Saturday, April 28, 2012

Conan With a Six Gun

Fargo: The Sharpshooters is another impressive Western from John Benteen, aka Ben Haas. I've learned that many of the Fargo books aren't actually Westerns, but rather adventure tales taking place all over the globe at the turn of the century, Fargo is a soldier of fortune who goes where the money is. The Sharpshooters, however, takes place in Texas and falls firmly into the Western category. This time out a couple of cattle barons try to hire Neal Fargo to kill an entire family of Carolina mountain men who have moved onto some prime grazing land, the rights to which are currently disputed. The 30 or so Canfield men are all crack shots and dangerous fighters. Fargo isn't put off by the clan's prowess, but rather by the fact that in many ways the Canfields remind him of himself. He turns down the cattle barons, but through a set of circumstances he ends up in a brawl with the oldest of the Canfield boys, a psycho named Jess. Fargo wins the fight and earns the respect of Roaring Tom Canfield, the leader of the clan. Fargo goes his own way, thinking his involvement with the Canfields over. Months later, during an attempt to run guns into Mexico, Fargo runs afoul of the Texas Rangers. It looks like prison for our slightly shady hero, but the head of the Ranger group turns out to be an old friend and he offers Fargo one chance at staying free. Seems Jess Canfield has shot and killed a Texas Ranger and Fargo's old pal wants the mercenary to bring Jess in. The Rangers can't currently spare enough men to take on the whole Canfield clan. Fargo agrees, but of course decides to do so in his own way. This is an action packed yarn with plenty of gun play, some fistfights, and a well researched portrayal of the old west circa 1918 or so. Benteen may have been writing formula Westerns but he wrote them really really well. Interestingly enough, I kept thinking of Fargo as a sort of Conan with a six gun. Benteen treats him in much the same way as Robert E. Howard treated Conan. Fargo is the biggest, baddest guy around. Women love him and men fear him. He can go pretty darn berserk too, and it's his savagery that saves him in a couple of situations. I've talked before about similarities between barbarians, cowboys, and private eyes, and this book certainly holds a lot of parallels. They are all self determining men. Men who live by their own codes. And of course Haas's relentless narrative drive certainly brings REH to mind. The book is only 158 pages and it roars along at an amazing pace. Anyway, I really enjoyed The Sharpshooters. I can see why a lot of my friends are so taken with the work of Ben Haas.

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