Friday, March 29, 2013
Forgotten Books: YELLOWLEG by A.S. Fleischman
But right away, I knew I was in the hands of a hell of a writer. Fleischman's dialogue is sharp, inventive and revealing, and his prose is unrelentingly tough. Yellowleg (so-called because of the stripe on the trousers he's worn since the War Between the States) is as hardboiled a cowboy as I've seen anywhere, and he's put to the test when he locks horns with an equally hardheaded woman.
Yellowleg's sole reason to live is to track down the rebel soldier who scalped him during the war, leaving scars so deep he's kept his hat on, day and night, for the past eight years. Now at last he has the guy in his sites, and just when he's about to make his move, fate puts that hardheaded woman in his path. Along with a blood-simple young killer and the twisted, conniving weasel who scalped him, Yellowleg accompanies the woman on a mad quest into Apache territory.
This one held me from the first word to the last, and sent me on a search for more Fleischman. Sadly, this novel, first published by Gold Medal in 1960, appears to be his only adult western. But he did write exotic adventures, mysteries and a spy novel or two, and I look forward to them all. At some point in the '60s he began writing children's fiction, and never looked back. Though juvenile stuff has little appeal for me, there are two titles I might have to look at: Jim Bridger's Alarm Clock and Other Tall Tales, and Bandit's Moon, a tale of Joaquin Murieta.
In an interview with Gary Lovisi, Fleischman revealed that Yellowleg began life as a screenplay, and was optioned by Marlon Brando. When Brando made One-Eyed Jacks instead, Fleischman teamed up with Maureen O'Hara, and they got Sam Peckinpah to direct the film (retitled The Deadly Companions) starring O'Hara and Brian Keith.
I have not seen The Deadly Companions, but it's hard to imagine Brian Keith (one of the worst ever Davy Crocketts) as Yellowleg. Brando, on the other hand, would have been ideal.
As for the novel, the good news is that it's back in print, thanks to the fine folks at Stark House. Appearing in the same volume is the never-before-published novel The Sun Worshippers, described as a Chandleresque tale set in the California desert in the 1950s.
Yelllowleg started me on a Stark House binge. I immediately read Peter Rabe's Kill the Boss Good-by, which was equally good, and I'm now into Come Easy - Go Easy by James Hadley Chase. Next up - maybe The Sun Worshippers. We'll see. Stark House has also released at least two other Fleischman doubles: Look Behind You, Lady/The Venetian Blonde and Danger in Paradise/Malay Woman.
More Forgotten Books at Sweet Freedom.