Tuesday 3 April 2012

Dead Man's Brand

By Norbert Davis
Black Dog Books, 2011

Dead Man’s Brand is a superb collection of eight stories written by Norbert Davis, a writer perhaps better known for his mystery and detective fiction. In this book, Tom Roberts of Black Dog Books has brought together eight of his western stories, the first of which was made into a Hollywood film under the new title of Hands Across the Rockies. These stories originally appeared in the pulps such as Star Western and were published in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s.

The eight stories are sandwiched between a fascinating introduction by Bill Pronzini in which he outlines Norbert Davis’ publishing history, and an Appendix in which Ed Hulse looks in detail at how A Gunsmoke Case for Major Cain was turned into a Hollywood film.

A Gunsmoke Case for Major Cain
Their Guardian from Hell
Leetown’s One-Man Army
Dead Man’s Brand
The Gunsmoke Banker Rides In
Death Creeps
Sign of the Sidewinder
Boot-Hill Bait

Due to the time these stories were first published I expected them to be filled with old cowboy lingo and was surprised to find this wasn’t true, other than one or two terms and the lack of bad language these tales could have been written today. I was also surprised at how dark some of these stories are, none really feature a white-hat, clean-cut hero. The lead roles in Davis’ stories are taken by what I would call anti-heroes, tough men who won’t let anything stop them achieving their goals. Davis’ often includes moments of humour to lighten these darker themes.

Each story is action packed and fast paced. The plots are well thought out and filled with twists and turns. Opening sentences grabbing the readers’ attention instantly, making you want to read more to discover just what is going on, and then you’ll find yourself wondering how everything will be resolved making it impossible to stop reading a story once started: for instance how can the main character in the title story convince anyone that he hasn’t killed himself to gain an inheritance? 

So, once more, praise must be given to Tom Roberts for producing this excellent book and bringing Norbert Davis’ western work back into the limelight. This is definitely a book all western fans should own.


James Reasoner said...

I have this one and look forward to reading it. Davis's mysteries are great and I'm sure his Westerns are, too. And Tom Roberts always does a fantastic job on these collections.

Peter Brandvold said...

I can't say enough good things about Norbert Davis. Before Tom Roberts published this, I didn't even know that Davis had written westerns. Turns out he wrote the hell out of them. These tales are several notches above the standard pulp fair of their time. In many ways, they're several notches above what's being written now. Not only are the extremely compelling, they're cinematic and every damn one has an incredible sense of humor that does not overpower the overall seriousness of the story. I can't recommend this book enough, or thank Tom enough for bringing it out. I've reread these stories several times each. They're that good. I'm also now reading his mystery novel THE MOUSE IN THE MOUNTAIN.

Peter B.