Author Frank Castle (1910-1994) began his writing career like most of his contemporaries, writing for pulp magazines as early as the 1940s. With a number of western entries in titles like “Mammoth Western” and “.44 Western”, Castle would later venture into the crime fiction genre. Throughout the 50s and 60s the author penned paperpack novels for Fawcett Gold Medal, some using the pseudonyms Steve Thurman and Val Munroe. While being a diverse writer, his primary body of work is westerns. My first sampling of Castle is the 1969 western “Escape from Yuma”, billed by publisher Tower as a “Big T Western”.
Our introduction to Boone Wade is a rather cramped one – tucked inside the cold steel of Yuma prison. Wade, just the average Joe, was a rancher who joined criminal McGare for a one-time train robbery. The hit and run went off as expected for everyone but Wade. McGare's gang made a successful break and Wade was left behind to face the worst prison in the west.
The 24-year old has become hardened after two years of breaking rocks and succumbing to nightly beatings. So it's with great surprise that Wade finds that someone has tossed him the keys to his cell in the dead of night. After running towards the river, Wade finds a woman and her grandfather waiting with a boat to usher him to freedom. What's the price of his freedom?
Frank Castle uses a familiar crime fiction ploy to lure readers into this engaging western tale. A lawman named Rambo (Frank Castle and Rambo in the same book!) has rigged the escape from Yuma as bait to lure McGare. Rambo wants Wade to rob three trains, all fabricated to the highest degrees of safety by Rambo and his men. Once the news of the robbery, combined with the prison escape, reaches McGare's gang they will want in on the action. That's when Rambo will swoop in for the snatch and convince judges to pardon Wade. But can Rambo be trusted? Perhaps he's really a criminal himself and the train robberies are legit. That's the ultimate question as Wade is forced to choose between cooperating with what he hopes is the law or furthering his escape by fleeing into Mexico.
At 155-pages of intense action, it's hard to put this one down. I nearly read it in one sitting and found Castle's writing to be intriguing. He doesn't spill the beans until the end, using patience to make for a more entertaining finish for his readers. It's this reservation that glues the book together. Will Wade flee, fight or submit in hopes of the greater good? That's the focus of the narrative and it's enough to create a winning formula. Western and crime fiction fans should equally enjoy “Escape from Yuma”.
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