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.