Leave it to Stark House to unearth a never-before-published novel by the prolific A.S. Fleischman. THE SUN WORSHIPPERS / YELLOWLEG collects two Westerns of sorts: The latter fits what most people think of as a Western, while the first is one in location and spirit.
After the introduction to this collection by Paul Fleischman, who writes that his father loved Westerns and always wanted to write one, he explains how THE SUN WORSHIPPERS was rejected when it was submitted in the 1960s. That is a total head-scratcher, since the book reads like prime Gold Medal material.
The story centers on Bill Gamage, a Pulitzer Prize winner now working his days in Hollywood. Those days are becoming few and far between, until he is contacted to come to the near-desert town of Thebes in Southern California, where is offered a job writing the biography of a man called Col. Martinka, who has built himself an empire in the date-growing market.
Gamage takes the job for the quick cash, but soon regrets it when he meets the Colonel’s son, Frank, who explains his dad has left for Europe, so Bill will write the book from old diaires and notes — pretty much a whitewash of how great the Colonel is.
It becomes apparent that the Colonel has his share of secrets that Frank is desperate to keep quiet, but Bill sticks to his guns. He finds out the real reason he was chosen for this job: Frank’s wife is a former lover of Bill’s, and she wants him back. The story plays off this aspect very well, while also having a mystery of sorts when digging in the Colonel’s past dredges up the real story.
THE SUN WORSHIPPERS is a solid read throughout with a payoff that some might see coming. But Fleischman never plays fast and loose with his characters, filling the work with a great supporting cast. It’s a great addition to an already great writing career.
From 1960, YELLOWLEG was also published under the title THE DEADLY COMPANIONS. It’s more your typical Western fare: a slow-simmering revenge tale, plain and simple.
Saddle tramps Yellowleg, Turk and Billy ride into a town with a bank robbery in mind. In actuality, Yellowleg, the leader of the trio, has revenge that has been growing in him for seven years, and he’s kept the secret under his hat, so to speak. And he has finally found his man; he just needs a little confirmation of sorts.
Not to spoil any other plot points in this very short read, but we find the trio rushing off to help a woman who is riding to a town that’s long been deserted so she can take care of a matter. The problem is that the territory is filled with Apaches, and Billy has become so smitten with her that he almost rides off blindly.
YELLOWLEG flies by at a super-quick pace, with the reader knowing full well early on who Yellowleg has in his sights. First, he has to help this woman so she does not wind up dead.
With this duo, Stark House Press has presented yet another fine two-fer with all the extras. We get the requisite rundown of all of Fleischman’s other works and under what other names, as well as a reprinted interview from 2001 conducted by Gary Lovisi. With Stark House Press, you are sure to get your money’s worth, and this entry is no exception. —Bruce Grossman