Monday, June 5, 2023

Trouble-Texas Style

In 1964, Fawcett Gold Medal published Trouble-Texas Style, a crime-noir paperback that sported a Robert McGinnis cover and an unfamiliar author name of John Bramlett. My research suggests that the author was really John Pierce. However, I can only speculate that it is the same John Pierce (1910-2002), that was a famed American engineer that invented the term “transistor”. Pierce was a pioneer in electronics, information theory, and pulse-code modulation while working at Bell Laboratories. More importantly, for Paperback Warrior fans, Pierce authored 13 books and numerous short-stories, mostly science-fiction, using the name J.J. Coupling and John R. Pierce. 

In full disclosure, I can't directly link Trouble-Texas Style to Pierce, but it would make sense that this is the same guy. He also authored one other Fawcett Gold Medal paperback under the Bramlett name, 1967's The Devil in Broad Daylight. In a Cal Tech document, it suggests that Pierce had developed second thoughts about how his name on stories and science-fiction magazines would affect his employers. So, the additional pseudonym of Bramlett may have been chosen for crime-fiction. It's a stretch, but it's all I have. Additionally, there are some technical aspects to Trouble-Texas Style on drilling and the various equipment and leases required at the time. Perhaps Pierce's engineering background played a role in the writing.

Harry Miller grew up in Carlyle, Texas, a small shoreline town where people spend their time drinking and fishing. In the book's opening pages, Miller is in Houston brooding over his recent divorce, unemployment, and an empty apartment. A guy named Fowler approaches Miller and attempts to convince him that Carlye still has wells that will produce oil. When he shows Miller the locations, it is evident that Miller's childhood friend Roy Boatner previously tapped the wells dry and allowed the leases to expire. But, Fowler claims otherwise and wants Miller to accompany him back to Carlyle to do a few introductions and show him the lay of the land. Miller is hesitant, but Fowler offers to pay him, so he goes along for the ride.

On the way, Miller leaves Fowler in an attempt to inform Roy of the tapped out wells and the possibility of more production. When Miller finally locates Roy in a small town, the two pick up their friendship and Roy offers Miller a job. From the dialogue, these two have been on and off friends for decades – Roy found success in oil drilling and Miller has mostly floundered. Awakening at a roadside motel, Miller discovers that Roy has walked outside to start the car. When Miller peers out, he sees Roy's car violently explode into a fireball. Someone killed Roy, but why? The mystery lies in who, and what, was behind the explosion. 

Witnesses place Miller as the prime suspect, so he journeys down the fugitive road in a familiar “man on the run” premise. But, the author is clever enough to realize this story has been told numerous times in the pulps and crime-noir novels. Instead, he builds this smooth, calculating narrative that blends events from Miller and Roy's past and their friendship with another childhood friend named Alice. Overall, there are roughly 15 characters in the book, so notes were required. But, it wasn't a heavy lift. Instead, the characters all relate to each other in a cohesive manner that drives an intriguing story. 

Trouble-Texas Style is a terrible title. But, the book is a darn masterpiece that reminded me of John Ball's writing style with a touch of John D. MacDonald. Selfishly, I would love to see this novel brought to life on the big screen, preferably with a script written and directed by Billy Bob Thornton (Slingblade). If you love moving mysteries that are saturated with magnificent characters, then track down a copy of this vintage paperback as soon as possible.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

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