Saturday, December 4, 2010

"Guns of North Texas" by Will Cook (Gold Medal, 1958)

Will Cook’s Guns of North Texas (1958) opens with Lon Cordeen returning from the Civil War to his home in Elk Crossing, Texas. Upon arrival, he finds that his father (fittingly named Temple) and brothers (the older Paine and younger Hoby) are on a mission to lynch or run out of town everyone who is black or a Yankee. When he is asked to kill his sister’s fiance, Lon must reconsider the value of family and the cost of betrayal.

The book was well reviewed by Nelson Nye in the New York Times, who commented “The story has been told and told again, but Cook's harsh version discovers new meanings, an immediacy and humorless depth seldom achieved in pulpwood fiction.”

I wasn’t as enthusiastic about the book as Nye was. Lon is such a fair and understanding character that he tends to be unexciting. Even when he’s drawing a gun against his own cousins, he’s so sympathetic to his enemies that I would lose interest in what he was doing. Lon’s younger brother, Hoby, on the other hand, is a very compelling character. Hauled off to war while still a teenager, then forced into a lynch mob, and then dragged into a bloody family feud, Hoby ages faster than boys his age should. We watch him turn cynical and cold-blooded, and grow more intelligent and insightful into the best and worst parts of his family than Lon is ever capable of. Hoby would have been a much more exciting main character to focus on, and it would have pushed the novel more into the territory of something Harry Whittington might have written.

William Everett Cook was born in 1921 and died in 1964. He published a number of stories in the pulps (bibliography here at Fictionmags Index), and several other Westerns for Gold Medal including Badman's Holiday (1958), Last Command (1964), Outcast of Cripple Creek (1959), The Wind River Kid (1960), and The Wranglers (1960).

A quote from the book:

“You’re a dumb animal,” Lon said. “But how much of this can you take, cousin? You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to pound on you until your brains are scrambled and you’ll walk the rest of your life on your heels and every time you see me you’ll take off my hat and put it back on again; it’ll be the only thing you’ll ever be able to do.”

7 comments:

  1. Short life. What was the average life expectancy for pulp writers anyway?

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  2. Can't tell you how much I'm enjoying these reviews, Cullen. Great stuff!

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  3. Keep firing them at us pard. These reviews are great.

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  4. Will Cook seems to have a pretty uneven writer. Even when all the elements in the story seem to be perfect, the book still might end up being uninteresting, like his Jim Thompson-esque KILLER BEHIND A BADGE (1960). But some of his books are brilliant, like COMANCHE CAPTIVES that John Ford hated but filmed anyway.

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  5. I found his"The Outcast of Cripple Creek"in a second-hand store in rural Norway a couple of years ago,it´s pretty good,I must say.
    Anyway,Cullen,love your blog,keep up the great work.
    Greetings from Madrid,Spain.

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  6. He wrote a great many western novels as Will Cook, Wade Everrett and James Keene. "The Warrior" and "Cavalry Recruit" were good, originally published under Wade Everrett with some later reprints being under Will Cook. I have also always been partial to "The Wind River Kid" by Cook. If you are looking for "Comanche Captives" it was released later as "Two Rode Together". He may have been "uneven" in some of his writing, but for me any of his stuff beats any westerns being written now.

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  7. This man, William Everett Cook, was my great grandpa. He died so young and no body in my family can tell me anything about him. Does anyone out there know more intimate information about him? I would love to know.

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