Showing posts with label Ben Haas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ben Haas. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Quest of the Dark Lady

Ben Haas (1926-1977) sold his first story to the pulps when he was 18 years of age. After serving as a Sergeant in the U.S. Army, and working in the steel industry, Haas became a full-time writer in 1961. He used pseudonyms like Thorne Douglas, Richard Meade, John Benteen, and William Kane. I'm familiar with the author's western writing, but wanted to try something a little different from the author. 

I decided to read another vintage sword-and-sorcery novel, a Haas-penned paperback called Quest of the Dark Lady. It was written under the pseudonym Quinn Reade. The book was first published by Belmont in 1969 using artwork by Jeff Jones. It was printed again by Belmont using a different cover by Jeff Jones. The publisher re-cycled artwork that was first used on the Belmont paperback The Quest of Kadji by Lin Carter. The book was also published in the U.K. by Paramount using that same artwork. 

In the book, readers discover that the Earth was devastated by a nuclear war hundreds (if not thousands) of years ago. What remains is a scarred civilization that resembles the Middle-Ages – men on horseback fight for King and Crown using swords, shields, and magic. The only known human population dwells in a placed called The Iron Lands. It is here that King (sometimes referred to as Emperor) Langax protects the people with a vast military force. Beyond the safety of The Iron Lands lies the Terrible East, a desolate landscape plagued by hideous monsters.

Years ago, Langax made the unfortunate mistake of ousting all of the sorcerers and magicians from The Iron Lands. In doing so, he then became vulnerable to some sort of spell originating in the Terrible East. This spell places Langax in a deep coma. He awakens briefly to advise his staff that the only savior now is an entity (or human) known as the Dark Lady. But, she lies somewhere in the Terrible East. The only person who can find her lies in Langax's dungeon awaiting execution for sabotage. That man is a former high-ranking soldier named Wulf.

There's so much to love about this simple 140-page adventure novel. The mystery surrounding why Wulf lies in a dungeon is slowly fed to the reader in the early pages. Eventually, this backstory is spelled out for the reader, but part of the book's reading pleasure is this core mystery. Surprisingly, Haas also includes a partner for Wulf, a fiery swordswoman who also plays a romantic role. When these two team up with a sorcerer, the three embark on a Hero's Quest to find the Dark Lady and save the kingdom.

This is a wildly entertaining, simple sword-and-sorcery novel that has plenty of action-oriented adventure. The monsters rear their ugly heads, the secret of the Dark Lady is revealed, and Wulf's exposure as an admirable hero are chief components making this an easy recommendation. But, get the second printing if you can locate it. It has interior artwork panels to enhance the great story.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Fargo #05 - Wildcatters

Author Ben Haas (as John Benteen) utilized the blend of action, adventure and western genres to perfect his long-running 'Fargo' series. I've heard collectors and fans describe the series as the 'Conan' of westerns. It's a fitting description for this sort of troubadour adventure, a formula that's never failed to thrill and excite me. The fifth of this series, “Wildcatters”, is no different. 

John Fargo rides into a new Oklahoma boomtown looking for work. The journey to town has Fargo reuniting with an old flame named Tess, now a business woman running a prostitution operation. Tess introduces Fargo to her beautiful niece Maggie with the warning that Maggie isn't for sale – she's a respectable woman looking for a suitable husband. This part is important to know.

Soon, Fargo's reputation (and an earlier brawl) catches up with him and he is solicited by the town's oil tycoon Brasher. He's struck black gold and now wants to aggressively expand his operation further. The missing piece is a presumed oil well outside of town owned by a rival named Russell. There's a backstory here of Brasher and Russell's father being former business partners that resulted in Russell's father being murdered and Brasher escaping any legal charges. Brasher is now brutish, wealthy and forcing Russell into bankruptcy. 

After declining Brasher's proposition of joining the oil empire as a hired gun, Fargo learns that his gun fighting equal and friend Friday has signed on with Brasher. He's as tough as bedrock. After aligning with Rusell, Fargo borrows $20,000 from Teddy Roosevelt (seriously!) and starts the drilling process to defy Brasher/Friday.

The narrative follows a few gunfights and forays between Fargo's oil workers and Brasher's enforcers. Of course it wouldn't be a Fargo novel without plenty of Fox shotgun work. In one explosive scene we see Fargo discharge his .10 Gauge point blank at two riders, cutting them in half! A rather clever scene finds Fargo outgunned by a posse on a river bank. Let's just say floating a crate of dynamite down the river and popping it from afar with a Winchester leaves plenty of...entrails on the trail. There's a rekindled love interest with Tess to soften the violence, as well as a flair of mystery behind Maggie's outward appearance. 

Overall, another stellar Fargo entry in what has become my guaranteed reading pleasure. Quick, fast-paced and thrilling, “Wildcatters” just doesn't disappoint.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Fargo #04 - Massacre River

Under house name John Benteen, Ben Haus crafts another adventurous entry in the long-running 'Fargo' series with “Massacre River”. This is fourth in the series for publisher Belmont Tower (different numbered order with other publishers), originally published in 1969 with a cool asking price of $1.50.

Wealthy Chinese entrepreneur Jonathan Ching asks to meet with Fargo for a rather odd proposition – he wants Fargo to escort his daughter, Jade, through a war-ravished stretch of the Philippines. The destination? Another wealthy Chinese man named Chea Swen-Tai, who has been promised the hand of marriage from Ching's daughter. Ching and Swen-Tai arranged the marriage before Jade was even born, so it's only fitting she despises the marriage. Fargo will do anything if it's the right price, and after negotiating over a few thousand our Paperback Warrior is ready for action.

During the Spanish-American War, the Philippines were ceded by Spain to the US. America didn't recognize the First Philippine Republic, thus war ensued. The rebellion against the US included the Republic of Negros, Tagalog Republic, Sulu and the main enemy in the book, the Moros (which are really just tribal and violent Muslims). Fargo served in the US Army in the Philippines and already knows the job is a perilous one. To assist on the 300-mile trek, he recruits a fighting Irishman named O'Bannon, whom he actually has to fistfight first. 

It wouldn't be a Fargo novel without sex, and we get that with the mandatory mattress romp with the client. Jade, fully westernized, pleads with Fargo to help her escape. It turns out she has already lost her virginity in London and Chea Swen-Tai will kill her once he realizes he is marrying used snatch. Fargo is faced with a moral dilemma, deliver the goods knowing she will be put to death or forget the money and liberate her. For one night, Fargo gets to think it over with Jade offering up her body. 

The trek itself is a typical adventure/road story with some natives fighting the convoy, some meet and greet with other Americans and ultimately...betrayal. The book's rowdy end has crazed Confederate soldiers refusing to accept the North's victory, attempting to rule parts of the Philippines and eventually capturing Fargo and company. We go from route preparation to road adventure to a “let's escape the lunatics” finale. It's a typical Fargo story...and that means it is absolutely a blast. We get a cannon fire competition, knife fights, nearly endless run 'n gun and a whole lot of brawling. I just can't get enough of this series and character. If you like adventure – and who doesn't - Fargo is your guy. Bring on the next entry, “The Wildcatters”.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Sundance #08 - Bring Me His Scalp

The western series 'Sundance' ran a 10-year span from 1972 through 1982, compiling a massive 43 installments. Book #8, “BRING ME HIS SCALP” (1973), is by 'Fargo' veteran Ben Haas writing as John Benteen. This is a very solid western, in which Sundance discovers there’s a price on his head. The story moves along at a brisk pace and there’s plenty of action and atmosphere. I enjoyed it, but maybe there was something missing that kept me from really loving it. What that was, I don’t know, but if Haas’ other 'Sundance' books are as good as this one, I want them all. Eye-opening highlights include one villain being cut in half while crawling under a boxcar that was suddenly jarred into motion, and a fight between Sundance and another villain, who not only gets killed but buried in cow manure as well.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Fargo #03 - Alaska Steel

Ben Haas is back for this third entry in the long-running 'Fargo' series. Under house name John Benteen, he penned “Alaska Steel” for Tower in 1969. I've had a blast with these books so far. It's a popcorn western series with predictable plots and characters. While there are far more superior books to discover, it's really enjoyable to steer your brain to the off ramp and enjoy a good adventure. “Alaska Steel” allows that.

Fargo is hired by actress Jane Deering to locate her estranged husband Hal Dolan. Deering and Dolan got married at early ages leading to financial distress - Deering worked as a prostitute and Dolan searched for gold. Dolan's parents are sod-busting hillbillies that bought some land in Texas and then passed away. Deering went on to work in Hollywood while Dolan, apparently obsessed with locating gold, stayed on as a recluse in and around Circle City, Alaska. The two, while married, haven't spoken to each other in four years and Deering has no idea if her husband is dead or alive. In reality, she doesn't care either way, but the land her in-laws owned has struck oil and is worth a fortune. She needs to locate Dolan before she can get both hands into the cookie jar.

Fargo and Deering head north to Alaska to inquire about Dolan's whereabouts. After a series of clues, Fargo learns about a vigilante force known as the Circle of Ten. The group is based out of Circle City, a landing pad for wanted men, outlaws and low-class heathens. The town is ran by your garden variety paperback bully – Whetstone. He owns everything, shortchanging the citizens and strong-arming the town. As Fargo digs into the mysterious Dolan, he learns more about the Circe of Ten and the connection between Whetstone and Dolan.

The story-line and plot can be seen from miles away, and I nailed the ending halfway through. Hauss obliges readers with exactly what we want – fists, guns and loud mouths. While the previous two books placed the action in hot and muggy Mexico and Panama, it was a welcome change to see Fargo perform under frosty conditions. There's a bit of a survival element to the story and I would love to see more of that. Overall, “Alaska Steel” delivers the goods. Next stop is Asia with “Massacre River”.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Fargo #02 - Panama Gold

Ben Haas, as John Benteen, released this second 'Fargo' novel, “Panama Gold”, in 1974. It was featured with several publishers, with different artwork, and most recently reissued as a digital Ebook by the great folks at Piccadilly Publishing. The tag-line is: “Fargo got $20,000 to kill a man and stop an Army. The price was just right”. That conclusively nails down what amounts to be a really entertaining story with all of the familiar conventions we associate with this lionhearted adventurer. 

Fargo served under Roosevelt's “Rough Riders”, and has an allegiance to the “Colonel”. The book's premise has Roosevelt sending Fargo into Panama to stop a 300-man force from delaying the Panama Canal's construction progress. The assignment is to knock off the leader, Cleve Buckner, for a cool twenty grand. Buckner, under protection by Columbia, has been hired by the Germans in what amounts to a logical, albeit confusing, attack on the Army Corp of Engineers. The idea is that Germany will attack France. England will then come to France's aid, thus drawing them into the opposition. If the canal is closed, the the British Pacific Fleet will be blocked from quick entry into the Atlantic. The overall objective is so Germany can build a first-class naval force despite the British threats, thus the war is inevitable. Simplistically, Fargo needs to kill Buckner and we want him to. With his shotgun.

The familiar narrative has Fargo infiltrating Buckner's force through trial by fire. There's a side-story on Fargo's feud with a Major Kane, and a fling with Kane's wife. Hotel fights, dirty cards and horse soldiers are all packed into a fast-paced, light read at 140-pages. It's easy on the eyes and provides tremendous bang for your buck.

Fans of the series will appreciate the author's flair for weapons, incorporating Fargo's trademark arsenal of Fox shotgun, .38 revolver and the handy Batangas knife. These propel the action and keeps it all consistent within the character mold. Next installment is a trip up north for “Alaska Steel”.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Fargo #01 - Fargo

Author Ben Haas used over a dozen pseudonyms throughout his career, including John Benteen. It's this name behind the long-running 'Fargo' series. There were 23 books total, three of which written by the fictional name of John W. Hardin, who most likely was Haas colleague Norman Rubington. Sky-level, the series can easily identify with the western genre. However, the weeds-level view showcases non-traditional elements that skirt the rigid boundaries of western fiction. It's pulpy at times, often placing the action in South American locales with more modern components – soldier for hire, paid man-killing and machine guns. There's a devout fan following for 'Fargo', and after reading the first installment, I can certainly see why.

The debut, “Fargo”, was released in 1969 and introduces us to the character. Fargo is an ex-Cavalry fighting man that served in Roosevelt's Rough Riders regiment. The author details that he took a bullet in the shoulder on the charge up Kettle Hill, has scar tissue from both a career in boxing and a mining scuffle. We learn that by 1910, Fargo has lived a dogged existence fighting for money. He's now a “specialist in sudden death” and arrives in El Paso looking for work. 

The novel really runs the gambit of one adventure to another, setting the locale in old Mexico. I'd suspect that the pacing is one of the book's most cherished aspects, contributing to it's collector's fellowship and fandom. Here, Fargo is Hell-bent for leather, escorting a rugged, shady businessman back to a Mexican mine through bandits and Mexican guerrillas. Benteen puts us inside a fort fighting off waves of horse-soldiers before scooting us into rough riding through gangs and mountain passes (the atmosphere is dusty and sun-baked). The fighting is intense, made more identifiable with Fargo's trademark weapons – Colt Army .38, Winchester 30-30, Batangas knife and the overly utilized Fox ten-gauge shotgun.

Conclusively, this is an action-packed novel written by a genre fan for genre fans. It's simple, entertaining and introduces a lovable character. While influenced by the pulps, as Fargo is amazing at everything, it's more gritty and convincing. Benteen's smooth delivery is never bogged down with details. It's Fargo – in it for the money, adventure and tits. Who can't be a fan of that? For more background on this character and series, read author Paul Bishop's insightful write-up here.