Showing posts with label Philip Ketchum. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Philip Ketchum. Show all posts

Friday, November 25, 2022

The Stalkers

The Stalkers, which sounds like a Matt Helm title, is a western paperback by Philip Ketchum, originally published as a paperback by Berkley in 1961 (#6510). In 1964, Berkley reprinted the paperback with different artwork (#Y930, pictured). Thankfully, I received this vintage western as a gift from a friend, and I'm a Ketchum fan, evident on the Paperback Warrior Podcast, Episode 94

The book stars Captain Sherman Galway, an American Civil War veteran that has received a special assignment from the U.S. Government. Galway's task is to locate $50,000 in missing gold. It is explained to Galway, and readers, that 20 years prior, a stage coach containing the gold was attacked by an Apache war-party. Despite the coach's military accompaniment, the Apache killed everyone in what is referred to as The Table Mountain Massacre. The gold went missing, but officials believe they now have clues that point to Iron City, a small desert town, as a place the gold may be hidden. 

In the book's opening pages, Galway is en route to Iron City when he's ambushed and nearly killed by an old nemesis named Rostig. With the help of an elderly outlaw, who happened to be in the vicinity, Galway is able to kill two of Rostig's men. Later, Galway runs into Rostig and realizes he's created another trio in an attempt to kill him. 

The book's narrative has Galway, the old outlaw, simply known as The Loner, and a beautiful woman all on a perilous journey to find the gold. The path to riches is filled with bad guys, pursuing lawmen, some romantic chemistry, and a load of violence. The book's finale is 30 pages of double-crosses, uneven alliances, and discarded friendships as greed overtakes goodwill.  

Ketchum's westerns tend to rely on female characters, and The Stalkers is no different. Galway's on and off connection with the woman is intriguing and makes for a mostly happy conclusion (barring a few key deaths). There's some thoughtful elements to the story that allow for personal conflict, mostly centered around Galway's allegiance to his job and mission versus “take the money and run” spontaneity. The old outlaw character provides insightful questions on morality. Overall, The Stalkers is an easy recommendation. If you enjoy the not-so-traditional western, then Philip Ketchum is your guy. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021


Philip Ketchum (1902-1969) was a top pulp contributor throughout the 1930s and 1940s. Using the pseudonym Carl McK Saunders, Ketchum authored over 100 hard-boiled stories featuring Captain John Murdock, a detective destroying crime rings in fictitious Central City. In the late 1930s, his 12 installment fantasy series Bretwalda was featured in the pages of Argosy. In the late 1940s, Ketchum made the transition to full-length fiction and turned to the western genre. With dozens upon dozens of paperbacks for publishers like Popular Library, Eagle, Fawcett Gold Medal, and Ace, Ketchum is admired for his high-quality western storytelling. The first experience I had with him was his 1967 western novel, Wyoming. The book was initially published by Ballantine.

After the Civil War, Dan Morgan headed west to carve out a frontier living. In Wyoming, Morgan finds a beautiful stretch of wilderness and starts building a home. After clearing land, planting potatoes and constructing a small cottage, Morgan bought horses and livestock. After settling in, two gunmen step onto his property and shoot him. The men burn the cabin and steal his animals.

Shocked by the heinous events, Morgan is left with nothing and forced to walk through the wilderness. He had previously stumbled on an old wagon road and a widowed woman named Cora. At that time, Cora explained that her husband had been killed and that she had no place else to go. She defiantly declined Morgan's help and settled in to wait for help by her wagon. Unarmed, with no supplies or horse, Morgan makes his way back to Cora's wagon to ask for assistance.

Morgan and Cora make a deal. She will provide him everything she has...but herself. In exchange for the horse, wagon, supplies, and valuable gun, the two will form a business partnership. She will help Morgan rebuild in exchange for 50% of the farm's eventual profits. Between a rock and a hard place, Morgan accepts the deal. After the two rebuild the cabin and begin to settle in, the riders come after Morgan again. This time, Morgan and Cora flee to Wyoming City as their cabin and supplies burn again.

Ketchum is a fantastic storyteller and I was glued to the action and propulsive plot. Morgan's desperation to make a living in a rugged wilderness is admirable. When he finds that a land baron named Gilby is cheating potential landowners, the book's second half ratchets up the gunfire and intensity. 

Perhaps the most intriguing portion of Ketchum's presentation is the role Cora plays. Unlike Louis L'Amour, Ketchum places more responsibility and value on his female characters. Instead of the traditional hero coming to the aid of the widowed woman, Ketchum spins the narrative. Cora and Ketchum don't immediately have a romantic relationship (if ever), but instead are relying on each other as 50/50 business partners. Cora is iron-willed, independent to a fault, and a tremendous fighter. In the mid-20th century, western authors didn't place a strong emphasis on female characters. I really liked Ketchum's "against the grain" direction.

Overall, Wyoming is a fantastic western chock-full of violence, action, mystery, and a unique character development. It also questions the protagonist - is he vengeful or self-righteous? While not as crafty, I think Ketchum is comparable to Arnold Hano. The two authors have a more abstract presentation of the traditional western formula.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 94

Autumn has arrived and so has Episode 94! On this episode, Eric reviews Philip Ketchum, a prolific author that excelled in the pulps and western genres. Eric reviews Ketchum's "Captain John Murdoch" hard-boiled cop series as well as his short stories, westerns and fantasy offerings. In addition, Eric reviews a 2013 horror novel called Corrosion by Jon Bassoff and his book shopping experience in Port Orange, Florida. Listen on any podcast app, or download directly HERE:

Listen to "Episode 94: Philip Ketchum" on Spreaker.