Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Bloody Good Prairie

Blood on the Prairie
Wayne C. Lee
Leisure Books, May 2008

There is an overarching conceit that the author uses to create dynamic tension and spark events that must be accepted to fully enjoy the book. If you do, then this Ace Double-style novel is a pip.

Written in 1963 and published by Arcadia House (not Ace), Blood on the Prairie is a revenge story on a slow burn. Wade Harper has been searching for Herman Dack, a slick hombre who killed Harper’s partner and got away clean. Dack has settled in a town called Paradise, a place engineered by Wade Harper’s father, Jason, and is now home to the old man and Wade’s sister, Jennie. Dack has made himself into a respected and important citizen, a man who is beloved by Jason and engaged to Jennie.

Lee’s conceit builds off this situation and directs the actions of all the characters. In short, no one believes that Dack is evil and a killer. Not even Wade’s father or sister. This has an alienating effect; it puts Wade on the outside and unwanted in the community.

Undaunted, Wade refuses to give in. He spies on Dack, takes a beating from the "businessman’s" gunhand friends, and is stymied at every turn from finding proof of the man’s past guilt and current plans to take over the valley. For his part, Dack continues to smile infuriatingly and keeps his hands clean.

Things turn, as they will in such potboilers. Dack’s greed and evil nature eventually get the best of him. Wade’s persistence wears down Dack so that he cannot help but show his true nature. While the end comes quickly (and Jason and Jennie’s change of opinion snaps around whiplash fashion), the action carries the reader to a satisfying – if not unexpected – conclusion.
In fact, this good old-fashioned, leather-slapping, gun-crashing, fist-crunching yarn is a sheer pulpy pleasure.

Lee’s writing is crisp. He moves the story along at a fine pace. Unlike other short Ace Double-style novels, Blood on the Prairie does not feel as if a few scenes are missing that would make the plot work. Lee’s story is sharp, and if some of his characters and situations are familiar, it doesn’t matter. We read these old oaters for the sheer fun they impart.

Lee writes both dialog and description with energy and interest. He’s a welcome addition to Leisure’s publishing schedule – a company I often applaud for reprinting many pulp era and classic paperback era westerns each year. Hopefully another Lee work will be seen very soon.

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