Steve Frazee (1908-1992) was a Colorado native and major contributor to the pulp and paperback western genre. The author wrote a number of Disney tie-in novels like “Swiss Family Robinson” and “Zorro”. He even authored a series of adventures starring television canine “Lassie”. Frazee wrote very little crime-noir other than “Running Target”, his 1957 novel published by Fawcett Gold Medal. After hunting down a copy, it's really just a simple western in disguise.
Oddly, “Running Target” doesn't feature a chief protagonist. Instead, it's an ensemble cast featuring a group of man-hunters searching a dense mountain range for four escaped prisoners. Led by the noble Sheriff Rudd, the players are:
Newton – Deputy Sheriff; pacifist who refuses to kill
Pryor – Deputy Sheriff; proud Sheriff's son
Jaynes – Voluntary Deputy; local businessman and sociopath
Smitty – Volunteer; female business owner who was robbed by one of the prisoners
Frazee's narrative style is very elementary. It is 160-pages of...man-hunting. The book follows the group as they track the prisoners through the forests. Between waking up and making coffee to the hiking and camping, the author spends extraordinary amounts of time beating around the bush (pun intended) without any story development. One could argue that the constant complaining, bickering and insults could be the focus, but why?
There's an interesting side story of Smitty carrying a small, curiously wrapped package in her bag. The author hints there will be some big reveal, and honestly this literary gambit kept me hanging in there page after page, but he pisses the whole idea away with three sentences three-fourths into the novel. Spoiler – it amounts to absolutely nothing.
Like walking barefooted on a steamy gravel road, flipping these pages was a painful, agonizing effort. But it also left me questioning a number of things. First, the fact that the armed pursuers are on horseback in the mountains makes this a traditional western. However, it's obviously set in the 1950s with the car, plane and radio that are mentioned and shown. Why even add those factors? Just call it a western and eliminate the contemporary setting. Second, could this novel have been a short-story the author originally wrote? Perhaps someone convinced him to pad the hell out of it to compose a full-length paperback. Sadly, I'd say that was probably the case as the padding was plentiful. It was probably a western too. But, Fawcett used popular paperback artist Mitchell Hooks to hook both crime-noir readers and their hard-earned money.
While I won't dismiss Steve Frazee's work, because I'm sure he has plenty of great westerns to his credit, “Running Target” has run right into our Hall of Shame. This book is an absolute turd.
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