Tuesday 13 October 2020


By Hondo Wells
Cover art by Colin Andrews
Mews Paperbacks, November 1976
Originally published by Fawcett, 1961

Any chance Merrick’s party had of escaping the Indian fury was gone now – destroyed by the gun-happy youth who had just killed the Apache who lay before them on the desert.

Now they could only wait the Apache revenge – and hope the three renegade white men didn’t turn on Merrick first.

And clear in Merrick’s mind was the fate that waited them all if the Indians took them alive – staked out in the sun, their mouths full of sand, praying they were dead . . .

Hondo Wells is a pseudonym for Harry Whittington. In America the book was published under the authors real name, so what lead to the use of a pen-name in the UK I have no idea. Mews published three other westerns by Whittington, Shadow at Noon and Prairie Riders both as by Hondo Wells but the third one, High Fury was put out as by Harry Whittington. Why the switch to his real name for the last one?

The book begins by describing the harsh land through which Merrick is travelling. This inhospitable place offering a place of respite from a waterhole. It’s around this life-giving pool that most of this brutal tale takes place. Is it possible to escape this small waterhole as the Apaches are closing in, slowly, tormentingly? The author’s prose is as tough as the landscape and the despair and desperation of those trapped by the waterhole comes over extremely well.

There’s also the fear that the three outlaws may try to kill Merrick at any moment, steal his horses and make a break for freedom. The author creates a tense atmosphere that will have the reader on the edge of their seat. 

As the story progresses then more questions need answers. Does Merrick know the three renegades? Who is in the grave by the waterhole that had been dug by Merrick? Why has the army sent him on a mission, alone, through a land filled with hostile Apaches? 

The tale moves through a series of twists and turns as allegiances switch from one person to another. No one can trust anyone it seems. 

There’s plenty of tough talk, eruptions of gunplay and double-cross before the Apaches close in, and when they do the plot takes on a much more vicious tone that sees some horrific, graphic acts of torture that lead to a surprising turn of events.

For me, Desert Stake-Out proved to be a gripping read that captured my imagination superbly and left me hungry to read more of Harry Whittington’s work as soon as I can.


michael said...

Isn’t this a novel by the legendary Harry Whittington?

Steve M said...

Yes. I did mention that in the review. Did you not read it?

michael said...

Apologies; I was too fast. Tried to send a second message to delete the first one but failed miserably. Great western! Thanks for posting a review. Whittington is one of the masters (IMO).