I bought a couple Fargo novels by John Benteen back when I was a kid. There were a lot of those books in Conda’s Swap Shop for 15 cents. I wish I could go back and buy them now. But there was another series being published under the John Benteen pseudonym and I wasn’t quite as blown away as I felt like I should have been. They were about Sundance, half-white, half-Indian, constantly trapped between those worlds. They were all right, but not something new like I was looking for at the time.
The original Fargo cover showed a guy in an army campaign hat from the Spanish-American War of 1898, which was attention getting to my younger self. The guy was also bronzed and scarred over, a tough looking guy, but he kind of reminded me of Doc Savage.
I was reading books with a couple of friends, one of whom had read the first Fargo book and said he wasn’t impressed. We had different reading tastes, so I shelved Fargo. I didn’t mean to let more than 40 years go by before I got back to it.
Up in Minnesota a couple years ago, I saw the book again in a used book shop and bought it on impulse, because I have no clue if I still have the first one. Maybe I do. I have a LOT of books.
And I still put off reading the book until this year when it came out on ebook from Piccadilly Press, which is reprinting a lot of old Westerns from those days.
I sat down and read Fargo because it was short and I was in-between things at the moment and wanted something that wouldn’t require a lot out of me because—truthfully—I didn’t have a lot to give. I’d also read post about Benjamin Haas on fellow writer James Reasoner’s blog and was curious.
I started turning pages and was immediately swept away. The book starts out a little slow, maybe, but it doesn’t take long to get caught up in the action. Fargo is down to his last dollar and meets a guy who wants to truck a load of silver out of Mexico while the rebellion between Pancho Villa and other would-be dictators is going on. The United States is about to pull out of supporting Villa and American assets over there—including the silver mine—is about to be lost.
There’s a lot of action in the book. In fact, once the action kicks in, the pages almost start turning themselves. Fargo is a total hardcase and gets into the thick of things immediately. Still, he’s a professional fighting man and knows what he’s doing.
There are so many double-crosses in the book, so many changing alliances, that Fargo becomes an island unto himself. But he won’t walk away from a job, or a woman that he wants to save, or even revenge (as long as there’s a payday in it for him). This is the start of a series, so you know he doesn’t die, but no one else is safe.
The story doesn’t require much of an emotional investment, but it does keep your attention. It’s about as deep as a television episode, and doesn’t last much longer for an aggressive reader, but it’s like a bag of peanuts in a Grapette soda—it just goes down and satisfies.
In a way, I’m glad I missed out on these books all those years ago. I read a lot of current novels that are really long, and I’m glad to have these little snacks waiting. I’ve picked up the four (thus far) ebooks in the series as well as a handful of other novels in used book shops since.
If you’re looking for a change of pace, maybe a little history thrown in that takes place between the Spanish-American War and World War I, and if you like action, I’d definitely recommend the Fargo series. This is how the 1970s paperback writers did the new pulp of that era. It fits in perfectly with the new ebook market.