We have a timeshare condo on the Island of Maui in Hawai’i and we arrived on Saturday. In the condo there is a bookshelf with a couple of dozen books of all kinds. I usually check the books and find nothing of interest. This time, for some reason, a western caught my eye. It is a tattered paperback, titled Single Jack by Max Brand, copyright 1950. The edition in my hand was printed in 1974. It’s obviously been read a few times, but it is surprisingly clean for a book that old. The cover is labeled with a price of 75 cents.
I opened it up to the first page and started reading, and promptly got drawn into it. The last western I remember reading was the Incident at Twenty-Mile by Trevanian, and that was decades ago. You might guess I am not a western reader.
Single Jack is a story about an outlaw by the name of Jack Deems who goes by the name of Single Jack. He is a young man with an uncanny gift of – you guessed it – shooting. He is faster than all the gunfighters in the west and he is more accurate. Fate puts him into the Montana town of Yeoville (fictional) where one man named Alexander Shodress has bought the town with corruption, thievery and murder. He rules the town as its overlord, he is immensely rich from ill-gotten loot, and he annihilates anyone in his way. Enter Single Jack Deems, a man unlike anyone Shodress has ever met.
There is a good rancher, his younger brother, an eager young lawyer; there is a pretty girl who everyone falls in love with, and there are bands of the west’s worst gunfighters.
The pretty girl’s name is Hester Grange, and oddly, this is the second Hester in literature I have come across in just a couple of books. The last one was Hester the Molester in A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. I have never met a Hester in real life, but I have now encountered two of them in two books in close succession.
I enjoyed this book of 211 printed pages. It was harder to read since the print was too small for easy reading, and there were not many good and bright enough lamps in the condo. It’s been a while since I have read a hardcopy book. It just took me a few days between swims and hikes on the island.