The classy B-movies of Western novels
Regular readers, both of them, will know of my admiration for the Western novels of Luke Short. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t really Eng Lit. Having just ‘come down’ from a re-reading of The Crossing trilogy, I have to admit they are in a class way below that. Most of them are full of ‘meanwhile, back at the ranch’ writing and the characters in conversation have an annoying way of using each other’s names in every utterance.
What do you think, Cordelia?
I don’t know, Reeves.
But, Cordelia, do you think he will react?
Maybe, Reeves. Maybe.
And so on.
Still, even if Luke was never in any danger of winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, the fact remains that all his stories are short with well-constructed plots containing action and believable characters. They were ideal for movies and indeed many of his novels were filmed (Ramrod, Coroner Creek and Vengeance Valley among others).
Debt of Honor was a late Short, 1967, the 44th of 51 Western tales. You couldn’t tell it was late 60s, though, if you didn’t know. There’s no hint of revisionism or bad guys as heroes or anything like that. The vast majority of the novels, and Debt is no exception, are basically Western crime stories in which the good guy brings the badman to justice and gets the girl.
And what’s wrong with that?
This one has hero Reeves Cable who answers the appeal of Cordelia, a former mother figure who has been traduced (and raped – that’s quite 60s, I suppose; the crime wouldn’t have been named before) and wants him to get the dirt on the crooked lawyer who is responsible. Reeves rides off to Primrose (a fictional town much used by Short) to find a juror bribed by the lawyer. There are saloons and crooked saloon keepers, tough miners paid to do hatchet jobs, a decent old-time sheriff (Ray Teal would have played him perfectly) and various other conventional but well-drawn elements of the classic Western story. And blow me down, Cordelia has a beautiful and resourceful niece (all Short’s women are resourceful) and guess what, she and Reeves hit it off.
You can read these books on a wet afternoon, much as you would watch a Western movie. They are unchallenging, true, but just as you don’t always want to watch The Searchers or Red River and you sometimes want lighter fare, so Debt of Honor, like any Luke Short, will be a rewarding read. Luke Short books are the classy B-movies of Western novels. In fact as I read unfilmed ones, I often think what a good movie Budd Boetticher and Randolph Scott would have made of it.