Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Fargo: The Phantom Gunman

   As some of you know, I've lately been reading a lot of Westerns from the 1960s-1970s by a guy named John Benteen, which is a pen name for writer Ben Haas. Haas wrote a ton of Westerns for various publishers, both series and stand alones, but he's best known for two series, Sundance and Fargo. I just finished up one of the Fargo books called The Phantom Gunman. The premise is somewhat audacious, the idea being that Pat Garret didn't actually kill Billy the Kid back in 1881, but rather helped the kid escape and go into hiding. Thirty years later, one of Billy's enemies, a man named Selman, hires Fargo to hunt the Kid down and kill him.
   Now Fargo won't usually take assassination jobs, but the warrants that were sworn out on the Kid are still in force, and truthfully Fargo wants to go up against the legendary gunfighter in a fair fight, so he takes the job. However, as often happens in Fargo books, his client isn't shooting square with the mercenary and things get very complicated once Fargo gets to New Mexico. Much like a comic book superhero team up, Fargo will end up joining forces with the Kid against a common enemy.
   What impressed me about this book was the amount of research Haas had obviously done. I'd read a biography of Billy the Kid just a few weeks back and I can tell you that Hass knew his stuff. All the names and the places and the history of the infamous Lincoln County War are dead on. Not bad for what a lot of writers would have considered a throw away job back in the day. And that seems to be what separates Ben Haas from many of his contemporaries. He didn't abandon his craft just because he was doing formula Westerns. I've talked before about what an impressive writer Haas was. The Fargo books have strong characters and are well plotted, and the narrative drive is relentless. Nice to know that they were well researched when they needed to be as well.
   The other thing that impressed me was that Haas managed to make the idea that Billy the Kid was still alive circa 1910 almost believable. He mixed just enough fiction with the facts to make me think, "Hmm, that might have actually worked."
   Anyway, Phantom Gunman is another excellent, fast moving Fargo adventure with all the guns and fist fights and such that one could want. And hey, it's got the return of Billy the Kid. Who could resist that?

No comments: