Friday, June 12, 2015

Forgotten Cowboys: W.C. Tuttle's Sheriff Henry Conroy

I've been enjoying W.C. Tuttle's Hashknife Hartley books for a a long time, and extolled the virtues of five of them HERE as Forgotten Books. But I hadn't gotten around to meeting Tuttle's number two hero, Sheriff Henry Conroy, until now. And I picked the perfect time to do it.

Why? Because Altus Press has just published Volume 1 of the Complete Tales of Sheriff Henry, allowing me to start at the beginning. What made Tuttle special was his ability to combine the mystery and western genres, and glue them together with humor. That talent is on full display in the four novelettes that make up The Sherlock of Sageland.

When we first meet Henry Harrison Conroy he's a down-at-the-heels vaudeville comedian who seems to be modeled on W.C. Fields. He's fifty-five years old, and was born into a theater family, so he's been acting all his life. Most of his comedic talent, though, revolves around his big red nose, and big red noses are no longer the rage. Just as he learns his stage career is over, he gets a letter saying he's inherited a ranch in Arizona. So to Arizona he goes.

The first three stories, "Henry Goes Arizona," "With the Help of Henry" and "The Sherlock of Stageland" are murder mysteries, in which Henry deals with cultural shock, get hilariously drunk, and surprises everyone by solving the crimes. The fourth adventure, "The Diplomacy of Henry" is a classic tale of sheep-herders versus cattlemen, with Henry caught in the middle. All originally appeared in Argosy in 1935.

Along the way, Henry is elected sheriff as a joke, and turns the joke on the town by remaining in office. He knows nothing of the law, and cares less, but somehow - usually with a drink in his - manages to bring about some justice. His supporting cast includes his deputy - a retired lawyer who stays with him drink for drink, his jailer - a big dumb Swede who guzzle prune juice, kerosene or anything he can get his hands on, his ranch foreman - a tough, loyal cowboy with a hair-trigger temper, and a handsome widow who admires Henry but abhors his drinking.

The Henry series continued in Argosy until 1941, with at least nine serials and several novelettes inbetween. Some of those serials have appeared in book form over the years, but I'm not sure which. No matter. Altus will be bringing us them all, and it's going to be a fun ride. (I also have a couple of Henry adventures in Short Stories magazine, where he appeared as late as 1947. Will those be included in this Argosy Library series? I don't know, but I'll be interested to find out.)

The first story in this book, "Henry Goes Arizona," was released as a film in 1939. Haven't seen it, but I reckon it would be pretty dang fun.


Cap'n Bob said...

Is that little girl Lydia Reed, who went on to play Hassie on The Real McCoys?

Cap'n Bob said...

To answer my own question: No, it's Virginia Weidler.

George Kelley said...

I'm ordering this book Right now! I pick up Tuttle books whenever I find them. Great stuff! And Tuttle is a very underrated writer.

Rick Robinson said...

What fun!