Book Review: El Charro

Charro! is a book I normally wouldn’t have read, but it came recommended by a friend of mine Paul Bishop, who loves – and is an expert on – old pulp Westerns. Paul and I co-wrote a book 52 Weeks * 52 Western Novels where we highlighted 52 different Western, all 250 pages or less. Ambitious readers could then read one book a week. Charro! Was one of Paul’s contributions.

The book, while well=written and very fast paced, was a little too violent for my taste. That being said, I’m glad I read it. That’s one of the joys of having well-read friends, they introduce you to books you might have otherwise never tried. Here is Paul’s review of Charro!

Charro! is an excellent novel based on a bad film. Harry Whittington developed his 1969 novelization of Charro! from a story treatment by Frederick Louis Fox. The original treatment contained many violent and sexually related scenes, which the director of the movie deemed too objectionable. Whittington didn’t have any such proclivities, putting all the sex and violence back when he wrote the novelization, making Whittington’s book much better than the film on which it is based.

A gold-plated Mexican cannon belonging to Emperor Maximilian has been stolen by an outlaw band. The Mexican army, various Mexican thugs and bounty hunter Jess Wade are after the two thousand dollar reward for the return of the cannon. As the story progresses, the outlaws want to ransom the cannon back to the town from where it was stolen. By this time they have trapped Wade into working with them as they use the cannon to terrorize the town into capitulation. Tension and violence soak Whittington’s take on the story, written with the lean muscular prose for which he was renowned.

There wasn’t a genre of novel Harry Whittington couldn’t write. Known as “The King of the Pulps,” he was incredibly prolific—writing over two hundred novels (including seven in a single month). While his first novels were Westerns, he became revered for his later hardboiled and noir fiction. Whittington never phoned in his work, not even when cranking out quick paycheck novelizations. As a result, Charro! rises to the level of his best work.

Charro! isn’t only an outstanding novel—the Gold Medal first edition has an awesome cover by Ron Lesser. Known for his iconic posters for Clint Eastwood films, Lesser has illustrated covers for hundreds of other paperback Westerns, mass market softcovers and movie posters. What makes this particular cover exceptional is the illustration of the dancehall girl on the holster. The first time I saw the cover, I thought the dancehall girl was an aftermarket doodle. But this is Lesser’s gift of artistic genius—it is a detail he gleaned from the novel itself then added as a unique touch. 


Three Horseshoes

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