Friday, November 4, 2022

bluffer's luck

 You're heard me crowin' here before about the adventures of Hashknife Hartley and Sleepy Stevens, and I ain't the only one. James Reasoner has probably done even more than me, and Randy Johnson's no slouch, either.

W.C. Tuttle wrote new stories about these two for dang near 30 years, from 1921 to 1951. Ththere were serials, full length novels, short stories and novelettes of all lengths. There was a radio show, narrated by Tuttle himself, that lasted a year and a half, and at least one story became a film, though the character names - and probably the story - was changed. At least 19 of those novels were published in hardcover in the U.S., and a few more in the U.K., though some of the later were technically novelettes.

The series began in Adventure, migrated to Argosy, and ended up in Short Stories. Bluffer's Luck first appeared in Adventure in 19xx, and is typical of that stage in the series. It's a full-length novel, giving Tuttle plenty of room to roam around in. Our heroes are not even mentioned until page 81 (of 251), and don't take the stage until page 93. By that time, we've met all the important players. The main plot is well underway, as is the sub-plot, character relationships are well-established, and it looks like things will turn out badly for these folks unless there's some divine intervention. That's where Hashknife and Sleepy come in. Not divine, of course, but certainly providential. 

Bluffer's Luck is unusual in that it begins in San Francisco, and very clearly set in the present day of 19xx. All the Hashknife stories actually are in the present, though it's sort of a magical West, where such new-fangled contraptions as automobiles and telephone rarely intrude. There's rarely even mention of movies, radio or phonograph records, and certainly not television. The ranches and saloons and sheriff's offices we see in these stories are pretty much the same as Tuttle saw as a boy growing up in Montana.

Many of the stories involve an outsider coming from civilization to the New West, and discovering the joys of primitive living. In this one, a brassy San Francisco actress is killed in a automobile accident the same day as a letter arrives from Arizona, informing her that she's inherited a ranch. Her recently-fired and broke roommate answers the call, pretending to be the heiress, and makes the trip to Lobo Wells, Arizona. Lobo Wells is a typical Tuttle town, sort of caught in a time warp where everything is - and presumably always will be - as it was in the 1880s. 

Many stories also involve a resident of the town recently released from prison, now believed planning to dig up the cache of money never recovered from old robberies. In stories of this type, Hashknife and Sleepy have sometimes been hired by Wells Fargo or the Cattleman's Association to poke around and see if the money can be recovered. That's the case here.

As you might expect, the released convict is innocent, and the girl from San Francisco comes to love the West, and by the end of the book love has bloomed. What's surprising is that knowing all of this from the start, you don't care. The stories are still vastly entertaining and satisfying. Since you know how things will turn out, the focus is on watching Hashknife interact with the locals, form his suspicions, and set his traps. The mystery is not so much who done it, but how Hashknife solves it. But it's always a fun ride. 

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