Friday, July 27, 2018

Forgotten Books: HANGROPE TOWN by Harry Whittington (1964)

I've been itching for a look at some Harry Whittington westerns, and finally picked up three on a recent roadtrip. This one got the nod as my first because it has the coolest title. The edition I got (pictured below, not above) is a bit odd. The copyright page says it was:

Produced in Israel for 
PRIORY BOOKS, London, England by 
Tel Aviv

I'm not sure what to make of all that. An American, English language western called Hangrope Town seems a weird choice if it was intended for Israeli readers. The back cover lists prices for the U.K., U.S.A., Australia, South Africa and Canada, but not Israel. And while it says "first published by Ballantine Books," there is no copyright date - not even a year of publication.

Familiar only with Whittington's Gold Medalish suspense novels, I sort of expected to meet a western ne'er-do-well obsessed with an oversexed western babe who drives him to his doom. But this wasn't that. At least, not exactly. 

The first half of the book, though, is damn good. Our hero is a forty-dollars-a-month marshal named Curt Brannon, appointed by the feds because the two-bit town of Sage Wells needs law, and is apparently too cheap to hire their own sheriff. And right away, he has a damn big problem: The town is quaking in its boots because a really bad dude just released from prison is coming to exact his revenge on the folks who sent him up.

As a teenager, the really bad dude, who happens to be a half-breed, terrorized the town before killing the no-account son of the richest rancher. In the years since, he's been sending threatening letters to members of the jury and everyone else involved. Now the rancher is trying to turn the citizenry into a lynch mob. Marshal Brannon, a noble and stubbon soul, insists they can't touch the guy until he commits a crime. 

Whittington ratchets up the tension as Brannon pisses off the whole town while awaiting the bad dude's arrival. When he finally arrives, halfway through the book, he's every bit as nasty as advertised, but he's not packing heat, so Brannon is powerless to arrest him. 

After that build-up, I expected a high-octane finish. Instead, the story sort of fizzles. Brannon suffers a lot of anguish, as does the rich rancher, both primarily due to the idiocy of the rancher's daughter. Another no-account is murdered, and there's a lot of worrying about whodunnit, but if that's ever definitely resolved, I didn't notice. After more diddyling around, things come to a head, and Brannon and the bad dude come to conclusions, but I had the feeling Whittington had lost interest in the proceedings, and was trying to get it over with. 

That said, the prose is consistently tight and tough, and the book is short. So while the second half did not meet expectations, it wasn't long enough to be boring. I'm hoping the other two I picked up, Desert Stake-Out and Charro!, will be better.


George said...

Bill Crider was a huge fan of Harry Whittington's work. His enthusiasm motived me to buy every Whittington book I ran across. I've read most of Whittington's suspense novels. I have a stack of Whittington westerns waiting to be read. Maybe for the next OWLHOOT...

Stark House said...

This isn't one of Harry's better westerns. You're right--it just peters out at the end. But you should have a lot better luck with Desert Stake-Out, which we reprinted as part of a trilogy of Whittington westerns a couple years ago.

Cap'n Bob said...

I suspect Israel was under British rule when this came out.

Art Scott said...

I have 3 books from the same outfit, operating as either Priory or Sharon imprint: Web of Murder by Whittington (orig. Fawcett), The Savage Breast by John Trinian (orig. Croydon), and Call Me Deadly by Hal Braham (orig. Graphic), and I've seen many others. I have these because they used McGinnis cover art originally on Fawcett titles. I suspected some sort of semi-pirate scheme going on here, though the books are scrupulous enough in crediting the original copyrights. Possibly some gimmick to work around international distribution agreements - or maybe everything is kosher. The Brits left Israel in 1948 and these are late '50s titles, so Cap'n Bob's wrong there.