Revenge Rides the Range by Will Frame

Some time ago, I read (and blogged) a western published by Muir-Watson, also published in 1949. This one is Revenge Rides the Range, by Will Frame; clearly, an alias, and clearly someone has a sense of humor. The actual identity is unknown to me, nor could I locate information online to unravel the mystery, however, I am certain of two things:

  1. the author of this book also authored the other Muir-Watson western.
  2. the cover artist is the same, too.

No copies are held by the British Library, the National Library of Scotland, nor anywhere on Worldcat or COPAC.

MUIR WATSON Revenge Rides The Range
Bud Jackson, ex-Sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps, formerly stationed at Honolulu and crack-shot, has been out riding the trails of the American West, hunting a man that framed his father back in Illinois. This man is known as Chicago Kelly, and, he made off with a ton of money from a forgery racket, leaving Bud’s dad to face the rap. His father subsequently died in prison, leaving Bud honor-bound to track down Chicago Kelly, and…

Bud awakens in the saddle under the blistering heat to the sound of gunshots. Galloping onward, he comes to a gorge. Down below, some men are shooting at a stagecoach. Realizing it must be a hold-up, Bud unlimbers his rifle, adjusts his sights, and knocks one of the assailants into the next life…if there is one.

Bud’s second shot knocked the hat off another of the fiends. Dismayed by his slightly¬† inaccurate shot, he pops one final shot at the rocks nearest the would-be robbers, and is rewarded to see that the remaining pair have decided to clear out.

Re-mounting, Bud heads into the gorge and is rewarded himself with gunfire in his direction. Realizing that those below believe he to be another bandit, he brandishes a white handkerchief, waving it high. The driver finally relents, permitting Bud to traverse the remaining distance in peace, after asserting he is friendly.

Turns out the coach carries precious cargo, bullion, and some passengers, too. Removing the bullion from the top of the coach, they lever the boxes into the coach, freeing rooftop space for the dead robber to be placed atop. Inside, space is now a premium, and the passengers are cramped. They become further constricted when one passenger, a young girl, asks Bud if he is from Chicago.

Nonplussed, he acknowledges that YES, he is, looks at her, and finds himself shockingly looking into the face of a fellow Chicagoan, who he knows. Mary Shaw invites him to join them in the carriage and continue their conversation, illuminating several disturbing factors locally, mostly, cattle rustling. Tying his four-legged friend alongside the carriage, he hops in and they head off toward town.

In town, the body is unloaded in the sheriff’s care, and while assisting in shifting the cases of bullion out to the bank, a burly brute ambles over and demands to know if Bud killed the bandit. Turns out it was his brother, and he requires payback. Seeing that the man is a dirty fighter, Bud takes matters into his own hands, and knocks the fellow down fast. Realizing he overplayed his part, the ruffian draws his six-shooter, only to have the nimble-fingered Bud quick-draw and blast it away.

Bud gives the barn-sized menace the option of “fists or pistols.” The monster accepts “fists,” and we are given to nearly two full pages of gratuitous street-fighting, which ends with Bud getting the idiot to fall back into a horse’s watering trough, much to the onlooking crowd’s amusement.

The sheriff and a well-dressed man, who he immediately decides is the local Judge, breaks in on the scene. The “judge” is actually Hiram Wheeler, president of the local bank, and grateful for Bud’s assistance in protecting the shipment of bullion. But Bud is looking beyond current circumstances. He’s seeing before him a sharp, well-dressed, clean-cut man, but behind him, in an old black-and-white newspaper cut-out, he’s seeing a different man, a man he personally wants for the death of his father.

Bud Jackson has found Chicago Kelly, now established seemingly as a reputable banker.

The book is 128-pages in length, and all this action transpires with yet another 100 pages to go! How will Bud insert himself in the local goings-on, convince the authorities that Wheeler is Kelly, discover the rustling plot, unmask a series of murders, and win the girl? Well hell, partner, you’ll just have to find and buy a copy of this book!

 

Advertisements
Revenge Rides the Range by Will Frame

Brothers of the Purple Plains by Steve Watts

Hold on there, pard! This western novel is pure dynamite! Now, whereas many British westerns are not worthy of note, however, boy was I impressed by this novel.

Brothers of the Purple Plains was written under the alias Steve Watts, and published by Muir-Watson (Scotland) by arrangement with the publisher Sydney Pemberton and distributed by World Distributors, Inc., 1949. The artwork is unsigned, and the artist is clearly the same as that of another Muir-Watson western in my possession, “Revenge Rides the Range,” which I will be reading and blogging in the near future.

The title recalls to mind Zane Grey’s classic “Riders of the Purple Sage.”
There are no plot similarities.

MUIR WATSON Brothers Of The Purple Plains
From the opening salvo of pages right to the end, I was hooked. It’s pretty damn good stuff, and I’d love to know true identity of the actual writer. Well-written and competent, the only weak point is the dialogue, which at times gets to be a bit cheesy with the heroes uttering “Gee” or exclaiming “Oh” or “Aw.” But hell, people do make such utterances in real life, so, why not here?

Three boys are orphaned after their wagon train is butchered by Indians and they are taken in by a preacher, who is often drunk and belligerent. Fast forward, the preacher is dead by the time the eldest boy is sixteen. They hit the trail and cover great extents of the West. Their current ages are not known.

The leader is Al Cummings. He’s described as “tall, well-built, fair-haired.”
His boyhood friends and lifetime mates include Mex Caliente, closest to Al in age, and “handsome in the dark fashion of his race, and the lightest hearted member of the trio.” Finally comes Jesse Hudson, “not as tall as the other two, but thick-set and strong as a stallion…quieter…than the others…a dour earnestness about him which seemed to come from his Scots ancestry.”

Having abandoned a prospective interest in a gold mine, they ride away from their fruitless earnings in search of work. In the horizon, Jesse, the more aloof member, spots what appears to be smoke rising in the distance. Riding closer, they find a house on fire.

Applying the horses to beat the trail north, they arrive in time to face a blazing inferno. Is anyone around? Inside? Alive? An accident, or…murder?

The trio hear something, and Al busts inside to rescue a woman and her baby. The latter is clearly dead, in the lady’s arms, a death-grip about it. Not bothering to remove the corpse from her arms, they find that the mother has been shot and left to die. And die, she does, but not before uttering the name BARTLETT.

Who is he? Her husband? A helper? A killer? All of the above?

Chapter two doesn’t drag things out either. Arriving eventually in an isolated town, the unimaginatively named Star City, the boys hit the local saloon, sidle up to the bar, and place their liquor orders. By the second page, we have another murder, a shooting out in the dark street, and the dying man staggers into the saloon, collapses, and utters BARTLETT before expiring.

The novel becomes mildly hectic when an awesome array of characters are introduced, including a saloon girl, whom Mex’s heart beats hard for (its beats hard for ANY girl, actually). While attempting to win her affections, she warns Mex to take his friends and leave town, quick, because they’re asking questions about Bartlett. Those questions aren’t healthy. Mex finds himself suddenly the focus and ire of her self-appointed boyfriend, who ambles in and decides to mix words and fists with Mex. The brute thinks he’s got Mex’s measure, but boy is he wrong. Fast with women he may be, but faster with fists and gun! After drenching his fist deep into the others gut, the brute makes for his hardware, only, Mex is pure lightning, wielding a pair of .38 revolvers.

While asking the brute his business, a gun is fired! Al and Jesse are behind the brute, facing Mex, Al with one of his guns smoking. One of the brute’s friends had tried to plug Mex from behind! Giving both men the boot, they ask the girl what the ruckus was all about, but she begs them to leave, flee for their own lives. But Mex is soft on the girl because he is soft in the head and assures her they aren’t going anywhere.

Rooming together in their hotel room, Al, the brains, is thinking over the death of the mother and baby, the murder at the saloon, the name BARTLETT, and the bruisers that caused a scene. Were they all connected? How? and, Why? Too many questions, no answers, he finally falls asleep…scarcely, only to hit the ground rolling, along with his friends, as a hail of bullets rip through the window. Taking turns, they maintain a guard on the room and window, all night, when a brick is hurtled through the window. A note is attached, with blocky words stating: GET OUT OF TOWN…QUICK, and signed “B.”

Talking with the sheriff the next morning, they are met by a local rancher, Vane Carson, who is frustrated by the sheriff’s inability to clean out the area of rustlers, led by Bartlett. Carson is the biggest rancher in the area, maintaining a huge spread, in the interests of the future owner, when she comes of age (not for about another year or so). Liking what he (Vane) sees, he asks the men to work for him, not as ranchers, but, as border-rangers, riding his borders, looking for clues as to the rustlers whereabouts, etc. Fresh faces that the rustlers won’t know.

The boys, short on cash, accept the generous offer. They ride out to the Bar Z ranch and meet Nance Greenley, future heir. All three boys take to mentally fawning and drooling over her beauty. Mex is the typical stud in asserting his affections. Jesse is perturbed to find himself attracted to her. Al, who previously shunned girls, is baffled by his own sudden interest in the young lady.

Brought to the bunk house, the trio are introduced to Carson’s foreman, Jeff Simpson. None of the boys like his looks. Desiring to make good fast work of their current occupations, Mex requests the locations of the other ranches and homesteads raided, but Carson refuses. He’s not interested in them, only his own ranch.

Splitting up, the boys cover ground fast and Mex wanders over to the corral, spotting Nance sitting on the posts, watching a ranch-hand trying to break in a horse, but he is constantly thrown. Mex laughs, and in an effort to impress Nance, saunters up to the dude and requests a try at the bucking monster. The horse is extremely intelligent and gives Mex the ride of his life, before eventually hauling off and hurtling him into space.

Out riding and inspecting the range the next day, the trio are taken by the wonderful country and beauty, only to return “home” and find the frowning foreman reprimanding them, and spit out that Carson is enraged. While they were off gallivanting, Bartlett’s crowd had stolen another fifty head that night.

All this action takes place in the first 35 pages, and the full book is 128 pages. I won’t ruin the rest of the plot, but I’ll spoil some of it now. One of the boys dies during a shootout at Bartlett’s secret lair, to be buried by the surviving member. We see a new side to this person, in mourning their friend’s death, and any past flaws are wiped out and replaced by the newly-molded character. The novel features a solid, credible plot with a mystery villain that any regular reader will see coming long before the conclusion, but how the whole fracas is wound up makes for damned good reading.

Brothers of the Purple Plains by Steve Watts

“Fat Men Laugh at Murder” by Marc Stephens (1949)

MUIR WATSON Fat Men Laugh At Murder
Fat Men Laugh at Murder

Fat Men Laugh at Murder” by Marc Stephens was published in Glasgow, Scotland by Muir-Watson Books, in 1949. This British digest-paperback novel runs 128-pages.

The strikingly bold and colourful cover illustration was created by Reina M. Bull (Reina Mary Sington was her birth name).
Her illustrated works are quite collectible, including covers for New Worlds, Science-Fantasy, various crime covers, and spicy covers for Utopian Press under her alias, “Janine.” (Side note: I would personally LOVE to own an original by Mrs. Bull.)

Who is (or was) Marc Stephens? The British Library and COPAC show zero holdings for this person. The identity of the writer is unknown. Searching the Internet turns up zilch. Does the name belong to a real person, short for “Marcus” Stephens?

This didn’t turn up anything useful, though I found a clergyman (Marcus James Treacher Stephens) that fit the bill nicely, but, during the years in question, he was stationed in Lebanon. Still, one never knows….

It was then suggested that I look to Hugh M. Stephens as a possibility.

I did.

FictionMags Index site shows Hugh M. Stephens contributed at least three known short stories, from 1943-1945, and one further in the Bonny album in 1949/1950. Ironically, I submitted those Laughitoff issues to the index site a couple years ago, myself! It’s possible that Stephens turns up in other issues. Bear in mind, the novel was released in 1949. This would seem to fit perfectly.

  • This Pantomime Business (ss) Laughitoff # 3 (1943)
  • Swing Date (vi) Laughitoff # 8 (1945)
  • Grammar as She is Spoke (vi) Laughitoff # 9 (1945)
  • Build for Tomorrow (ar) Personality (Feb 1948)
  • (story title unknown) (ss) Bonny Annual 1950

So, who is Hugh M. Stephens?

The only Hugh M. Stephens I could find was born 1920 in the Brentford district. Identity of Hugh’s “M” initial never disclosed on any of the genealogy sites I searched.
Parents were Hugh O. T. G. Stephens and Ragnhild Gaaserud.
One known sibling, Kari B., married 1947 to Thaddeus H. Gebert in the Bedford District. Further research reveals this is Kari Bridget Gebert, born 1916, but died 28 January 2010.

Did he serve during WW2? Could be. I found two Hugh Stephens that might fit. The first has an entirely different middle name. Nix! The second, fits, but, DIED IN 1945!!! Could it be that the Laughitoff contributor died in 1945, and is NOT the same person that contributed to Personality three years later? One may never know. I am direly hoping that a relative might one day write and clear up this matter.

Without further ado, let’s hit the novel itself.

A socialite returning home to England after some years away is holding a large party on an ocean-going vessel. Private detective and Englishman Hugo Van Reine and his new associate, ex-soldier and man-of-action American (Johnny Vernon) are invited to attend. Johnny immediately falls in lust with the extremely beautiful Adele Manners. Hugo watches all the party-attendees, and notes two figures detach from their positions to chase down the gorgeous vixen. Here Hugo is in his element. What does the one young man want with Adele? What interest does the sinister, greasy-looking Italian have with Adele? (and why are Italians always described as greasy?)

Landing in England, they all part ways, but, Adele, for some odd reason, retains Hugo to visit her at her apartments. On arriving, he finds her in a harried state and unable to let him in. Please come back in 20 minutes. Irked, he departs, returns, finds the door open, and Adele, shot dead! A noise at the front door, and Hugo, not wishing to be caught with a corpse, steals down the fire escape.

Entering by the front door is Hugo’s young associate, Johnny. He is looking to re-acquaint himself with this lovely lady, but dismayed to find her equally dead. It is an inopportune moment for a recently-hired detective-in-training to be caught in such a precarious position, too.

And there begins our wonderful world of intrigue.

Who murdered Adele? It is immediately known that she was to inherit a worldly sum. Her murder means that many in her family stand to benefit.

Was is it her mother, whom seems more inclined to fret over the social-standing of the family than the death of her daughter?

Her sensible brother?

Her flirty and bitchy sister?

The brother’s wife?

Maybe the two fellows on the boat?

Or is there a deeper mystery at the root of this heinous crime?

Hugo, using his grey-cells, thinks his way through various situations while setting Johnny to work on the less delicate matters of handling the crooked underworld elements. Johnny is constantly battered and poked and prodded by guns and fists alike in his endeavor to uncloak the mastermind behind Adele’s murder.

But, when a clue appears, Hugo departs for New York City, to chase down the whereabouts of the Italian. Following various leads, he finally opens the door of that man’s home to find a body, tethered to a bed, in a drug-induced state….

Meanwhile, back in England, Johnny is cracking the other side of this racket. A night club owner and his moll (Adele’s brother’s wife!) have plans of their own, and rubbing out Johnny might just be one of them….

The whole matter is wrapped up days later when the police, with Johnny’s aid, arrest all local parties and Hugo, with the finishing touches, enters the offices with…Adele Manners! Turns out the first Adele was a fraud, established purely to obtain the inheritance for the Italian party and his confederates. However, his mission went awry when she was shot and killed by accident. The bullet was meant for her brother, whom was on the scene before anyone else. He didn’t want the brother talking to his faux-sister, since he would eventually learn of the deceit. So, he took a shot at the brother and accidentally murdered the false lady. The real Adele had been hooked up by him on drugs and there (in America) the switch was effected.

Now with the real Adele free, though not clean yet of her daily drug-induced cocktails, she will be able to seek proper claim to her inheritance.

In the closing scenes, Johnny asks, why did the faux-Adele request Hugo’s attentions? Hugo laughs this off, as he simply doesn’t have the answer to everything, and there the novel concludes, leaving us with that one last question….

 

“Fat Men Laugh at Murder” by Marc Stephens (1949)

“Murder’s a Must” by John Russell Fearn


A wealthy miserable bitch of a woman is hunted and ruthlessly murdered, her back (just below her shoulder blades) revealing a tattoo. Too many people had reasons to murder the woman, and their alibis are weak. When another woman dies with a tattoo on her back, in the same location, the two murders become a real mystery.

MUIR WATSON Murders A Must

Murder’s a Must” by John Russell Fearn was published by Muir-Watson Ltd., Glasgow (1949). It is a 128-page digest-paperback with excellent cover art. The illustration is rendered by Reina Bull (nee Sington).

In this splendidly-written crime thriller, Scotland Yard’s Inspector Handcock (yes, you read that accurately) arrogantly accepts an unsolvable murder from a Divisional Inspector, whom is at his wit’s end. Handcock soon confesses to his partner Sergeant Grimshaw that he may have accepted a tough assignment. He’s right.

The case begins with the murder of Vera Bradmore. Her assailant lithely had climbed a wall, inserted their self through a window, then smothered Vera to death with a pillow. Prior to the murder, the killer extracts the whereabouts of two other persons. Adding insult to injury, the murderer exposes her back and reveals a tattooed name: MARY.

Handcock has his hands full (no pun intended) when another murder occurs. Far to the north, one Elsie Jackson is smothered to death, found face down in the sands of a lonely beach. Her husband discovers her corpse. The news reaches the ears of our desperate Inspector. The girl would otherwise remain unmentioned, save for the fact that her back is equally tattooed with a name: IAN.

The third person murdered wraps up the entire plot, as we learn the trio are sisters, triplicates, in fact. Their father decades ago was part of a famous jewel heist. His mask failing to protect his identity, he escaped and secreted the diamonds and then tattooed clues onto the backs of his young daughters (a painful memento; gee, thanks dad!). The police catch up to him and while hopping over rooftops, he plummets to his death.

Or was escape impossible and the splat a suicide?

Who cares.

The children were left in the care of another family, whom had a daughter one year their senior. This family-man was believed to be the triplicate’s father’s accomplice during the heist. It was never spoken of, even to his own family. Years pass, and, when the trio reach 16 years of age, they inexplicably vanish. They sealed a pact among themselves to part ways, never contact one another, change their identities and disappear, for better or for worse.

Meanwhile, the caretakers also move, departing England. Our highly resourceful inspector learns that they sailed for South Africa. Contacting authorities, he learns that the entire family died in a fire. Or, did they? He suspects the daughter in fact did not die. Furthermore, he speculates the father at some point did disclose the jewel heist to his family.

During the ensuing investigation, a figure from his past returns; an old friend (Cavendish) wishes to renew their friendship. Baffled by this sudden jack-in-the-box surfacing during a murder investigation, Handcock juggles the idea that Cavendish might be somehow tied up with the murders. When he is inexplicably invited to Cavendish’s home to meet his wife, an American that was born in London, his guts churn with a new conviction.

We eventually learn that it is Mr. Cavendish’s wife that is the murderer, whom was the daughter of the other jewel heist man! She did not die in the fire; a friend of the family died instead, and was mistakenly identified. She is captured after having killed the final sister.

With all three clues at her disposal, at night, she investigates the combined clues (I won’t reveal the final 3-word name) down a dark street. The police pounce, apprehend, and bring her to Inspector Handcock. Here, she finally confesses the entire plot and catches Handcock and Grimshaw off-guard by sucking on a seemingly innocent lozenge which in fact contains half a grain of atropine, a deadly poison. She dies and Inspector Handcock is left the grisly task of informing Mr. Cavendish that not only has his loving wife died, but, she is also the murderer, three-times over. Good luck, bub!

If this book sounds right up your alley, guess what!!!
You may readily find it reprinted as “The Tattoo Murders.”

 

“Murder’s a Must” by John Russell Fearn