Re: RARA-AVIS: town tamer

Date: 16 May 2005


Re your question below:

> The Westlake discussion of a few days ago has me
> thinking about the subgenre
> of the town tamer novel. Red Harvest would have to
> be the granddaddy of them
> all. Anyone care to chime in with a few more
> essentials?

You apparently weren't paying attention when Dennis and I discussed the relative merits of RED HARVEST, partly touching on its having been the genesis of this sub-genre. Be that as it may:

Hammett actually did a couple of short story dress rehearsals for RED HARVEST. One is a non-series entry called "Nightmare Town," which I've never read. The other is an Op story called "Corkscrew," in which the Op gets himself appointed a deputy sheriff in order to carry out his assignment of cleaning up the titular Arizona cow town.

If you're limiting yourself to PI novels, here are a few.

SOLOMON'S VINEYARD (aka THE FIFTH GRAVE) by Jonathan Latimer Probably the best town-tamer PI novel of them all
(with the obvious exception of HARVEST), featuring St. Louis PI Karl Craven in his only appearance. Surprisingly grim, given Latimer's reputation as a writer of comically screw-balled hard-boiled crime novels featuring eternally lubricated op Bill Crane.

SABOTAGE By Cleve F. Adams PI Rex McBride, hired by an insurance company to look into shady doings at a Nevada mining town, cleans out the gangsters responsible for the larcenous shenanigans Op-style in the first of several HARVEST homages ("homage" is French for "rip-off") Adams did.

A TASTE FOR VIOLENCE by Brett Halliday Mike Shayne cleans up a Kentucky mining town in what is widely regarded as the best entry in the series.

FAREWELL, MY LOVELY by Raymond Chandler Actually, town-taming takes up very little of Marlowe's time in this book, but the fact remains that by the end of the novel, Bay City is, thanks to his efforts, a marginally less corrupt, mob-dominated suburb than it was at the beginning.

THE MISSING AND THE DEAD by Jack Lynch Shamus-nominated PBO which includes a sub-plot in which San Francisco PI Peter Bragg cleans up a Southwestern vice-ridden town a la HARVEST.

PALE KINGS AND PRINCES by Robert B. Parker Spenser's entry in the town-taming genre has the Boston op cleaning up a town dominated by a cocaine cartel.

THE TWISTED THING by Mickey Spillane Mike Hammer takes time out from his search for a missing boy genius to clean up a corrupt burg and give a righteous come-uppance to a particularly brutal and crooked cop named Dilwick. Though the ninth entry in the Hammer series to be published (in 1966), it was actually the second one written, some 20 years earlier.

THE SWEET RIDE by Richard S. Prather Shell Scott does the HARVEST thing in a mob-dominated town in Northern California.

If you're willing to include cop novels and stories, here are a few more.

"The Mopper-Up" by Horace McCoy BLACK MASK novellette about a Texas Ranger who cleans up an oil boom town overrun by gangsters.

BLACK GOLD by Frederic Bean Gangsters, specifically identified as colleagues of Lucky Luciano, take over a Texas oil boom town in this Prohibition-era set novel, also featuring a Texas Ranger as the town tamer.

Both of the above stories are loosely inspired by the real-life oil-town-taming exploits of Ranger Captain Frank Hamer, who'd later gain fame as the man who got Bonnie and Clyde.

ONE LAST TOWN by Matt Braun In the 1920's, frontier lawman Bill Tilghman is called out of retirement to tame the gangster-dominated Oklahoma oil boom town of Cromwell. Though fiction, this novel is closely based on Tilghman's actual experiences in Cromwell. Tilghman, arguably the greatest of the Old West peace officers (even Bat Masterson admitted as much), was a professional law enforcer almost continually for 50 years. He started out in the Wyatt Earp era (and by extension, the Owen Wister era) and was still doing it in the Eliot Ness era (and by extension, the Dashiell Hammett era). This novel became a well-made TV-movie called YOU KNOW MY NAME with Sam Elliott as Tilghman.

Braun's also written his own Texas Ranger prohibition-era town tamer novel, but the title escapes me at the moment.

HOOLIGANS by William Diehl Federal cop organizes a "special investigative unit" to clean out a Mafia family that's taken over a Georgia resort town, suddenly finds he must find a murderer as the mobsters get bumped off one by one in a weird, but enjoyable combination of RED HARVEST, THE UNTOUCHABLES, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, and AND THEN THERE WERE NONE.

HOT SPRINGS by Stephen Hunter WW2 Marine war hero is hired as a DA's investigator, primarily because of his combat skills, and leads a squad of young turks recruited from all over the country against the Eastern mob figures who've taken over the Arkansas resort town in a fact-based (though somewhat loosely) entry in Hunter's Swagger family saga. Couldn't put this one down.

That should get you started.


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