Book Reviews!

James Arness: An Autobiography

Blood, Bullets, And Buckskin”,

If you like Gunsmoke, you’ll enjoy this novel.  If you don’t like Gunsmoke, you still may like it. 

In the introduction to “Blood, Bullets, And Buckskin”, James Arness speaks of an early Gunsmoke episode dubbed “Hack Prine”.  Dillon meets an old gun fighting friend, Hack Prine, whose gun is hired by a local.  Dillon and Prine celebrate their reunion.  They are good friends talking over old times.  Prine, though, soon runs afoul of the law.  He kills a low life whose death is deserved, and doesn’t understand Dillon’s objection.  It’s a clear case of murder.  Dillon has sworn to uphold the law and Prine has sworn he will not go to jail.  Two old friends, constrained by their vows, face each other on Front Street in a classic old west show down.  Neither wants to fight, but both must.  The melancholy  pathos of Gunsmoke is epitomized when, knowing one will be dead in a few seconds, the friends Dillon and Prine say goodbye to each other.  They draw and Prine is killed.  When congratulated by a spectator, Dillon ignores the complement and turns and walks towards the Marshal’s office.  This  manly shroud of death and duty was a staple of television’s early Gunsmokes and, before that, Gunsmoke on the radio.  The first adult western stayed in television’s top ratings for 20 years. 

I was elated to see this wonderful reality recreated in Joseph W. West’s first Gunsmoke novel.  We are able to feel again Dillon’s sense of brooding dedication to duty.  Dodge City is described in a raw reality not allowed in early television.  Kitty’s occupation is no longer hedged.  She is a Madame of soiled doves.

If like me, you enjoy the pathos of the old west, you are in for a treat.

PS: Despite my enthusiasm, I have, some small nits to pick.  Before West’s novels, there were three written pulp novels penned by Gary McCarthy.  Do not waste your time with them.  I choked my way through the first one and gave up.  Like McCarthy, West needs to familiarize himself with Gunsmoke.  McCarthy made the inexcusable mistake of having Festus read.  All Gunsmoke fans know Festus is illiterate.  West also makes errors distracting to a diehard Gunsmoke fan.  Dillon calls Chester his deputy.  Chester only worked for Dillon and was never deputized.  West also has Dillon in the role of town marshal.  Matt Dillon on television and radio was a United States marshal appointed to the frontier by the US War Department.  In the novel, Dillon calls his horse “Buck”.  Mr. West probably did some research on this, but applied it without historical texture.  Dillon was never a friend of his horse, like Roy Rogers or Gene Autry.  The co-creater of Gunsmoke, John Meston, disdained such fantasy cowboys for kiddies and said “I spit in their milk!”  Dillon never called Buck by name on television’s Gunsmoke.  Festus, who referred to his mule Ruth in almost every other episode, called Dillon’s horse by name – once. 

Gunsmoke Fiction: Blood Bullets And Buckskin