CriminOlly thinks: Clichéd but solidly enjoyable 50s western. 4/5
Title: The Forgotten Gun | Author: Marvin H Albert | Publisher: Gold Medal | Pages: 140 | Publication date: 1959 | Source: Self-purchased | Content warnings: No | Tolerance warning: Yes
‘The Reformed Gun’ is a forgotten western from the 1950s, one of thousands of slim paperbacks with colourful covers and engaging titles that filled the shelves at one time but have now fallen very much out of fashion. Whilst crime fiction has proven perennially popular, westerns seem to have had their day. That is perhaps understandable, the tropes of manly white men protecting their womenfolk from Native Americans and Mexicans certainly feel horrifically dated. Although you could argue that the protective man mantle has been ably picked up by the likes of ‘The Walking Dead’’.
I came to the book in a roundabout way. Quentin Tarantino’s masterful movie ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ features a cowboy novel called ‘Ride a Wild Bronc’ which is read by Leonard Di Caprio’s character. The book doesn’t exist, but Tarantino’s novelisation of his film contains a fake advert for it which attributes it to Marvin H Albert. A bit of web searching revealed that Albert was a real author who published a load of westerns, detective novels and thrillers under various names from the 50s up until the 90s. He also penned a lot of movie novelisations, including the one for ‘The Untouchables’, which I’m pretty sure I read back in the 80s.
That’s a long introductory ramble for a review of a short book. The good news is, it’s a good book! Plot-wise it’s fairly simple. Concho Reynolds is a young gunfighter with a chequered past he wants to leave behind. When he gets involved in a feud between two ranchers he not only has to pick a side, but also decide if some causes are worth picking up his gun again for.
The prose in ‘The Reformed Gun’ isn’t always great, there are a lot of repeated words and it can be clumsy and stilted at times. Fortunately the story and characters more than make up for that. The book might be full of clichés (the troubled young man trying to prove himself; the gruff, settled father figure who comes to trust and guide him), but they are clichés that work. Concho’s struggle to do the right thing is convincing and gripping. The book uses action scenes sparingly but well. Every time a pistol is drawn or a rifle cocked I found that I cared about the outcome.
It’s not a book that will give you massive insight into the human condition, but as a tense, enjoyable thriller it’s a lot of fun. Certainly it was good enough to make me want to read more of Albert’s books. And more westerns for that matter.
Concho mounted his horse and rode off without a word. In his pocket was one silver dollar and on his hip was a gun he could steel for hundreds of dollars. The gun he had sworn to never use again.
Content Warning: None
Tolerance Warning: Sexist tropes