Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Trailsman #205 - Mountain Mankillers

'The Trailsman' was a very long-running series (398 novels!), employing multiple authors writing under the house name Jon Sharpe. Almost inevitably, the level of quality varies from book to book, sometimes markedly. 

David Robbins was one of the better writers in the Trailsman stable, so I selected one of his books to read, since I’m already a big fan of his 'Wilderness' series. (He actually wrote more Trailsmans than Wilderness novels.) 

“Mountain Mankillers” is set in the Rockies, where a minor gold rush is underway and a bustling tent city has been established. Skye Fargo stops by, and is very soon caught up in violence and mystery. A number of miners have disappeared, including the father of two sexy sisters, and Fargo helps them out by investigating. It’s pretty clear that the town’s corrupt establishment has something to do with it all, but pulling the strings is an unknown Mr. Big. Who could it be?

Well, a modestly attentive reader won’t be kept in suspense very long, because Robbins telegraphs the identity of Mr. Big on page 130, leaving the remaining thirty-two pages of text a bit anti-climactic. That’s not to say the book is ruined. It’s still a notch or two above average, thanks partly to a couple of vividly violent sequences. One is a brutal beating on a very muddy street, and the other is a savage lashing by a bullwhip-wielding bad guy. Unfortunately for Fargo, he’s on the receiving end of both of these assaults, each of which is nearly fatal. But don’t feel too sorry for him, as he’s rewarded by the author with some mighty steamy interludes with the sexy sisters.

There’s actually a third sister too, a likable ten-year-old who befriends Fargo and is in turn watched over by him. Their scenes together are very charming, and help differentiate this character from the usual two-fisted, fast-on-the-draw western stereotype we’ve seen so many times before. (My inner casting director put Rory Calhoun in the role of Fargo, and that seemed to help bring the character to life too.) The author showed a welcome light touch in another way: Fargo keeps running into strangers who embarrass him with gushing praise for the exploits recounted in earlier novels!   

Anyway, there may be better Trailsman books out there (and there are), but you could do a lot worse than “Mountain Mankillers”.