When young Chuck MacAuliffe’s father and two brothers went off to fight for Texas in the Civil War, he was left as the man of the family. Just a boy of twelve, he did a find job. At war’s end, they came home, dad minus one arm and a son, his wife, Chuck’s mother, having died, and Jack was suddenly thrust back into the role of child. He chafed under that, but went along. Dad was a powerful personality

Now it’s two more years later and the MacAuliffe family has a cattle drive going to try to make recoup some of their losses. Twenty a head seems to be the going rate and with 1200 head, it’s worth the effort.

They’re frustrated every step of the way. Marauders try to take the herd with trickery, are sniffed out, and upset. Angry Kansas farmers, backed by the law, repel them at the borders, not wanting those Texas cattle infected with the “fever” to invade their lands. The fever is real, in Texas they call it Spanish or Mexican fever. But it seems a little to pat as they are continually rebuffed. And there are always those Yankees that come along willing to take those diseased animals off their hands for three dollars a head.

Chuck finds his “maturity tested by the mysterious southern belle, Amanda Netherton, and her wounded father, encountered along the trail in pursuit of one band of murdering thieves.

Then Chuck suddenly finds himself in the role of being the cool one, the herd gone, the crew in jail, him injured, fines facing him and the crew. He has to come up with a plan to catch the murderers, get the herd back, deal with everything without becoming the same outlaws with which he’s dealing. There’s also the southern belle, revealed as part of the perfidy. And there’s a second young woman, the Sheriff’s daughter.

Donald Hamilton is perhaps best known as the author of the Matt Helm series, sadly out of print these days. Fortunately I have a complete set. And there is one last novel Hamilton was never able to get published before his death. the last I heard his son wasn’t ready to see it published. Whatever that means. It might be a good fit for Hardcase Crime someday.

TEXAS FEVER was published by Gold Medal the same year, 1961, as the first Helm novel, DEATH OF A CITIZEN. Not sure which was first. The copy I have is a hardcover by Walker and Company from 1981.

A good one.