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Monday, December 23, 2019

WESTERN NOVELS—WILDCAT O'SHEA


WESTERN NOVELS
WILDCAT O'SHEA
The fighting buckaroo of the title is Wildcat O’Shea—a fighting, whiskey loving, deceptively good-natured galoot created by western stalwart Jack Bickham under his Jeff Clinton pseudonym. 

To call Wildcat a disarming sight is an understatement. Wearing a battered blue hat planted over his shock of wild Irish red hair, he adds to his bold fashion statement by dressing in a red shirt, black vest, tan Levi’s, green boots, and fancy Mexican spurs, all while riding a painted orange saddle astride any nag willing to wear the rig. Despite his appearance, Wildcat is as tough, smart and determined as they come. In jail for public drunkenness and brawling, Wildcat is offered a get out of jail free card from the sheriff if he will go to Hog Creek and find out what happened to the deputy sent there to investigate a murder. Wildcat takes the job, figuring if can’t be too hard, and is happy to be out from behind bars.

Constantly underestimated because of his appearance, Wildcat’s goofy personality hides a rock-hard core of granite punching, fast shooting, stubborn fighting man. Within twenty-four hours of arriving in Hog Creek, he breaks up a domestic dispute, tosses the town bully out a window, gets shot at, gets his head clobbered, drinks more whiskey than he should, picks up the undying friendship of Simple Simon (who in less politically correct days would be called the town idiot), and slicks his hair back for a date with the town’s prettiest saloon belle—all of which will bring him more trouble than a gunny sack full of weasels. Much mayhem ensues before Wildcat gets to the bottom of murder and fraud.

Wildcat creator Jack Bickham was a highly respected professor at the University of Oklahoma, where he taught journalism until his death in 1997. He wrote seventy-five novels in the Western, mystery and thriller genres under a variety of pseudonyms, and six nonfiction volumes about writing. Two of his novels were made into movies—The Apple Dumpling Gang (novel 1971, movie 1975) and Baker's Hawk (novel 1974, movie 1976). His most successful series featured tennis-pro CIA agent Brad Smith in six contemporary thrillers beginning with Tiebreaker in 1989. Always pithy and direct, Bickham maintained, "People who say they lack time to write amuse me."

Bickham (writing as Clinton) originally introduced the character who would become Wildcat O’Shea in an earlier book, Hangman's Territory. In that novel, the character was called Boom Boom O'Malley, but the moniker didn’t garner any positive reaction. Bickham, however, kept being drawn back to the character. When he began thinking about starting a new series, Bickham rechristened the character Wildcat O’Shea, and within a few chapters, quickly realized he had created a unique character. With his wild 'n' woolly sense of humor, Bickham hoped readers would find Wildcat as entertaining to read about as he was for Bickham to write about.

Wildcat is a reluctant hero. He’d much rather drink and charm anything in a skirt than act responsible. Even loafing in the local jail for a minor infraction is preferable to working. As a result, most of Wildcat’s adventures start with him in jail being pressed into service by the local law. An expert in using dynamite and pulling large-scale pranks, Wildcat never learns the two skills don’t mix.

A quartet of the Wildcat books in particular are held in high regard as their covers were painted by iconic artist James Bama, whose highly collectible illustrations graced many paperbacks in the '60s and '70s.

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