Wednesday, February 16, 2022

QUICK SHOTS: Fargo #7: Valley of the Skulls by John (Ben Haas) Benteen

It's really damned surprising that it's taken me this long to talk about a Fargo novel on the blog. I've really had a blind spot in my reading history with westerns, it's something I plan on working on this year (because of a project I'm working on) and I'm sure you (the reader) will see more and more westerns being reviewed, especially because I've been buying 'em the bucketful. John Benteen was the guy that started turning me around on westerns. Not that I ever disliked them, I just usually got my western fix from the movies. But it's nearly impossible not to like Fargo if you are into action/adventure fiction. The series is damned near perfection after all. 

Ben Haas was a writer who could do about anything, westerns, Doctor romances, espionage tales, sports, fantast, humor, a pro's pro. He could do them all well too. I don't think it was possible for him to not string the right lines together. And after a try-out writing Lassiter #5 "A Hell of a Way to Die," Haas turned his gunsights toward creating his own hero, I use the term loosely, in Fargo for Belmont-Tower. Now, I'm sure most of you know that Fargo owes a lot to Fardan as played by Lee Marvin in 1966's "The Professionals." Right down to the campaign hat. Plus Frank O'Rourke's novel its based on. But there's more Fargo's, so who's winning?

"The Valley of the Skulls" is in the wild and wooly Fargo mold. It sends the soldier of fortune down to Mexico at the behest of an asshole millionaire in order drag the millionaire's son-and-a solid gold cannon out the jungle from a temple of skulls build by the ancient Mayans. To do it he joins up with a dangerous English gunman and his private army, tangles with the decedents of the Mayan's, the nature of the jungle, asshole sons of asshole millionaires, scientist just trying to do stuff for science, pretty scientist daughters and falls in love with a cannon. Along the way he gets plenty of opportunity to use the cut-down Fox shotgun that Teddy Roosevelt gave him and his Colt .38 Army, not to mention the solid gold cannon. Fargo is a real hardcase, but he's nearly superhuman in his capabilities in every situation, but never much worried about 'ol Fargo, it's his enemies you got to worry for. 

The only problem with this book is that it ended. Well, it did seem a little rushed towards then end (it's a pretty thin spined entry in the series) but Haas still managed to wrap everything up nicely. If you are kind of put off by westerns, I'd still recommend Fargo to you. Sometimes the books are more traditional westerns and sometimes they are pure adventure stories. They feel to me like a spiritual cousin to Peter McCurtin's Jim Rainey-Mercenary books. An ultra-tough man goes around the globe with guns and problems to solve for hard cash. Haas is one of the best paperback writers. The original editions are sometimes hard to track down (there's a few individual titles that seem to be more common) but luckily Piccadilly Publishing has republished the Haas books in the series (there's a few outliers) as eBooks. The also published "A Hack's Notebook" Haas's unfinished autobiography that is a fun, interesting read that should be on your bookshelf. Oh, the all the Fargo's should be too.

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