Friday, October 27, 2017

Forgotten Books: THE DESPERADO by Clifton Adams (1950)

Fourteen years ago I joined the Old West APA OWLHOOT (more on that anon), and started hearing about Clifton Adams. My fellow ‘hoots always touted him as a hardboiled western writer. Jeez, I’d think, that’s my meat. I need to read this guy. Then I’d forget - until the next mailing arrived with more praise for Adams - and then I’d forget again.

Well, Mr. Greg Shephard, the mad genius who is Stark House Press, solved that problem by sending me a review copy of his soon-to-be-published double dose of Adams, The Desperado and A Noose for the Desperado. So I read half of it. And whaddaya know? All those owlhoots were right.

Clifton Adams, I have since learned, wrote 50 novels and 125 short stories between 1947 and his death in 1971. The Desperado (1950) was his first novel, and it was a great start.

The hero/narrator of this one is a nineteen-year-old kid named Talbert Cameron, nicknamed “Tall.” Tall has the misfortune to be living in post-Civil War Texas, where carpetbaggers and southern collaborators are lording it over the true sons of the Lone Star State. After arousing the ire of the collaborators, he’s laying low on the family farm when another young rebel kicks the hornet’s nest, and a posse comes hunting them both.

Tall Cameron is now a desperado. The rest of the outer story involves plenty of shooting, killing, and miscellaneous owlhooting, complete with Indian fighting, cattle driving and an old-fashioned gunfight. But the inner story is about how that new life changes him without his realizing it.

The chief agent of that change is a sort of super-owlhoot called Pappy Garrett. Like Tall, Pappy is on the run through no (or little) fault of his own, but he’s been doing so long he is extremely damn good at it. With Pappy as a mentor, Tall becomes mighty good himself, but still harbors hope of returning to his farm and his girlfriend.

Adams’ prose is tough and tight, and the attitude, as advertised, is hardboiled.  I like it, and I’m looking forward to Tall’s further adventures in A Noose for the Desperado.

The book got the low-budget Hollywood treatment in 1954, starring Wayne Morris. I haven’t seen it, but it’s pretty obvious the star of the screen story is Pappy Garrett (now called Sam) and Tall Cameron (renamed Tom), portrayed by Jimmy Lyndon, is a not-much-younger but much blander sidekick.

Now, as to OWLHOOT: Founded in 2003 by the notorious Cap'n Bob Napier, it’s a quarterly APA (Amateur Press Association) featuring wide-ranging discussions of all things West: Books, movies, TV, pulps, history, OTR, comics, music and whatever else that occurs to us. And it's done the old fashioned way - in print. This is how people blogged before blogs existed. Each member prepares his or her zine (yeah, we had a her once), prints copies and mails them to the Cap’n, who assembles the issue and mails it back. The current roster includes the following dangerous characters: Fred Blosser, Bill Crider, Dale Goble, Jim Griffin, Richard Moore, Thom Walls, George Kelley, A.P. McQuiddy, the aforementioned Bob Napier (all gents to ride the river with), and me. We’re open to new members. If you're interested in joining this wild and woolly crew, shoot me an email ( and I’ll provide details.

1 comment:

George said...

I have the STARK HOUSE omnibus on my Read Real Soon stack. I'll have to move it up after reading your fine review!