Monday, January 12, 2009

Format Hurts Worthy Hogan Effort

Track the Man Down
by Ray Hogan
Ace Double 75150

Not one of Hogan’s better efforts. A mainstay of classic Westerns, Hogan has been active in the field for 40-plus years. Maybe this was one of his early tales. Who knows? Seriously … does anybody know?

Nearly 40 years before Godfather Michael Corleone uttered the fateful words, “Every time I think I’m out, they keep pulling me back in,” (or thereabouts) Ben Dunn thinks similar thoughts. He’s hard man, a bounty hunter, who has gone after his share of toughs. Not everyone he tracked down made it back in his custody alive. Along the years Dunn made enemies. He’s out of that life now, making a quiet home for himself on a plugged hole of a ranch, eking out a living and keeping clear of trouble.

But, as everyone knows, trouble seems always to find a man like Ben Dunn. His neighbor is a wicked old cultus inaptly named Pope who’s after as much of the valley as he can grab. He’s dying, though, and leaves most of his heavy lifting to ranch foreman Jack Marr, the ruthless power behind the man. Marr uses his fists and his cronies to cause terror in the valley and make trouble for Dunn. Dunn, however, has just returned with a paper that proves disputed territory is actually his, not Pope’s.

On the way home he stumbles across a girl who is on her way to see Pope. She is Pope's daughter, Laura, and is completely unknown to him. She has proof of her parentage and wants to meet her father for the first time. She is totally guileless, an innocent girl being introduced to the wilds of the west. Dunn helps her out and when they are attacked on the way to see Pope he protects her.

All seems well when suddenly Dunn is accused of murder and the girl is on the run. Pope has been killed. Marr says that Dunn did it in cahoots with Laura to get the old man’s land. Marr has plenty of men and they make things hot for Dunn. Laura, on the run and hiding in the desert, finds her way back to Dunn.

Dunn’s home is burned, his stock run off. He’s shot at and chased. All the time he struggles to protect the girl. In the end he manages to convince a few of Pope’s old hands that the girl is the real deal and that Marr, greedy and ruthless, is actually behind the killing.

What starts off as a common, but well-told oater, seems to lose steam about three-quarters of the way through. Another 40,000-word quickie, the story bogs down and Hogan appears to be treading water for a while, using filler until the final scenes. At the end we have a fast shoot-out, but the real resolution is achieved with talking. Not really a hot way to end a western pulp yarn.

This story, like Savage Range, seems to be an attempt to jam old world pulp values (fast action, twisting plot, characterization “lite”) into the emerging new world western (thoughtful realism). It doesn’t work.

Much of the story is good. That’s when it’s just an old-fashioned western about a man accused of a crime he didn’t commit and a young girl in need of help.

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