Showing posts with label Lewis B. Patten. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lewis B. Patten. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

The Ruthless Range

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.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Massacre Ridge

Lewis B. Patten was a consistent western author that wrote over 90 titles. His novel, “Massacre Ridge”, was released in 1971 by Signet. It was a fertile time for Patten as he released six books that year. The author takes a slightly different approach with this book. It's a fictional account of the real-life 1866 Fetterman Fight between troops and Native Americans in present day Wyoming along the Bozeman Trail.

While using the historical figures of the battle, like Colonel Carrington and Colonel Fetterman, the main character is the fictional civilian named Jess Paddock. He's an everyman laborer that assisted in building Fort Phil Kearny despite the constant barrage of Sioux attacks. Along with building the fort, Paddock voluntarily serves Carrington as a scout reporting on Sioux patterns and strategies. 

As the laboring finishes, Paddock realizes the only reason to continue residing at the fort is Molly, a young widow that he's fallen for. The two have plans to marry and that time is fast approaching. As the two talk about the safe passage from the Fort, Paddock is drawn into a dense battle plan to defend the fort from ongoing attacks. 

Carrington's aggressive strategy is to bait the Sioux with a wood cutting detail. When they are attacked, which is normal, Colonel Fetterman and Lieutenant Bingham will ride to relief and then pursue the Sioux along the typical escape route through two hills and across two valleys. Carrington will lead a flank attack that will catch the Native Americans between Fetterman's force and his own. Paddock disagrees with this approach and advises the Army that the Sioux are much smarter than that and they are simply baiting the troops for a counter-attack. 

Paddock opposing this battle strategy is a big part of the book. Patten places the character into the battles, both as a scout watching from a far or inserted into the intense action. Western fans will be pleased that Patten creates a villain for Paddock as well. Early in the book, Paddock wins big off of Sergeant O'Mara during a night of poker. The ridiculed sergeant fights with Paddock throughout the premise, adding another level of action to what is already a satisfying thrill. 

“Massacre Ridge” is another outstanding western tale from Lewis B. Patten. I couldn't be more pleased with it. If you haven't tried this author yet...please find a used book store and grab one of his many western paperbacks. It's money well spent.

Buy a copy of the book HERE

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Vengeance Rider

Lewis B. Patten (1915-1981), began his writing career in the 1940s. His first novel, “Massacre at White River”, was published in 1952. It was the first of more than 90 western novels, three of which won Golden Spur Awards. “Vengeance Rider”, the subject of this review, was originally published by Berkley Medallion in 1962. Since then the novel has been reprinted multiple times with different covers. 

Despite the lack of witnesses or evidence, rancher Ross Logan was convicted of killing his wife Ruth. Logan was sentenced to 15 hard years in prison. In Patten's opening pages, Logan is released from confinement after serving his full sentence. From high atop Cheyenne Ridge, Logan looks down at his condemner, the small town of Vail and what was originally his sprawling Horseshoe Ranch. He is determined to locate Ruth's killer and seek redemption from his former friends and peers. But as we quickly learn, the town has no interest in Logan's proclamation of innocence. They have simply moved on.

Out of money, food and supplies, Logan goes to work for the new operator of Horseshoe Ranch, a brutal man named Caine. Smitten with Caine's much younger wife, Lily, Logan begins earning just enough money and food to bide some free time to investigate Ruth's murder. Patten's panel of suspects seems promising: town founder Tobias Vail, judge Millburn and Logan's longtime friend Phil – all who have vested interests in Horseshoe Ranch.

The most likely suspect is Millburn, who was Logan's attorney 15-years ago. After Logan's conviction, Millburn sold the neglected Horseshoe Ranch cheaply to Caine to raise enough money for Logan's legal fees. But, after investigating the books, Logan learns that Millburn had Caine quickly sell the ranch back to him. Could Millburn have set the whole thing up to acquire the ranch for pennies on the dollar?

Determined to prove Millburn is the culprit, Logan begins to connect the dots while secretly meeting with Lily. Soon, Logan finds that's he's under arrest for yet another murder – Caine's! On the run from a posse and the law, Logan now must find who has killed Ruth and Caine or face the gallows. 

I can never provide enough praise for Lewis B. Patten. I've now read a handful of his western novels and all of them have been top notch. While never overly violent, Patten is a bit more subdued with “Vengeance Rider”. Here, the author uses a popular crime fiction element – the convicted defending their innocence – and places it in the harsh American West. Brimming with fights, romance and the thrill of the chase, Patten's “Vengeance Rider” works exceptionally well as both a western and a crime novel. Read it, you'll love it!

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Top Man with a Gun

“Top Man with a Gun” is a Fawcett Gold Medal paperback first released in 1959. It was re-released again in 1981 with alternative cover art. The author, western enthusiast Lewis B. Patten, wrote a tremendous amount of genre entries from 1952 through 1982 including four titles alone in 1959. While “Top Man with a Gun” isn't a standout western, it continues Patten's traditional western flair for violent and grim journeys by young protagonists. 

The harrowing adventure begins with young Clay living in Lawrence, Kansas with his father and sister. Set in 1863, historians could probably guess what was about to unfold. Confederate militia, led by guerrilla fighter William Quantrill, descends on the city to root out the anti-slavery movement. The end result, known now as the Lawrence Massacre, left over 180 men dead and nearly 200 buildings burned. In the chaos, Clay is wounded and must watch his father's murder and his sister's subsequent suicide. He sees the face of the rider and vows to avenge their deaths. 

As a classic Patten, the book is straight-laced with violence, vengeance and a good sense of western brutality. As the author plunges readers into the narrative, we learn more about the man Clay is becoming. Forced to ride with his sister's boyfriend Lance, the two are engaged in combat with Union officers, forcing deserter Lance to kill one of his own men. With both Clay and Lance on the run, the novel starts to find its own footing. 

Soon, the duo rescue the beautiful Dolly from three armed criminals before heading across the frosty mid-west tundra to escape Indians, Union soldiers and law enforcement. While the first half ends with Clay and Dolly falling in love, the second half briskly moves the location to Texas and a robust cattle drive being handled by Clay and farmhands. Here the action heats up as Clay is forced to fight three men and a spoiled woman whom Clay rejected. This scorned lover's vengeance is about par for the course for a 1960s Gold Medal paperback – a fitting element that enhances this ordinary western tale. 

This is my third Patten novel to date and I've really enjoyed all three. There's similarities in Patten's writing style – the weather elements, young heroes, revenge – but they are reminiscent of just about any good western story. Plus, Patten penned over 100 novels under his name and others. Being innovative and original could be challenging under these genre tropes. Regardless, at 133-pages, “Top Man with a Gun” is an entertaining, action-packed western that didn't disappoint. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, February 25, 2019

Man Outgunned

My father recently gave me a copy of Lewis B. Patten's “Death Rides a Black Horse”. It was my first foray into the Patten brand of western fiction. I absolutely loved the novel and reviewed it here. Running with that excitement, it was just a matter of time before I could get my hands on another of Patten's work – 1976's Signet paperback “Man Outgunned”.

The novel begins during a Fourth of July town picnic in Placita, Colorado. With it's citizens happily preparing fireworks and baked goods by a river, six escaped prisoners arrive to find the local bank barely staffed. In a gut-wrenching display, the prisoners shotgun the bankers (decapitating one) and unmercifully kill an elderly, pleading couple in the streets. During an extremely poor choice of timing, 16-year old Sally Dickerson returns to town for some cooking supplies and is kidnapped by the six outlaws.

Sheriff Morgan McGuire and his deputy Donovan soon learn about the murders and robbery and form a makeshift posse to run the outlaws to ground. Unfortunately, the outlaws are a half-day away and the posse isn't fit for a long, hard ride. With Sally's grieving father in tow, the group gallops their horses to death and lose ground finding new rides. It's here that the narrative really settles in as only McGuire and Donovan are left to run the outlaws down. I won't share an important spoiler here regarding Sally Dickerson...but this is a western and these are six hardened criminals with a 16-yr old girl. Patten doesn't hold back punches. 

In a cruel twist of fate the story loses Donovan and McGuire is left as the “Man Outgunned” against the murderers. There's a couple of really good side-stories that develop regarding a Mexican sheriff, an orphaned boy and a grieving widow. Patten threads these elements into the novel's road trip, focusing on McGuire's date with destiny while attempting to build even the weakest of alliances to fight the overwhelming odds.

If you love westerns, this is a mandatory read. Patten is absolutely a master of the craft and one of the better writers of any genre. “Man Outgunned” is one of the best books I've read in 2018 (this review being published a few months later) and another fine entry in what has become a treasured author. Buy everything the man has written. It's worth every cent.

Buy a copy of the book HERE

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Death Rides a Black Horse

Author Lewis B. Patten (1915-1981), born in Denver, Colorado, served in the U.S. Navy from 1933-1937. Later, he was educated at the University of Denver and became an auditor for the Colorado Department of Revenue. It was in this 1940s period that he began his writing endeavors. His first novel, “Massacre at White River”, was published in 1952. It was the first of more than 90 western novels, three of which won Golden Spur Awards. My first Patten review is a 1978 coming of age tale entitled “Death Rides a Black Horse”.

We're introduced to 15-year old Frank Halliday and his father Walter. The two live on a sweeping 200,000+ acre ranch in Wyoming. The ranch foreman is Rafe and his second command is Standing Bear. This is important in the ranch hierarchy due to Walter's fatal fall from a horse. Frank attends the reading of the will and finds that his father has left a house and plenty of farm land to a neighboring girlfriend. The ranch and lucrative funds are trusted to Frank for distribution on his 21st birthday. Rafe, dedicating the majority of his life to the Halliday Ranch, is left with 5K and a lifetime job. The kicker – the entire spread goes to Rafe in the event of Frank's death prior to age 21. This opens the door for Patten's jealousy ridden murder narrative to fully develop.

Frank, understanding Rafe's disappointment, senses that his life may be in danger. Soon, he's asked to ride out and check one of the springs. He's ambushed by two rustlers and forced to kill them in the attack. In his confusion, Frank runs away fearing that Rafe and Standing Bear will kill him upon his return to the ranch. The book drifts into Frank hopping trains, stealing horses, befriending Cherokees and eventually meeting the love interest Susan. This middle portion reads like a brisk adventure tale.

The book's final quarter has Frank shooting it out with more hired killers, realizing that his father's own money (remember the 5K to Rafe?) is being utilized to murder him. While the reader suspects the finale will be a whirlwind firefight in the mountains, it actually equates to a jail scene with an angry mob hungry for a lynching. How we get there is an interesting twist, proving that Patten had a few cards up his sleeve to avoid the generic western formula. 

Again, this is my first foray into the bibliography of Patten. Like my recent Frank Gruber read, I just find it amazing that so many great westerns and western writers are out there even when you look beyond genre cornerstones like Zane Grey, L'Amour and Johnstone. For me, I've already purchased six more Pattens and have read that some of his finest works are “A Killing at Kiowa” (1972) and “Ride a Crooked Trail” (1976). I'm on it!

Buy a copy of this book HERE