Bad Days for Bad Men: Smoke Jensen's American Justice
“Two Smoke Jensen books in one—what a bargain!”
This volume comprises two Smoke Jensen novellas: Betrayal of the Mountain Man and Rampage of the Mountain Man.
Betrayal of the Mountain Man begins with a hard Colorado winter for the Sugarloaf Ranch, losing Smoke more than his share of cattle to the brutal weather. To make matters worse, now he’s in danger of losing the Sugarloaf.
“Sugarloaf had lived up to its potential, so much that Smoke had borrowed money to expand the ranch. He bought more land, built a new barn and bunkhouse, added to the the house and bought more cattle. And then the winter hit . . .“
The situation has gotten so dire he has to let his ranch hands go.
When Smoke is offered a job guarding a money shipment coming into town, he jumps at the chance. All he has to do is ride shotgun on the stage from Sulphur Springs to Big Rock. Easy, right?
“‘I know how you can come up with a hundred and fifty dollars if you are willing to do a job for me.’
‘Is it honest work?’
‘Oh yes, it’s honest. It might also be dangerous.’
‘I’ll do it,’ Smoke said.”
Of course, it isn’t that easy, for the stage is robbed, but when the gun smoke clears, Smoke finds himself paid, not only for the original job but for killing the robbers because each is on a Wanted poster.
Finding himself with enough money to pay off the loan on the ranch, Smoke rides to Denver to do so. Unfortunately, a town he passes has just been robbed and the bank president killed, and he and the robbers cross trails. Smoke is knocked unconscious, one of the robbers changes clothes with him, and they ride away. When the following posse arrives, they recognize the clothes, if not the man, as those of the bank president’s killer.
Smoke is arrested and taken back for trial. Though a simple telegram to Big Rock would resolve everything, as luck would have it, the lines are down so the sheriff opts for a trial in which Smoke is found guilty.
Betrayal of the Mountain Man features another bad winter approaching but this time, Smoke is prepared. The Indian Agent for the local Lakota Sioux agrees to buy the first 3000 head of cattle arriving at his office, and Smoke is determine to have that herd. With wife Sally driving the chuck wagon, he and his ranch hands start out.
Unfortunately, a dishonest banker is determined to gain ownership of the herd so he can sell it to the government, and he’s hired some men who have a grudge against Smoke to get it.
To further complicate things, a group of renegade warriors break from the reservation and attack the soldiers bringing supplies to the fort.
Smoke and his party get caught in the crossfire.
Both books give a brief background of Kirby “Smoke” Jensen, and it’s just enough to whet the literary appetite. Characters from other stories are introduced but not allowed to take over the plot or the limelight. Historical information such as the emergence of baseball’s popularity lends credence to the plots, with the second novella featuring Smoke’s men playing a game against a professional team and “even though Smoke’s team lost to the professionals of St. Louis, they played so well, they were heralded as heroes by the citizens of Big Rock.”
As anyone who has ever read a Johnstone novel knows, the narrative is terse and laconic, much like the characters themselves. Action is stated in short, succinct bursts, without flowery prose or a deluge of verbosity. Not everyone who seems a villain turns out to be, but the bad men are bad enough, and though the good men are sometimes tattletale-gray, they are pearly-white when it comes to the important things, such as honesty, loyalty to their friends and the way they treat women.
Though there is violence in the stories (after all, the title does indicate “Justice” Old West-style), and death, the authors don’t glory in the bloodshed. If someone gets fatally shot, he dies—in a few short sentences—as it would happen in reality.
“‘Anyone hit?’ Smoke called.
‘Yeah, I been hit.’ LeRoy called back, his voice strained.
‘How bad is it?’ Smoke asked.
‘I-I reckon it’s killed me,’ Leroy said, his voice growing weaker.”
One exception to this rule is the hanging of some cattle rustlers which, though short and told with the same blunt abruptness, illustrates that Western justice—and occasionally in-justice—was swift and brutal.
These two stories will encourage the reader to discover more tales of Smoke Jensen. Since the Johnstones have written over 500 books between them, there shouldn’t be trouble finding more.
Two Smoke Jensen books in one—what a bargain!