Celebrating the Unpopular Arts
 

Hatcher’s Junk Drawer #22: Cowboys and Crime

I don’t really have a lot this time out, but I had some cool books arrive that I wanted to let you know about.

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Cowboys from Collins: In his capacity as Mickey Spillane’s literary executor, Max Allan Collins has taken it upon himself to complete various unfinished projects that Spillane left behind. One of these was The Legend of Caleb York, which began life as a screenplay Spillane wrote for John Wayne.

Collins turned it into a novel in 2015, and the novel turned into a series of novels. I bought the first one and enjoyed it a great deal, but I haven’t really kept up. (Despite what some people say, I don’t read everything.)

But I had occasion to revisit the series when Mr. Collins very kindly sent the latest book in the series to me for review. This is the sixth in the series, Shoot-Out at Sugar Creek.

Caleb York is a bit of a throwback– although Collins does a deft job of weaving real history into the books, these are unabashed, unapologetic old-school westerns. That’s by design; Collins points out in his introduction that the books are meant to evoke the spirit of the kind of western movies guys like John Wayne and Randolph Scott used to make. Since we have been having a bit of a wallow in those movies around here lately, the timing for this book to show up couldn’t have been better. Here’s the blurb:

It starts with an abusive, drunken young scoundrel who resists arrest, holds a barmaid hostage, and gets what he deserves from the blazing .44 of Sheriff Caleb York. The New Mexico lawman doesn’t regret taking such deadly action, but the late youth’s powerful mother, cattle baroness Victoria Drummond, seems bound to feel differently. To York’s surprise, Victoria takes the news with stoic resignation–all she asks of him is a favor: help her convince Willa Cullen–the love of Caleb’s life–to sell her the spread that Willa’s late father had carved out of the wilderness.

Willa, every bit as strong-willed as her rival, refuses to give up her land without a fight. Sheriff York anticipates an ugly showdown brewing with himself in the dangerous middle. And before he can stop it from escalating, the seductive cattle queen sends an army of hired guns to Sugar Creek, the sole source of water available for Willa’s herd. York finds himself caught in the crossfire of a savage shoot-out between Willa’s cowboys and Victoria’s gunfighters. No matter who wins, it’s going to be a bloodbath…

I found this book to be great fun and it reminded me I’ve been meaning to get caught up on these for a while. So I sprung for another one, The Bloody Spur.

The Santa Fe Railroad wants to build a spur through Trinidad, New Mexico, linking the town to the cattle trade. Only one man stands against it—rancher George Cullen. At the request of the town council, Sheriff Caleb York rides out to the Bar-O to reason with his old friend. Even Cullen’s daughter Willa, Caleb’s former flame, is for the railroad. But the stubborn blind rancher won’t budge.

Cullen’s former partner, Burt O’Malley, has recently returned from a twenty-year stint in the pen for manslaughter. And hired gun Alver Hollis, the much-feared Preacherman, has also shown up with two cronies, claiming they’re in town for the biggest poker game in the territory.

With murder in the wind, the whole town’s in danger. Who will be the next target? To bring a killer to justice, and protect the woman he loves, Caleb York must strap down his Colt .44, enter the big game, and bet his life on the turn of a card… and the speed of his draw.

There’s a certain amount of internal continuity but it’s not intrusive. I’m reading them out of order and it’s not hampering my enjoyment at all. One of the reasons I’m so completely in the tank for Max Allan Collins novels is that they are dependably fast-moving and entertaining. The Caleb York series is no exception. And it’s fun to see Collins switch genres from his usual hard-boiled crime stuff, as well. Recommended.

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Recklessly Retro: I haven’t really had much occasion to talk about Ed Brubaker in this space, but I am a huge admirer of his work, and his latest project just hit me where I live. Reckless.

It was described to me as “Travis McGee for comics,” which got me instantly on board; and certainly everything about the books, right down to the cover design, is clearly meant to evoke the days when John D. MacDonald and his brethren doiminated drugstore spinner racks.

Ethan Reckless isn’t a McGee pastiche by any means, I have to add. But his adventures are very much in that tradition. Reckless isn’t a cop or a private eye; he’s a former FBI agent and Vietnam vet who does favors for friends, using his wartime skills as a sort of urban mercenary. Here’s the blurb on the first one…

Sex, drugs, and murder in 1980s Los Angeles, and the best new twist on paperback pulp heroes since The Punisher or Jack Reacher.

ED BRUBAKER and SEAN PHILLIPS, the modern masters of crime noir, bring us the last thing anyone expected from them—a good guy. A bold new series of original graphic novels, with three books releasing over the next year, each a full-length story that stands on its own.

Meet Ethan Reckless: Your trouble is his business, for the right price. But when a fugitive from his radical student days reaches out for help, Ethan must face the only thing he fears…his own past.

The art from Sean Phillips is perfectly suited to the story, as well.

I don’t really know what to tell you other than that it’s wonderful and I loved it.

Something else I love about the series is the way the books come out– they arrive AS books, not collections of monthly comics. So there’s no padding or pacing issues–they’re genuine novels, which is a format I’ve been banging the drum for publishers to wake up and pursue for at least a decade. The only thing keeping comics at 32-page monthly booklets is fannish OCD, and publishers’ inability to let go of the guaranteed Wednesday faithful. I’m delighted someone finally figured it out.

The second one, Friend of the Devil, came out a few weeks ago and I enjoyed it every bit as much as the first. The next book in the red-hot Reckless series is here!

Bestselling crime noir masters Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are back with another new original graphic novel featuring troublemaker-for-hire Ethan Reckless.

It’s 1985 and things in Ethan’s life are going pretty well… until a missing woman shows up in the background of an old B-movie, and Ethan is drawn into Hollywood’s secret occult underbelly as he hunts for her among the wreckage of the wild days of the ’70s.

Again the Sean Phillips art is stellar.

I don’t mean to gush but these books just hit my sweet spot. Tough cool crime stories that evoke one of my favorite subgenres in pop culture, seventies men’s adventure paperback series. I’m in all the way.

The next one, Destroy All Monsters, is due in October and mine’s already ordered. I can’t wait.

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Annoying Medical Stuff: Which is to say, the main reason I haven’t been around much lately. I’m still trying to figure out what the new normal is and what I can do, and the answer is always “less than I think I can.” It’s frustrating.

Radiation is done for now, though it’s going to be another month before we know if it actually worked.

Meanwhile, the hits just keep on coming.

What I figured was a routine eye exam (I need new glasses) turned into a diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy: bleeding and swelling in the eye that leads to all sorts of terrible things. Fortunately, it’s easily treatable, I’m told. By injecting medication directly into the eyeball.

AAAGH!

The ophthalmologist hastened to assure me that it would be fine and it’s a routine procedure, but I can’t help it, all I can picture is stuff like this.

The trouble with a vivid imagination is that there’s no off switch.

Anyway, those treatments start next week, so I’m probably not going to be around every week, though I’m determined to keep up as best I can. I hope to be back soon with something cool.

10 Comments

  1. tomfitz1

    Mr. Hatcher:

    I must agree with your assessment of Brubaker/Phillips’ Reckless books.

    It’s pretty awesome, story- and art-wise.

    Hollywood could make movies out of Reckless.

    I’m kind of bummed out that there’s only 3 books, unless there’s more in 2022?

      1. Chris Schillig

        Oh, I don’t blame Collins. Maybe the publisher thought photo covers would stand out in a genre where painted covers are the norm. But it doesn’t work for me. (I am still tempted to try the books based on your review.)

  2. Jeff Nettleton

    Great recommendations, as always, Greg. Hope everything works out well for you, medically. The eye thing is part of why I only briefly tried contact lenses. They drove me crazy and trying to insert them was horrendous. Slipping on and off glasses is a heck of a lot easier and my vanity is a very minor thing.

    1. What, you mean the part where you’re some kind of desert mutant that plays tennis in 110-degree heat? I tore out all the heat-wave bitching because it was out-of-date. (Everyone else who didn’t peek at the earlier draft: I had a bit in there about how we fled to a hotel in Centralia to escape the record heat.) Part of my new status quo is I can’t do columns in a single sitting any more, which is frustrating. Days go by and current-event references age out. I ended up throwing out all the travelogue part because it wasn’t really going anywhere. First trip we took since before we were married where we did no book shopping at all. Just napped at the hotel enjoying its glorious AC.

      But yes, everyone, Burgas is clearly abnormal. You heard it here first. As global warming slowly renders the planet uninhabitable, he’ll still be out there playing tennis. Freak.

      1. Greg Burgas

        I get that. It’s disappointing, because I always dig reading about your road trips (even though I get the gist on Facebook). As long as you’re keeping healthy, take your time with the columns!

        Hey, I played this morning and it was only 92 or so with 46% humidity (it’s monsoon season)! Nothing to it! 🙂

  3. Edo Bosnar

    Oh, dammit! Those images with the eye stuff! How about a trigger warning?!
    More seriously, damn I so sympathize with the latest eye problems. I’m so squeamish about that kind of stuff – it’s why, like Jeff above, I could never wear contacts.
    Also, I’m also long overdue for an eye check-up myself (also need new glasses). Now I’m apprehensive about a similar diagnosis…

    And if anyone could get me to become a regular reader of regular westerns (not the cool kind, like Silver Riders), it would be Collins. I may eventually give those a shot – although, yeah, hate the photo covers as well.

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