Wednesday, March 13, 2019

SFBC: "Things to Come" January and February 1955

There aren’t many things better than what I find in used books. Photographs, receipts, business cards, and every so often hard cash. The things people leave behind opens a window into the book’s history. Where it’s been and how it got into my hands. Bridging those two takes imagination, but that’s the best part.

I recently purchased Fredric Brown’s science fiction collection, Angels and Spaceships, as a book club edition hardcover; stuck between the front board and the first page was the January and February 1955 “Things to Come” pamphlet of the Science Fiction Book Club. It featured SFBC’s January selection—Portals of Tomorrow, edited by August Derleth, with stories by Bradbury, Simak, and Brown. The February selection was the book I purchased.
These advertisements stuck between book pages, and often (especially in mass market paperbacks) printed on the last few pages of a book, have an allure for me. The old titles, both familiar and new (to me), are vibrant and exciting. In this case, I would order every single book listed—Children of Wonder, edited by William Tenn, The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury, The Mixed Men, by A. E. van Vogt, Needle, by Hal Clement, Player Piano, by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., The Puppet Masters, by Robert A. Heinlein. When the books arrived I would hold and study each one, carefully, looking at the synopsis, studying the copyright page, imagining the adventures and knowledge printed inside.

Maybe one of these days I’ll throw logic and caution to the wind and order a stack of books from an old advertisement, hoping it finds its way into The Twilight Zone where all orders are honored at those old time prices and everything is fresh off the press. Oh, the dreams that could be.
But until then, I always have those ads. Those dreams. 

The first scan is the pamphlet’s first (right) and last (left) pages. The second scan is the interior, pages two and three. Click the images and you should be able to read them.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

SNOWBOUND by Richard S. Wheeler


Richard S. Wheeler died on February 24, 2019, at the age of 83. He was a brilliant writer and a genuinely nice man. I was lucky enough to have corresponded with him over the past decade. Our emails would come in flurries over short periods, and then there would be silence for months and even years. Ill miss his kind and generous words, his sly wit and his presence.

Over the next several days I will repost a few of my writings about his work, starting with this review of his novel, Snowbound, written in 2015. 
_____
Richard S. Wheeler won a Spur Award for Best Western Short Novel for his 2010 novel Snowbound. A well-earned and deserving honor. Snowbound is less Western and more historical. It chronicles John C. Fremont’s ill-fated fourth expedition, which was ostensibly to find a railroad route across the Rocky Mountains at the 38th Parallel between St. Louis and San Francisco.
The expedition was privately funded by a group of St. Louis businessmen—with the support of Fremont’s senator father-in-law Thomas Benton—and while its claimed purpose was to find a railroad route, its true purpose was to rehabilitate Fremont’s public reputation after his court-martial, and ultimate resignation from the United States Army. The route crossed the high and rugged spine of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, where a railroad passage was unlikely at best, and—to prove something to his detractors—it was attempted in winter.
Snowbound is effectively told in an alternating first person narrative. The narrative perspective changes from chapter to chapter. It is told in the words of several characters, including Fremont, and several of the expedition members—Dr. Benjamin Kern, Alexis Godey, its lead scout Old Bill Williams, and others. It reads much like a diary with minimal dialogue. It is told primarily with the internal observations of the narrating characters. It is, through the horror of the failed expedition, a character study of John Charles Fremont. Fremont is presented as an enigma. He is narcissistic, admired—idolized, really—complicated, and, in the end, loathed by some. 
The novel’s brilliance is its powerful description of the oppressive, brutal cold of the snowbound high Rockies, and the hardship of the expedition—
“We all looked pretty grim at times, with icicles dangling from our beards like chimes and ice collecting in our eyebrows and a rime of frost around our nostrils.”
“This was a tumble and rocky land, with giant gray outcrops, steep slopes, somber pine forests, groves of spidery cottonwoods and aspen, fierce, cruel creeks. And snow lazily smothered the country. It had caught and settled in every valley and dip, so that we were crossing spots that were ten or twenty feet deep, perilously working upslope in a tamped-down trench that reached our heads.”
“Somehow, we made camp and got fires going in protected snow pits where the wind would not snuff them. The snow had diminished, but the heavens scowled at us, and I had the sense we were trespassers, invaders of a place that was sacred to others, where no mortal should pass by.”
The story’s hero is Alexis Godey, a former fur trapper and scout, who is Fremont’s second in command. He is developed as a quiet, competent, and ethical man. Godey was responsible for saving the bulk of the expedition’s men when he led the relief party—after reaching Taos with Fremont and a few others—back into the Mountains to rescue those stranded by hunger and cold. While Godey is leading the relief party, Fremont recuperates in Taos and planning the next leg of the expedition to California, and preemptively blaming the scout Old Bill Williams for the disastrous expedition.
Snowbound is a powerful novel of survival, and calamity. It is an introspective interpretation of one of the most eccentric and dishonest topographical expeditions of the Western United States. It is a beautifully rendered piece of literature that captures the stark beauty of winter on the high ranges, and both the hubris and nobility of men.

Monday, March 11, 2019

THE DRAGON MAN by Garry Disher


The Peninsula is “a comma of land hooking into the sea southeast of Melbourne” in Victoria, Australia. A tourist destination known for beaches, wineries, and coastal towns. It is sparsely populated, beautiful, and, recently, the stalking ground for a sex killer. One woman was found dead on the Old Peninsula Highway—a lonely road treading the western coast of the peninsula, cutting south and west—and another has disappeared.
Inspector Hal Challis, the regional homicide specialist, is assigned the investigation. The search is headquartered in the fictional city of Waterloo. A city with a small police force, and an even smaller CIB—Criminal Investigation Branch—squad. The killer is careful and clean. The only significant lead is the track of a rare brand of tire near the dumping site of a victim—
“There was no semen. The killer used a condom. There were no fingerprints. The killer used gloves. What he’d left on his victims were absences, including the absence of life.” 
The Dragon Man is a beautifully written police procedural. The main plot is supplemented with crisscrossing subplots. An overzealous constable. A series of house burglaries. A frightened woman trading sex for drugs. And Hal Challis. An almost broken, flawed man. A man who is married to a woman who, along with her lover, attempted to kill him. A man who is underestimated by most, and a man who is likable, and, at times, real. 
“He drove on. Christmas Day. With any luck, someone would find a body and free him from Christmas Day.”
The setting is rendered with care, and the small details—a bucket in the shower to catch the water for additional use in the garden, dry draught-like conditions of mid-summer heat, herons feasting on mosquitoes—create a real world believable place. A place that is familiar and exotic. Mr. Disher also plays with morality. The police often behave more consistently with the criminals they chase. One steals evidence from the police locker. Another attempts to blackmail a woman for sex during a traffic stop. 
The Dragon Man is the real deal. It is the first novel (of seven, so far) featuring Hal Challis and Ellen Destry. It is something of a cross between literature and police procedural. It is rich on detail, economical, meaningful, and a wonderfully entertaining novel.

Monday, March 04, 2019

2018 Reissues Roundup: Some of the Best Books to Hit the Page (Again)


I have a review article up and running at Mystery Scene’s website. As the title suggests it’s a look at older novels that were reprinted in 2018. I look at the first two Hardman novels by Ralph Dennis—Atlanta Deathwatch and The Charleston Knife is Back in TownThe Red Scarf by Gil Brewer, The Murder of My Aunt by Richard Hull, Seven Dead by J. Jefferson Farjeon, Frenzy of Evil by Henry Kane, and a few others.
If you choose to read it, let me know what you think. And even better, what were some of your favorite books that hit print in 2018 again?

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Short Stories Wanted for Bouchercon (Anthology)


Attention Writers and Attendees of the 50th Anniversary Bouchercon, 2019:
YES, there will be an anthology this year! And yes, you can submit a story for consideration as long as you’re a registered conference attendee! Here’s all you need to know:

– One of Bouchercon 50’s goals is to make the largest charitable contribution in the history of the conference. All proceeds from the sale of the books will go toward that effort! LIFT, Literary Instruction For Texas, works to enhance and strengthen communities by teaching adults to read. And Bouchercon gets to help in that mission this year!
– For a theme, think no further than the conference slogan: Denim, Diamonds, and Death!
  Original stories are vastly preferred. Absolutely no reprints, please.
– Stories should be less than five thousand words. Approximately. Sort of. But you know writers.
  The book itself will once again be published by the fine folks at Down & Out Books.
  The deadline for all stories will be June 1st.
If you think you’ve got the story for the anthology, not just a story, please send it to rick@downandoutmagazine.com. We’ll have the book for sale in the book room with some signings and hopefully we’ll be able to make a meaningful contribution to LIFT as well as showcase some of the amazing talent in the Bouchercon writing community.
So let’s go, people. Bring it on!
Sincerely,
Rick Ollerman

Monday, February 25, 2019

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "Tropical Heat"

Tropical Heat, by John Lutz, was published as a hardcover by Henry Holt in 1986, but the edition that caught my eye was Avon’s 1987 paperback edition. I’m a sucker for tropical settings—pink typeset and palm trees make it all the better—convertibles and gun packing gents. The artist: Unknown (to me at least)

















The opening lines:
A cane was no good for walking on sand. It penetrated to different levels and caused tentativeness. When Carver got within a hundred feet of the surf, the cane’s tip made soft sucking sounds and water appeared in the round holes it left in the sand.
Topical Heat is the first (of 10) Fred Carver mystery novels published between 1986 and 1996. Carver, a former cop, took a bullet in the knee while on duty and prowls Florida’s criminal underbelly with a cane and a sense of duty as a private eye.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

"A Real Nice Guy" by William F. Nolan


His name was Jimmie Prescott and he is thirty-one years of age. Five foot ten. Slight build. 
He’s a loner. A sniper. A killer. The sort of sniper who sets up over a busy city street and randomly chooses a target. A victim. It is the spontaneity that thrills him, and, by his own reckoning, he is the best. The best because he has 41 notches on his rifle, and, while there have been a few close calls, he has no real fear of capture.
“A Real Nice Guy” is a stylish crime story written by William F. Nolan, a favorite short story writer of mine, originally published in the April 1980 issue of Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine. It is something of a battle of sociopaths—both bad, of course—and while the ending is less than surprising the journey is ideal. The prose is smooth and, especially the non-dialogue narrative, is something like a brassy jazz riff—
He was a master. He never missed a target, never wasted a shot. He was cool and nerveless and smooth, and totally without conscience.
Its short. Third person, and very much worth seeking out. But, in the interest of fairness, that is exactly what I think of all Nolan’s short work.
I read “A Real Nice Guy” in The New Mammoth Book of Pulp Fiction, published in 2013 by Running Press, and edited by Maxim Jakubowski.

Monday, February 04, 2019

EASY GO by Michael Crichton (as by John Lange)


In the late 1960s and early 1970s Michael Crichton published eight thrillers under the pseudonym John Lange.  The Lange novels are something very different than the science fiction Michael Crichton became famous for writing.  They are thrillers more in the vein of Desmond Bagley, Jack Higgins, and Gavin Lyall, and I like them much more than Crichton’s big bestsellers.
Harold Barnaby is an Egyptologist in an age when nothing new or interesting is happening in the field.  His specialty is hieroglyphics, and while translating a text he discovers a reference to the tomb of an obscure Pharaoh in the Valley of the Kings.  In earlier years Barnaby dreamed of the glory of discovering an Egyptian tomb, but now, at the age of 41, he is less interested in glory and more interested in wealth.  He approaches a freelance writer named Robert Pierce with an ambitious plan to loot the tomb, which he estimates to be worth, in 1968 dollars, $50 million.
The novel is written in third person, and is structured in three titled acts—The Plan, The Search, and The Last Tomb.  The scene titles are self-descriptive.  The Plan introduces the genesis of the idea, the plan, and the compilation of the team.  The team arrives in Egypt in the second act, and the third act is the resolution.
Easy Go is all story.  It opens with a flash, and it races from the first page to the last.  The setting is surprisingly rich, and provides, in stark prose, the sounds, smells, and sights of the land—
“The land was flat, desolate, windy; there was no vegetation, no sign of life.”
“The modern traveler’s first view of Egypt is appropriate: Cairo airport, set out in the flat, brown sand of the desert stretching away in silent heat for miles.  It is a landscape that communicates, quite distinctly, a sense of agelessness, unchanging, interminable.”
“The villages were all the same—mud huts, dusty streets, and date-palm trees, stately camels and barking, hungry dogs.”
Easy Go is a thriller as thrillers were meant to be.  It is quick, light, and entertaining as hell.  There isn’t the slightest bit of character development, but it is populated with an exotic group of characters.  There is the wealthy British nobleman financing the operation on a whim who travels with, at a minimum, two young ladies, there is the smuggler, and the thief.  It is exciting, and with just enough of a twist at the end to bring a smile.
Easy Go was originally published in 1968 by Signet and it was republished as The Last Tomb by Bantam in 1974. It was reissued as with its original title by Hard Case Crime, along with Crichton’s other John Lange titles, in 2013.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "The Blessing Way"

The Blessing Way, by Tony Hillerman, was published as a hardcover by Harper & Row in 1970, but the edition that caught my eye was Avon’s 1978 paperback edition. The desert background, frightening wolf headpiece shadow, and the Navajo artifact make for an intriguing and alluring temptation to open the book. The artist: Unknown (to me at least)















The first sentence:
Luis Horseman leaned the flat stone very carefully against the pinon twig, adjusted its balance exactly and then cautiously withdrew his hand.
The Blessing Way was Tony Hillerman’s first novel, introducing his long-time series character Detective Joe Leaphorn. In later novels, Leaphorn was joined by Navajo Tribal Police Officer Jim Chee.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

AT FIRST SIGHT by Stephen J. Cannell


Stephen J. Cannell’s fourteenth novel, At First Sight, received mixed reviews from the critics when it was released in 2008.  Publishers’ Weekly called it “disappointing,” and Booklist said it “might be his best novel yet.”  After reading it this past weekend I’m leaning more towards Booklist’s opinion than PW’s.  
Chick Best is a self-made millionaire.  He hit it big with an Amazon-type Internet company, but the good days are gone.  Now he is stuck with an expensive weight lifting wife, an angry drug addicted daughter, and selling his company for pennies on the dollar.  And worst, he is losing his credentials—the envy his wealth and possessions generates in others.  Suffice it to say Chick is a pathetically shallow man.
Chick and his family vacations in Maui each Christmas, and Chick’s dead end trajectory gets a lift when he spots the most beautiful woman he has ever seen.  The woman is soft in that feminine way and gorgeous, which is the complete opposite of his hard body wife who spends more time discussing abs, quads, workout programs, and scowling (at least at Chick) than anything else.   
He immediately formulates a plan to meet the woman (Paige Ellis), who is married to a likable old money school teacher who is more concerned with learning disabled children than wealth.  A mind set Chick finds confusing and annoying.  The two couples become friends during the week, and when the vacation is over Chick can’t get Paige Ellis out of his mind.  On a New York business trip he detours to the Ellis’s North Carolina home where he begins his plan to win Paige.
At First Sight is written in both first and third person.  There are three acts—the first is narrated by Chick alone, the second is narrated by both Chick in first person and Paige in third person, and the third is narrated by Paige in first person and Chick in third person.  The changing perspective creates tension and builds doubt between the reader and Chick.  Chick is a sympathetic narrator in the first act, but as the reader is exposed to additional information from outside it becomes clear Chick is untrustworthy.
While Chick may be less than honest, his portions of the novel are pure gold.  He narrates with a snarky wit, which is funny in the first half of the novel, but as his true character is revealed it becomes ominous.  He turns out to be such a loathsome character I found myself uncomfortable with my original opinion of both him and his and wit; as though liking him in the early stages of the novel illuminated something unsavory about my own character.
At First Sight is pretty terrific.  It is a fast moving story, which is cleverly plotted and told with a flash bang style and wit.  There are moments Chick’s narrative is laugh out loud funny—particularly when he is describing his daughter, wife, and his wife’s trainer Mickey D:
I let it happen, though, because I didn’t think in four days Evelyn would be able to turn Paige’s softness into the kind of anatomical gristle that she had struggled so hard to achieve for herself.
At First Sight is the best of the handful of Stephen J. Cannell’s novels I have read, and it’s a shame he didn’t write fewer of his Shane Scully novels and more like this.


Monday, January 14, 2019

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "Farewell, My Lovely"

Farewell, My Lovely, by Raymond Chandler, needs no introduction from me, but here it is anyway. The second novel to feature Philip Marlowe was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1940. The edition that caught my eye, and for more reasons than the cover (see the inscription on the title page below), is the 1976 mass market published by Vintage Books. The artist: Richard Waldrep

















The first paragraph:
It was one of the mixed blocks over on Central Avenue, the blocks that are not yet all Negro. I had just come out of a three-chair barber shop where an agency thought a relief barber named Dimitrios Aleidis might be working. It was a small matter. His wife said she was willing to spend a little money to have him come home.


But its the inscription that sold me the book:

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

2018: The Year in Reading



2018 was a great year for reading. I finished, and this is an amazing number for me, 64 titles, which is nine more than last year’s mark and eight more than 2016’s. The majority of the titles were fiction, but I did increase my nonfiction intake significantly over last year, which is good because my only reading goal for 2018 was:
Read more non-fiction!
Whew. I love it when a plan comes together. 
My fiction reading is littered with the old and familiar. If there is an author in general, or a novel or story in particular, I like, I will read it over and over. While my fiction reading in 2018 was dominated by my obligations to Mystery Scene Magazine—thirty titles, novels, collections, and anthologies, plus a bunch of magazines, which aren’t included in my reading totals (and that may change in 2019)—I was still able to read some old favorites. I read two novels by Stephen Mertz, including his excellent private eye novel, Say it Was Murder, the first Wyatt novel, Kickback, for the second time by Australian author Garry Disher. I re-read Jack M. Bickham’s Overhead (my fourth or fifth reading of this title), and Ed Gorman’s The Day the Music Died
But I also read a bunch of authors new to me—25 in total—including impressive works by Richard Prosch (Peregrine Returns), J. Michael Orenduff (The Pot Thief Who Studied Edward Abbey), Matt Wesolowski (Hydra), Linwood Barclay (A Noise Downstairs), Steve Goble (The Devil’s Wind), Joe Ide (Wrecked), Helene Tursten (An Elderly Lady Is Up To No Good), Graeme Macrea Burnet (The Accident on the A35), Henry Kane (Frenzy of Evil), and Ralph Dennis (Atlanta Deathwatch and The Charleston Knife is Back in Town).
And my reading list in 2018 featured a few titles that rose to the top, which I skimmed (with some difficulty) down to five titles. With that said, my five favorite fiction titles that I read in 2018 are (and in no particular order):
·         The Red Scarf, by Gil Brewer, is pure, wonderful noir, about a man with a penchant for losing. And his every decision assures him a disastrous fate. Look for a more detailed discussion of this title in an upcoming feature at Mystery Scene Magazine’s website.

·         The Charleston Knife is Back in Town, by Ralph Dennis, is the second outing for former disgraced Atlanta police officer, and unlicensed P.I. Jim Hardman. A seamless tale in the vein of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels, but with a working class vibe. Look for a more detailed discussion of this title in an upcoming feature at Mystery Scene Magazine’s website.

·         An Elderly Lady Is Up To No Good, by Swedish writer Helene Tursten, is a collection of five tales with octogenarian Maude doing what she does best, murdering her neighbors for some well-deserved peace and quiet. I reviewed this title for my review column, “Short & Sweet: Short Stories Considered”, and you can read it at Mystery Scene’s website.

·         Wrecked, is Joe Ide’s third novel featuring private eye and general good guy, IQ. A furious and fun private eye novel that is as much thriller as anything else. You can read my review at Mystery Scene.

·         Say It Was Murder, by Stephen Mertz, is a private eye novel for the 21st century. Stylish, modern, and it turns a trope or two upside down. Read my Gravetapping review.
And here are a few honorable mentions. Hydra, by Matt Wesolowski, Word of Honor, by Nelson DeMille, Rape: A Love Story, by Joyce Carol Oates, The Peacemaker, by Andrew McBride, The Devil’s Wind, by Steve Goble, Shutter Island, by Dennis Lehane, Bryant & May: Hall of Mirrors, by Christopher Fowler, and Frenzy of Evil, by Henry Kane.


Sunday, January 06, 2019

THE LAWBRINGERS by Brian Garfield


Another older review of an early Brian Garfield western novel. Mr. Garfield passed away, after a years-long battle with Parkinson’s disease, on December 29, 2018. When I have a hole in my reading list I’m going to read a couple of his suspense novels, but until then, here is a review of The Lawbringers.
The American western novel has a bad reputation. It is reputed to be ethnocentric, violent and, even worse, simple and inaccurate. The good guys are too good, the bad guys are too bad, and the natives are one-dimensional cutouts. The townsfolk—the common working class—are portrayed as stupid, weak, or both. 
In many cases this poor reputation is deserved—there have been some really, really bad westerns introduced on television, film and fiction. There have also been some damn good westerns over the years—both past and present. To quote Theodore Sturgeon—he was defending SF, but the same rule applies to westerns—“ninety percent of everything is crap.” It is the other 10 percent that separates a viable genre from a dead one and the western is far from dead, whether we are talking about golden age stories or the novels published today.
An example of an older title—it was published by one of the more maligned houses, Ace, in 1962—that holds its own against the often valid arguments against westerns is Brian Garfield’s The Lawbringers. It is a traditional western from beginning to end. It is short, seemingly simple, and very much to the point, but it is also clever, intelligent, and subtly complex.
The Lawbringers is a biographical novel about the formation of the Arizona Rangers—a law enforcement agency created by the territorial Governor to combat the seemingly endless supply of toughs and criminals that haunted Arizona in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Its focus is directed at the chief Ranger, one Burton “Cap” Mossman, but it is told in an unexpected way. It is a multi-perspective novel that never attempts to get into the head of Mossman. Instead he is painted and defined by the characters around him—some real, others created by Garfield—as a hard, stubborn and tough man.
The novel is dedicated to Burt Mossman—“a chivalrous gentleman, a lawman, and an Arizonan.” But it is far from a one-sided novel of adoration. It tackles the man’s complexity as well as his flaws. He is depicted as a hard man doing a hard job. His decisions are made with the citizens of Arizona in mind, but with a frightening lack of color. There are no gradient shades, but rather his view is strictly black and white, and more often than not the end justified the means. He wasn’t above lynching a man to make his point, and the Mexico-Arizona border was less an end to his jurisdiction and more an artificial line to be ignored.
Mossman is a man who withstood political pressures and did what he thought best no matter the consequences. He typified the mythical western protagonist, but is portrayed by Mr. Garfield as nothing more than a man—stubborn, sincere, and flawed. He had friends, enemies, and admirers, but he hid behind a wall of secrecy and loneliness. He was a man that fit into the demands of an era, but whose era passed quickly and without much fanfare.
The Lawbringers manages to does all that and also tell an exciting and tight tale. It has a peculiar heavy quality. It is packed with emotion and wonder; wonder at the basis of right and wrong. It has a conscience without being limited or judged by that conscience. It is complex and wondrous. In short, it is very much part of that 10 percent, which has allowed the western story to survive for more than a century.

Friday, January 04, 2019

CALL ME HAZARD by Brian Garfield


Brian Garfield died on December 29, 2018. He was a wonderful writer and storyteller. He started as a western writer, many of his early westerns were published in hardcover by Avalon and then republished in paperback by Ace, as doubles and sometimes as singles. He also wrote several original novels for Ace, and here is an older review, originally written in 2009, for one such title, Call Me Hazard.
It has been a summer of great older stuff at my house, and one of the fascinations I developed is the work of Brian Garfield. I read a handful of his novels and reviewed two—Necessity and Fear in a Handful of Dust. My latest Garfield experience is a Western he wrote for the ACE Double line titled Call Me Hazard. It was published as by Frank Wynne in 1966 (M-138 with The Rincon Trap by Dean Owen), and while it isn’t the top of his work it is pretty damn good.
Jason Hazard is a hard case. He isn’t a bad man, nor is he the type who looks for trouble, but nonetheless he is hard, silent, and (when he needs to be) violent. He is also a mystery—the people around him respect and admire him, but Hazard always holds back. When he left his successful mine, and the town of Stinking Springs, Arizona, he didn’t tell many why. He just left and there were a few who took exception to his absence.
Hazard is back in Stinking Springs, but he doesn’t find a warm welcome. There is a new mine owner in town. A man named Vic Olsen who has a long history with Jason—it goes back to their teenage years—and his major ambition in life is ruining Jason’s. The other major mine owners in town are all having trouble too. The place seems jinxed. There have been an abundance of cave-ins and payroll robberies, and most of the owners are contemplating selling out and moving on.
The foreman of the largest operation has gone missing and the local law—a tiny man named Owney Nash, who is owned by the new player—thinks Hazard did it. Hazard hasn’t seen the foreman since he left years earlier, but as he walks into Stinking Springs all hell breaks loose and he will need the few friends he has left in town to survive.
Call Me Hazard is an early example of Garfield’s work. His trademarks are all there—the tight and controlled suspense, the crisp dialogue and competent and literate writing—but it isn’t as sharp or developed as his later work. The story is larger than the space allowed. The plot is tricky and Garfield does well at packing it in to 126 pages, but it would have worked better with more room and run time.
With that said, Call Me Hazard is really entertaining. It is a traditional Western with everything from hired guns, to nefariously beautiful women, and cold-blooded murder. It even has a few humorous names, of which Hazard and Stinking Springs are only two. The lead is a stolid and quiet man who isn’t a hired gun or even a loner. He left Stinking Springs for a reason and everyone who knows why he left is more than glad to see him back.
There is one particular scene—the first major showdown between the protagonist and the villain—that is as suspenseful as any scene in a successful suspense novel, which is Brian Garfield’s calling card. His work, no matter the genre, is plotted to ratchet the suspense from scene-to-scene and Call Me Hazard is no different. It is early and a little too short, but it is all entertainment and a fine example of how good—even at the age of 27, which is how old Garfield was when he wrote Call Me Hazard—Brian Garfield is.

Piccadilly Publishing has released a few of Brian Garfield’s early, pulpy, western novels as low-priced e-books over the past several months, including Mr. Sixgun, The Night it Rained Bullets, and The Bravos. Also available, from Mysterious Press, are some of Garfield’s later western novels: Manifest Destiny, Wild Times, Tripwire, Sliphammer, and many others.