THE NAME’S BUCHANAN by Jonas Ward
When I was a kid, I read a lot of Westerns. Cheap paperback adventures I’d picked up from swap shops and favorite secondhand book stores. Those books came with yellowed, dog-eared pages and what seemed like the smell of gunsmoke oozing from them, which was probably just dust and mold. But each one of them transported me back to a time that was just around the corner to my way of thinking as I grew up in southeastern Oklahoma.
One of my favorite series was by Jonas Ward, and they focused on a traveling drifter from Texas named Tom Buchanan. I didn’t know for thirty years that the Ward name was a pseudonym first used by a guy named William Ard, who was at his heart a pulp writer of the first water.
The Buchanan books were sprawling epics chock full of action and a sense of history and place. The early ones written by Ard didn’t dwell on Buchanan himself. The novels threw the loop wide and told the stories and backgrounds of the other characters involved in the action as well. In all actuality, the stories were spread a little too wide for present-day convention because readers tend to want to stay with the main characters throughout the read these days. In the pulp days, when the writers were getting a penny a word – or even a fraction thereof, they tended to hammer anything and everything down on the page. Streamlined stories came later.
But this wide-open approach suits the Buchanan novels. Prologue Books is quickly becoming one of my favorite ebook publishers. They reach back into the ‘50s and ‘60s for their material. Honestly, a lot of what they’re publishing is stuff I read back in the day, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to pick the books up in digital format as well. And to re-read them.
As of this writing, five of the Buchanan novels have been released from Prologue. I picked them all up and curled up with the first one, sinking directly into the story with effortless ease.
Now that I’m an older writer, and maybe older in general, I see what the author was doing back then. William Ard was a young writer when this book came out, probably in his early thirties. Tragically, he died at age thirty-seven just when his career was really starting to hit its stride.
This first book reads like a 1950s epic Western movie. It has a large cast of characters and a story that holds them all together, rather than a character that pulls the story together. Ironically, Hollywood did make a movie of this book, Buchanan Stands Alone, which starred Randolph Scott, and the director of that film chose to focus on the star rather than the story. It’s all still there for the most part, but shaped so the star is on stage a lot more than Buchanan is in the book.
It took me a moment to figure the book out, especially since the narrative wandered away from Buchanan so often. Then I realized that Ard was breathing life into this world, letting his readers experience everything that was going on with all of the characters. Some readers who are used to the straight-line narrative of writers these days might not appreciate the alleyways and side roads that Ward (Ard) illuminates, but I saw the film in my head. Not the Randolph Scott one, but the one the author saw when he wrote this book.
The Name’s Buchanan is a great book, and if you haven’t been introduced to the character before, this is a great place to start.