When I started reading THE SANTA DOLORES STAGE for this forgotten books post, I had no idea James Reasoner had already covered one of the Hashknife Hartley novels. Somehow I completely missed it, or forgot it and he explains the character so much better than I could. So I urge you to read this and get the flavor of the character.
There’s about fifty pages of set-up before Hashknife and his partner, Sleepy Stevens, enter the picture. James observed the same thing in his review, which makes me wonder if that was standard in Tuttle’s books.
It opens with three men fleeing a posse after hitting a stage for two hundred pounds of gold. One had been hit bad and was dying. They managed to temporarily elude the posse and the wounded man led them to a small cabin. They were packing up to flee when they hear cries and find two babies. In conversation, the wounded man, addressed as Spike, extracts a promise from the other two, Steve and Ed, to look after the babies.
They beat it out the back door as the posse arrives and run amidst a hail of bullets as they’re chased. The gold laden horse heads down a different trail and they don’t have time to catch it. All they get away with are the babies and three cans of milk.
All that is characterized as happening many years before.
Then we see an older rancher, Jim McGowan, fifty-one, asking a man for permission to marry his daughter, twenty year old Mary. The man’s name is Steve Pelliser. Mary has no interest, instead liking the young deputy, Pink Lowry, and uses the young man to fend off a dance invitation from the older rancher. Later that night, walking in the dark, someone takes a shot at Pink and he returns fire at the gun flash, sixty feet away, improbably hitting his target. Which just happens to be Jim McGowan. The boy is found innocent because of self defense at the inquest, which doesn’t sit well with the dead man’s brother.
At the same time, young William Allan McGill(Wild Bill) learns something after his father, the town doctor, dies. In going through his dad’s papers, he finds a series of letters from someone addressed only as Ed, talking about turning the boy over to his parents as they could do a better job of raising him. Now he wants to find out who he really is and sets off to the town the letters came from, Willer Wells.
Raised in eastern schools, he’s somewhat of a tenderfoot. That’s where Hashknife and Sleepy come in, rescuing him from a couple of con men.
In short order, the banker, Edward Hanes, is killed and young Bill accused. A man in a hood breaks him out of jail just ahead of a lynch mob, the hooded man robs the bank, rustling is going on.
And it’s up to Hashknife to figure it all out. Sleepy helps of course, but Hashknife is the detective her. i can see James’ comparison to Columbo in the folksy manner he goes about asking his questions.
The copy I have is a British large print edition, having been part of the Tower Hamlets Public Library. The cover of the original edition is to the left.
For other forgotten books, check out PATTINASE.