Thursday, September 2, 2010

Trail Drive to Montana (Gunsmith #69) by Gary McCarthy writing as J.R. Roberts

Regular readers of this repository of reviews will likely know that I am a big fan of The Gunsmith, which is the only long-running adult Western series still primarily written by a single author under a pseudonym, in this case Robert J. Randisi under the moniker J. R. Roberts. However, he has not written all of them. Randisi stated in a 2007 interview with Saddlebums Western Review that his publisher early on wanted more books than he could turn out on his own. Thus, around 30 of the first 100 were contracted from other authors to fulfill the twelve-a-year quota.

Later, I learned from an interview on Western Fiction Review that author Gary McCarthy, who had written a book I had recently enjoyed called The Pony Express War, had been one of those writers. (He reportedly wrote four Gunsmith novels.) As I enjoy cattle-drive novels, I chose McCarthy's first for the series, Trail Drive to Montana, to see if I could detect a difference in styles.

Actually, it was easy. From page one of Trail Drive to Montana, I would at least have known that it was not from the usual author. Randisi has a fast-paced, easy reading style that utilizes punchy dialogue and short, sharp paragraphs. The first paragraph of this book has 20 lines of small text, and there's no real conversation for five pages. This is not a criticism of either style, merely an illustration of how different they are.

McCarthy shows you the whole picture, and this slows things down a bit compared to the norm for this series, but I must admit to the appeal of seeing ex-lawman and professional gunsmith Clint Adams being genuinely articulate instead of simply a man of action. Even the heroine remarks, "You got a fine way with words, Mr. Adams."

She is Mandy Roe, whom Adams discovers after her horse is killed and she is left stranded underneath it. Her father is Bart Roe, the former outlaw pardoned by the governor and now an innovative cattle breeder in his 80s, who still has as fiery a temper as ever. Or, as Clint says, "He's the craziest old son of a bitch I ever saw in my life." (Having a way with words means you sometimes get right to the point.)

The Roes need to drive their herd of special crossbreeds up to Montana, away from the vengeful Moffit clan, seeking revenge for a 25-year-old transgression. The Gunsmith, in no way a cowboy and actually quite proud of the fact, agrees to accompany them on the journey. Unlike typical Texas longhorns, who are known as "rainbow cattle" for the variety of their hues, the Roe herd is exceptionally uniform in size and color, selected for those attributes in the breeding process.

Dr. Thomas Thom, Bart Roe's brother-in-law and an equal partner in the breeding, makes a connection between the longhorns and Americans. As he puts it, "Crossbreeding almost always results in a more vigorous strain of beef. It accounts for much of the American drive and energy. You see, this country is the greatest bunch of crossbred people in the world.... We are not in-bred like many of the old-line European families. We have greater vigor. So does this herd."

McCarthy fills Trail Drive to Montana with the expected level of action (of both types), and an additonal level of description that makes for a richer read than the typical series novel. He is quickly working his way toward an entry on my list of favorite authors, and I look forward to reading more of his work.

Further reading: For another adult Western series novel about a cattle drive, read Longarm on the Goodnight Trail. For other novels on the subject, Ralph Compton's Trail Drive series, starting with The Goodnight Trail, is also a winner. And of course, there's the epic of all Westerns, Larry McMurtry's Pulitzer Prize–winning Lonesome Dove, which also centers around a trail drive.


David Cranmer said...

At some point I will read this. Terrific series and it's that fast-paced style that brings me back.

Craig Clarke said...

A note from author and Gunsmith creator Robert J. Randisi:


I recently read the reviews you did on your Somebody Dies blog of some of my Gunsmith books, as well as Trapp's Mountain. I thank you for your kind words and observations, but wanted to clear something up for you. And feel free to share this with your readers.

After I had written and delivered the first 13 Gunsmith books the publisher, Charter Books, was bought out by Berkley Books. Berkley wanted to continue to publish the Gunsmith monthly (although did NOT continue with the planned spin-off, Lady Gunsmith)--but under two conditions. One, they thought the books should be written in third person, rather than first, as the first 13 were. That was no problem for me. Second, they wanted to bring in two other writers. That WAS a problem for me. I didn't want my series being published the same way Longarm and Logan were. In the end we compromised: I agreed to let them hire two other writers (agreed upon by both of us) who would write enough books to gibe Berkley a one year backlog, just in case I "broke a finger." or something. As a result there were, indeed, about 30 of the first 100 I didn't write.

However, Gary McCarthy was not one of the writers. Gary got to write some Gunsmiths because he was friends with the editor at that time. I think he wrote, in all, about four. There were two, however, I did not approve. When I found out the editor was giving Gary books, I called my agent, who called the publisher, and we put a stop to it.

Now don't get me wrong. I was and am friendly with Gary, and he's a good writer. It's just that no authors were allowed to write Gunsmiths without my okay. And at this point in time I was back to doing them all. (I was only aware that he wrote 2 until I came across the other 2 on the stands. I found out about these two books because they were not copyrighted in my real name, as all the books were supposed to be.)

Since that time if any other writers have written Gunsmiths it was without my knowledge. But I've kept track of the books, and I'd be shocked in any were sneaked in there I believe that particular editor (and I've had many Gunsmith editors) was the only one doing it.

Thanks for your continued support of my work, and I look forward to reading your blog in the future.


I'm appreciative of Mr. Randisi's taking the time to clear up any misconceptions. Please take the time to buy his books. He's a fantastic writer.

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