Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Three fine novels from Richard Matheson & Forge

It appears that Forge is reissuing many Richard Matheson books in attractive trade editions that only enhance the quality and superiority of the books themselves.

Hunted Past Reason is a remarkable suspense novel because it shows what a master can do with a relatively simple story. Screenwriter Bob Hansen asks his friend Doug Crowley if he can accompany him on a three-day camping trip for research. Doug's an accomplished outdoorsman. The reward for Bob is that his wife Marian will meet them at the end of their trip.

But there's something Bob doesn't realize--Doug, an actor who can't get work, blames Bob for not helping him with his career. Entirely irrational but that's how Bob's rolling these days. And his irrationality only grows on the trip, grows to the point where he not only attacks Bob but then tells him they'll have a contest to see who reaches the cabin first. Doug's plan is to stalk and kill his former friend. Bob, alone, sometimes lost, unwise in the ways of nature, must fight not only the daunting forest but various attempts by Doug to murder him.

This is one of Matheson's most powerful novels. Not a word wasted, not a scene rung false, not a plot twist predictable. Major Matheson.


Richard Matheson once said that he doesn't consider himself a horror writer or science fiction writer or suspense but just "a writer." He demonstrates why with these westerns. How can you categorize a man who can write virtually anything and do so with great innovation and skill?

The first of these westerns won the Spur award for Best Novel in its year. Journal of The Gun Years tell the life story, in journal form, of gunfighter Clay Halser and how he drifted through the west after a brief bitter return to his home after the Civil War caused him to encounter just about every kind of trouble a frontier man could run up against. The most stunning aspect of the story is how Matheson eschews the cliches of the standard western and show us the effects of gunfighting has on a single life. By book's end we're in a kind of Conradian madness unequaled in western novels.

The Memoirs of Wild Bill Hitchcock debunks the numerous myths about the famous man. Here Matheson looks at how the journalism and dime novels of the time took their toll on Hitchcock. You can smell the smoke and whiskey and perfume of the dives he hung out in; and you can see how minor incidents became the stuff of legend. Expert storytelling and a fascinating take on the real old west.

Hunted Past Reason and Legends of The Gun Years are Matheson at his best. If you've somehow never read Matheson, here's a good place to start.


Randy Johnson said...

I have all three books in individual editions and enjoyed them tremendously. I can't remember reading any Matheson that I didn't find satisfying.

Anonymous said...

Matheson had a few other westerns -- BY THE GUN (a collection of western shorts), THE GUNFIGHT and SHADOW ON THE SUN (a western-horror hybrid). These three, along with the aforementioned two, are immensely readable. One of Matheson's strengths has always been characterization, and that asset is on full display in these works.

~ Ron C.

Anonymous said...

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