Thursday, August 18, 2011

Look What I Found: 3 by William MacLeod Raine

Look What I Found is an occasional series on books I've hunted-and-gathered at garage sales, used bookstores, estate sales, and the occasional pilfering from a friend's bookshelf when their back is turned.  I have a particular fondness for U.S. novels written between 1896 and 1931. If I sniff a book and it makes me sneeze, I'm bound to fall in love.

Any self-respecting collectors of vintage American literature will have at least one novel by William MacLeod Raine on their bookshelves.  Quite possibly, they'll have something like twenty Raine books sitting there gathering dust.  The dude could write with speed and dexterity.  Let's put it this way, if Raine was a horse, his mane would be snapping in the wind.

Though British-born, Raine made a career of writing popular, pulpy novels about romance and adventure on the plains and in the mountains of the American West, with occasional trips northward to Canada and the Yukon.  The novels written in the early 20th century featured men with chest hairs curling from the collars of their flannel shirts and slim-waisted women standing on hilltops staring into purple-mountain sunsets.  The pages were filled with sagebrush, swirling dust, and horses with flaring nostrils.  While F. Scott Fitzgerald was busy back East creating the Jazz Age, Raine set about painting a backdrop of the Old West which Americans longed to imagine--and which would soon be realized on the screens of Hollywood thanks to The Great Train Robbery and all its celluloid offspring.

By the time I walked in the front door of the Used Book Barn in Bozeman, Montana, I already had two William MacLeod Raine novels paying rent on my shelves: Wyoming and Ridgeway of Montana.  Like most of the other residents of those two glass-fronted bookcases in my basement, they remain unread.  But, geez, they sure are purty to look at.

The three Raine-y Day books I found on a shelf just inside the Used Book Barn's front door were a such a steal, I thought I should have a bandanna over my mouth and nose and be pointing a .45 at the nice lady behind the counter as she swiped my credit card.  No, really--it was a superb find.  Brand Blotters, The Big-Town Round-Up, and Man-Size* all had tight bindings, clean pages, and--best of all--intact dustjackets.  Just take a look at these babies:

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And my favorite of the trio:

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Not having read any of the WMR novels, I don't know if the contents match the beauty of those cover designs, but a quick glance at the opening paragraphs gives some indication that the writing is crisp, clear and riddled with the standard 1920s cliches:

      She stood on the crown of the hill, silhouetted against a sky-line of deepest blue. Already the sun was sinking in a crotch of the plains which rolled to the horizon edge like waves of a great land sea. Its reflected fires were in her dark, stormy eyes. Its long, slanted rays were a spotlight for the tall, slim figure, straight as that of a boy.
      The tenderfoot rose from the ledge upon which he had been lying and stretched himself stiffly. The chill of the long night had set him shivering. His bones ached from the pressure of his body upon the rock where he had slept and waked and dozed again with troubled dreams. The sharpness of his hunger made him light-headed. Thirst tortured him. His throat was a lime-kiln, his tongue swollen till it filled his mouth.
      If the night had been bad, he knew the day would be a hundred times worse. Already a gray light was sifting into the hollow of the sky. The vague misty outlines of the mountains were growing sharper. Soon from a crotch of them would rise a red hot cannon ball to pour its heat into the parched desert.
          --Brand Blotters

Note Mr. Raine's curious use of "crotch."  With hot cannon balls, no less.

*He obviously never met a hyphen he didn't like.

1 comment:

  1. The covers are well equaled by the writing, I think you should read these books.