Showing posts with label Dakota. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dakota. Show all posts

Friday, July 6, 2018

Dakota #05 - Chain Reaction

In 1969's “One Endless Hour”, the phenomenal crime novel by Dan J. Marlowe, there is a climactic sequence of events where the protagonist is working with hard-men to orchestrate an elaborate heist job. That sequence was a harrowing thrill-ride as the criminals transport a great deal of human capital to a central location in efforts to minimize the chances of being caught. It was an enormous undertaking by the author and the characters, and until now, I haven't seen anything as effective as that high-tension scene. 

Gilbert Ralston's final 'Dakota' novel, “Chain Reaction”, has this white knuckle chapter where the heroic Shoshone detective is moving the good and bad guys from Nevada to Arizona to Oakland. In that effort, we get a kidnapped corporate crony, a ruthless casino owner and dozens of vigilant Native Americans looking for revenge on the Mob. It mirrors the tension, pace and atmosphere of Marlowe's scene while still possessing its own identity and flavor. In other kicks total ass. 

This closing chapter of the five-book 'Dakota' series focuses on its own mythology, coming full circle to link events from the prior four books into one epic and unforgettable story. It originates with the mysterious murder of Native American dockworker Aaron Costarella. From there, two ferocious killers track down and murder Costarella's wife (with disturbing imagery of her hanging from her thumbs riddled with burns and bruises). The Costarellas' daughter comes to Dakota with the case. It's his quest to find what the Costarellas were hiding, why they were murdered and how three ornamental daggers fit the puzzle. Add in a mysterious key, Marvin Kinter (the casino guy who tried to kill Dakota in books 2-4), an Oakland kingpin (Dakota's surprising ally from book 4) and a whole lot of fighting...and you get what is probably the best of the series (although my high praise is still heaped on the debut).

It's an engaging quest to find the killers, one that puts Dakota in Arizona, Nevada and California and aligned with a multitude of law enforcement and...bad guys. The Native Americans make for a great cast, aptly simplified to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in one comical scene. The interplay between characters is entertaining, exchanging differences to create a cohesive fighting force. Like prior books, there's a central theme that branches out into a number of remarkable and noteworthy adventures. Fighting? It's shipped in by the truckloads – there's dockyard brawls, bar fights, street fights, car chases and lots of “tie him to a chair and make him talk” stuff that's vintage brutality. 

At the end of the book, I'm not sure if Ralston had plans to continue. It certainly could have ventured on, continuing Dakota's risky and violent work ethic. As an ending to the series, it works out quite well and fits as a quality sendoff. I wish there were more books like 'Dakota'. It's an amazing series and prompts me to keep these five paperbacks forever. That's a testament to outstanding fiction. You just can't go wrong with this series.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Dakota #04 - Murderer's Money

While writing this, I'm about halfway through Gilbert Ralston's last 'Dakota' novel, “Chain Reaction”, and thinking that I want to be buried with these five novels. They are just that damn good (even the lukewarm third entry), but then I remember I'm being cremated and I can't bear the thought of these magnificent works perishing by fire. I'm not a paid spokesman on behalf of the Ralston family nor do I attain any monetary reward for my pulpit preaching. I'm here as a casual reader and stating this 'Dakota' series is absolutely a mandatory read. It should be produced digitally and placed into some sort of archive for future generations to explore.

The amazing aspect of this series is that the five books really make up one long case file. It puts you, the reader, in the dangerous (and coveted) spot of being the scene sleuth piecing it all together. Confused? Let me elaborate.

The first book, “Dakota Warpath”, had a sweeping main narrative of Shoshone detective Dakota rutting out an evil corrupt land baron. But, in that book Ralston sets up a cast of characters that play major and minor roles throughout the series. Further, he places little tidbits here and there that build to enormous plots later. For instance, the series debut has a three-page side-story that had Dakota visiting a disabled genius named Henry Bray. In that book, Henry wants to hire Dakota to protect him from his brother Jack, who he thinks is out to murder him. Dakota, thinking the man has dementia, accepts the deal but gives the money back and warns Jack that his brother is crazy. In book three, “Cat Trap”, the author provides one intriguing sentence by mentioning that Jack Bray has been shot and killed. The reader is left pondering those early scenes in book one, but they don't really come to fruition until this book, where that story is the complex plot. That's just the tip of the iceberg. “Cat Trap” also introduced us to a crooked casino owner named Larry Kinter, who has major roles in books four and five along with a paid killer named Guy Marten, who appears as early as book two. Oh what webs we weave.

“Murderer's Money” is the fourth series entry, written by Gilbert Ralston and released in 1975 by powerhouse publisher Pinnacle. It's probably the best and most epic of the books, putting Dakota in the hot seat in, around and on top of the Sierras, but placing the rousing finale on the mean streets of Oakland. As stated earlier, the premise is that Jack Bray has been found shot to death in his office and the chief suspect is the jailed brother, Henry Bray. Henry is a wheelchair bound genius that holds an infinite number of patents and has immense wealth. Dakota is hired to clear Henry's name and find Jack's killer. The problem? Henry was the only visitor Jack had that night. Henry's firearm was found at the scene. Henry's chair blanket shows two holes where the shots were fired from. Two witnesses say they saw Henry enter and leave Jack's office. Jack is the reason Henry is in a wheelchair for life. The odds are overwhelming that Henry is the shooter. Dakota doesn't think so.

But, these books never rely on a simple plot. This one moves at a fast pace, eventually involving a dead junkie named Carl Self, a suspicious Bray daughter named Melissa and money found at the scene that is directly connected to the Gerber Baby ransom-murder. It's a dense, calculating read but incredibly enjoyable. Just when you think you've got it figured out, another wild scenario takes place. As the action moves to Oakland, gangland violence and hired protection rackets become players, aligning Dakota with guys he would otherwise kill. Did I mention there's a middle stretch that has Dakota and Melissa Bray crash landing on top of the snowy Sierras? That side-story is captivating and simply...breathtaking. 

Don't get too caught up with the expansive narrative. It's a fun read clocking in at the typical 180-pages that the genre demands. But, prior knowledge of the three previous books is a prerequisite. Without it, events in this book won't have such an impact. The series finale, book five's “Chain Reaction”, continues the story presented here and transforms Dakota into a furious fighting machine, progressively altering the character to match his violent lifestyle. 

'Dakota' is simply the best of the best.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Dakota #03 - Cat Trap

I've really enjoyed this 'Dakota' series written by Gilbert Ralson. Third entry, “Cat Trap”, was released by Pinnacle in September, 1974. While the previous two novels escalated the action over the mystery, “Cat Trap” reverses the formula and puts our Shoshone detective on the cusp of finding a killer through more procedural methods than hot lead. This version of Dakota reads more like a Perry Mason story than anything else. 

The intriguing part of this series is that each novel is married to it's predecessor. Here, some of the events from the second book are outlined, with the same supporting cast from the first two installments visible throughout this book. In fact, pieces of the series debut, “Dakota Warpath”, remain unsolved and return in this novel. It's like a brutal version of “Cheers” - everybody knows your name and who shot you. The narrative follows Dakota as he runs coast to coast from New York to California chasing the killer behind two dead bodies in Lake Tahoe. Again, the action is secondary for three-fourths, but the cast of characters is robust. Too robust.

I honestly just lost track of the story. It could be that I was traveling while reading it, or that Ralston just crams way too many characters into 185-pages. I kept confusing the dead bodies with the live ones, and at the end of the day I'm still not sure who was the finger man (and I'm not sure the author knows either). But like the prior novels, book four will probably contain remnants of this story-line – finished or not. 

While “Cat Trap” is entertaining and diverse, it's an unfocused delivery flawed with too much too fast. On the strength of the first two books, this one isn't deterring me from the series. Overall, it's an impressive run.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Dakota #02 - Red Revenge

“Red Revenge” is another top-notch effort from author Gilbert Ralston. It was released in 1974 through the popular Pinnacle Adventure line and marks the second installment of modern western series 'Dakota'. As I mentioned in my review of the series debut, “Dakota Warpath”, this character is strikingly similar to what Craig Johnson would do years later with his 'Longmire' character. 

This book mentions some of the events that transpired in the series opener. Ralston almost has a hometown feeling to the book, by outlining and describing all of the characters that make up this colorful Carson Valley town. Some were introduced in the prior book, some are new. Dakota has a love interest here named Alicia, and based on the book's ending she could be a recurring character throughout the series. The storyline of Dakota's sick father continues and concludes in this book. Also, the young Native American that Dakota assisted in the prior novel is a steadfast character here - sort of the action-assistant or inexperienced ally. Louis serves as a dialogue direction as Dakota explains to the reader what he's doing with the case.

The Board of Directors of Grayson Electric have been kidnapped for ransom in Lake Tahoe. The employees' families reach out to Dakota to offer assistance. They need to pay three-million in bearer bonds to the kidnappers, or heads will roll. While they sort out the collateral, Dakota starts the search for where the men are being held. This is about half of the book and is a really entertaining nod to detective fiction – checking leads, interviewing potential witnesses, etc. Eventually, Dakota taps a location and loads the guns.

Dakota, being Shoshone, has two blood brothers that join him for the rescue attempt. Ralston absolutely nails the liberation, from hunting and killing to an all-out assault. It's done remarkably well, and includes a fair amount of car run 'n gun and a robust body count. After the high-impact finale, Ralston doesn't just throw the sheets on the corpse. He lets us stick around for 20-more pages while the story is ironed out, bodies are named and Dakota himself explains his actions to law-enforcement. It's a unique angle that few authors rarely conceive and deliver. What happens when the smoke clears and the hero has killed the bad guys? It's not as black and white as the end credits make it seem. Ralston understands that and I applaud him for giving us a little more than standard volume feedback. 

Dakota hits the Big Apple next for “Cat Trap”. 

Friday, December 29, 2017

Dakota #01 - Dakota Warpath

Author Gilbert Ralston is better known for his writing credits in Hollywood. Ralston helped create the “The Wild Wild West” show and wrote for similar television pieces like “Laredo”, “The Big Valley” and “Gunsmoke” in the 1960s. Ralston, born in Newcastle, Ireland, attended college at Sierra Nevada College, worked as a journalist and was a member of the Western Writers of America. All three of these experiences, combined with his screenplay skills, contribute to the look and feel of this series, ‘Dakota’. The series debut, “Dakota Warpath”, was released by Pinnacle in 1973 under the guise of just another hard-hitting action series. It isn’t necessarily in the mold of a ‘Death Merchant’ or ‘Destroyer’. This is more of a white-knuckle detective vehicle…that still manages to delivers the same goods.

Dakota is a half Piegan, half Shoshoni detective working out of the Sierras in Nevada. He’s an ex-Marine who served in Vietnam as a talker for an advanced unit. Apparently, Dakota and his two brothers were surrounded in the bush and only Dakota survived. There is a slight discrepancy to this story later as Dakota tells a Marine pilot he was a Ranger. In my research, only Army had Rangers but this could be associated with Dakota attending Army Ranger school at one point and possibly learning demolition. Regardless, Dakota emerges from the war and becomes a police force in New York before moving back to the Sierras to work his family’s ranch while simultaneously doing investigative work (and rodeo). All of this seems like a whole lot of hyperbole on the part of the author – but I’m going to say I absolutely love this character. In a lot of ways Dakota is the perfect merger of Craig Johnson’s dedicated sheriff Longmire and his loyal friend Henry Standing Bear. Again, this book was released in 1973 but is nearly the perfect precursor to Longmire. Dakota embodies the intelligent, western working man in the able hands of a brilliant writer.

“Dakota Warpath” performs its obligations as a series debut – introducing the character while also building validity. In the early pages we gain most of the above through a conversation between Dakota and a longtime friend named Sam Lew. Dakota is introduced to a potential new client, unknown at the time as Amy Rainey. She explains her husband was murdered in a Nevada town called Poison Springs and those same killers are targeting her. Before Dakota can take the case, Sam’s car explodes killing both Sam and Rainey. It’s Dakota’s crime to solve – did the killers target Sam or Amy and why? The town’s sheriff deputizes Dakota and soon the location is moved to Poison Springs. It’s your typical one-horse town controlled by a millionaire named Burton Ashley. He runs the place including its casino and ranch brothel. Dakota plays nice with Ashley for a little while, and later teams with the town’s deputy, Phillips, a journalist named Spring and a brief love interest in Janet. Dakota also teams up with a Navajo kid named Louis as he investigates the Rainey murders and Ashley’s complex criminal empire.

Ralston writes this book as a testimony to his screenplay experience. It reads like a movie or television episode where a lot of “on page” action isn’t necessarily described in exhaustive detail. For example, Dakota can walk into a familiar place and just know some of his hometown’s residents and friends. The burden isn’t on Ralston to explain how Dakota knows them or what they are wearing or where they are standing during dialogue. I actually prefer this style of writing and it certainly trims the fat off to leave room for the “meat and potatoes”. It keeps the book moving at a fairly high pace even if you were to cite the slow burn build up of the first half. The books finale is a firestorm for the last 40-50 pages, placing Dakota in the desert hills with a .38 against a half-dozen armed bad guys. That portion of the writing is very western oriented and captures intense cat and mouse tactics as Dakota defends his position. Nestled in between detective work, fist fights and gun battles s are some really touching moments where Dakota consoles a senile, elderly man, calls his mother nightly and returns a 15-year old girl to her father. It isn’t bravado, bullet belts and bare chests – Dakota is a human that makes mistakes throughout the book and isn’t afraid to admit it. There were four more books in this series and I wish there were more. Sadly, Ralston passed away in 1999 at the age of 87. He leaves behind a legacy of quality media including this career highlight - in my opinion. ‘Dakota’ comes highly recommended and should please fans of the ‘Longmire’ series.

Buy a copy of this book HERE