Sunday, September 18, 2011

Dead Man’s Brand by Norbert Davis

Tom Roberts at Black Dog Books continues to impress me with his high quality paperback reprints form the glorious golden age of pulp fiction. These little known westerns by Norbert Davis were a revelation. This is by far the best collection of western stories published this past year, and they’re over sixty years old! These eight stories were originally published between the years 1935 – 1942 in magazines like Dime Western, Western Aces and Star Western. Norbert Davis is better known to pulp fiction fans as a writer of crime stories which are also highly regarded.

The first selection is my favorite. A Gunsmoke Case for Major Cain features Cain, a tormented but noble survivor of the Civil War, righting wrongs in the west with his sidekick, Stringer. I love the descriptions in this story. This is how Davis introduced Stringer: “He wore a sweat-stained sombrero with the brim turned up in front and fastened that way, cavalry-fashion, and his face was lined and wizened and wryly malicious. He had no lashes at all, and his eyes looked as beady and cruel as a snake’s.” (p.13) Together, Cain and Stringer are formidable – and memorable. A truly riveting and superbly written pulp western.

Other standout stories include Their Guardian From Hell: Roy Falk comes out of his drunken binge and witnesses an event that changes his life. A hardboiled western with outstanding dialogue, pacing and descriptions; and Leetown’s One-Man Army: With a unique plot, unusual but realistic characters, a whisper of humor elevates this action-oater into a memorable tale. Lute is a man that had given up until he meets Tracy, a mysterious gunslinger with a calm but whimsical attitude. The remaining stories offer up tight descriptions and fascinating characters: Dead Man’s Brand, The Gunsmoke Banker Rides In, Death Creeps, Sign of the Sidewinder, and Boot Hill Bait.

The book includes an introduction by the great Bill Pronzini and an appendix titled “Hands Across the Rockies: The Lone Film Credit of Norbert Davis” by Ed Hulse. The back cover photograph of Norbert Davis courtesy of Bill Pronzini rounds out a tight little gem that should have you clamoring for more of the same.

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