I have been reading James Reasoner Westerns since long before I knew I was reading James Reasoner Westerns. A prolific and in-demand author since the 1970s, he has written under a number of pseudonyms and house-names for series titles including the Trailsman (as Jon Sharpe) and Longarm (as Tabor Evans). He’s also adept at crime fiction and adventure—he penned Hard Case Crime’s debut Gabriel Hunt novel, Hunt at the Well of Eternity—but this Spur Award nominee, with 200 or more books to his name, is widely revered for his Western tales like “Lone Star Fury,” where he is writing as Jackson Cole. This story actually heralds from earlier in the author’s career—going back near twenty years when it was originally published in Classic Pulp Fiction Stories (No. 2, July, 1995)—and is fortunately available again as an ebook.
Two men waited in the stygian shadows of the alley, cocked revolvers in their hands. Across the broad, dusty, tumbleweed-littered street, two more men stood in similar concealment, guns in hand, murder in their hearts.
Into this cauldron of death in the ghost town of Palminter rides Texas Ranger Jim Hatfield, sometimes referred to as the Lone Wolf. What brought him to this desolate, and deadly, locale in the western part of Texas? A message seemingly from the great beyond: a former flame named Sally Conway, whom Hatfield believed had died five years before in a horse accident, sends for his help.
With a skilled precision honed from many other deadly encounters, Hatfield makes quick disposal of the bushwhackers, and then he begins backtracking their trail to locate the source of the perplexing correspondence.
That path leads him, and his faithful golden sorrel, south and eventually along the Rio Grande to the once notorious Mesa City. The denizens had settled down into a proper community, but, again, it’s in danger of becoming a hell town thanks to the opportunist desperadoes infesting the region. Hatfield finds Sally very much among the living near Mesa City and married to a wealthy rancher named Ben Jardine, and the two men instantly detest one other. Hatfield also learns Sally is being treated by a doctor who has been caring for her since the accident. The sawbones explains she’s in a fragile state, requiring constant care and medicine or else she tends to see things that are not really there. But the ranger isn’t buying it. Something is amiss with his onetime sweetheart and Jardine, and Hatfield is determined to get to the bottom of Sally’s visions and the marauding owlhoots who are plaguing Mesa City. Naturally, this will bring him face to face with some rough-and-tumble renegades:
Hatfield’s fingers closed on Deke’s wrist like a vise as the outlaw tried to bring the Colt to bear. The Ranger’s other hand locked on Deke’s throat, and the two men did a desperate dance of death on the terrace, Deke struggling for breath, Hatfield trying to keep the barrel of the gun from pointing at him.
A generous helping of robust action rounds out this swift-moving, 7K word novelette but also some old-fashioned moral shrewdness that you would expect from a white hat like the Lone Wolf (whose adventures stretch to the 1930s golden era of pulp) factors in. Think Have Gun Will Travel’s Paladin with his code of honor mixed with Wanted: Dead or Alive’s volatile action.
Mr. Reasoner has been writing Westerns since Gunsmoke was a weekly staple, and in all these years his storytelling abilities haven’t diminished one iota, with recent highpoints including Outlaw Ranger, Hangman’s Knot, and Last Stagecoach to Hell.
Never read the sage from Texas? Then you have a lot of catching up to do, pilgrim. And Lone Star Fury is as good of a place to swing up into that saddle as any. For his many loyal fans, this tale is another reason why we return again and again to Mr. Reasoner’s appealing storytelling.
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