for ages, before it speeds off and then it's over too fast.

By the way, here's a link to a bookseller's collection of Australian paperbacks.
My contribution to Patti Abbott's Friday's Forgotten Book series. (Posted already on Thursday, since I don't know if I have the time tomorrow.)


Ray said...

Keith Heatherington is still going strong and now writes under the names of Jake Douglas, Tyler Hatch, Hank J Kirby and Clayton Nash. All books published by Black Horse Westerns - they turn up in Australian libraries.
There's a feedback link on or look up Black Horse Extra. You can catch up with Keith Chapman who knows more abouth Keith Hetherington than I do.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Westerns are picking up speed on here. I am anxious to see Appaloosa, the new Ed Harris movie.

Juri said...

Thanks, Ray! It would be great to have Hetherington for an interview! He might even remember what he's written and when.

Patti, Westerns seem still to have a large appeal.

Unknown said...

Keith Hetherington is indeed one of the veterans of Aussie pulp and is as generous with his time and knowledge as his health and other commitments allow.

I have run several articles about his work, the first at Black Horse Express, and more recently in the December 2006 edition of Black Horse Extra (, incorporating an earlier interview he gave David Whitehead.

This year, Keith was an active and valued participant in the "Plot or Not" debate recorded in the June edition of Black Horse Extra. Anyone who has read your post with interest shouldn't miss it!

Keith, his Aussie compatriot Paul Wheelahan, David (a Briton), Ray (another Briton) and myself (a New Zealander) all currently write Black Horse Westerns for the London publisher Robert Hale.

We believe in the genre and are as active in promoting its present and future as in celebrating its past.

Keith Chapman

Juri said...

Keith, thanks for your comments! Must check up the stuff you mention. (By the way, you remind me that we were talking about translating one of your stories. We did produce the short story issue of the Gunsmoke magazine, but ran out of time and space to include yours. Waiting for the next chance to use it!)

jo said...

Clint McCall is the nom de plume of the late James Ashley who wrote many westerns under cleveland publishing Sydney back in the 60's and 70's.


Juri said...

Jo, thanks for your comment. Interesting - must check further on James Ashley.

Tray said...

Yes James Ashley was Clint McCall, He wrote these books in the late 60's while living in Sydney and in the 1970's when he lived in The Blue Mountains. He died in 1991.

Juri said...

Thanks for another comment on James Ashley!