Monday, January 4, 2010

The Pony Express War (Derby Man #4) by Gary McCarthy (Western series)

"[Thin people] are almost chronically weak ... because they don't eat enough nor do they appreciate the benefits of lifting things to improve their strength and courage." — from The Pony Express War

With his "Derby Man" series, author Gary McCarthy set out deliberately to create a protagonist who is the opposite of the traditional Western hero. A writer of so-called dime novels, Darby Buckingham makes his living with his mind. He is also quite a bit overweight (a source of family pride), and he can't ride a horse very well.

He has, however, retained his prodigious strength (and fists like iron) developed during his time as a circus strongman. The circus traveled the world, and Darby began to write about his journeys. These stories sold well, and, emboldened, Darby tried to write a Western, soon finding himself a new career.

But Darby doesn't like to take orders. So, even though he had decided to write about the beginning of the burgeoning Pony Express, when his publisher makes the same suggestion, he nearly refuses to do it. Until Darby realizes that another writer would undoubtedly attempt to tackle the same topic, and that he is the only one who could do it justice.

And so, derby hat perched on his head, he boards a stage for Nevada. There he finds a brace of enthusiastic individuals set on making history. Unfortunately, the route heads right through Indian territory, and though Chief Numaga of the Paiutes wants only peace, some disrespectful whites and quick-tempered braves can make the traveling difficult for all, and an all-out war is in danger of starting. There are those who would rather the Pony Express never completed a run, and they were not above rape and murder to make sure of it.

Author Gary McCarthy has done a remarkable job combining history and fiction. The Pony Express War is never less than entirely authentic, even as his hero's prideful nature keep a smile on the reader's face. Many of the characters, in fact, are real people, including Pony Express superintendent Bolivar Roberts and inaugural riders Warren Upson and Bob Haslam. And of course Chief Numaga and the Paiute Indians really did object to the line's crossing their territory.

McCarthy has written nearly 100 novels, some under his name and others under pseudonyms. He collaborates with author Frank Roderus under the name "Gary Franklin" and has also written for the Westerns series The Gunsmith, Lone Star, and Longarm. McCarthy won the Spur Award for his novel The Gila River, part of the Rivers West series created by Jory Sherman.

Darby Buckingham is a charming blowhard with numerous quirks. The man loves his food with a Nero Wolfean intensity. But he never shies from a fistfight, and he has a deeply ingrained sense of right that makes him simultaneously admirable and amusing. The Pony Express War was a lot of fun, and I'm already looking forward to reading some more of his adventures, and McCarthy's other novels.


Ed Gorman said...

I love the Derby Man novels. I wish Gary was still writing them. They would have become a big TV hit back in the day when westerns had a major audience. A fine review btw; thanks for running it.

Craig Clarke said...

Thanks for the kind words, Ed. I would certainly have watched a Derby Man series. It seems like it would have been perfect for an acting powerhouse like William Conrad.

I'm reading the first novel in the series now, and I'm liking it just as much if not more than this one.

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