While preparing the Ben Haas checklist I was surprised to discover one of Ben’s books, A HELL OF A WAY TO DIE as by Jack Slade, on a list of titles said to have been written by another author, Peter Germano. Mr. Germano died in 1983; the list of Jack Slade books he wrote appears on a website maintained by his family. Their list matches the PETER GERMANO COLLECTION at the University of Oregon Special Collections Library . Germano gave some manuscripts and books and papers to the University in October 1973. These are the titles in that collection as Jack Slade:
AINOA MAHDOLLISUS (foreign edition of THE MAN FROM CHEYENNE)
Sometimes an archivist has to search the world for answers, but thanks to the wide-ranging collection of manuscripts and papers at the University of Oregon Special Collection Library , many of the answers to who wrote the Lassiter books were right there at the same facility that has the Germano collection.
Their W.T. BALLARD COLLECTION is a huge gathering of books and manuscripts over several decades, and it includes Ballard’s manuscripts for the first four Lassiter books: #1 LASSITER (which Ballard initially titled RAFFERTY as by Parker Bonner), #2 BANDIDO (which Ballard called LASSITER AND THE WILD BUNCH), #3 THE MAN FROM YUMA (manuscript title LASSITER AND THE RIVER PIRATES) and #4 THE MAN FROM CHEYENNE (LASSITER AND THE WILD WOMEN).
All four are written in Ballard’s distinctive old-school straight-as-an-arrow storytelling style, but there is also the physical proof: all four manuscripts are there at the library, you can go look at them any time. It’s a matter of public record; the finding aid for this collection is available online. All four manuscripts have been verified and match the printed books. There is no way a different author could have written THE MAN FROM YUMA. This fact made me take a much closer look at the rest of the Germano list.
The Lassiter series was published by Harry Shorten, first from Tower Books, then Belmont Books and finally Belmont Tower . Reading the Lassiter series, all published under the house name “Jack Slade”, the first four books are all clearly in Ballard’s style. Shorten wanted a new kind of Western hero for the series. Instead of the standard Roy Rogers – Gene Autry good guy from a thousand Westerns, he wanted the character Lassiter to be an anti-hero, a son of a bitch. In classic Westerns the hero might be a Wells Fargo detective, the villain a bank robber. But Lassiter, the “hero” of this series, is the bank robber, and his nemesis Sidney Blood is a Wells Fargo detective. Ballard tried to write the books Shorten envisioned, but having written a certain kind of Western for an entire lifetime, it was not easy. Ballard’s Lassiter may be a bank robber, but he is clearly a good man. He never swears or hurts women and children. Lassiter has been driven to a life of crime by an evil corporation called Wells Fargo that destroyed his small business and his life. Lassiter may rob banks and trains, but his robberies only hit Wells Fargo payrolls. It’s never explained what Lassiter does with all that money, but at least one character refers to Lassiter as “a Robin Hood”.
Letters to and from Ballard’s agent in the library collection show that Ballard had outlined a fifth Lassiter, but Shorten wanted to take Lassiter in a different direction with a different writer. It is clear from later books what he wanted. By book six, Lassiter is no Robin Hood. In HIGH LONESOME, Lassiter has become one ornery, mean son of a bitch. He lives in a dog eat dog world where people swear a lot – words such as “cowshit” that never appear in the Ballard Lassiters – and he is ready to rob, cheat, swindle or kill anybody to get his hands on whatever cash is available. Gone is any reference to Wells Fargo; gone is Sidney Blood (although Blood will return in later series entries from different writers).
The dirty style of HIGH LONESOME matches the style of later Lassiter books THE MAN FROM LORDSBURG, GUNFIGHT AT RINGO JUNCTION, FUNERAL BEND and THE MAN FROM TOMBSTONE, four books on the Germano checklist, leading me to wonder at first if Germano had written them all. But if so, why doesn’t HIGH LONESOME appear on the Germano list? Instead we find the fifth book, A HELL OF A WAY TO DIE, and the seventh, SIDEWINDER, both written in a cleaner, straighter style reminiscent of Ballard’s Lassiter. These two books were obviously written by pros attempting to tell a good story while still remaining true to the original Lassiter template from W.T. Ballard. And we have it on good authority from the family of Ben Haas that Ben wrote A HELL OF A WAY TO DIE. (As I write this tonight, efforts are underway to locate Ben’s copy of his manuscript.)
So who wrote HIGH LONESOME? The solution came when I called the surviving editors from Belmont Tower . Sadly, most of them from Harry Shorten on down are no longer with us, but I talked to three people who did work there (Cynthia Van Hazinga, Joanmarie Kalter and John S. Littell), and all three of them agreed that the Lassiter series was not only edited by Peter McCurtin, but McCurtin was writing some of them too.
We used to think that Peter McCurtin was only a house name, but thanks to the brilliant research by David Whitehead, we now know there actually was a real writer named Peter McCurtin. In addition to writing, McCurtin worked as an editor. He edited the short-lived but still remembered NEW YORK REVIEW, he edited GENT magazine for a while, and then he edited Western paperbacks for Harry Shorten. As an editor he often used his own name as the house name for a series, and several different writers (including Ralph Hayes, Gordon “Glen Chase” Davis, Russell Smith and George H. Smith) wrote books that appeared under the pseudonym Peter McCurtin, which led to the misconception that all McCurtin books were written by someone else.
David Whitehead was also the first person to suggest that Peter McCurtin might have written some of the Lassiters as Jack Slade when he noted thematic similarities between the Lassiter book GUNFIGHT AT RINGO JUNCTION and a Peter McCurtin Sundance called DAY OF THE HALFBREEDS. (The back cover copy on GUNFIGHT AT RINGO JUNCTION even begins with the words “Day of the Halfbreed”.)
The Belmont Tower employees told me that each editor there had their own niche, and Peter McCurtin edited the Western series. He did Lassiter at Tower and edited Fargo at Belmont and had some involvement with the Sundance series at Leisure, eventually taking it over. All three of those companies were different parts of Harry Shorten’s publishing empire. The author John S. Littell, who was an assistant editor at Belmont Tower forty years ago, told me “Peter LOVED the Fargo books. He loved editing them.” When Fargo and Sundance author John Benteen died, McCurtin took over writing the Sundance series, and the last 18 Sundance books come out under the Peter McCurtin byline.
Harry Shorten was running Tower Books when he bought Belmont Books at the end of the 1960s. Lassiter was Tower’s series, and at first Shorten wanted to do a series just like it for Belmont . This led to the Carmody series by Peter McCurtin. Carmody is indeed like Lassiter; in fact he is exactly like Lassiter. The two characters are interchangeable. McCurtin showed Shorten he could write these as well as edit them with his first Lassiter, HIGH LONESOME, and Harry gave him the job to do a whole series. Sometime during all this, it was decided that Tower and Belmont would not be two separate companies, and Belmont Lassiter titles begin appearing, leading to Belmont Tower (BT) in 1972.
If you compare the LASSITER books HIGH LONESOME and THE MAN FROM LORDSBURG to the first Carmody book, TALL MAN RIDING, you will notice all three books are written by the same writer. All three of them share countless tells and quirks, most noticeably the use of the words “bulling” and “straddling” for “screwing” or “making love”. I can’t recall another writer who uses the word “bull” like Peter McCurtin does to describe the sex act. There are no sex scenes in the tightly-plotted Lassiter entry GUNFIGHT AT RINGO JUNCTION, there are no female characters. But at one point Lassiter tells another character to “go bull himself.”
This is HIGH LONESOME by Jack Slade:
“Over in the corner the player-piano was murdering ‘ Dixie ’.” (p. 19)
“Lassiter had straddled whores… all the way from the
Canadian border to…
“Lassiter didn’t care what the crotch-thumper called him…” (p. 22)
“Downstairs the miserable clockwork piano was murdering ‘The Bonnie Blue Flag’… He held the little whore steady, bulling her strong and deep.” (p. 23)
“Lassiter straddled her quickly.” (p. 73)
This is from THE MAN FROM LORDSBURG by Jack Slade:
“The band buffaloed its way through ‘Lorena’ and gathered speed with ‘Lone Star Girl’. (p. 23)
“Lassiter ate the ham and eggs the top-heavy Swede girl fixed for him, and later he straddled her on a curve-backed sofa that threatened to collapse under their weight.” (p. 26)
“The band had been drinking and… they bollixed up a fast run-through of ‘Zack, the Mormon Engineer’.” (p.36)
“Next (herd) we’re going to cover the whole State of Kansas with cowshit…” (p. 41)
“Lassiter (said), ‘I don’t give a stale dog turd…And I don’t give an ounce of shit…’.” (p. 47)
The Irishman jeered, ‘Had fun, did you (killing men)… Just as good as straddling a woman, ain’t it?’” (p. 52)
This is TALL MAN RIDING by Peter McCurtin:
“Carmody rested up, listening to (McCargo whistle) ‘Little Speckled Bird’ for a while, and decided he didn’t like McCargo’s way of doing it.” (p. 48)
“He sure as hell wished there had been time to straddle one of those Indian crotch-thumpers.” (p. 81)
“Carmody started to bull the girl, counting himself lucky to have caught this one young…. ‘Don’t talk so much, honey’, Carmody told her…. bulling her to the hilt.” (p. 89)
“‘Now listen, Carmody, you shit-eating dog’, Greenwood roared.” (p. 102)
“He was bulling the whore, taking his time… When Carmody finished straddling Baby Doe, he gave her the two dollars she asked for,” (p. 134)
I was told Peter McCurtin was one of the Jack Slades. I believe TALL MAN RIDING is the Peter McCurtin book that confirms he also wrote HIGH LONESOME, THE MAN FROM LORDSBURG and other Lassiter titles. In THE MAN FROM DEL RIO, Lassiter falls hard for a woman named Ellen Kinder. Peter McCurtin’s wife’s name was Ellen Kidd.
So now Belmont Tower had two series that were exactly the same. McCurtin solved this dilemma with a change in the third Carmody book, TOUGH BULLET. McCurtin noticed that most Westerns were told in an impersonal third person style, while many hardboiled mysteries were told in an engaging first person banter. Raymond Chandler had a lot to do with perfecting that style, and countless mystery writers had used it since. Harry Shorten had said he didn’t want “wise-guy private eye” narration, but McCurtin developed something tougher and terser. After the first two Carmody books are told in a Lassiter-style third person, TOUGH BULLET and the remaining three Carmody stories are told in a hardboiled first person by Carmody himself, giving us a different look at each caper through his eyes. This device worked so well for McCurtin he used it again in 1971 with COSA NOSTRA (Belmont B95-2158). “Godfather” Mafia books were all the rage, but COSA NOSTRA stands out because it is told in first person. (McCurtin had been writing a lot of Westerns, and may be nodding to them when he describes a woman in COSA NOSTRA as “coy as cowshit”, a term you won’t find anywhere in Mario Puzo.) McCurtin pulled this feat off again with SOLDIER OF FORTUNE #1: MASSACRE AT UMTALI (Tower 51757, 1976). There were countless men’s adventure series about all kinds of soldiers and mercenaries, all in the same impersonal third person style, but this book is told in first person by mercenary Jim Rainey, who is a modern day Fargo-Sundance-Carmody-Lassiter.
W.T. Ballard’s literary agent was August Lenniger, and when Lenniger retired he did something I wish more literary agents would have done for us. He donated correspondence and books in his files to the University of Oregon Special Collections Library . The Lenniger Papers include correspondence with Ballard about the Lassiter books, including a 1968 reference to “Harry Shorten’s new editor, Pete McCurtin”. In a box of books the agency had sold, we find the foreign edition of SIDEWINDER called GIFTSNOGENE. That book is also in the Germano collection. But Lenniger was not Germano’s agent.
A review of the Lenniger papers reveals that SIDEWINDER was written by another Lenniger client, Frank Castle. Like Ballard, Castle was an old-time paperback writer of mystery and Western originals. Castle called his first Lassiter, #7, “NEST OF SIDEWINDERS”. Publisher Shorten and editor McCurtin shortened that to SIDEWINDER. There is correspondence existing in the Lenniger papers about the writing of this book, and there is a synopsis in the Castle files that matches the plot of the published book perfectly. We know beyond any doubt that Frank Castle was the author of SIDWEWINDER.
A check of copyright records of the Lassiter series shows that while they didn’t bother to copyright many of the books, they did copyright THE BADLANDERS (1973), and the author name on the copyright application is Frank Castle. For many years the name of another Lenniger client and longtime Western writer Tom Curry has been linked to this book, and Curry may have written it, but the copyright has Castle’s name on it. Unfortunately and curiously, there is nothing about THE BADLANDERS in either the Castle or Curry sections of the Lenniger papers (it may have been retitled by the publisher). The only references to Jack Slade in the Curry papers are about the two Sundance titles he wrote. Tom Curry donated his papers and manuscripts to the University of Oregon too, but he did so in 1967, before the books we’re looking at were written.
SIDEWINDER and THE BADLANDERS are obviously both products of the same feverish pen. They share a unique style quite unlike anything else found in the early Lassiter books. Frank Castle reinvents the English language with new words (“he leaped pantherishly”) and a bizarre sense of style that omits key words (Castle will never say “She had a vitality and vigor”, he always phrases it like so: “Vitality in the woman, vigor in her attitude, pale hair coiled.”) He makes up his own rules of grammar and features the damnedest run-on sentences I’ve ever seen in a published book. The most unusual aspect of his sentences is the mash-up of distinctly different ideas that somehow get linked into one continuous monstrosity by endless unnecessary commas. This is an actual single sentence from SIDEWINDER:
“They went, along the balcony, down the stairs, the woman a step before him, were below, in a dark alley, running to escape from it, when a yell came from behind and above, and the crash of a gun, a slug that sang somewhere near”.
And this hard-to-follow doozy comes from THE BADLANDERS. It has TEN commas and semi-colons, and mixes action with “if and when” ideas all jammed into one sentence:
Yes sir, ten commas, that has to be some sort of world record, doesn’t it? Oh wait, here’s another run-on sentence from THE BADLANDERS with ELEVEN commas:
“And there he found one of Purnell’s scorpions, not riding the blind, in likelihood, but probably having come through the door from the baggage car, next forward, to check it – balanced at the door ledge there, primed, ready to sting, to kill, with flash of powder flame, scream of bullet, the vicious snarl of it ripping wood inches from Lassiter’s face.”
That’s two totally disparate moments in time – a gunman is found ready to shoot, and then he has shot at Lassiter – linked together with nary a conjunction in sight. Can you imagine a middle school English teacher confronted with a sentence like that on a student’s first creative writing attempt? Editor McCurtin and publisher Shorten went ahead and published all of this as is. Sometimes the choices are just unfortunately distracting (“the blowing of horses”); sometimes they defy logical syntax (“Blackness of the night’s deadest hour, dawn coolness – and no guard stepping into the road, with a challenge.”) Castle is innately unable to write that as the rest of us might have: “The night was black. It was cool in the dead hour before dawn. And curiously, the guard was missing.” It only makes sense as some kind of failed stream-of-consciousness that would have given James Joyce nightmares. From SIDEWINDER:
“In him, as he moved, a growing weariness of this town and its tiresome cross-purposes, its tangled skeins of plotting.”
As I re-type his sentences here, Microsoft’s spelling and grammar corrections keep popping up again and again, telling me not to make such mistakes. Belmont needed something like this in 1973.
There is no mistaking Castle’s unique style once you’ve suffered through some of it. And there can be no way SIDEWINDER and THE BADLANDERS were written by the same Jack Slade who wrote A HELL OF A WAY TO DIE or THE MAN FROM TOMBSTONE or THE MAN FROM YUMA. There is no way Peter Germano, or any writer, could have written all of these distinctly different books. In fact, they were written by four different men.
In a 1969 letter quoted here courtesy of the Special Collections Library at the University of Oregon , August Lenniger enlists Frank Castle to write as Jack Slade:
“Under separate cover I’m sending you the first three of the Lassiter series by Jack Slade. (Tod Ballard wrote these; Harry wanted a guy in New York he could talk to, and some of the rather wild sexy scenes are Harry Shorten’s rather than Ballard’s ideas!) ”
Lenniger encourages Castle to make his character “quite a tough boy” who has “his fun with the ladies, at least a couple times per book.”
The Lenniger correspondence reveals that Frank Castle wrote more Lassiter manuscripts after SIDEWINDER, but Harry Shorten rejected them. Shorten was determined to go with the "dirtier" Lassiter from HIGH LONESOME instead. But later, in 1972, Peter McCurtin and Ben Haas were overwhelmed by the demands of the four series they were writing. Shorten called on literary agents like August Lenniger and Kurt Singer for help. Lenniger went back to Frank Castle. Later letters from Lenniger to Castle in 1973 and 1974 outline payments from Tower Publications to Castle for the Lassiter books “Hell At Yuma Pen” (published as HELL AT YUMA), RIDE INTO HELL, and “River of Blood’ (published as BLOOD RIVER).
The Lassiter that followed those was RIMFIRE, which is a re-titled reprint of LASSITER #1 by W.T. Ballard. According to copyright records, the next Lassiter, APACHE JUNCTION, was written by John Durkin, a name I am not familiar with. Three of the next six are copyrighted by John Flynn. This is author / anthologist Bill Pronzini on “Jay” Flynn:
In addition to that list of 16 Jack Slade books, the Peter Germano Collection at the University of Oregon Library also includes some correspondence from Germano’s literary agent, Kurt Singer. In a letter dated October 1972, Singer suggests Germano write for Tower:
“Dear Peter: Tower has some best-selling series of westerns: Lassiter, Carmody, Sundance and Fargo. We have sold them in at least ten countries and the US sales are really good. Also they are starting a fifth series about a Santa Fe railroad detective. John Benteen and Peter McCurtin are up to their ears writing books for their series. Tower needs two writers to continue the existing series. Are you interested? If you don’t want to use your name for the sake of Ace you could use another name.”
From a November 1972 letter:
“Just spoke to Harry Shorten of Tower-Belmont. They would like you to start with a Lassiter book first and if possible let them have the first two chapters (so) they can see how it’s going.”
From a March 1973 letter:
“How are you doing with Lassiter?”
From the dates of these letters, it is clear that Peter Germano could not have written any of the Lassiter books before 1973. All of the Lassiter books in the library collection were published before 1971. As we have shown here, other authors wrote those books. Somehow, through some error, the Lassiter books that Germano did write did not make it into the collection. The books that are there (perhaps his reference copies of earlier Lassiter books?) can not possibly have been written by Peter Germano. I have asked the Germano family to check his manuscripts to learn which of the books he did write. There are still several to be attributed. When I hear from them, I will update this checklist. The 1979 Lassiter FIVE GRAVES FOR LASSITER, also appears on the Germano family website as a Germano title. With that date there is no reason not to suspect that Peter Germano, who was another old pro like Ballard and Castle and Curry, wrote this one.
There are no copyright records for any of the Jack Slade Lassiters by Peter Germano. The only copyright I found in that period with Germano’s name on it was for DODGE CITY , a 1976 Town Tamer Western from Manor Books. Germano’s pen name, Barry Cord, was a pseudonym he used many times over the years. The chief editor at Manor Books was Joanmarie Kalter, who previously had worked with Peter McCurtin and Harry Shorten at Belmont Tower. DODGE CITY is not found on the Peter Germano website.
As on many series, numbering is convoluted on the Lassiter books. This checklist shows the books in the order printed and also notes numbers assigned by the publisher – wrong or right - when printed on the covers. All are by Jack Slade. After the title, the real author is given when known. When author is unknown, there is no name after the title. I hope to be able to fill in some of those blanks later. First and second editions are listed, but later printings and the numerous foreign editions are not shown here. I am aware this checklist differs a great deal from a Lassiter checklist that was published online in Germany some years ago. All I can say is, I wonder where they got their information. (For example, they have Ben Haas as the author of McCurtin’s HIGH LONESOME and Peter Germano as the author of Ballard’s THE MAN FROM YUMA.)
#1 Tower 42-968 LASSITER – W.T. Ballard 1968 PBO
#2 Tower 42-101 BANDIDO – W.T. Ballard 1968
#3 Tower 42-136 THE MAN FROM YUMA – W.T. Ballard 1968
#4 Tower 42-169 THE MAN FROM CHEYENNE – W.T. Ballard 1968
#5 Tower 43-219 A HELL OF A WAY TO DIE – Ben Haas 1969
#6 Tower 43-250 HIGH LONESOME – Peter McCurtin 1969
#7 Tower 43-264 SIDEWINDER – Frank Castle 1968 (sic, actually 1969)
#8 Tower T-060-2 THE MAN FROM DEL RIO – Peter McCurtin 1969
#9 Tower T-060-9 THE MAN FROM LORDSBURG – Peter McCurtin 1970
#10 Belmont B60-2011 GUNFIGHT AT RINGO JUNCTION – Peter McCurtin 1970
#11 Belmont B75-2050 FUNERAL BEND – Peter McCurtin 1970
#12 B75-2014 THE MAN FROM TOMBSTONE – Peter McCurtin 1971
#14 BT 50597 THE BADLANDERS – Frank Castle 1973 (as #10)
#15 BT 50631 GUTSHOOTER 1973 (as #13)
#16 BT 50646 HELL AT YUMA – Frank Castle 1974 (as #15)
#17 BT 50681 RIDE INTO HELL – Frank Castle 1974 (as #16)
#18 BT 50734 BLOOD RIVER – Frank Castle 1974 (as #17)
#19 BT 50749 RIMFIRE – W.T. Ballard 1974 (as #18)
#20 BT 50798 APACHE JUNCTION – John Durkin 1975 (as #19)
#21 BT 50840 DURANGO KILL 1975
#22 BT 50955 THE MAN FROM PAPAGO WELLS 1976
#23 BT 51127 LUST FOR GOLD – John Flynn 1977
#24 BT 51146 HANGMAN – John Flynn 1977
#25 BT 51163 CATTLE BARON 1977
#26 BT 51225 WOLVERINE – John Flynn 1978
#27 BT 51409 FIVE GRAVES FOR LASSITER – Peter Germano 1979
#28 BT 51428 BIG FOOT’S RANGE 1979
#29 Tower 51540 BROTHER GUN 1980
#30 Tower 51724 REDGATE GOLD 1981 (as #28)
The last two were reprinted as Zane Grey’s Lassiter and are therefore associated to a later Zane Grey’s Lassiter series by Loren Zane Grey. Zane Grey did create a character named Jim Lassiter, but he has nothing to do with Jack Slade’s Lassiter.
CARMODY by Peter McCurtin
Belmont B60-1079 TALL MAN RIDING – 1970 PBO
Belmont B60-1097 HANGTOWN – 1970
Belmont B60-2021 TOUGH BULLET – 1970
Belmont B75-2086 THE SLAVERS – 1970
Belmont B75-2130 THE KILLERS – 1971
BT 50232 SCREAMING ON THE WIRE – 1972
The outlaw Carmody gets enlisted as town sheriff in THE KILLERS just before all hell breaks loose, the same thing that happened to Lassiter in HIGH LONESOME. And to Sundance in McCurtin’s THE MARAUDERS. None of these men are sheriff types.
David Whitehead has done a brilliant job on his Peter McCurtin web page discussing the Carmody series and noting how McCurtin recycled them into a 1980s series of adult Westerns called SADDLER by Gene Curry. Also, Whitehead notes the Carmody book THE SLAVERS was reworked by McCurtin into a later Sundance book called LOS OLVIDADOS. McCurtin was a fabulous pulp fiction writer who wrote many different kinds of genre stories with a common theme: rugged action adventure.
When I interviewed Harry Shorten’s daughter Sue, I realized I had only told half of his story when I wrote about Midwood Books. Shorten started and eventually lost Midwood, but he had another very successful decade turning Tower into Belmont Tower and starting Leisure Books in the 1970s. The letters in the Lenniger collection show he was actively involved in the creation of the Lassiter series. Harry Shorten retired to Florida in 1982, where he died in 1991.
Peter McCurtin was still using the Jack Slade pen name as late as 1993, when Leisure published a Western called TEXAS RENEGADE. Peter McCurtin died in 1997.
Two of W.T. Ballard’s Lassiter titles
It’s hard coming up with original ideas for cover art. In this case, the GUERRILLA artist has borrowed a pose from James Bama’s cover for THE TEMPLE OF GOLD.
Lynn Munroe Books