Monday, 20 September 2021


By Herbert Purdum
Tandem, 1976
Originally published by Doubleday, 1966 as My Brother John
Spur Award Winner for Best Western Novel, 1966

John Niles could get into more trouble without even trying than a dozen hardcases could get into on purpose . . . 

Frank Niles sometimes wished he’d never promised to look after his unpredictable younger brother . . . 

Colonel Belknap reckoned he owned Concho Basin and every man, woman and child who lived there – especially the women . . . 

When the Niles brothers rode into Concho, they collided head-on with Belknap’s outfit. That was when John Niles forgot he was a preacher and turned to more forceful methods of converting the wicked. Niles had plenty of guts and nerves like chilled steel, and he needed them when he tangled with Belknap’s Saber bunch. 

Even though the plot is similar to many other westerns, the rich man who rules the town and surrounding land with an iron fist and a small army of gunmen, Purdum’s storytelling keeps it fresh and exciting.

Told in the first person through Frank Niles, the tale is laced with humorous observations about everything that happens. There are many comic situations too, which give the tale a light-hearted tone, without turning it into a full-blown comedy western. 

Frank is a wonderful character, a frustrated man, a man not lacking in bravery, who is constantly being admonished by his brother for his use of bad language and for wanting to kill their enemies. His brother John, being a circuit-riding preacher, would rather resolve things peacefully, but isn’t opposed to using force when he has to. 

Purdum does write a lot of speech in slang and spells words how his characters say them, so some of it took a bit of careful reading to understand. Scottish, Irish and cowboy are all in the mix, but it didn’t take long for me to get used to, and I found it added a nice flavour to the story.

There are many well described action scenes as the Niles brothers attempt to stop Belknap from forcing a woman to marry him. Belknap has the town lawman in his pocket too. It seems to the best way to rid Concho of these men is to hold an election and remove the sheriff, but this doesn’t quite go to plan, although it does evolve into a very different candidate stepping forward who the townsfolk are right behind, especially the ladies of the town. The final showdown is dramatic, fun, and uses children to bring about the downfall of Belknap. 

I really enjoyed The Saber Brand, a title maybe only used in the UK, its American title being My Brother John. It seems Herbert R. Purdum only wrote one other western, A Hero for Henry, which was published in 1968. Purdum also wrote scripts for many TV shows, including Death Valley Days and Broken Arrow

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