This may surprise some of those who know me well. I was introduced to J T Edson while I was a schoolkid, in the last two or three years of high school. He was a Western fanatic, and also introduced me to the vastly different, brutally violent Edge books, by George G Gilman (just one pseudonym of Terry Harknett, a UK author). The Edge series never really held me. That kind of bloodthirstiness simply isn’t me. J T Edson, on the other hand, wrote what I like to think of as being very classic “John Wayne” westerns. There was also a certain fascination for a young lad in his detailed descriptions of various firearms. Interestingly, he was another Western author from the UK!
I have read several of his books, but, sadly, time has robbed me of the titles of any of them. What I can say is that I thoroughly enjoyed them. The memory of pleasure lasts much longer than the detail behind it. If Edson lacked one thing, it was the ability to create lyrical titles such as the great Louis L’Amour used (One of his titles has remained with me for decades: Under the Sweetwater Rim). But back to Edson! His books contained ample ‘rip-roaring’ fight scenes and a proper definition between the good guys and the bad, the ‘White Hats’ and the ‘Black Hats’ (though one or two of his female characters were less clearly definable). He also made use of continuity, with many characters included in most of his book, or their descendants. There’s a tricky aspect of his novels the unwary must watch for: he would weave real, or legendary, characters into some of his tales, as ‘guest stars’. Obviously, these must be discounted completely. They’re there for fun, and to hint at an authenticity that doesn’t truly exist. Then, too, some of these guests appear because they would have been involved, if the tales had been true. One thing that Edson seemed to stress was the fact that the women were, very often, as wild and untamed, as lethal, as their menfolk – if not more so – with numerous ‘cat fights’ that it would probably have taken a whole police force or army to break up! He may well have derived a particular pleasure from such scenes, of course, considering that fights of this nature couldn’t be envisioned as the participants remaining decently clad for very long. I guess I was truly naive when I was reading Edson’s books – as, in truth, the guns and gunplay remained my sole interest in the stories.
If you like a good Western yarn, then you’ll likely enjoy J T Edson. I must issue a caution, here, though! There are occasions when his writing crosses into racial politics in a way that does nothing to make him a man to admire! He may have been simply reflecting an unpalatable reality given the period involved, but I am most definitely not qualified to express an opinion on that.