Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, January 25, 2019


Two-Gun Showdown by Murray Leinster (1948)

First, let's clear up a bit of confusion about this book.  It is a digest paperback copyrighted 1948 but a note on the copyright page states, "This book was originally published under the title 'The Gamblin' Kid,' and has been slightly revised."  The Gamblin' Kid was Leinster's first western novel to be published in book form -- in 1933 and under the author's real name, Will F. Jenkins.  Four years later it appeared in the March 1937 issue of Western Action Novels, again as by Jenkins.  The amount of revision to make Two-Gun Showdown is not known.

The book features a character known as (surprise! surprise!) The Gamblin' Kid, his real name a mystery.  The Kid is just over his twentieth birthday -- whether that means he's 20 or 21 isn't stated -- but is already a fast and accurate draw.  He's also an expert poker player.  When the Kid was in his late teens, his father lost everything -- his money, his ranch, his dignity -- in a card game to a man named White.  The senior Kid then died of heart-break.  The Kid set out on a quest to find White and to break him over a game of poker.  He found out White now owned a gambling house and saloon in the town of Pecos.  So that's where the Kid was headed when the book opens.

In the town where the Kid had just come from there was "a killin'" and the Kid expected to be followed by some men so he camped on a high shelf overlooking a valley stream only to find out he was "at the receivin' end of a kind whispering galley" when he was wakened by the sound of men below.  The Kid could clearly hear the men going over a plan to kidnap a girl and take her to Mexico to let the Mexicans do with her what they will.  Since the girl was a crack shot and always carried her pistol with her, a man named Tompkins who would be riding with her had exchanged the bullets for blanks.  The gang would leave enough of a trail left for the people coming to rescue her to follow, leaving a local mine virtually unguarded and empty -- easy pickings for the baddies to make off with a large load of high-grade ore.  Well, it was a dastardly plot and the kid edged unseen from the canyon wall and headed to intercept the girl.

So the Kid finds the girl, kills Tompkins, saves the girl, shows her that her gun was full of blanks, and rides off to let the girl ride home by herself.  The girl is the beautiful Marion Turner, the daughter of the owner of the Bar-T-Bar ranch, as well as the owner of the supposedly played-out Blue Streak Mine.

When the Kid shows up in Pecos with a large wad to finance the eventual poker game with White, he is greeted by the sheriff who tells the Kid that he is his new deputy.  The Kid protests but the sheriff had heard from Marion's father that the Kid had been fleeing a killing, so the Kid either becomes a deputy or the sheriff will let the authorities know where he is.  It seems that Marion also told her father that the Kid could be deadly with a gun.  There had been a number of unexplained killings in the town, as well as accidents and misfortunes usually directed at Turner and his Blue Streak mine so the sheriff figured that, with the Kid on his side, he might be able to get to the bottom of everything.  The Kid reluctantly agrees to being deputized.

The Kid is honest and proud.  He is also quick-tempered and apt to take offense without thinking and then acting violently.  Not the best combination.  Could the love of a good woman help to soften his anger?  We shall see.

Marion is a good woman but she is also apt to draw rash conclusions.  She is clearly attracted to the Kid but does not know if he is a saint or a sinner.  She fears he may be a murderer on the run or, perhaps, a member of the gang who tried to kidnap her.  She spends much of the book all aflutter.

And then there's Laura, a childhood friend from his past and his first school-boy love-affair.  She had left hometown and somehow ended up in Pecos, working in White's Gila monster Saloon and Dance-Hall as a whore bargirl soiled dove.  The Kid still sees some purity in Laura and urges her to go back home to her Ma and Pa.  Laura is still in love with the Kid and would do almost anything for him except return home.

There is shooting and fighting and rip-roaring gunplay as the entire town of Pecos turns against the Kid.  Can he stop the baddies, clear his name, save Laura's father from financial ruin, and get his revenge on White?  It's safe to say the answer will be yes.

The story presumably takes place sometime in the 1890s (or thereabouts).  There are telephones but no automobiles, and there is dirt and dust and horses and guns and hanging rope -- just about everything you need for a rip-snorting western.

Author/editor Damon Knight once describes a type of book as having an "idiot plot," where the plot is furthered because the hero/heroine is an idiot.  That's what we have here.  Obvious conclusions are too remote for most of the characters, complications and misunderstandings should have been cleared up easily but are not, and too many people -- including the Kid -- are idiots. 

And then there's the dialogue.  To give it a true western flavor words like "here" and "there" are spoken as "heah" and "thear."  The final "g" is dropped from all gerunds; in the first four lines of page 57, for example, we have "implyin'," "implyin' nothin'," "sayin'," "goin'," and another "goin'."  "ain't is used instead of "isn't" by everyone and you find "I'" for "I'd" and "y'headed" for "you headed."  Words are crushed together, like "neveryoumind."  With tricks like these the reader knows he is in the "true" west.

But carping (or carpin') aside, I said that you have just about all you need for a rip-snorting western and that's what you have here.  Pure pulp and excitement.  So suspend your disbelief, sit back, and entire a time when men were men and women were women and cigarettes, whiskey and bullets flowed like the clear water from the River Boyne which runs through Leinster, Ireland

1 comment:

  1. I'm working on a Murray Leinster Project so it's great that you reminded me Leinster wrote more than SF. I have a couple of Leinster's westerns that I need to read. Nice review!