Lewis B. Patten authored nearly 100 western novels during his four-decades of literary work. Using the pseudonyms of Lee Leighton and Joseph Wayne, Patten collaborated with his contemporary in Wayne D. Overholser for a handful of westerns. His 1968 novel, Death of a Gunfighter, was adapted into a film starring Richard Widmark. Six of his novels were published in 1963 including The Ruthless Range, a book originally published by Berkley that has been reprinted numerous times since.
The novel introduces readers to Jase Mellor, a fictional famed gunslinger. In his youth, Mellor's fast-draw prowess allowed him to kill a notorious outlaw. But since that fateful day, Mellor has found himself challenged by gunfighters throughout the southwestern U.S. Over the course of many bitter, blood-drenched years, Mellor has attempted to flee into obscurity, a tactic that cost him his marriage with Edie.
As The Ruthless Range opens, Mellor is provoked into a gunfight with a loud-mouthed, arrogant man at a bar. After fatally shooting him, Mellor leaves town only to find ten men in pursuit. The author's opening chapters have Mellor facing these men from some high rocks. After being wounded in the battle, Mellor awakens to find that he is being cared for by a man named Sandoval, owner of the sprawling Grandee Range. Over the course of many days, Sandoval informs Mellor that the land's dry conditions have forced nearby ranchers to illegally push steer onto his land. After heated skirmishes, Sandoval fears for his life and knows that he's outnumbered. Can Mellor help?
Patten weaves a number of story-lines together to create a pretty formulaic western yarn. There are thousands of range-war stories within western fiction and The Ruthless Range is just another one. Although it's a fairly standard story, the author injects two love interests for Mellor – one is his former wife Edie and the other is Sandoval's wife. There's also a small mystery to uncover, but experienced readers should be able to figure it out long before the hero does.
At 120-pages, The Ruthless Range is a short, enjoyable western tale but nothing special or particularly innovative. Jase Mellor is immediately likable and readers will find plenty of reason to rally behind this tragic hero. Just control your expectations if you are looking for something remarkable or outstanding. The Ruthless Range is just pretty good, and sometimes that’s enough.
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