Web of Gunsmoke, by Will Hickok
Will Hickock was a pseudonym of Chester William Harrison (1913-1994), although Harrison apparently only wrote three westerns under that name. Two of these were tie-ins with the TV show “The Restless Gun,” which I’ve never seen an episode of. The third was Web of Gunsmoke and I liked it very much. I will certainly be seeking out more Harrison works. He was apparently quite a prolific author who wrote under several different names, include Coe Williams and C. William Harrison. I’ve seen various statements that he wrote up to 1200 works, counting books and stories, but I’ve not found a breakdown of that and I haven’t been able to locate many of his works online other than his westerns. I haven’t had time to do any extensive looking, though.
In Web of Gunsmoke (copyright 1955), Curt Selby rides back into the town of Signal after several years absence. When he’d left, he’d been a reckless, heavy drinking young man. He returns sober and mature, but he finds that much has changed. His father, Hamp Selby, was the biggest rancher in the area but had always gotten along well with his neighbors. However, an aging Hamp has turned over the ranch to Curt’s half brother, Phil, and Phil has used guile and pressure to run those neighbors off and gain control of their lands. He’s hired a crew of gun toughs to back his play. Now, Hamp wants Curt to put Phil back in his place, but most of the townsfolk are backing Phil. There is, of course, a woman caught in the middle. She was once Curt’s girl, but now she’s pledged to marry Phil.
The plotting in this book is not its primary strength. There was a fair amount of what I call “backtracking” in the plot, where the character moves one direction, then has to reverse his/her direction to get back where they started. This often looks like the author is just shoving things around at random to get conflict and add length to the story. That may have been the case in Web of Gunsmoke, but it didn’t bother me tremendously and I felt the plot was certainly adequate.
The strength of the story lies in interesting characters, strong action, and very good writing. Hickok was very good in this book at sketching the backgrounds in quickly but effectively. He also was able to sum up emotional scenes dramatically and succinctly.
Here are a few examples: (Just assume the quote marks please)
1. The coin, the silver dollar, struck Selby in the corner of the mouth, bringing blood. It hurt.
2. “You forgot your drink,” Bannon said. “No,” said Selby. “I didn’t forget it.” He kept on walking.
3. He liked fine things. Fine whiskey, fine horses like this high-stepping black.
So, overall, this was an enjoyable book that has stayed with me for the week since I read it, and I think it’ll stay with me a while longer. The cover shown here, by the way, is from a different version than I have. My cover is the fourth printing from Signet Books. It’s mostly a kind of orange with a cowboy on the front. I like it better than the one shown here. It looks like it was done by the same artist who did a lot of Louis L’Amour covers from around that time. Couldn’t find the artist’s name listed, though.