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Saturday, 15 April 2017

A Coffin Full of Dollars Joe Millard Western Book Review

A Coffin Full of Dollars
By Joe Millard
originally published 1971
Award Books a division of  Charter Communications

It's Sergio Leone meets Bronco Billy as the Man With No Name joins a travelling circus as a sharpshooter in order to bring in the outlaw Apachito - dead rather than alive, of course.

Joe Millard was a working writer who wrote under a sting of names, in a variety of genres. He was  responsible for penning a couple of the novelizations based on Leone's western trilogy that turned Clint Eastwood into a superstar - the series sold so well that a string of continuation novels were licensed based around the character Eastwood played in the movies. A Coffin Full of Dollars was actually the first of the original novels to use the character and, apart from a barking plot, it is actually a pretty good read.

Joe Millard was a prolific contributor to pulp magazines, including Thrilling Mystery, G-Man Detective, Exciting Detective, Detective Novels Magazine, Popular Detective, RAF Aces, Exciting Western, Popular Sports, Sky Fighters, Fantastic Adventures, Amazing Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories (as N. J. Westwood) and Startling Stories in the 1940s before contributing articles to Bluebook. He eventually contributed to around 100 different magazines and some 25 trade journals, including Holiday, Reader's Digest, Good Housekeeping and Argosy. Joseph John Millard was born in Canby, Minnesota, on 14 January 1908, the fourth child of rancher Frank Earnest Millard and his wife Alice A. (nee Lake). He was educated at the Pioneer School of Business in St. Paul, Minnesota, graduating in 1926, before joining an advertising agency. He subsequently worked as advertising manager on Northwest Furniture Digest in Minneapolis before becoming an account executive with Minneapolis-based Kraff Advertising Agency and Chicago-based Industrial Advertising Associates. He died in 1989. Information from Bear Alley Blog

The author sets out the narrative using the plot of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly as a blueprint - we've got the Man with no Name teaming up with scheming Dandy Deever, the  circus owner as well as Shadrach, a fellow bounty hunter who resembles the character played by Van Cleef in the movies. He even wears the same kind of frock coat and is described as having snake eyes - at one point he gets out the meerschaum pipe that Cleef puffed in the movies. The obligatory sadistic villain of the piece is Apachito.

We get double cross upon double cross as the all action narrative moves towards a great conclusion that satisfies both western fans and admirers of Leone's gritty and surreal westernscape. The author also builds on the character we know from the movies, and a dream sequence gives us the origin of the Man with No Name. We discover what it was that turned him into a bounty killer in the first place and although it is odd seeing the character as a young boy it does work within the conceit of the story.

It's a pity that the days when men's adventure paperbacks such as these filled the bookshops are long gone...I miss those days. The book runs 155 pages and is paced at a breakneck speed. Excitement is the key word with these books and this one is particularly well written and displays a good handle on
the characters we first got to know on the screen. Sure the Man with no Name is more talkative in these books than he was on celluloid, but then that is somewhat necessary  to tell the story. Those long silent scenes where the eyes do the talking are incredibly cool in the Leone pictures but wouldn't transfer as well to prose. And so the author builds on the characters, adding flesh to the bones provided by those classic movies. In interviews Clint Eastwood said he stripped the character from the dollar movies down to the bone and what Millard does is to reimagine the discarded elements, so that the characters who walk these pages whilst not exact copies do come across as a believable facsimile.

There's an interesting article on the Dollar novels and Joe Millard HERE.


TParker said...

I think Manco could have talked just as much in this book as he did in the films. He's the sort of guy who likes to be smarter than everyone else.
I preferred his backstory to be a complete mystery, though. I'd rather I didn't know about the dream sequence.

I enjoyed this one. It was very creative and vivid.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

I thought so - I think it mostly had the feel of the Leone movies. It was a far better book than I expected.

Charles Gramlich said...

I think I've got all of Millard's man with no name books.

oscar case said...

Fine review, Gary!