Saturday, March 31, 2018
A Detective With a Six-Shooter: Longarm and the Border Wildcat
Scott D. Parker
Mysteries don't always happen in big cities or the English countryside. Sometimes they occur in the Old West.
Custis Long, U.S. Marshall, was the star of 436 monthly westerns and most of these titles involved some sort of mystery. Written by many different authors, the Longarm novels penned by James Reasoner (as this one is) focused on a central mystery Longarm had to solve, and this story was no different. In the 229th adventure, Longarm acquires a partner in the most Longarm-ish way possible: a fight over a woman.
Just as the voluptuous red-headed Anne Marie is about to lead Longarm up some stairs to her boudoir, a bearded, beefy hombre questions the federal lawman about his intentions with "my girl." The brawl ensues and both men get in their licks under the man, Lazarus Coffin, produces his Texas Ranger badge. Longarm laughs and trumps the state badge with his federal one. It is only then they realize they are both in Del Rio, Texas, for the same reason: to provide security during a delicate negotiation between diplomats from America and Mexico.
This being an adult western, naturally there is yet another woman. She is Sonia Guiterrez, sultry daughter of the Mexican diplomat, Don Alfredo. She in openly wanton in her wants and desires and she teases just about every man in every scene in which she appears. Naturally, her father is unaware, but Coffin and Longarm aren't. Thus begins a rivalry between the two men to see who can bed the temptress. Guess who wins.
Another factor is at play in this story: a mysterious marauder, El Aguila. The local owlhoots who ride through the streets and shoot up the town are alleged to be members of his gang. That may be so, but if they are his men, the leader himself proves too elusive.
Longarm and Coffin chaff at the boredom of standing guard while the diplomats negotiate, but that lull is quickly dispatched when El Agulia's gang again rides into town. This time, however, they kidnap Sonia. When asked why she was out of her hotel room, Longarm doesn't answer that he and Sonia were having a rendezvous in an alley.
Naturally, the two lawmen must pursue the kidnappers and bring back the lovely Sonia. Along the way, they meet El Aguila himself, sling lead with the bandits, and uncover the truth behind the entire scheme.
As always, these Longarm westerns are fun, action-packed, and a joy to read. I especially enjoyed the interplay between the more cautious and reasoned Longarm and the brash Coffin. I emailed Reasoner and asked if Coffin ever showed up again in a future Longarm novel he wrote. He said no, so this is your one and only time to meet the big Ranger.
Speaking of Ranger, I also got a smile on my face when Reasoner namedropped "Jim Hatfield" as one of the Texas Rangers Longarm wished had been sent to Del Rio. Hatfield was the lead character written by Bradford Scott in the old pulp magazine TEXAS RANGER. Speaking of old pulp characters, there's another one hidden in plain sight. Read this book and see if you can identify the character.
If you want something different than your typical detective or mystery novel characters, give Longarm a try. I'll bet you read more than one.