Oliver Strange: The Marshal of Lawless (1933)
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This is the third novel in Oliver Strange's great series of westerns about James Green, also known as Sudden. I'm talking about the reading sequence, which is different from the dates of composition and publication *NOTE 1.
The Marshal of Lawless finds Sudden in the south of
to the border with Mexico.
Race plays quite an important role in the plot; in romances of this era, it is
an irresistible ingredient, colourful in every sense; behind the racist
story-lines, both author and readers are secretly attracted to what repels them.
One of the villains is a Mexican ( Moraga,
the self-styled El Diablo), and the other - the principal one - is half-Commanche
(Seth Raven, popularly known as The Vulture). On the other hand, the “injun”
Black Feather, whom Sudden recues from being tortured by El Diablo, is devoted
and honourable. El Diablo is naturally humiliated when Sudden invites Black
Feather to give the Mexican a whipping in return. That overturns the natural
order of things, from El Diablo's point of view. From Sudden's point of view
Mexicans are far worse than Red Indians, inasmuch as they have pretensions to
be white men. Worst of all, however, is miscegenation. Meeting Raven for the
first time, Sudden runs an expert eye over his features:
"Injun an' Mex or bad white, like Durley said, reg'lar devil's brew," was Green's unvoiced criticism.
The book, naturally, supports the hero's view. We instantly scent villainous qualities in "the hooked nose, small, close-set eyes, thin lips, and lank, black hair". Yet though Sudden's race analysis is skilled, he is too honorable a man to condemn on racist grounds alone. Several chapters later, Seth Raven still puzzles him;
Apparently a public-spirited citizen..... With an innate feeling that the man was crooked, he had to admit that so far he was not justified in that belief.
Labels: Oliver Strange