Monday, April 2, 2012

Outlaws All by Max Brand (Western novellas)

Outlaws All contains three novellas by author Max Brand. Like many of the novella collections released by Leisure Books, they are completely unrelated, except that they all originally appeared in Western Story Magazine, and two of them in 1921. Luckily, this does not matter so much, as Frederick Faust (under whatever name he wrote) was such a good writer that it is hard to go wrong with his work at any length.

"Alec the Great," a prologue to author Max Brand's novel Sixteen in Nome, was originally published in 1930 as "Two Masters." It is a "chronicle of hatred" between Massey and Calmont. The duo were inseparable friends, though almost total opposites. Then a third made them even more devoted enemies.

A girl? No indeed. It is a canine force that draws these friends apart: the titular puppy, Alexander. Confronted with this addition to their Alaskan gold-finding venture, the pair seem to completely forget their search... and their friendship.

This novella is a good example of why I enjoy Max Brand so much. In addition to his poetic yet accessible style, he writes nontraditional Westerns of other frontiers (called "North-Westerns" by some).

"Riding into Peril" saw print in November 1921 as by John Frederick. The Kid — Kestrell Irving Dangerfield — was a true presence in Jorgenville. His silky blond hair and mild blue eyes drawing the ladies to him, and his way with a gun endearing him to the townspeople due to his ending fights with transients (not starting them).

Justice Bland, even with his affection for Dangerfield, knows the Kid needs to be taken down a notch. But he has no legal recourse until Dangerfield accidentally wounds an innocent bystander — even though the Kid apologized immediately, took the victim right to the doctor, and paid his bill. Bland then tries to teach the Kid a lesson, saying he will make sure Dangerfield serves a full six years in the county jail unless he promises to forever put down his guns.

The title story, "Outlaws All," appeared in September 1921 and features Brand's popular Bull Hunter character. It was, in fact, used as the opening chapters of that character's second eponymous novel. (A total of five novellas comprise the two novels Bull Hunter and Bull Hunter's Romance.)

The main focus, however, is on the half-wolf, half-dog known as The Ghost. The first chapter is a beautifully written and self-contained tale of the Ghost's attack on a bull, and the majority of it is told from the dog's point of view. This is unusual even for Brand, who is even now remembered for taking the Western to uncommon places.

This trio of Western novellas was a treat, and both those who enjoy traditional Westerns and those looking for something a little different will find something for them in Outlaws All.

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