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Book Reviews

Spotlight on: Max Brand

Works Reviewed:
Beyond the Outposts by Max Brand
(originally Peter Henry Morland)
"Internes Can't Take Money" by Max Brand
(Dr. Kildare short story)
The Overland Kid by Max Brand
(originally John Frederick and George Owen Baxter)
Ronicky Doone's Treasure by Max Brand
(originally David Manning)
Trailin'! by Max Brand
The Whispering Outlaw by Max Brand
(originally George Owen Baxter)

To arrange to have products considered for review, send an email to craigsbookclub@yahoo.com.

The Overland Kid by Max Brand Max Brand, The Overland Kid

Many of the Leisure reprints of Max Brand's work are not actually novels but collections of novellas, often not related at all, either in year of publication or pseudonym. 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. The Overland Kid is one such collection, containing three novellas, with the title story starring his famous series character, Reata.

The title piece, "The Overland Kid," is the last and longest, the sixth of the very popular Reata stories from the 1930s (this one was published in 1934); George Owen Baxter was the official author of this series of stories, connected by little other than the main character. It is also the weakest in this collection, mainly because its main character, Reata, a man who eschews guns in favor of his trusty lariat, is simply too good to be true.

Reata's method of getting into trouble is by returning stolen gold to the bank it was stolen from. Thus, the man who stole it wants it back and tries to get people to kill Reata and get "his" gold back. These include the Overland Kid, a gunfighter considered nigh unbeatable. It's still a good read, though it is a bit long at 110 pages, and the other two are simply better. But Reata fans will probably enjoy it.

But first up in The Overland Kid is "The Cabin in the Pines," first published in 1922 under the John Frederick pseudonym. It concerns Babe Rourke and Angus Cairn, two men who are so great in their own circles that hearing of the reputation of the other causes them to seek each other out for a confrontation; they are enemies just by their very existence. When they eventually run into each other, they decide to take their feud up to the title location. There they meet up with Nell, a woman in distress, whereupon they must put aside their differences and work together to save Nell from her pursuers (while each wooing her in his own way).

The author makes Babe and Angus two easily distinguishable characters linked only by their superiority to other men, and watching them seethe at each other while doing their best to hide this from Nell, who favors different things about each man, is some great entertainment. The ending is quite abrupt, though, and is not quite satisfying.

But the best piece by far in The Overland Kid is the second novella, entitled "Joe White's Brand," also published in 1922, though under the George Owen Baxter byline. Thirty years ago, Joe White was called "Young Stallion on Fire" by the Indians, but that was three decades ago and time has taken a lot of the fire out of this no-longer-young stallion. But it has not hindered his reputation and he is constantly on the run from young up-and-comers looking for a quick buck from the reward and a quick reputation for killing the legend.

This time, a skinny fellow wearing a red bandanna is after Joe and eventually wipes out his entire posse, some killed, some leaving out of fear, with Joe left to fend for himself. But Joe White is in for a big surprise when he and "red bandanna" finally meet up. "Joe White's Brand" is a surprisingly fast-moving, suspenseful tale with a great deal of unexpected emotional depth, and Joe White is one of the most fully developed characters I have come across in some time, even in Brand's work which is full of such characters. This short novel is by far the best thing I have read by Max Brand yet, and despite its second-fiddle status, soundly defeats the other entries in The Overland Kid.

The Whispering Outlaw by Max Brand Max Brand, The Whispering Outlaw

Leisure Books is cheating a little by publishing this edition of The Whispering Outlaw under the name Max Brand. Although it was written by Frederick Faust (the real name of the multi-pseudonymous author who created Destry and Doctor Kildare), Faust did not originally publish it under his Max Brand nom de plume, but under another alias entirely: George Owen Baxter, one of the five names under which he wrote.

Nevertheless, this is merely nitpicking because The Whispering Outlaw retains the familiar Brand readability, and especially read-out-loud-ability, of his other works. The notorious Whisperer hires Lew Borgen to be his representative among his newest choice of outlaws to do his mysterious bidding. But the outlaws get suspicious (and a little greedy) when they realize that both the Whisperer's cut of their proceeds has to also go through Borgen. Meanwhile, Rose Kenworthy, the sheriff's beautiful daugher, is entranced by a curious loner she discovers while walking through the woods. Will her father allow her to marry such a man, or does it even matter?

Brand is a master of the Western genre, and every detail rings true. His characters are realistic, and his events fully plausible and organic to their situations. The way he combines his multiple plotlines is nothing short of remarkable. The Whispering Outlaw is the third Brand book I've attempted (I was unable to get all the way through an audiobook of War Party that I felt was being read too slowly to match Brand's kinetic language), but it's the third of many to come. Brand / Faust wrote so many books that Leisure releases a different one nearly every month. Based on my limited experience, I will predict that a reader could not go wrong with any of them.

Ronicky Doone's Treasure by Max Brand Max Brand, Ronicky Doone's Treasure

Max Brand's Ronicky Doone's Treasure (originally published under the byline David Manning) was the third novel featuring this character -- after Ronicky Doone and Ronicky Doone's Reward -- but it is not necessary to have read the previous entries to get full enjoyment of this one: Brand lets us in on Doone's pertinent personality quirks as necessary.

Taking shelter from a storm, Ronicky Doone finds himself (and his horse, Lou) in a barn used as the hideout for Jack Moon's gang on their way to find a lost treasure of buried gold. Doone barely missed being discovered but then comes to face down Hugh Dawn, owner of the barn. A fight leads to mutual respect and an invitation -- and an unexpected introduction to Dawn's daughter, Jerry, who is eventually kidnapped by Moon, forcing Dawn to go along on the treasure hunt as Doone stays aside to attempt a rescue.

Brand's characters are of the old-fashioned West where even a killer like Jack Moon can be respected as a man of his word. Technicalities and deception are their stock-in-trade, but once you shake hands on something, it's set in stone. Doone is a smart, honest man but the suspicion of strangers plays a large role in Ronicky Doone's Treasure as he must present himself otherwise for safety's sake. Brand does run off at the pen occasionally, but it is interesting for the most part, making the book a real pleasure and an example of why Brand is so respected and popular. I look forward to continuing to delve into Brand's work with The Whispering Outlaw and The Mountain Fugitive.

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