Monday, 6 December 2010

Sudden: Outlawed and out of print

Last week I hit the literary jackpot. I did not win a literary prize, in case you think I did. But it was close enough. I am referring to the acquisition of two rare western novels, both Sudden, by Oliver Strange. The Sudden series were published by Corgi Books of London, UK, in the middle of the last century. Strange wrote 10 novels and no more; though, the Sudden legacy was continued by writer Frederick Nolan who penned five more books under the pseudonym Frederick H. Christian. He did a fine job on the character created by Strange.

Now Sudden, as you know, refers to Oliver Strange’s hero James Green, the Texas outlaw, who earns the nickname because of the quick draw of his twin guns. Green is branded for crimes he did not commit while on his travels through the Wild West in search of two men who, he believes, cheated the man who raised him. With only his horse for company, the gunfighter moves from one dusty town to another, to fulfill the promise he made to the dying old man.

Predictably, Sudden’s journey is not without adventure: he makes lasting friends and forgettable enemies—the former stick by him, the latter want to stick it into him. He rescues ordinary and peace-loving ranch owners and their families and their cattle from being preyed upon by crooked gamblers, sheriffs and landowners. He’s also “wanted” in nearly every town in Texas and beyond, where gunslingers challenge him to the draw, if only to prove they are quicker than Sudden.

But no one, not even his friends, know that Green carries an ace up his sleeve, rather wears a badge on his vest—he is Deputy Marshal United States working directly under the authority of Governor Bleke of Arizona for whom he runs many an anti-crime errand, a modern-day James Bond. It’s an irony that he fights on the side of the very law that wants to string him up. Green rarely flashes his badge and never misuses it.

An interesting titbit about Oliver Strange is that he was born in England and, apparently, never travelled to the Wild West, and yet his graphic description of the American landscape is close to the real thing.

Coming back to my prize catch, I picked up Sudden: Goldseeker by Oliver Strange and Sudden at Bay by Frederick H. Christian for Rs 50 (a little over a dollar) and Rs 180 (around $4), respectively, from the pavements of south Bombay. Although out of print since the early 1980s, Sudden continues to be in great demand, and readers and collectors of western novels, especially of the rare kind, will fork out any money to buy them. I have often wondered why Corgi never reintroduced them with snazzier jackets and printing, like the present-day Louis L'Amour novels.

Hopefully, Sudden hasn't drifted into the setting sun and will be back someday, with both guns blazing.

Sudden in Sequence

By Oliver Strange

  1. Sudden - Outlawed (1935)
  2. Sudden (1933)
  3. The Marshal of Lawless (1933)
  4. Sudden - Goldseeker (1937)
  5. Sudden Rides Again (1938)
  6. Sudden Takes the Trail (1940)
  7. Sudden Makes War (1942)
  8. Sudden Plays a Hand (1950)
  9. The Range Robbers (1930)
10. The Law O' The Lariat (1931)

By Frederick H. Christian

1. Sudden Strikes Back (1966)
2. Sudden - Troubleshooter (1967)
3. Sudden at Bay (1968)
4. Sudden - Apache Fighter (1969)
5. Sudden - Dead or Alive! (1970)

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