Showing posts with label Clifton Adams. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Clifton Adams. Show all posts

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Champions Wear Purple

Oklahoma native Clifton Adams authored over 50 full-length novels and around 125 short stories for the magazines and digests. His first professional sale was the short story “Champions Wear Purple”, published in Adventure in January, 1947. Being a huge fan, I tracked down a copy of the magazine online and was surprised to find that it is an Oklahoma Wildcatter boxing story. Loving both boxing and Clifton Adams, it was a match made in Heaven.

In the story, an unnamed narrator tells the reader that he's an oil-rig worker on the Woodard Wildcat. With his throat as “dry as an Arizona test hole”, he strolls into Bert Harrison's Beer Hall to tip a few pints with his co-workers. While there, a young man walks into the bar carrying an Army duffel-bag. When he orders a glass of water, the narrator steps in and offers him a drink. But, the kid says he doesn't drink, but would like to locate a man named Winters.

The narrator takes a moment to explain to “The Kid” that Winters is the old guy sitting by himself at the bar reading an out of town newspaper. The narrator explains to the reader that Winters has never been known to say a nice thing and the only time he opens his mouth is to curse at someone. The Kid walks over to Winters and introduces himself as Lee Robertson. He explains to the old man that he was in France fighting the Germans with a guy named Pete. Before he died, Pete told Robertson to find Winters because he could make a fighter out of him. Winters, shocked and dismayed to learn that Pete was killed, yells at Robertson and told him to get out. 

The narrator, feeling sorry for Robertson, chases him down in the street and offers him a job on the oil-rig. While Roberson contemplates joining the crew, the narrator advises readers that Winters and Pete were like father and son, and that Winters was Pete's boxing trainer. Upon the verge of becoming the light-heavyweight champion of the world, the war came along and took Pete away. Now, Pete is dead and Winters is left to ponder what might have been. Robertson agrees to join the oil-rig crew, but also takes an offer to fight in the town's arena. 

Robertson becomes the local boxing hero and a real friend for the wildcatters. They make Robertson their new hero and he earns their accolades by knocking out the competition on regular Wednesday night fight cards. Winters on the other hand despises Robertson and won't offer a single word of encouragement to the young man. At the bar one night, the bets begin rolling when Winters finally says, “There's a man in Hobartsville he can't beat.” Winters bets all of them that Robertson will lose to the fighter. The match is then set and Robertson discovers that the Hobartsville fighter is a former pro that almost became a world champion. With his respect and fistfuls of cash on the line, will Robertson beat this seasoned, experienced opponent?

There was so much to enjoy about this story and I love how it all ties into a purple ring robe. In just a few pages, Adams forces the reader to care about these characters. There are a number of underlying elements that make this story exceptional. First and foremost, the idea that Winters only hates Robertson due to Pete dying. He nearly begs for it to have occurred the other way around with Pete living and Roberson dying. Second, I love that Robertson, despite being floored by Winters' disrespect, still soldiers on and continues his dream. The in-ring action was superb with a number of rounds described in great detail. If you love boxing, you will appreciate these swift scenes. 

From the narrator's cool, laid-back presentation to Robertson's fighting skills, "Champions Wear Purple" is a real treat. Despite it being his first published work, it is easy to spot Adams' storytelling talents. He was destined for greatness and this story is just a small preview of what was to come. You can read the entire Adventure issue, including this story, for free: 

Friday, November 19, 2021

Paperback Warrior Primer - Clifton Adams

Clifton Adams was a wine connoisseur that loved jazz music and Oklahoma history. He also wrote a bunch of violent, gritty novels about heroes and outlaws. He won two coveted Spur Awards and was admired by many of his contemporaries. Popular crime-noir author Donald Westlake cited Adams as an influence on his beloved Parker series of heist novels. We've reviewed many of Clifton Adams' novels and we hope today's Paperback Warrior Primer will prompt you to explore his robust bibliography. 

Clifton Adams was born in Comanche, Oklahoma in 1919. He began writing at an early age. However, his writing development paused when he joined Hell on Wheels, officially known as the U.S. Army's Second Armored Division. During WW2 he served as a tank commander in both Africa and Europe. 

After WW2, he utilized the G.I. Bill to attend University of Oklahoma to study professional writing - a degree that focused on making a living as a writer. It was there that he won the “Oklahoma Writer of the Year” award. In his acceptance speech he said, “There’s only one way to approach the kind of writing I do - and that’s as a business. I’m not selling art. I’m selling entertainment.”

And with that idea as his North Star, he succeeded. In his career, he wrote 50 full-length novels and 125 short stories the magazines and digests. His first professional sale was the short story "Champions Wear Purple", published in Adventure in January 1947. His first novel, Desperado, is often cited as his finest work. It was originally released as a Fawcett Gold Medal paperback in 1950. It was a monster hit and spawned a sequel in 1953 called A Noose for the Desperado. Both books remain available as reprints from Stark House Press

Besides the two Desperado books, his only other recurring character was Amos Flagg, a western series written under the pseudonym of Clay Randal. The series ran from 1964 to 1969 for seven installments. He also wrote five stand-alone novels under the Clay Randal name between 1953 and 1963. He also wrote six westerns between 1958 and 1963 under the name of Matt Kinkaid. Celebrating his western writing, he won two Spur Awards from the Western Writers of America - 1969 for Tragg’s Choice and 1970 for The Last Days of Wolf Garnett.  

While most of his literary work falls into the western genre, he also wrote crime-fiction. Whom Gods Destroy and Death's Sweet Song were both published in 1953 by Fawcett Gold Medal. His 1956 crime-noir, Never Say No to a Killer, was published by Ace under the pseudonym Jonathan Gant. All three of these books have been reprinted by Stark House Press. He also used the Gant name to author The Long Vendetta, published in 1963 by Avalon. Under the name Nick Hudson he authored The Very Wicked, published in 1960 by Berkley. 

Clifton Adams died from a heart attack in 1971 in Comanche, Oklahoma. According to our research, the author's papers are kept at the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming. For more information, listen to the Paperback Warrior Podcast episode about Clifton Adams HERE.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 85

On Episode 85 of the Paperback Warrior Podcast, we take a look at the life and work of Clifton Adams. Also discussed: Spur Award! Ninja Book Critic! Men’s Adventure vs. Crime Noir! Matt Helm! Nick Carter: Killmaster! Benedict & Brazos! Much more! Listen on your favorite podcast app or or download directly HERE 

Donate to the show HERE

Listen to "Episode 85: Clifton Adams" on Spreaker.

Friday, November 20, 2020

The Hottest Fourth of July in the History of Hangtree County

I’ve always regarded Clifton Adams (1919-1971) as a hardboiled author who happened to set most of his novels in the historic American West. Western fiction practitioners like Louis L’Amour mastered the setting and adventure of the Old West, but Adams focused on the malfeasance and skullduggery of the inhabitants. Case in point: The Hottest Fourth of July in the History of Hangtree County from 1964.

The novel begins early in the morning of July 4, 1892 in the town of Elbow, Oklahoma with excited children lighting off firecrackers in the town’s wagon yard driving the townsfolk’s dogs bananas. Marshal Ott Gilman awakens to face the long, hot day ahead. Despite the heat and drought making life difficult for ranchers in booming Oklahoma territory, everyone is excited for a day and night of patriotic rowdy merriment following the afternoon parade. The territory has been growing faster than the municipality can handle, and it’s clear that one Marshal and an aging deputy aren’t enough to police the entire town swelling with drunken cowhands and ranchers.

Early in the day, two gun-toting hardcase brothers named Pete and Willy Prince ride into town in anticipation of the celebration. After menacing the town’s barber, the outlaws learn that their family’s old nemesis, Marshal Gilman, is the law in Elbow, and the brothers have an axe to grind. The dispute goes back a few years to Texas, and it has more to do with the older Prince brother, Nick. The younger brothers send word to Nick that they’ve located Marshal Gilman, and Nick is taking a train from Oklahoma City with another family member to settle the score. For his part, the Marshal seems determined to avoid an altercation with the Prince boys - a passive stance that can only last so long in a violent western paperback.

The backstory about why the Prince brothers are hell-bent on seeing Marshal Gilman dead by nightfall is a revealed little by little throughout the short novel. As the day gets hotter and the brothers get drunker, the violence - both threatened and real - reaches a boiling point. The steps the Marshal takes to ensure he’s not the one greeting July 5 in a pine box also serve to ratchet up the paperback’s tension to a wailing siren.

The arrival of the train carrying Nick and the violent confrontation thereafter are pure gold. The cast of vivid supporting characters is also top-notch. Overall, The Hottest Fourth of July in the History of Hangtree County is a perfect winner, if you like your westerns told through the prism of a hardboiled vendetta story. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, May 4, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 42

On Episode 42 of the Paperback Warrior Podcast, we do a deep dive into the life and work of author William Ard (aka Jonas Ward) as well as a review of Clifton Adams’ DAY OF THE GUN and much, much more! Listen on your favorite podcast app, Paperback or download directly here (LINK).

Listen to "Episode 42: William Ard" on Spreaker.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Day of the Gun

After enjoying a trio of crime-fiction novels by Clifton Adams (1919-1971), my first look at the author’s prolific western sagas was the 1969 novel “Tragg's Choice”, winner of a coveted Spur award. Appreciating his unorthodox approach to traditional western storytelling, I was excited to test another of his genre works, 1962's “Day of the Gun”.

Sam Engels is an elderly, widowed man and a former Field Marshal in and around the boomtowns of the Oklahoma Territory. I could immediately sense that Engels had a few hills he chose to die on, but miraculously survived all of those battles. Through brief backstories it's conveyed that his wounds and age, combined with the approach of the 20th Century, has led Engels to the twilight of his career. Now unemployed, Engels has arrived in the small town of Guthrie, Oklahoma in hopes of obtaining a U.S. Marshal job.

After departing the stagecoach, Engels has a brief, violent encounter with three young cattlemen after they push the “old-timer” into the dust. Afterwards, Engels meets the local Marshal and learns that his application was denied due to age. Later that night, the dejected Engels is once again attacked by the three cattlemen. After three broken ribs and a vast array of bruises and cuts, Engels is left in the dirt to die. He awakens to find a woman named Kit tending to his wounds in a makeshift doctor's office. After talking with the young woman, he learns that Kit is actually an orphan that he saved years ago.

Kit explains to Engels that a deranged killer named Elsey has victimized her for a number of years by murdering her husband and anyone else who attempts to befriend her. Fearing that Elsey will now target Engels, she urges him to heal up and leave town. But in an odd twist of fate, the man who won the U.S. Marshal job asks Engels if he can ride as a posse-man (the lowest tier of 1800s law enforcement) to capture Elsey. Engels must then decide to either swallow his pride and accept the lowly servitude or simply leave town and pursue his next career choice as a cattleman.

Once again, Clifton Adams approaches the western genre with an abstract method of storytelling. In the same way that “Tragg's Choice” was so compelling, Adams creates an aging, experienced character who has reached the end of his career. It's a familiar formula, the elderly striving to stay relevant in an age dominated by youth and change, but Adams is able to incorporate outside elements to distance himself from just an average retelling. The narrative focuses on a number of conflicts, primarily Engels contending with a younger, more resilient partner while tracking a killer. Engels' mysterious past is purposefully left unexplored, allowing readers to come to their own conclusions on his murky history. These are just small nuances that help create a unique reading experience even for seasoned western fans.

Like Clair Huffaker and Lewis B. Patten, Clifton Adams isn't a mainstream name within western fiction. While fans flock to talents like Louis L'Amour, Zane Grey, Luke Short and Max Brand, it is perhaps this second tier of talent makes up some of the genre's best literary works. “Day of the Gun” is another excellent western tale from an author that mastered the genre. At some point I would like to sample his “Amos Flagg” series, but with so many excellent stand-alone titles, it may take some time to properly evaluate that series.

Purchase your copy of “Day of the Gun” HERE.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Tragg's Choice

Clifton Adams (1919-1971) wrote over 50 books and 125 stories using various pseudonyms including Clay Randall and Matt Kinkaid. Most of Adams' literary work is westerns although he did author a small number of crime novels. The Oklahoma native and WW2 veteran won two coveted Spur awards for his western novels “The Last Days of Wolf Garnett” (1970) and “Tragg's Choice” (1969). One of his most successful creations was the 'Amos Flagg' series, published between 1964-1969. My first experience with Clifton Adams is “Tragg's Choice,” originally released by Ace and the subject of this review.

With “Tragg's Choice,” I think the most prevalent sentiment expressed by Adams is guilt. It's an overpowering burden that's not only shifted between characters, but a consistent characteristic worn by each personality. Within the dust and grime of dry Texas, Adams writes at a fevered pace, driving these contestants through a blazing whirlwind of deception, greed and violence while carrying a freight-train of guilt. Like Arnold Hano's “The Last Notch” (1958) and Ralph Hayes' “Gunslammer” (1973), “Tragg's Choice” is the embodiment of the perfect frontier tale.

Ten years ago, US Marshall Owen Tragg hunted and killed infamous outlaw Jody Barker. That event thrust Tragg into the national spotlight, eventually leading to his resignation from law enforcement. In the vein of a traveling sideshow, Tragg spent a decade traveling the country as a lecturer, hesitantly donning a flamboyant “rhinestone” cowboy look costume with tassels and strings and re-telling the epic confrontation. This silly (and somewhat fictitious) spectacle paid the bills, but now after ten years, most people have forgotten Jody Barker and Owen Tragg.

Adams first introduces the reader to Tragg's eventual counterpart, a lowly sodbuster named Morrisey. In the opening pages, Morrisey stumbles upon a wounded cattleman. The dehydrated man begs Morrisey to mercifully locate a doctor for his broken leg and to provide water. Once Morrisey realizes the man has $200, he simply camps out nearby and lets the sun slowly do the murdering. Basking in his change of luck, Morrisey plans to travel back to his wife to impress her with his newfound fortune. It's on a stagecoach through the desert that Morrisey meets Tragg.

From here, there's plenty of white-knuckle suspense to be had. Avoiding any potential spoilers, Morrisey and Tragg eventually stumble upon a bounty hunter named Callahan who is chasing after a woman named Jessie Ross. While Tragg is saddled with his past and the grief of killing a man, Jessie Ross is carrying her own emotional baggage arising from turning in her outlaw boyfriend for a share of a rich bounty. Callahan is on her tail hoping to learn the outlaw's whereabouts so he can beat Jessie to the reward. Collectively, the four learn a great deal about each other on this ill-fated trip through the desert.

While my review seems a little incomplete, trust me when I say it's for your own good. This is a western masterpiece and the perfect introduction to Clifton Adams. There's plenty of gun-play to be found within this emotional examination of guilt and greed. I've always enjoyed authors tinkering with the human condition by taking everyday people and placing them in extraordinary conditions - the essence of noir fiction. It is this premise that allows Adams to excel. You won't find many westerns as good as this. As an inexpensive, fairly popular paperback, do yourself a favor and make “Tragg's Choice” your next choice. You won't be disappointed.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, November 26, 2018

Whom Gods Destroy

Clifton Adams (1919-1971) was primarily known as a western writer in the 1950s and 1960s, but he also authored a handful of solid noir crime paperbacks that were largely forgotten until they were resurrected by reprint publisher Stark House. “Whom Gods Destroy” from 1953 was a Fawcett Gold Medal original that has been re-released as a double along with “Death’s Sweet Song.”

Our narrator, Roy Foley, is a fry cook at a diner who receives word that his father has just died. Roy reluctantly takes a Greyhound bus back to Oklahoma to make the burial arrangements for the town’s drunken cobbler. This brings back a flood of good and bad memories from Roy’s youth that drive the plot in this thin paperback. 

A flashback chapter fills the reader in on Roy’s background. He grew up barefoot and dirt poor in the hard-scrabble part of town. Despite these humble origins, Roy was the town’s star quarterback and smarter than most of the rich kids in his school. He had a crush on the wealthy Lola and dreamed of going to college on a scholarship and making something of himself.

All this came crashing down when Lola laughed in his face at the prospect of them ever being together. Disgraced, Roy left town and never returned until it became time to bury his father 14 years later. Upon his return to his hometown, he learns that Lola is married to a highly-regarded pillar in the community.

After the Volstead Act ended prohibition in the U.S., Oklahoma was one of two states that continued to outlaw alcohol - a practice that continued for over twenty years thereafter. This kept booze bootleggers in business in Oklahoma and presents a money-making opportunity for Roy when he meets up with an old high school buddy in the smuggling business. Roy wants to get in the illegal liquor racket figuring it will make more than fry-cooking and might just show Lola that he isn’t actually white trash.

The bootlegging business is intertwined with local public corruption, and that brings Roy and Lola back into the same orbit. The hurt and hard feelings from a high school snub never fully go away and motivate Roy to climb his way up the bootlegging ladder as a form of comeuppance. His obsession with Lola never dissipates and fuels many bad decisions over the course of the novel. 

Like his other noir books, “Whom Gods Destroy” is compelling as hell. The only problem is that Roy is more than a bit of a jackass, and it’s hard to root for him knowing that everything he does is motivated by avenging hurt feelings from his adolescence. You really have to be comfortable with a seriously-flawed main character to enjoy this paperback. Even so, the plot twists and turns in delightful ways that keep the pages turning long after bedtime. Highly recommended.


I wish Clifton Adams wrote more crime novels in his career. I’m only aware of five:

Death’s Sweet Song
Whom Gods Destroy
Never Say No To A Killer (as Jonathan Gant)
The Very Wicked (as Nick Hudson)
The Long Vendetta (as Jonathan Gant)

Buy this book HERE

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Never Say No To A Killer

Stark House Books imprint Black Gat has reissued this lost classic 1956 crime novel by Clifton Adams, a hardboiled paperback author best known for his Westerns. The short novel is fast-paced and ultra-violent. Fans of Men's Action Crime Pulps will find a lot to enjoy here.

In the opening chapter we meet Roy, a violent inmate contemplating a bloody break from his life as a chain gang prisoner. The crisp first-person narration recalls Dan Marlowe's Drake series in that the reader finds himself rooting an unapologetic sociopath.

The aftermath of the chain gang escape attempt thrusts Roy into a "Man on the Run" story with plenty of twists and turns. His desire to indulge his sexual appetite after a five-year prison hiatus while making some quick cash drives much of the plot's tension. There is an interesting subplot involving an S&M sex partner that made the story veer into a "50 Shades of Mack Bolan" theme. The erotic scenes were ahead of their time in that regard.

Roy is a thinking-man's violent sociopath. He is more amoral than immoral, and has adopted the philosophy of Marquis de Sade and Fredrich Nietzsche as a rationalization for his blackmail, lies, and murderous tendencies.

Man, this is a great novel. There's not a slow moment in it. The violent scenes are vivid and blood-soaked. The pace runs into overdrive through the final page. Do yourself a favor and read this book as soon as possible. It will make you want to do a deep dive into Clifton Adams' other fiction.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Death's Sweet Song

Apparently in the 1950s, American highway motels were often organized as a series of small, stand-alone cabins on a plot of land. For some reason, the cabin-style motel was often used as a setting for hard-boiled crime novels, including “A Ticket to Hell” by Harry Whittington and “Vanishing Ladies” by Richard Marsten (Ed McBain).

“Death’s Sweet Song” by Clifton Adams is a compelling 1953 crime paperback with a dilapidated cabin motel as the setting. Adams was mostly known for his writing in the western genre, but his contemporary hard-boiled crime novels were absolutely top-shelf entertainment, and this one is no exception.

Right off the bat, Adams does a great job of establishing a setting filled with dust and despair. Our narrator, Joe Hooper, owns a super-crappy cabin motel and gas station along Route 66 in rural Oklahoma. No self-respecting tourist would ever stay in Hooper’s unattractive and sweltering cabins in the blistering summer heat. But that’s not the only thing that’s got Hooper down. In addition to the depression of economic failure, he’s also experiencing the malaise of an unenthusiastic relationship with an unremarkable girlfriend. Hooper is a man with a theory: everybody gets one shot in life to make it big, and if you squander that opportunity, there won’t be another. Seething with bitterness over his own failures, Hooper is worried that he either missed his one shot or that it will never come at all.

Enter Mr. & Mrs. Karl and Paula Sheldon.

When the seemingly upscale Sheldons arrive at Hooper’s motel, he is immediately suspicious. Why would a classy guy with a super-hot wife stay in a dusty fleabag? Why is Karl Sheldon lying about having car problems? And why is Paula Sheldon being so flirtatious with Hooper? Some snooping and eavesdropping reveal that the Sheldons are planning a payroll heist in the nearby town. After some proforma ethical waffling, it occurs to Hooper that this heist could be his fabled One Shot to make it big if he can convince the Sheldons to make him a partner in their scheme. The fact that this would entail working closely with the impossibly sexy Paula is an added bonus to the riches that await him now that his potential big break has arrived. But first, Hooper needs to sell Karl on the idea of taking him on as a partner.

Of course, complications arise, and that’s the fun of these femme fatale short crime novels of the 1950s. Not everyone’s agenda is clearly spelled out, and the honor among thieves is always in question. The author keeps the tension and anxiety high by constantly putting the reader inside Hooper’s inner monologue for the entire 150-pages. There is also a scene of brutal violence like nothing I’ve seen in a novel from the 1950s.

Heist novels are a blast, and this one is no exception. Fans of Richard Stark and Lionel White will be able to sink their teeth into this one as crime fiction comfort food. And thanks to a recent reissue from Stark House - packaged as a double along with “Whom Gods Destroy” - you can enjoy this Clifton Adams paperback without breaking the bank. Highest recommendation.