Friday, December 19, 2014

Forgotten Books: HARD GUY by James A. Lawson

Back in the Olden Days, before Tom Roberts started publishing those glitzy trade paperbacks, Black Dog Books were like this one -- a format he described as "saddle-stitched booklet, under single-color card stock cover." The trade paperbacks are great, of course, but I still have a special fondness for these chapbooks.

The hero of the five stories in Hard Guy, published way back in 2003, is a sometime private detective who shoots trouble in the Texas oil camps of the1930s. He calls himself Hard Guy, and other characters call him that too, as if that's his given name (and based on the content, it's tempting to speculate that his middle name is Dick). Actually, his given name is Dallas Duane, but it's mentioned so briefly it's easy to forget.

The "Dick" part springs from the fact that four of the tales were written for Spicy mags -- three for Spicy Western and one for Spicy Adventure. The fifth, a non-Spicy adventure, appeared in another Trojan magazine, Fighting Western. And yep, they're plenty spicy, spicier than what I'm used to in the Spicy Detective adventures of Dan Turner. While Turner never seems to go beyond smooching and fumbling about  with scantily-clad babes, Hard Guy leaves no doubt that his amorous appetites are fully satisfied.

The surprising thing is that these stories ran in western titles, when they seem much more suited to a detective mag. Yeah, the setting is Texas, and we occasionally meet a character who rides a horse, but calling these westerns is a big stretch.

Even more surprising, this James A. Lawson guy was a pretty good writer. His slang is every bit as creative as that of Robert Leslie Bellem, but when he's not aping Bellem, his style is truly unique, and shows real talent. When he describes the Texas oil camps, it's clear he's really been there, and knows what he's talking about. Makes me wonder who "Lawson" really was, and what else he might have written.

A search through my copies of Trojan publications (the Spicys, Speeds, Private Detective, Hollywood Detective and Super-Detective) turned up only one other story, an actual Old West western in the August 1941 issue of Spicy Western. I plan to post that entire story here sometime soon. Meanwhile, I'd recommend this book to fans of tough-guy detective fiction. spicy or not.


James Reasoner said...

His real name was James P. Olsen, and he was prolific under that byline, too. I've read that same chapbook and loved it. I hope that someday there'll be a complete collection of the Dallas Duane stories. I've read a number of Western stories by Lawson/Olsen under both names, and they've all been good. They don't really have the same distinctive voice as the Dallas Duane stories, though. When I first read some of them, I thought Lawson might actually be Bellem, until I found out different.

Evan Lewis said...

Thanks James! I'll now be looking for Olsen.

Rick Robinson said...

I recently read this very collection, and liked it a lot. Yes, there is the spicy content, but these are, despite the publication venues, detective stories more than anything else, and they are brisk, fun, reading. There's humor here, too, as in one of the stories in which he has to pretend to be blind to get inside the gang doing a kidnapping (the reasoning is explained in the story), and a woman who thinks he's blind tries to "tease" him.

These saddle-stiched books are great and well worth seeking out!

Shay said...

Can't wait.

George said...

I'm a big fan of BLACK DOG BOOKS. I'll have to seek out these saddle-stitched books!