FOUR MUST DIE, which, as it turned out—thanks to some excellent background from James Reasoner—was the one book in the paperback series not written by Scott. But I loved the character so I immediately followed-up by reading KILLER’S DOOM, another novel in the paperback series, this time actually written by Scott himself.
But Walt Slade got his start in the pulps. He was an honest-to-God pulp hero, his adventures gracing most covers of Thrilling Western. If you read James Reasoner’s short history of this character, you’ll learn Scott took Slade out of the pulps and reformulated him for the emerging paperback book audience. Having read two novels—with dozens more to go—I was quite curious about one of his pulp stories.
Last week, I stopped into one of the local Bedrock City comic stores here in Houston because I knew the owner sold pulps. I hoped he would have any issue of Thrilling Western and I was in luck. He had a handful and I bought the May 1947 issue. The Walt Slade story in question was “The Haunted Legion”—and the cover font was that old scary font from the 1940s! What was the pulp version of Slade like?
Well, what immediately jumped out at me were the illustrations. As usual with the pulps, pencil illustrations accompanied nearly every story. With “The Haunted Legion” being the cover story, it had more than a few. I’m not sure who the illustrator was, but his take on Slade was pretty much as described by Scott and how I pictured him. So far, so good.
As the story being, Slade is down at Matagorda Bay, Texas, and before you know it, we get ourselves a story. It’s told by an old Mexican who relates the tale of Black Mora. And when I say he tells the story, I’m talking almost a full first chapter in which the POV actually switching to Mora himself and the legend of this pirate captain and the ghosts that walk the region. Twas a tad odd, but it certainly captured the mood, especially considering Bradford Scott’s penchant for flowery descriptions.
No sooner does Slade hear this story than his eyes catch sight of a group of men on horseback. It’s stormy and he only sees them when the lightening flashes once. The next time electricity illuminates the sky, they are gone. But there is also a major bonfire. A nearby house and barn are engulfed in flames. How? And might the two things be related?
Well, of course they are.
A key difference in this pulp story versus the paperback stories literally jumped off the page: language. In “The Haunted Legion,” Slade talks just like most other characters, and Bradford Scott writes the dialogue using phonically spelled words: Figger, mebbe, yuh, etc. I don’t remember Slade’s dialogue being that way in the two books I’ve read so far. It made Slade seem dumber and, frankly, it irritated me a little. I got used to it, but I guess I just like my heroes to sound smart.
There’s a good dose of gunfights and action, but there was a surprising level of mere investigation. Like a good traditional mystery, Bradford Scott laid out the clues for the reader and the clever one might have been able to deduce the culprit. I didn’t, but then I wasn’t trying to. But Slade gets to tell the local sheriff—another dumb lawman, but one who is loyal to Slade—all the clues that led him to discover the owlhoot. Were it not for his clothes, Slade could easily have come across as a detective from England. It was clever and wrapped up the story neatly.
All the traits that readers enjoy about Slade is on display here, including his fast guns, clever brain, and singing voice. He is a very enjoyable character and I’ll happily be reading more of his adventures. I liked the short form of this story pretty well. It’s an eight-chapter story, and, in true pulp form, each chapter has three sub-sections. They are easily identified by a large first letter and small caps in the first couple of words. It’s pure formula, but when you like something, you can simply consume it and be satisfied. I was satisfied with “The Haunted Legion,” and I may have to make a return trip back to Bedrock City and buy the rest of the magazines.