Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Mystery and Action in Hashknife of the Double Bar 8 by W.C. Tuttle

Author, blogger and good guide to Western fiction, James Reasoner, several times has mentioned writer W.C. Tuttle as a favorite.

In one of his posts, he said:

“I love W.C. Tuttle's work for its irresistible blend of mystery, comedy, and Western action...”

And that is exactly how I feel about Hashknife of the Double Bar 8.

Looking for something light and breezy to read last Christmas season, I picked up a copy of this book and enjoyed every page of it.

Tuttle wrote a series of short stories and novels featuring Hashknife Hartley and his sidekick, Sleepy Stevens. They were a couple of cowboys who were also crime fighters and mystery solvers in a current day West – about 1920, in this case.

In this book, Jimmy Legg, a young clerk from San Francisco, quits his job and goes to Arizona to become a cowboy. He arrives in the town of Blue Wells the same night a gang of men hold up a train and steal a local mine’s payroll. Suspicion falls on Jimmy, the stranger in town.

Who stole the money, and who is trying to kill Jimmy are just two of the mysteries Hashknife and Sleepy set out to solve.

Tuttle takes the first third of the book setting up the story before introducing the two cowpokes who are gaining a reputation in the region for figuring out puzzling crimes. And, while they crack the case, the other main characters, Jimmy and Marion Taylor, the lovely daughter of a rancher, meet, have a few laughs, find themselves in danger, and fall in love.

Marion’s attention to Jimmy does not go over well with two big tough suitors, further complicating the story.

Tuttle’s novel has plenty of action and a good deal of humor, mostly concerning city-boy Jimmy’s learning the ropes of cow punching.

The story also features some comical cowhands, a shady lawyer, a dim sheriff, a tough ranch foreman, and a stray dog who adopts Jimmy.

Reading the book, it was clear Tuttle had introduced Hashknife Hartley and Sleepy Stevens in earlier short stories. Not a lot of information about them is given in this novel. Jimmy and Marion are really the main characters here.

W.C. (Wilbur Coleman) Tuttle (1883–1969) wrote regularly for the pulp magazines of his day, contributing dozens of stories about Hashknife and Sleepy and other series characters. 

A couple of postscripts here: I had to Google “hash knife” to find out what it was. It was a cowboy’s multipurpose cooking tool. 

The copyright page in the book I read had a 1936 date, but I believe this story was originally published in 1920. In the novel, Arizona is referred to as a state, so the setting, while still feeling like the old West, must have been sometime after 1912, when the territory became a state.

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