Sunday, February 3, 2013

Clay Randall's Amos Flagg--High Gun

I've been entertained by the adventures of Thomas Buchanan for a few years now. I don't mean artist and blogger Thomas Buchanan, whose posts at The Pictorial Arts I find interesting, witty, and entertaining, and whose blog I recommend. I mean Buchanan, a series of peripatetic westerns published by Fawcett from 1956 to 1986 (meaning it lasted longer than Gunsmoke [1955 to 1975]), and written by diverse hands during that time.

So I was interested in reading other western series published by Fawcett. The company had published a number of solid and reliable series characters under its Gold Medal imprint in the hard-boiled spy/detective/thriller genres (notably Richard Prather's Shell Scott, Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm and Edward S. Aarons' Sam Durrell/Assignment series). With a deep catalog of western titles, and the long-running Buchanan series as a model, it made sense to me that GM would have more than one western series character.

I appealed to the collected brain trust at the Yahoo group moderated by James Reasoner, WesternPulps, and learned I was right.  Although none of the series named in the responses lasted with as many entries as Buchanan, I was pleased to find out there are more GM western series to enjoy.

One of those series is about Amos Flagg, written by Clay Randall. While Buchanan's adventures were chronicled by a number of writers during his 30 years of activity, Flagg was the sole responsibility of Randall--a pseudonym of Clifton Adams, a reliable writer in the western and detective genres. Randall's career is detailed at Mystery*File here and here.

Flagg is the tough sheriff of Sangaree County, Texas. He is tough but fair, but he's driven to be unyielding by his family history: his father, Gunner Flagg, was a notorious outlaw. Now retired (ostensibly) from the owlhoot trail thanks to a long term in prison and old age, Gunner now lives in Sangaree County. His presence is a constant prod to his son that the sheriff must continually exceed the expectations of his constituents, who -- whenever they are disappointed by Amos' performing his duties --recall the adage that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

So far I've been able to get my hands on only the second entry in the series: Amos Flagg--High Gun. It's a solid western tale, well told, whose plot demonstrates the father-son conflict described above: Gunner, never far from a scheme, makes a deal with a writer/photographer from a big East Coast newspaper to interview Wild West outlaws whom Gunner has cajoled into gathering at a remote location. The plan goes awry, of course, and danger threatens the photographer, Gunner, Amos, the sheriff's closest friends, and eventually all of Sangaree County.

The build up is a bit slow, and -- to me, at least -- seemed to bog down a bit in the novel's middle portion. Things picked up about page 100 in this 160-page book. But my expectations were based -- probably wrongly -- on my experiences reading the Buchanan books. The entries in that series are fast paced, the characters quickly and deftly drawn, the situations lined out early and allowed to run like a galloping horse. For this Flagg novel, Randall delves a bit more deeply into the psychology of his characters, details the snares the sheriff must navigate in Sangaree County's political geography, and manipulates a much  larger cast than one usually finds in a Buchanan caper.

Thinking about comments made by Ed Gorman on Randall's western writing, I've decided my initial dissatisfaction wasn't justified: Randall is a solid western writer, and High Gun is a tough, well-written western.

You'll find a listing of Clay Randall's Gold Medal output at Eddie Stevenson's Gold Medal-focused site, here. You can read another review of High Gun at Cullen Gallagher's Pulp Serenade. (He also posts a second cover painting for the Belmont Tower edition of the novel, which pictures an unmistakable likeness of Clint Eastwood as Amos Flagg. I've posted both it and the GM cover to accompany this post. Having two icons linked with the western (model Steve Holland on the GM edition, Eastwood on the BT edition) on two editions of the same book certainly is a fine honor for a western novel, I'd say.

Randall gets high marks at Pulp Serenade. I second the opinion. I'll be searching out more Amos Flagg novels.