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Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Western Icons - SUDDEN



With his black horse named, Nigger the Sudden books may prove problematic for modern readers, but the language used is a product of the times and if there is any message to Sudden it is one of anti-racism. The character is respectful to Indians, indeed he was brought up by one. In fact the books portray racism on the part of any character as bad and undesirable.Ignore the politically correct crowd because the Sudden books, both the original series by Oliver Strange and Fred Nolan's latter day adventures, written as by Frederick H. Christian are damn fine westerns.

The Sudden books were first published in the 1930's and stood out from the crowd because of their vivid drawing of western landscapes and well researched period details. The plots may have been repetitive - Sudden rides into town, discovers and comes up against unlawful elements, Sudden is initially beat but he soon returns to kick arse - but the characters and events were so well drawn that they read smoothly and it's difficult not to become addicted by the clear and concise storytelling. Another point with the Sudden series was the humour, the laconic one-liners which were well ahead of its time. In fact the character of Sudden, himself owing much to the hero of the pulp westerns,  has become embedded in the DNA of the contemporary western hero.

Oliver Strange was an English writer who, like many of his contemporaries, loved the western stories, and when he decided he wanted to become a writer it was natural for him to try a western. The result was, The Range Robbers a book which introduced the world to the laconic loner called, Sudden. The book was hugely popular and as a result nine more Sudden books followed, but the author set many of the books as prequels so the chronological order of the series differs from the published order.

Western writer, James Reasoner wrote in his review of the first Sudden novel on his blog Rough Edges, -

"When we meet Sudden, he’s pretending to be a drifting cowboy named Green. In fairly short order, it becomes obvious why he’s adopted a new identity: Sudden is a famous gunfighter and outlaw who’s wanted for various crimes all over the West. Like many a pulp outlaw, however, he’s not really to blame for most of the offenses that have been attributed to him. Despite his reputation, he’s an honorable man, a fast shot, a great fighter, and a steadfast friend. When he goes to work on a ranch owned by an old-timer who’s having trouble with rustlers, if you’ve read very many pulp novels or watched very many B-Westerns, you’ll know exactly what’s going to happen."

I used to follow the series as a kid - the Corgi editions, with their cool gun-belt covers, were common in my youth, but I'd not read a Sudden book in years, when only yesterday I picked up a dog eared copy of Sudden at Bay, made myself comfortable and read the thing cover from cover in one sitting. Before I knew it almost four hours had gone by and I had been completely immersed in the story.
Sudden at Bay follows the standard plot - Sudden, new in town, interferes when he thinks a young man is getting a raw deal from the town sheriff. And after some great and believable action both Sudden and the young man find themselves in the town jail. The young man is given ten years hard labour while Sudden is ordered to leave town by the corrupt town judge. On the way out of town the two men escorting Sudden try to murder him but the tables are turned, the two men are left for dead, and Sudden then rides back into town to spring the young man and clean up  the town of Cottonwood.

Sudden at bay is one of the second generation of Sudden novels, actually written by Fred Nolan.


Nolan certainly seems to have the correct voice for the adventures. I very much enjoyed this book, as much for the authentic feel of the West as for the well paced story. Oliver Strange, the original author, wrote Ten Sudden Books and Fred Nolan added another five to the saga.

When the books were originally published they were immediately successful in the UK which had a thriving market for popular fiction and the series remained popular right up until the late 1980's when Sudden, like most western paperbacks, suddenly vanished.

The books are well worth hunting out and it is hoped that they will one day become available as eBooks. They still have a cult following and the old paperbacks can fetch high prices on auction sites such as eBay. Indeed at the time of writing there is a full set of paperbacks that have been bid upto one hundred pounds. They'll probably go for more too. Though by shopping around the books can be found much cheaper, indeed they often turn up in charity shops and boot sales.

The WIKI tells us that, - James Green aka Sudden is a fictional character created by the author Oliver Strange and after his death carried on by Frederick H. Christian. The books are centred around a gunfighter in the American Wild West era, who is in search of two men who cheated his foster father. Jim the young man promises his dying father that he will find the two and take revenge. He gives the name James Green to himself(his real first name,we find out in law o' the lariat,is Donald) and in time gets accused of a robbery himself and becomes an outlaw.
The series details the adventures of a gunfighter who earns the nickname "Sudden" because of his lightning speed with a gun. Sudden is also characterized as an intelligent man who is respectful of the law, unwilling to use a gun unless absolutely necessary, humanitarian, brave, and strong. On his way he also gets pardoned by the Governor of Arizona and becomes the Governor's Secret Agent.




11 comments:

PAUL BISHOP said...

Great post! You should do more of these...

Davieboy said...

Ok, know I've been posting a lot of comments & haunting your blog. But Sudden is how I found you. My grand-dad bought me a Sudden book way back in the 60s (Law o' the Lariat) which I read over and over. I lost touch with my mother's family years ago, but recently started buying the Sudden books in hardback. I have 7 out of 10 at the moment...
When I showed my mother, she realised the power this book had over me, really the only tangible link to my ancestors. She opened up about her family, I managed to create a family tree and actually made contact with long-lost cousins.
Reading articles on Sudden introduced me to the Piccadilly Cowboys, and I even exchanged a couple of emails with Fred Nolan, who I discovered had a fascinating career. That led me to more up-to-date Western writers, whereby I discovered the great Jack Martin, and the rest is history.
So, sorry to bore you with all of this, but I owe a lot to Sudden. I'll be hunting down those 3 remaining books, though I've no doubt shot myself in the foot by publicising my quest!

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Davieboy, that's a great story and I'm glad you're enjoying Jack Martin. Books, like great songs, can be stuck in a time and place and remind us of that time. It's great that the Sudden books mean so much to you and I can indeed relate to this. Hey and please keep haunting the Tainted Archive.

Charles Gramlich said...

Never even heard of these. That first cover certainly evokes the spaghetti western.

RJR said...

Never read Sudden. Gonna have to find some.

RJR

Kamlesh Yadav said...

Had first read a passage in a comprehension text book, and later in high school (early/mid 1990s), while reading the Range Robbers...found that the passage was from this book. I think the Range robbers is the best of the lost and the perfect place to start. Have read it so many times! i tried to go through all the books, but could not find many of them.
Finally, last month, stumbled on a cache of them on the internet. Have been re-reading them again. After almost 15+ years. I wonder why they were not made into a movie or a series!!

Kamlesh Yadav said...

Had first read a passage in a comprehension text book, and later in high school (early/mid 1990s), while reading the Range Robbers...found that the passage was from this book. I think the Range robbers is the best of the lost and the perfect place to start. Have read it so many times! i tried to go through all the books, but could not find many of them.
Finally, last month, stumbled on a cache of them on the internet. Have been re-reading them again. After almost 15+ years. I wonder why they were not made into a movie or a series!!

Kamlesh Yadav said...

Had first read a passage in a comprehension text book, and later in high school (early/mid 1990s), while reading the Range Robbers...found that the passage was from this book. I think the Range robbers is the best of the lost and the perfect place to start. Have read it so many times! i tried to go through all the books, but could not find many of them.
Finally, last month, stumbled on a cache of them on the internet. Have been re-reading them again. After almost 15+ years. I wonder why they were not made into a movie or a series!!

Kamlesh Yadav said...

Had first read a passage in a comprehension text book, and later in high school (early/mid 1990s), while reading the Range Robbers...found that the passage was from this book. I think the Range robbers is the best of the lot and the perfect place to start. Have read it so many times! i tried to go through all the books, but could not find many of them.
Finally, last month, stumbled on a cache of them on the internet. Have been re-reading them again. After almost 15+ years. I wonder why they were not made into a movie or a series!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the post. Reminded me of those bygone days. Btw, I am glad sudden was never filmed. They would spoil the series certainly.

Gitash said...

I really enjoyed the books in the 90s and so did may others of my friends we used to share the novels