Clayton Hartung is young and married. He is partner in a small ranch with his best friend—John Campbell—located just outside the small town of Barkerville, Texas. His life is just coming together after a rough childhood. He was an orphan and there is a hint of violence in his past, but that is all behind him until four hired gunmen come to town. It doesn’t take long for the four strangers to make their presence known: they gun down a Barkerville hardman in the hotel, and quickly thereafter dispatch the Marshal.
The Barkerville locals are scared and they look to Clay to make a stand against the men, which he does, and does alone. His partner has a game leg and the other townspeople have problems of their own. It’s too dangerous and they have families to think of after all. However, Clay is surprised by what he finds in the gang—something personal and unexpected, and the revelation changes everything.
The Useless Gun is the expected: competent action scenes, a tight and linear plot that is more familiar than unfamiliar, and crisp and plentiful dialogue. What elevates it above the ordinary is a narrow vain of emotion Mr Bickham expertly mines throughout the narrative. There is a particularly powerful lynching scene that has a drastic and deep impact on both the protagonist and reader alike. There is also the tragic sense of duty and betrayal that haunts Clay throughout.
The Useless Gun is a terrific example of the old ACE Western line—it is short, to the point, and very exciting. It has the feel of an episode of an old television series, less the bad color and strangely cool backdrops. The major plot twist is given away on the packaging—“My Brother, The Outlaw!”—although it really doesn’t diminish the entertainment value of the story. Mr Bickham’s work is a treasure chest of terrific fiction and this novel is a perfect example.
A NOTE. Jack M. Bickham wrote in multiple genres: suspense, mystery, Western, thrillers and science fiction. His work was translated into two films: The Apple Dumpling Gang, and Baker's Hawk. ACE published six of his early novels, including five Westerns--Gunman's Gamble (D-358; 1958), Feud Fury (D-384; 1959), Killer's Paradise (D-442; 1960), The Useless Gun (D-462; 1960), and Hangman's Territory (D-510; 1961)--and one mystery: Dally with a Deadly Doll (D-489; 1961) as by John Miles.