Last year I tracked down and read all of Merle Constiner’s westerns, all of which I liked and some of which I loved, and I’ll have to put a best-of list together. Here’s a write-up of one, although I’m not entirely sure the essayist appreciated it as much as it deserved.
And lately I’ve been reading a lot of Marvin Albert. Except that sometimes Albert wrote as Nick Quarry, and sometimes he wrote as Al Conroy and sometimes he wrote as Ian MacAlister, and sometimes as Tony Rome and sometimes he wrote as, you guessed it, Marvin Albert. And sometimes stuff he wrote under a pseudonym got reprinted under his Albert name. Anyway, I’ve yet to read something by him I didn’t like, and it’s all different. He had six hardboiled private eye novels (with a spicy flare to them, because the dames are always improbably gorgeous) with twisty plots and lots of good action, written as Nick Quarry. I’ve read two and enjoyed them, a lot. He had four series books about a gambler/gun-slick named Clayburn, written under his Al Conroy alias, and I’ve read two and enjoyed those, a lot, — and it’s a different style from his Quarry books. One of the Clayburn novels was made into a movie back in the day.
I’ve also read one of Albert’s standalone westerns (there are at least a half dozen of those as well, and at least one other was made into a movie) and it, too, was slightly different in feel, and I read one of his four ’70s adventure novels, Driscoll’s Diamonds, which was a cracking desert adventure yarn, and also different. The man was versatile but delivered the goods every time. At some point soon I’m going to have to discuss his work in depth, but I don’t feel expert enough to do that yet, except to say, wow, seek this guy out. Here’s a great article about him by Bill Crider that has helped me assemble my want list.
The first westerns I read and enjoyed (not counting Lonesome Dove) were those by Ben Haas writing under his John Benteen pseudonym, and I know you’ve probably seen me gush about those (here and here). It’s much easier to get his work, at least in e-book form, than it was when I got interested in him.
Then there’s Donald Hamilton, best known for his Matt Helm books. He only wrote four westerns, and I’ve read three of those and loved every one. The most recent, The Man from Santa Clara aka The Two-Shoot Gun is probably the best yet. I’m holding off on the fourth because, you know, there won’t be any more. The Man from Santa Clara was even more fun after having read so many other westerns, because Hamilton dealt with a lot of the themes I’d been seeing recently and did different things with them, with deeper characters.
Lately I’ve tried two Louis L’Amour novels. I’d read one, long ago, that I thought was okay. Its name escapes me. Recently I read Flint, which was kind of cool, but also Mary Sue, in that the main character seemed to be great at everything. And also rich. And also supremely handsome. And also intimately connected with stocks and business. And he had a secret base in the lava fields. And an awesome horse. And a super gun… Anyway. This time I’m reading an early L’Amour, from Gold Medal, a publisher whose editors (back in the day) seemed to bring out the best in people. About halfway into Last Stand at Papago Wells I’m probably enjoying it about twice as much as Flint. It feels like I’m reading a ’50s or ’60s hardboiled western movie.
Last week I ended up at one of the few local used bookstores and got a gold mine of beat up westerns for cheap. I’ll talk more about that later, but I found some Gordon Shirefs novels, who Morgan Holmes has recommended for years, especially his work for Gold Medal. I’ll probably try one of those when I finish this L’Amour.
So, there you go. I suppose as a fantasy author I ought to be talking about fantasy. Or maybe history. Yet I just keep talking about westerns and hardboiled stuff. I have no idea what kind of audience I’m supposed to attract to draw attention to my own fantasy books, but I gotta write about what interests me…