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Monday, March 1, 2021

WESTERN NOVELS—HIGH FURY

WESTERN NOVELS—HIGH FURY
HARRY WHITTINGTON
BALLANTINE—1964
Readers of pulp crime fiction and western paperbacks don’t need an introduction to Harry Whittington. In the mid 20th century, Whittington knocked out scores of tough, no-nonsense stories including more than 200 novels. Seven of his stories made it to the screen, including the television series, Lawman.
 
Whittington’s reputation of King of the Pulps comes not only from his hard-boiled work, but also his prolific output and legendary speed of production. Most often, his prose reads at the same speed with which it was laid down. I finished Whittington’s 1964 original Ballantine Western, High Fury in one sitting, and the pages flew past as fast as a summer Sunday.
 
The setup is nothing special—a trio of privileged young men rob a stage for the thrill of it, and rape a minister’s 18 year-old daughter just for fun. As you might expect, one of the boys’ fathers is a big shot rancher, so nobody is to eager do anything about it in the small town of Sage Crossing. That includes a kindly sheriff named Ox Slaughter.
 
It’s the same basis as the movie Last Train From Gun Hill, novelization by Gordon Shirreffs, but with a major difference—Whittington. Harry Whittington often takes a well-trodden western trope and gives it a sweet little twist of ambiguity or—as in this case—irony, and cooks up an entirely new treat from an ages-old recipe.
 
In High Fury, Rosemary Tillson—who is the victimized girl—survives and is found by Brent Landers. Landers carries her into Sage Crossing and turns her over to the sheriff. When Rosemary identifies the men who raped her, Brent’s in a pickle. He doesn’t care about the rich kid. But he does care about one of the other three—Gil Clawson, an old trail pard of dubious nature, the only man who can clear Brent of a murder charge.
 
If Clawson is killed, who’s gonna clear Brent? If Clawson goes free, how can justice be done for Rosemary? If Brent Landers is a wanted man, how soon until Ox Slaughter puts him behind bars?
 
A lot of neat twist play out with just enough rope to hold things together, but not hang the book in the process. Whittington wrote fast, and it sometimes shows by way of word repetition and downright weird sentences, but never to the detriment of a quick, satisfying tale.

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