Friday, February 23, 2018

Fargo #01 - Fargo

Author Ben Haas used over a dozen pseudonyms throughout his career, including John Benteen. It's this name behind the long-running 'Fargo' series. There were 23 books total, three of which written by the fictional name of John W. Hardin, who most likely was Haas colleague Norman Rubington. Sky-level, the series can easily identify with the western genre. However, the weeds-level view showcases non-traditional elements that skirt the rigid boundaries of western fiction. It's pulpy at times, often placing the action in South American locales with more modern components – soldier for hire, paid man-killing and machine guns. There's a devout fan following for 'Fargo', and after reading the first installment, I can certainly see why.

The debut, “Fargo”, was released in 1969 and introduces us to the character. Fargo is an ex-Cavalry fighting man that served in Roosevelt's Rough Riders regiment. The author details that he took a bullet in the shoulder on the charge up Kettle Hill, has scar tissue from both a career in boxing and a mining scuffle. We learn that by 1910, Fargo has lived a dogged existence fighting for money. He's now a “specialist in sudden death” and arrives in El Paso looking for work. 

The novel really runs the gambit of one adventure to another, setting the locale in old Mexico. I'd suspect that the pacing is one of the book's most cherished aspects, contributing to it's collector's fellowship and fandom. Here, Fargo is Hell-bent for leather, escorting a rugged, shady businessman back to a Mexican mine through bandits and Mexican guerrillas. Benteen puts us inside a fort fighting off waves of horse-soldiers before scooting us into rough riding through gangs and mountain passes (the atmosphere is dusty and sun-baked). The fighting is intense, made more identifiable with Fargo's trademark weapons – Colt Army .38, Winchester 30-30, Batangas knife and the overly utilized Fox ten-gauge shotgun.

Conclusively, this is an action-packed novel written by a genre fan for genre fans. It's simple, entertaining and introduces a lovable character. While influenced by the pulps, as Fargo is amazing at everything, it's more gritty and convincing. Benteen's smooth delivery is never bogged down with details. It's Fargo – in it for the money, adventure and tits. Who can't be a fan of that? For more background on this character and series, read author Paul Bishop's insightful write-up here.