Thursday, September 10, 2009

Fast-Moving Pioneer Pleases as Campfire Yarn

Panhandle Pioneer
by Bradford Scott
Leisure Books, 2008

As mentioned in an earlier review, Bradford Scott is the author of pulp favorites Walt Slade and Jim Hatfield, Texas Ranger features from the ‘30s and ‘40s that appeared in magazines like Thrilling Western, Five Western Novels and, appropriately enough, Texas Rangers. A prolific writer, Scott penned many non-series books, too. Panhandle Pioneer is a 1950s-vintage example of a light, snappy oater.

Knock-about Cliff Hardy is a young man with little on his mind and seemingly little in his head. An idea strikes him one day that nets him a wad of cash with the opportunity to earn a great deal more. Everyone in town laughs at him, and soon he becomes the joke of the county. But he keeps making money, and expands his business.

Soon, he’s buying land cheap and grabs up some of the best grazing range with water. The town stops laughing. In fact, he gains the attention of the biggest man in the Texas panhandle, Basset Shaw. Shaw has some plans for that once-ignored land, a rolling plain filled with grass and buffalo bones, and he is unhappy that Hardy is buying up huge chunks of it cheap. He begins a campaign of terror against Hardy.

With his loyal sidekick, Tom Cameron, the wunderkind matches wits with Shaw as he defends himself and begins stocking his range. Men are sent to threaten, others to ambush, and still others to destroy Hardy’s businesses. All are turned away with lethal force. Shaw is outfoxed at every turn, but his deadly imagination never flags. The county sheriff, Frank Nance, is made aware of all the trouble. He likes Hardy and realizes the young man is only defending himself, but he cannot legally touch Shaw. The land baron is well insulated.

Panhandle Pioneer is an episodic story. Scott moves us from set piece to set piece with no real end in sight. You know there should be a showdown between Hardy and Shaw, but the kind of build up to that end which other writers use regularly is absent. Hardy seems resigned to deal with Shaw’s attacks for as long as they continue.

Part of this attitude is because Hardy has fallen in love with Rita Sostenes, granddaughter of a famous Texas bandit and niece to Basset Shaw. Hardy does not want to provoke a showdown that will endanger his relationship with Rita. Also, Rita believes that down deep her uncle is a good man.

Another reason for the lack of a showdown is because Hardy approached Shaw early in the story. While their meeting was tense, Hardy came away from it with a little respect for the man.

Reality is not the main focus of this story. Scott writes with an almost “once upon a time …” style that gives the reader a sense of disconnection to events. The emotions are tame and regulated. There isn’t a lot of tension. He also goes into short dissertations that read like history lessons on things like barbed wire, the correct way to arrange drovers on a cattle drive, and the types of cattle used for beef. While none of these are dry or lack in entertainment, the reader is pulled out of the story, however briefly, to digest the material.

Also, coincidence and luck play a large part in the events. Ambushers can only bounce .45 slugs off of Hardy’s and Cameron’s heads. Deadly accuracy, it seems, is the purview only of the good guys. Unlike many stories, the hero always seems to have the jump on the bad guy. At just the right time, Hardy comes up with an idea that expands his business, outwits Shaw, and saves his own skin. Shaw is always a step behind.

All of this gives the reader the feeling of listening to an old moss back tell a whopper of a yarn while sitting around a campfire. And despite the lack of emotion or real tension, it’s a darn fine yarn. It’s easy to like Hardy, Cameron, Rita, and Sheriff Nance, and, like Hardy, oddly difficult to hate Shaw.

The end rides up fast – as fast as the speeding prairie fire that may or may not have been set deliberately. Shaw redeems himself under his terms. Hardy and Rita finally marry. Things look pretty good for all of them, by the end. For the reader, too, who should have had some fun along the way in this quick read.


Dave Lewis said...

The old Bradford Scott pbs I've seen are about a third as thick as most modern paperbacks. Does "New Easy-to-Read Type" mean really it's really BIG?

ShadowPDF said...

No, Dave. But Leisure did change how they laid out their books. Too many of them were in very tiny fonts. I'm just guessing, but I suspect they got a lot of complaints from us old farts about not being able to see the words clearly. Whatever the reason, their books for the past two years have been much easier to read.