Monday, October 20, 2014

Noteworthy Reads: The CUTLER Series created by John Benteen

The John Benteen byline has long been one of my favorites, specifically relating to the Fargo series of paperback originals from back in the 60s and 70s. Benteen's other popular series from that period was Sundance and, while I read a number of those, too, and enjoyed them well enough, for some reason I never warmed to them nearly as much as the Fargo books. While I have no conclusive evidence of this, the fact that Benteen eventually allowed other writers to take over the Sundance series while he kept doing the Fargos almost exclusively (with the exception of three out of twenty-odd titles) suggests that he had a stronger affinity for Fargo as well. Maybe this is merely what I want to believe due to my own tendency to favor Fargo over Sundance --- comes right down to it, I have no way of knowing how much say Benteen actually had in the matter with Belmont Tower, his publisher. 
I guess most people know that John Benteen was one of the pseudonyms of prolific writer Ben Haas, who also did books under his own name. On their own fine blogs and elsewhere, both James Reasoner and Randy Johnson have done some pretty extensive coverage of Haas/Benteen so maybe they will weigh in and tell me where/if I am going wrong in the foregoing … and perhaps also in what follows.

The main gist of this post is to touch on another action/adventure series Haas wrote under the Benteen byline --- one I had not read or heard about before, until Piccadilly recently re-issued them as eBooks. As indicated above, the series was titled Cutler and was centered on one John Cutler, a typically tough, rugged individual very much in the mold of various other action/adventure protagonists as written by Benteen and others.
The set-up for Cutler is that he is a former lawman turned hunter/trapper who is on the vengeance trail for his wife's killer. This is a basic framework that has been used, with a few refinements here and there, over and over and over again in the Western genre. But here's the interesting twist that Haas/Benteen uses for this series --- the killer Cutler is obsessed with running down is not a human but rather a rogue silverback grizzly.
The bear has a stump for one of its hind legs thanks to a trap that Cutler set but did not check on as promptly as he should have, that's what turned the beast into a rogue who's first victim was Cutler's unsuspecting wife. This adds a haunting layer of guilt to the revenge Cutler is after.
Being a rogue, the grizzly roams wide and wild over vast mountainous stretches of Colorado and Wyoming, sticking to no particular territory. Cutler responds to reports from wherever the bear has been sighted, never quite succeeding in catching up with him but also never giving up. He finances his way by hiring out to track and kill other rogue predators who are causing trouble in areas he is near or passing through.
I found the whole concept quite intriguing and well done.

Unfortunately, Haas wrote only two books in this series, THE WOLF-PACK and THE GUN-HAWKS, both in 1972. He then switched to create and write four books in the Rancho Bravo series, as by Thorne Douglas. Whether he would have gone back to do any more Cutlers we'll never know, because Ben Haas died unexpectedly in 1977.
Starting in 1978, Belmont Tower hired another writer, H.V. Elkin, to pick up the Cutler series. He wrote four titles. I haven't read any of those yet, though I plan to check out at least one or two at some point. With no disrespect to Mr. Elkin, I simply don't feel the urgency for that as I did to dive into the Benteen titles when I found out about them. 

Haas/Benteen have brought me many hours of enjoyment over the years. It was great to discover these added titles.
If you haven't discovered Cutler yet --- not to mention (which almost seems unthinkable) Fargo or Sundance --- I heartily recommend you check this out. 


Peter Brandvold said...

Thanks for this great review, Wayne. I too am a big fan of Ben Haas. One thing I find missing in his work, though, is humor. All the stories are told so dead earnestly, with very little irony. Sort of like the Edge books though at least Edge has a wry quip now and then. I find a genuine sense of humor lacking in a lot of books.

Thanks again for the review. I read this one, too, and enjoyed it.

RJR said...

I also preferred Fargo over the other books. Fargo and Gilman's Steele are so much alike it's uncanny--or is it?