Friday, November 24, 2017

Forgotten Books: A NOOSE FOR THE DESPERADO by Clifton Adams (1951)

In Desperado (reviewed HERE) (no relation to the song I don't like), we saw how "Tall" Cameron ran afoul of the scallywags and carpetbaggers ruling his Texas home town, rode the owlhoot trail under the expert tutelage of notorious outlaw Pappy Garret, and had his hopes of returning to his old life and love shattered.

It's now a month later. Tall is on his own now, and resigned to his fate. He hardly ever thinks of that little gal and that little Texas town anymore, except when he's forced to. 

In the first book, Tall was riding all over creation, learning things and regretting things and killing people dead. But this time, except for a few forays into the desert, takes place in the little border town of Ocotillo, Texas, where all the habitants, aside from the ruling class of gringo outlaws, appears to be Mexican (or, in today's jargon, undocumented aliens). 

The Boss of Ocotillo has a sweet racket. Granting refuge to wanted badmen (hence the presence of Tall Cameron) gets him a large and vicious gang ready to do his bidding - which is to ambush, rob and murder smugglers bringing stuff up from Mexico.

Tall, being a basically good guy, doesn't like it much, but has little choice. To make things tougher on him, he meets a rundown drunk who serves as his conscience, and a wide-eyed young Texan who idolizes him. Unlike Tall, this kid still has a chance to return to his gal and his law-abiding life. 

He also meets a hellcat in the form of a hot young senorita. This femme fatale situation seems to be the typical Gold Medal temptress who leads the protagonist to his doom, but Adams twist expectations by giving Tall the determination to fend her off and use her for his own purposes.

While I enjoyed Desperado, I liked this one even better. That's likely because all the coming-of-age and apprentice-outlaw business was out of the way, and Tall could get right down to the tough stuff. It's also more cinematic. I felt like I was reading a movie. Desperado was made into a film, so why not this one? Attention filmmakers: It ain't too late!

This book is full of great hard-boiled lines. Some samples:

His lips were red and raw-looking, like an incision in a piece of liver.

Anger swarmed all over me like a prairie fire.

Looking into his eyes were like looking into the windows of a deserted house.

Bama's eyes were twin, silent screams for whisky. 

Their heads turned toward the door as if they had been jerked on a string.

He looked about as excited as a dead armadillo.

His eyes popped out as if they had been punched from behind with a pool cue.

He was traveling the road to hell on a fast horse.

Somebody had gone to Austin and brought the capitol building to Arizona and tied it on my back.

He couldn't have been more pleased if I had handed him Texas with a fence around it.

Made me wish Adams had written more adventures of Tall Cameron. But he didn't. There are only these two, and they're available now from Stark House.


George said...

I'm reading the STARK HOUSE omnibus collection of Clifton Adams now. Great stuff!

Chris said...

I've read a number of his novels in the past few years, and the one that really clicked with me was The Desperado. I was interested because Donald Westlake mentioned having read both novels about Tall Cameron, and how much he admired the first--the second he didn't like, because it basically erased all the character development from the first. Hit the reset button. Making any further books about Tall impossible. I also didn't find it a satisfying finish to the story.

I also thought none of the other characters in the second book were that interesting, though some had potential. The Mexican girl, for example--that could have been a great romantic subplot. She was a lot more interesting than the girl in the previous book. Tall seemed, in the end, like a character who couldn't commit to anything.

Years later, Charles Willeford wrote a western novel (his one and only) called The Difference, which is a clear retelling of The Desperado--but with a very significant difference. His protagonist totally commits. I'll say no more. On the whole, I think it's a better book, but it's a very close call, and Adams gets credit for being first.

Evan Lewis said...

Cool. I'll be on the lookout for The Difference.

Shay said...

I read this years ago when the blogger calling himself Munsey still had his site up with a lot of these classics.

Evan Lewis said...

Damn. I miss that Munsey site.