Friday, July 07, 2017

FFB: Desert Stake-Out -- Harry Whittington

I read Desert Stake-Out long ago in the Gold Medal paperback edition, and I remembered it as being an excellent western.  Rereading it in this recent Stark House triple-decker convinced me that I was right.  

One thing the book does is show how well Whittington could handle a small cast.  For most of the book, there are only six characters, one of whom is Blade Merrick, who's driving a wagon-load of of medicine through the Arizona badlands to a mission where there's an epidemic of sickness.  Merrick comes upon five people who've been attacked by Apaches.  Their horses have been killed, and Merrick says he'll take the stranded people to Patchee Wells, the only waterhole anywhere around.  Three of the people are bank robbers, and the other two are a beautiful woman and  her weakling husband, who's been wounded.  They were trying to get to Tucson and got lost.

The tension mounts when they arrive at the waterhole.  The bank robbers want to go north to the fort that Merrick came from, and so do the husband and wife.  Merrick refuses.  His job is to go south with the medicine.  And the Apaches are lurking.

Whittington doesn't waste a word in this one.  It's terse and tough, and when it comes to Apache tortures, he doesn't just tell about them.  He shows them.  You probably know about how things are going to work out, but Whittington manages to put in a twist or two.  He even manages to humanize the bank robbers, although we know they're stone-cold killers.  

The Stark House edition pictured here is a bargain.  It has a great introduction by David Laurence Wilson, and you can read my review of one of the other included novels here.  If you like westerns grab a copy of this triple-decker.  You won't be sorry.


Peter Brandvold said...

Thanks for the review, Bill. I just ordered mine.

August West said...

I have the GM PBO and read it many years ago. It's been so long that I have no idea what the plot of the story was about. I don't know if I've read too many books or just geting too old.

Rick Robinson said...

I'm not a big fan of westerns, but might try this triple decker.

@August: same as the rest of us.

Dan said...

It reads like the literary equivalent of a Budd Boetticher Western... and that's high praise.

Howard Jones said...

Great write-up.

I liked the entire collection, and I loved the first and third short novels. I read a library copy, but enjoyed them so much I will probably re-read them, so I'll be purchasing a copy to keep.