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Author: Max Brand
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Dix van Dyke gets on the badside of a mexican political mover and shaker, one Sheriff Onate. Kills the man’s brother in self-defense and Onate now has him in his sights.
Dix meets Jac Boone, better known as Jacqueline and she has the lucky cross that Red Pierre left her. She uses it to win at gambling but leads a lonely life as everyone who tries to get near her succumbs to the bad luck and dies. Dix is looking for adventure after getting run out of town and decides that Jackie and her bad luck to others is just the thing for him. Jac ditches him though, as she doesn’t want him to die. Dix chases after her.
Onate hires a killer indian, El Tigre, to hunt Dix down, after forcing the governor put a price on van Dyke’s head. El Tigre owes his life to Onate and so does what he says without question. He captures Jac and exchanges her for van Dyke. van Dyke saves El Tigre’s life, thus putting El Tigre in a bind. Who does he owe his life too now? Onate has the older debt so El Tigre turns van Dyke into the authorities.
Jac forces the governor, at gunpoint, to sign a pardon for van Dyke and takes off with it. Onate is informed and does his best to stop her and sets up a mob to kill van Dyke in jail. El Tigre hears about the plot through his daughter Dolores and frees van Dyke. They fight their way free but El Tigre is killed. Dolores sets out with van Dyke because she is intrigued by the man who gave himself up for a woman. Jac trails them and thinks that van Dyke has hooked up with Dolores. van Dyke leaves Dolores and makes up with Jacqueline. Onate hires a bunch of mercenaries to protect him and kidnaps van Dyke’s kid brother as insurance. Dolores, who has this very odd love/hate relationship with Onate, rescues the brother just to see what van Dyke will do. She goes to Onate’s house and begins haranguing him about what she did and what she thinks van Dyke is going to do. She promises to stay with Onate as long as he keeps her in a lavish lifestyle as long as he’s a live. All this time van Dyke is up on the roof of the house preparing to kill Onate. When he realizes what a hell of a life Onate has created for himself, he slips away and marries Jacqueline.
This was as close to a direct sequl to Riders of the Silences as you could get. The lucky/unlucky cross plays a much bigger part though. van Dyke’s obsession with breaking it’s power is fun to watch, even though he ultimately fails (Jacqueline leaves it by the end of the story).
The dirty politics, the personal hatreds, the romantic angles, the chases and captures, jailings and rescues, they all lined up perfectly for me. Much like a poolshark, Brand sets things up in what appears to be a haphazard arrangement only to smash them all into the pockets with one well placed shot.
Brand has a philosophy of the genders for these westerns and when I read the following paragraph, it seemed to sum it quite well. Every interaction between his male and female characters are predicated on this idea:
“Chivalry wears no plumes, and knighthood bears no title, but there gallantry is a reality and not a name. To the Southwesterner a good woman is daughter or sister or mother. She can eat his food, ride his horse, draw his revolver and even share his bunk. Yet she will not draw a whisper of suspicion until by her own act she confesses that she is not of the elect. Such an act is the entry of a place like this one of Jerry Conklin’s in the Double Bend.”
~ chapter II
As long as you read these stories through that lens, you will like what Max Brand writes. If you can’t accept the above premise, then you’re doomed to failure and might as well cast yourself into the stygian pits of darkness right now and just get it over with.