Friday, September 20, 2013

Forgotten Books: HIDDEN BLOOD by W.C. Tuttle (1943 - or is it 1925?)

Sometime in the ‘80s, in an intro to one of his collections (or maybe a book he edited - anyone know?) Harlan Ellison praised the writing of W.C. Tuttle, and - in particular - his tales of Hashknife Hartley and Sleepy Stevens. That was enough for me. Over the years I picked up whatever Tuttle books I happened to come across.

Tuttle had a well-developed sense of humor, and a great talent for turning a phrase. His dialogue, his word choice, his oddball with oddball names - and his sometimes wacky scenes, all work together to keep a smile on my face, as they doubtless did for Mr. Ellison.

Hashknife and Sleepy aren’t your average cowpokes. They’re magnets for mystery, and have a way of getting into troubles that only a passel of astute detective work can get them out of. Luckily, Hashknife has enough detecting smarts for both of them. In the stories I’ve read so far, they’re not functioning as official detectives, but they do occasionally hire out to solve a problem for an interested party. By their own definition, they’re not exactly soldiers of fortune - they’re “cow-punchers of disaster.”

I knew Hashknife and Sleepy were mighty busy characters, but I had no notion how busy until I consulted Robert Sampson’s fine book Yesterday’s Faces: Dangerous Horizons. According to Sampson’s info, they appeared in over 80 pulp appearances between 1920 and 1951, beginning in Adventure, crossing into Argosy, and finishing their careers in Short Stories.

Near as I can tell, their first appearance in hardcover came in 1924, with The Medicine Man, but it would be a monumental job to establish any sort of chronology in the novels. At least two dozen more Hashknife and Sleepy novels appeared, and I’m pretty sure that most, if not all, were constructed from novelettes or serials that originally appeared in the pulps. Some books were published first in England, some first in the U.S., and some only in one or the other. In some cases, the novel appeared as much as twenty years after the stories it was built from.

The history of Hidden Blood is typically mysterious. Sampson' list (which he admits may be incomplete or contain errors) says it was published on both sides of the pond in 1929, but the earliest U.S. edition I can find is dated 1943. In any case, both hardcover and paperback say copyright 1925, so I have to assume that's when the stories appeared in Adventure.

In this case, this one begins with a simple case of rheumatism. Hashknife has the miseries, and when they hear of a nearby hot springs that might cure his ills, they’re determined to drop in. As you might expect, they’re walking into a hornet’s nest, this one involving drug smugglers and Mexican banditos. Though this seems very much like the Old West, it’s actually the contemporary West (of 1925) and you never know when a reference to the odd automobile or a telephone might pop up. But heck, you won't care. You'll be having too much fun.

More Forgotten Books at pattinase!


cathyleemargrate   said...

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Walker Martin said...

Since I collect ADVENTURE and other general fiction pulps, I've read quite a few stories by WC Tuttle who was one of the better western writers of the period. Hashknife and Sleepy were his most interesting series characters. Readers of detective fiction might like the stories since Hashknife and Sleepy were detectives for the Cattlemen's Association in many of the tales.

James Reasoner said...

Tuttle is a long-time favorite of mine, and this particular book is probably my favorite of the Hashknife novels I've read so far. It's very well plotted, as I recall.

BV Lawson said...

Patti is taking the week off (to have some fun!), so I'm collecting links today. Thanks for your review, Evan! Next week is Patricia Highsmith - I believe she wrote for Western Comics in the 1940s, didn't she?

Evan Lewis said...

Thanks BV. Don't know about Highsmith.

Rick Robinson said...

I read about these characters in one or several issues of Blood 'N' Thunder magazine edited by Ed Hulse, and thought I'd try one of these if I ever came across one, which of course I haven't, but then I haven't tried very hard considering I have so damn many books already stacked up awaiting my attention. Nice review & post.

Kelly Robinson said...

“Cow-punchers of disaster" is hilarious. That would make a great band name.

Shay said...

You can find some of Tuttle's Hashknife and Sleepy stories on the site, but also at the Pulp Mags website.

Evan Lewis said...

Thanks Shay!
Those are great.