Friday, 20 May 2022


By Robert MacLeod
Coronet, third impression, 1974
Originally published by Fawcett, 1967

They called him the ox – too big to resist – too good to beat – and just too stubborn to die . . . 

Among the savage, ceaseless horizons of this godforsaken country, nobody gave a damn who or what a man really was. All that counted was what he seemed to be. And Ben Davis seemed to be a walking, breathing challenge to every brawling drifter with a pair of itchy fists and a hot gun hand.

Only a fool would brace him in a fair fight. And the gang of cut-throat killers who wanted him out of the way were anything but fools. They loaded their guns and laid a trap as certain as death and taxes. What they had in mind no man could survive. No man except, maybe, the Muleskinner.

Although this book, and Six-Guns South, have been in my collection for many years, I’ve never read them or any other book by Robert MacLeod. Two of MacLeod’s novels have been made into films, the Appaloosa starring Marlon Brando and The Californio filmed as 100 Rifles starring Burt Reynolds, Raquel Welsh and Jim Brown. I can remember seeing and liking the latter, but can’t recall every watching Appaloosa. 

The first few pages of The Muleskinner didn’t immediately grip me. Nothing really happened other than introducing Ben Davies, the man known as Ox and his swamper, Jake – a dependable man even though he’s constantly drunk. The author also includes a lot of detail about driving freight wagons pulled my mules which whilst informative did seem to slow the narrative down a little. After a couple of short chapters, the pace began to pick up and events started to get more interesting and I started to enjoy the tale. 

Stagecoach robberies are the main theme to the story. Who is behind them? Apaches? Someone else? Love interest is mixed into the plot too when Ox falls for Gwen, but she seems to prefer another man, Lew. This causes all kinds of problems as jealousy pushes Ox to do and say things he probably shouldn’t if he wants to win Gwen’s heart. Further complications arise when Ox saves a young Mexican boy who has been living with the Apaches and taking part in their raids. When Ox brings Flaco to town there are people who want to see the boy dead. This includes a couple of buffalo hunters who are friends with Lew. 

There is plenty of hard fist action as Ox isn’t above punching anyone who annoys him. This leads to plenty of hand-to-hand fights, one of which leads to a surprising death. There’s gunplay too, often during freight drives. Everything is resolved in an exciting final showdown which finished the book as I expected.

Overall, a story that entertained me enough to want to read the other MacLeod book that I have but not enough to add it to my must read soon pile.

1 comment:

Andrew McBride said...

Robert MacLeod was a western writer I enjoyed when I started reading westerns. I liked his grittiness, authenticity and punchy action. You might find the detail a little off-putting, Steve, but I like that stuff, providing its not OTT, especially when MacLeod's writing about aspects of the west that aren't often covered, like freight outfits and buffalo hunters. I probably prefer THE APPALOOSA and 100 RIFLES to this one.