Friday, August 8, 2014

Forgotten Books: THE MEDICINE-MAN by W.C. Tuttle

(Note! For this book, I am indebted to Mr. Mike Britt, in whose collection it once resided. Thanks Mike!)

Near as I can tell, W.C. Tuttle wrote at least two dozen novels starring Hashknife Hartley and Speedy Stevens, and shorter adventures (many later worked into the novels) appeared in more than twenty years worth of pulp magazines.

What made the series so popular? Tuttle's easy going prose, for one thing, and his wacky supporting characters. But the prime attractions are Hashknife and Speedy themselves, and the more I read about them, the better I like them. I can't actually say that The Medicine-Man (published in 1939 but using pulp material from 1924) is better than the other adventures I've read, but the cumulative effect is setting in, making me enjoy each book more than the last. And best of all, there are many, many more waiting to be read. (As you see, the title on the book and jacket is not hyphenated, but the title page and page headers do employ the hyphen, so I have to assure that was Tuttle's intent.)

The "Medicine-Man" of this one is Hashknife himself, so called because his troubleshooting abilities are so well developed as to appear magical - and because he's such bad medicine for bad guys.

Following the pattern of other novels, the stage is set and the players introduced before our heroes come onto the scene. In this case that's on page 62, well over one-fifth of the way into the book. Hashknife and Sleepy are on their way to visit an old pal named Bud Daley. What they don't know is that Bud has had a run of bad luck. His herd of cattle  mysteriously disappeared, leaving him $5000 in debt. Then the bank was robbed, resulting in a dead teller, and Bud is framed for the crime. Meanwhile, the gambler who owns the town is is love with Bud's wife. It's a situation tailor made for the peculiar skills of Hashknife and Speedy. Upon their arrival, someone asks if they plan on staying long.

     "You never can tell about us," smiled Hashknife. "We ain't gentlemen of leisure, but it kinda seems that we don't stay put in one place very long."
     "You don't look like a pair of drifters," observed Ma Miller.
     "No, ma'am," Hashknife shook his head. "We travel under our own power."
     "Bud used to say that they were the best cow-punchers in the world, but they never punch cows," said Mrs. Daley. "He said they were always to busy to work."
     "What did he mean by that?" asked Sody.
     Hashknife laughed and began rolling a cigarette.
     "Yuh see, we're kinda unlucky--me and Sleepy. Everywhere we go we find somebody in a jam. We just can't mind our own business--somehow. Personally, I'd like to settle down and grow old with the country, but Sleepy can't get over his childish ways; so I reckon we'll keep--movin' along."
     "You won't have much left for your old age, will yuh?" asked Uncle Jimmy.
     "Yeah, we'll have quite a lot," smiled Hashknife. "It won't be anything that yuh can cash in at a bank. And when we die, we won't leave nothin' spendable. There won't be nobody dependin' on either one of us, except the other."

As they dig deeper into the mystery, we get this exchange:

     "This," admitted Hashknife, "sure as hell has got me fightin' my head, Sleepy. What did that red-haired puncher want out there? Who shot him? Was all them shots fired at this jasper who shot Red Blair? Who were they? Sleepy, I'll be darned if this ain't some mix-up."
     "Do yuh reckon Bud Daley was mixed up in it?" queried Sleepy.
     "That's hard to tell, Sleepy. There's a lot of things to work out. F'r instance, who stole Bud's cows? Who robbed the bank? Why did they take Bud away from the sheriff? What in hell was Red Blair doin' out there to-night, and who shot him? My gosh, no wonder Sherlock Holmes was a hop-head."
     "Well," laughed Sleepy, "yo're happy, ain't yuh?, cowboy?"
     "Gittin' thataway," laughed Hashknife.

Adding to the fun is the fact that one of the minor bad guys has encountered Hashknife before, and is deathly afraid of him. He even suspects Hashknife is able to read minds. "I know some of the deals he pulled off," the guy tells his cohorts, "and I'd rather have the small-pox around me."

Were I an evildoer in the Old West, I'd feel the same way.

More Forgotten Books at pattinase.


Rick Robinson said...

This must be the one Mike gave you at the lunch. Sounds great.

Ron Scheer said...

I've read just one of their novels, THICKER THAN WATER (1927) and hope to get back to more.

James Reasoner said...

As you know, I love me some Hashknife and Sleepy. I haven't read this one, though. I'm surprised Hollywood never made a series of B-Westerns based on these characters.

Rick Robinson said...

Your post mixes Hashknife and Speedy with Hashknife and Sleepy. Which is correct?

James Reasoner said...

Hashknife's partner is Sleepy Stevens. Speedy is Tombstone's partner from a series of novelette's by Tuttle that appeared in the pulp Exciting Western. The two series are similar, although the Hashknife's and Sleepy stories are better.

Evan Lewis said...