Fast on the Draw by Tex Elton was published by Pastime Publications of Toronto, Canada. This digest-sized paperback carries no copyright date but would be circa 1947 to very early 1948. English publisher Pemberton’s (aka: T. A. & E. Pemberton Ltd., as they are otherwise known) contracted Pastime to publish books on their behalf, due to strict paper rations in effect during and after the war. Hence why the red-circle on the cover sports no cover price. The Canadians didn’t fill it in, leaving it up to the English to do so. This further allowed Pemberton’s to export unsold copies to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, etc.
The artwork is signed lower right by Canadian comic, humorous postcard, and magazine artist Wilf. Long; he is scarcely known in name, however, among SF and Fantasy aficionados, readily known for creating the gorgeous cover art to Thomas P. Kelley’s The Face That Launched a Thousand Ships which concerns the most beautiful lady in history, Helen of Troy (as a brunette) and the infamous Trojan War. In this novel, the narrator discusses the search for the burial and entombment of Helen, as rumor holds she was placed under a sleeping spell and…well, I won’t ruin the plot. Every serious collector ought to own a copy of that book, as it was Kelley’s first novel in 1941. Noteworthy fact: The first 4 chapters also appear in the ill-fated pulp Eerie Tales (July 1941) and the cover art depicts Helen of Troy as a slim blonde. Experts argue whether The Face That Launched a Thousand Ships was the first original Canadian-published fantasy novel, or not. The precise release date of the paperback is unknown and perhaps only Canadian fanzines may provide the most conclusive evidence.
Speaking of Thomas P. Kelley, Tex Elton is the alias of that worthy Canadian ex-boxer. He is best remembered in the pulp fiction community for his contributions to the American magazine Weird Tales. As I have already covered Kelley in prior posts (click on his tagged name) I won’t delve further. In fact, I covered another western by Kelley, via this publisher, earlier…the cover artist on THAT COPY was not signed but may be Wilf. Long, too.
This tale involves two Texas cowpunchers: Ham Spaulding is an older cowhand tagging along with recent college law graduate Joe Mondell, who prefers to ride the saddle than practice law. Having a falling out with his father, Joe forks leather and Ham follows him. The pair are penniless after being robbed (Joe) and the other loses his shirt gambling (Ham). Desperate for cash, they accept a job with a farm threshing outfit, not realizing the awful task ahead. Stranded penniless for a couple weeks of hard labor, they demand their earnings at gunpoint and depart. It’s not long before the chase is on and the pair steal a small boat and maroon themselves on a small island midstream. With the river running high, the pair sit tight and take their bearings…but come morning, they discover someone else has been on the island. Boot prints litter a worn path, which leads to a log. Looking in, they discover the looted cash from a recent bank heist. With the law already after them for having their earnings paid by gun, and now discovering the bank heist money in their hands, the duo is rightfully panic-stricken. Should they be found with the loot, nobody will believe they are innocent. Can you say “lynch-mob”?
Thomas P. Kelley expands what would have read as a fun short story into a long novella, filled with his usual expert padding and seemingly mindless dialogue. In the end, after various mishaps, they enlist the aid of the local marshal, who is running for office against the local sheriff (he’s up for re-election). Convincing the marshal of their innocence (actually, he’s certain they are insane, and nearly guns them down) the pair retreat under cover of darkness with the marshal, to the island, and remain hidden, waiting for the real bank robbing McCoys to make their entrance…the rushing heights of the river water is dropping, which means a navigable path by horse from land will be assured. The robbers are likely to make that trek and retrieve the loot.
And so embarks a nightly silence for days until a trio do ride across the river and make for the island. The three then attempt to capture the heist-men alive, but Joe plugs one to death (after the gunner pulls on Joe) and the other pair each run down their men. The marshal is gobsmacked to discover the identities and his run for office is assured.
Now, no proper western novel is complete without some form of lady-interest, and there is one, but she scarcely figures into the novel at all, except as a side distraction.
Fast on the Draw is blurbed as:
“The story of two Texans who found themselves stranded and broke in a frontier city where Colts were Kings and each packed a deckful of death on his hip.”
Does this novella hold up to such a bold statement? Not really. I was searching for more gunplay, more dead men, but truly, we only obtain two dead men (a sheriff’s deputy being the actual first murder) but that aside, anyone interested in Kelley literature may wish to try to hunt themselves a copy, as a curiosity, at the least.