Monday, 17 September 2012

Sudden Rides Again

He rode a horse as black as night. He wore two guns tied low, the butts worn as smooth as the leather they nestled in. He was a tall, capable man heading into the Arizona badlands, moving towards trouble.

He was James Green: gunfighter, killer, and murderer — a man with the kind of reputation that made men flinch when his eyes met theirs, that stilled hands on their way to holstered Colts.

He was an outlaw, heading for a deadly double-agent's game in an outpost of hell itself!


In case you're figuring out who wrote those lines it was British writer Oliver Strange who, in my opinion, created one of the most memorable fictional characters of the Wild West—James Green alias Sudden, the Texas outlaw. I have read western fiction by numerous authors but nowhere have I come across a more romanticised western gunfighter than Strange’s quiet, brave hero. 

If I were to compare James Green to anyone, off the top of my head, it would be Flint (Louis L'Amour) and Shane (Jack Schaefer).

The above passage is the blurb on the back cover of the fifth book in the series Sudden Rides Again (1938) which begins thus, “It may be that I’m sending you to your death.”

What makes the novels of Oliver Strange so special is that the Englishman, apparently, never travelled to America and wrote about the daring exploits of Sudden from his imagination. As I said in an earlier post on Sudden, the author’s graphic description of the American landscape, its towns, its people, its cowboys, its ranches, and its gunfights is close to the real thing.

I remain fascinated by the Sudden series for another reason: the lingo, the slang, the colloquialism. I don’t know if English in the Wild West was spoken the way Strange tells it in his novels, but I have never come across anything quite like it in other western fiction.


Here are a few samples of conversation from Sudden Rides Again, courtesy Corgi Books:

[1]

“I said for yu to put yore paws up,” came a rough reminder.

“Shore yu did, but my hoss needs ’em—he ain’t no catamount,” the other retorted, as he picked a way down the decline. “Allasame, I’d as lief break my neck as be shot.”
 

[2]

(Young Holt to Sudden) “Bin lookin’ for you all over,” he began. “They aim to git you to-night in there—a gunman named Butch has come a-purpose. Muley got drunk this arternoon an’ he’s bin tellin’ everybody to come to yore funeral.”

[3]

(Frosty to Sudden) Any idjut can look an’ laff,” he greeted. “Why don’t yu do somethin’, yu perishin’—ornament?”

“The Double K has dispensed with my services,” Sudden reminded. “Anybody out here with you?”


[4]

(Sudden to his black stallion) “Nigger, it’s goin’ to be dead easy—to break my fool neck.”

[5]

“Ain’t leavin’ us, are you Jim” (the sheriff of Red Rock) asked (Sudden).

“Shore am, an’ sorry to be,” the puncher told him.

“They let you go?’


“It warn’t easy; the Colonel an’ Mart made me han’some offers, Jeff an’ Frosty damn near pulled guns on me, an’ Miss Joan cried, which was wuss’n all.”

“Then why in the nation…?”

“Somebody’s waitin’ for me in Tucson.”

Dealtry thought he understood. “An’ she’ll be anxious, huh?”

Sudden grinned, “Yo’re way off the trail, sheriff. The person waitin’ for me is a shortish, middle-aged fella, with grey hair an’ a persuasive manner. They call him ‘Bleke,’ an’ he can be—times.”

“The Governor?”

“Yeah, an’ he’ll be wonderin’ if he oughta send a wreath.”

“So you’re from him? You kept it mighty close.”

“I’m the third.” He told the fate of his predecessors. “I expect they talked too much.”

The sheriff breathed hard. “An’ we thought he was doin’ nothing,” he said. “I’ll bet he’ll be pleased with you.”

“Just a shake an’ a ‘Well done, Jim
 ,” but I reckon them’s the best words a man can hear in this li’l ol’ world.” 

If you’re familiar with James Green alias Sudden then you’ll know that he isn’t responsible for any of the crimes pinned on him. Folks call him Sudden because he’s fast with his guns and there’s always a gunslinger waiting to prove he isn’t. He is Mr. Dependable who goes from one town to another, one ranch to another, and helps good people fight injustice and evil-doers. You'll enjoy his sardonic humour. Sudden, endowed with boyish good looks, is an honest man who plays straight with friend and foe. He is cool headed and has a unique ability of getting out of a blind alley. He rarely says who he really is. Folks usually discover he is Sudden when he is forced to draw, the bullet from one of his twin guns travelling faster than the eyes can blink. He is often sheriff and seldom mentions that he is also Deputy Marshal United States, a troubleshooter for Governor Bleke of Arizona.  

Behind it all is his true mission: to get the two men who got the man who raised him...a promise he made to a dying man, a promise he keeps in The Range Robbers.

For the uninitiated, Oliver Strange wrote ten Sudden novels while English writer 
Frederick Nolan wrote five more books under the assumed name of Frederick H. Christian and did notable justice to Strange's writing style as well as to the legacy of the Texas outlaw.

15 comments:

  1. I've never read one of these, but I bet I'd enjoy them. I looked at them on Amazon at one point but they were very pricy.

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    1. Charles, you'll definitely enjoy SUDDEN, especially Strange's description of the Wild West territory. Corgi Books came out with several reprints until early 1980. Since then, the series has probably become one of the most expensive westerns—used novels in India are going for as much as Rs 400 ($8) and more. I recently picked up a couple of them including SUDDEN RIDES AGAIN for Rs.10 each (less than 25 cents) only because the roadside seller didn't know its worth. I can imagine what they're selling for on Amazon. SUDDEN has a considerable following among my generation.

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  2. I'll be looking for these--thanks for sharing! Brilliant dialogue...

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    1. F.T. Bradley, you're welcome and I hope you get to read some of the SUDDEN novels soon. I agree, the dialogues are brilliant. Here's another one from SUDDEN RIDES AGAIN.

      When four men stand in the path of a girl in a saloon, Sudden says ominously, "Go ahead, ma'am; if anyone gets in yore way yu'll only have to step over him."

      All the Sudden books are replete with such dialogue.

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  3. Thanks Prashant for this wonderful recollection and write-up. I have read all of Sudden's adventures including a couple or so by Frederick Christian and owned them too - lost regretably to lending to people who never cared to return them! Learnt myself a lesson - I don't lend my prized books anymore.

    Also, inspite of having read all SUDDEN books, never knew that Oliver Strange was British! Thanks for this info.

    Am already on the lookout for re-populating my library with these and other books I have lost to "friends"!

    Sudhir Mundkur

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    1. Sudhir, I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'm always amazed at how many Indians read SUDDEN in their youth. He was, and still is, popular among our generation. New reprints by Corgi, if they are still around, or any other publisher would have resurrected Sudden for new readers. I have eight titles in the series which, by a stroke of fortune, I bought for less than Rs.100. In fact, I purchased SUDDEN RIDES AGAIN for a piffling Rs.10! The rate on Amazon is anywhere between $15 and $100. Shocking but true.

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  4. Not an author I'm familiar with Prashant - but there were many British writers at around that time, incluing James Hadley Chase and Peter Cheyney, who used slang dictionaries and maps to write in the American idiom - the results were 'mixed' shall we say, but the pulp fiction trade inevitably encouraged this kind of work. Fascinating extracts, thanks!

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    1. Sergio, if you ever dig into westerns, then I recommend Oliver Strange in the top 10. I read nearly all Chase novels in college and quite a few by Cheyney though I have lost touch with the latter's work. I particularly enjoyed reading Chase, who was René Lodge Brabazon Raymond in real life, and vaguely remember that his fiction lacked the graphic description of crimes that we see in crime-fiction by other writers. Good fun, though.

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  5. Had first read a passage in a comprehension text book, and later in high school (early/mid 1990s), while reading the Range Robbers...found that the passage was from this book. I think the Range robbers is the best of the lot and the perfect place to start. Have read it so many times! i tried to go through all the books, but could not find many of them.
    Finally, last month, stumbled on a cache of them on the internet. Have been re-reading them again. After almost 15+ years. I wonder why they were not made into a movie or a series!!

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    1. Kamlesh, thanks for your response. SUDDEN was inauguably the most popular western series in India, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, before the paperbacks disappeared altogether. I agree, THE RANGE ROBBERS, which incidentally Oliver Strange wrote long before he wrote the other books, is definitely the best of his ten novels; though, my own favourite has always been THE MARSHAL OF LAWLESS. I have always wondered why Corgi didn't reprint them well into the 1990s and 2000s—they'd have sold like hot cakes. I'd have preferred a western movie based on Sudden rather than a TV series.

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    2. Some time in the '80's Westerns (both books and movies) went out of fashion, and political correctness had a lot to do with it. I've kept my collection of Sudden books. The price stamp on one of them says "Rs.3.50" (!), purchased as a new paperback from a railway bookstore back in 1973.

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    3. Some time in the '80's Westerns (both books and movies) went out of fashion, and political correctness had a lot to do with it. I've kept my collection of Sudden books. The price stamp on one of them says "Rs.3.50" (!), purchased as a new paperback from a railway bookstore back in 1973.

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  6. I cannot understand the reason why Sudden seems to be known only to readers from India but that is the feeling I get whenever I google Sudden! (I am from India). I LOVE these books and got them in Bangalore first from a cousin's house and later from the used books stalls on the roads of Majestic and Shivajinagar in Bangalore. Thanks to abebooks.com, I got all 15 of them (some are old hardbound editions!) and read them every year! the joy is the same as when I read for the first time! There is no other western as exciting and good as the Sudden series for me!

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    1. Indian Curry, thanks for visiting and commenting. I feel the same way as you do about the SUDDEN books. I first read them in my teens and haven't stopped re-reading them since. I, too, am surprised why the series is so popular in India and doesn't get much attention in the West. SUDDEN books are hard to find in India. Secondhand booksellers in Mumbai quote exhorbitant prices which, I guess, would be alright for a collector. I agree with your last line.

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    2. Sudden is a favorite of mine. The series is also very popular in Guyana and Trinidad. I have retained a personal collection of the series by both authors. Still waiting for Sudden to make his appearance in movies.

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