There were over 40 volumes of the western series ‘Spur’. The Leisure house name was Dirk Fletcher but these were actually written by journeyman writer Chet Cunningham (‘Jim Steel’, ‘Outlaws’, ‘Pony Soldiers’). “Hang Spur McCoy!” is book number 15 and was suggested as a good starter for new readers. There’s a brief introduction in the opening chapter, but later expanded as a sufficient backstory in Chapter 12. Spur McCoy grew up in New York as the son of a wealthy merchant and importer. After graduating from Harvard, Spur took a commission in the infantry during the Civil War. As a captain, Spur was appointed as one of the first US Secret Service Agents. For validity, the author states Spur was chosen out of ten finalists for his horse riding and service pistol marksmanship. After exceptional service in Washington, he was transferred to St. Louis to manage all of the action west of the Mississippi. Thus, a series was born with a legitimate character, purpose and the open-ended ability to place him in any sort of drama and adventure in the perilous west.
Cunningham kickstarts “Hang Spur McCoy!” with a bang. Our government agent is firing at an outhouse with a Spencer repeater. During the exchange Spur is wounded badly with a leg shot and awakens in the midst of a noose-ready posse. The sheriff and three make-shift lawmen have sentenced Spur to a lynching after accusing him of rape and murder. Once he successfully defends his position, the sheriff comes to Spur’s aid only to be outnumbered by the hostile trio. With a bound sheriff, the three struggles tying a noose. The sheriff assists, but cleverly ties a Murphy’s Knot to allow a faux presentation of Spur hanging. The deed is done and the three ride off with the sheriff staying behind for the pulse check. Other than a horrendous rope-burn and a bum leg, Spur is ready to complete his mission.
Some authors may be complacent with this being a simplistic and over utilized plot. Stretching out a revenge yarn for 200-pages is quite manageable and most authors worth their salt can milk this. While the author has Spur tracking those responsible for his hanging, the bulk of the story is the assignment – solving a counterfeiting racket in Twin Falls, Idaho. It’s slightly convenient that one of the hangmen is directly associated with the counterfeiting, but it’s forgivable. The action has Spur in detective mode sourcing the operation from start to finish. Along the way is a plethora of lovely ladies for the inevitable mattress romps. Fans of the series understand (need?) the obligatory 10% sex inclusion and it certainly spaces out the gumshoe portions in pleasant fashion. The finale has Spur unarmed in the forest facing adversity…and two armed gunmen. While Cunningham heats the barrels, “Hang Spur McCoy!” pauses for a tender moment as Spur shows compassion for one of the accused. This unique angle is one of the many little nuances that makes Cunningham’s work so enjoyable.