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Last Stage to Hell Junction: A Caleb York Western

Review

Last Stage to Hell Junction: A Caleb York Western

It is such a pleasure lately to see a number of historical westerns prominently published. There seems to be an unspoken stigma of neglect attached to the western genre that is difficult to understand. Westerns generally are plotted as mysteries, crime fiction or thrillers, and are often the equal of (if not better than) more contemporary works that are automatically given greater due. Those fans of genre fiction who reflexively ignore westerns are missing out on a wonderful reading experience. This is particularly true of the Caleb York series.

Caleb York was a creation of the late Mickey Spillane, who first brought the character to life (make that a half-life, maybe) in an unpublished screenplay. As Spillane’s co-writer, friend and confidante, Max Allan Collins --- a grandmaster in the mystery genre in his own right --- discovered the work while going through Spillane’s files and eventually brought York to the reading public. LAST STAGE TO HELL JUNCTION is the fourth in the series and the best to date, one of those rare books that readers wish would go on and on and on.

"I speak only for myself, but I would be content if Collins devoted the remainder of his career to writing Caleb York westerns."

This is a character-driven novel with a relatively simple plot. A stage coach traveling from Trinidad, New Mexico to Denver, Colorado is waylaid for the purpose of kidnapping one of its passengers for ransom. The VIP is a wealthy banker named Raymond L. Parker. York, who is Trinidad’s sheriff, would be concerned enough by this turn of events, but is doubly so due to the presence of two other passengers: Willa Cullen and Rita Filley. Willa is a wealthy landowner, while Rita owns the largest saloon in town. Both women have been involved with York to varying intimate degrees, and as a result, he has an emotional as well as a professional stake in bringing them back alive and well.

The gang who has absconded with the trio from Trinidad is led by Blaine Hargrave, a colorful knave who is grudgingly likable. Hargrave was a well-known actor before turning to a life of crime and sees a way of making a large score in order to return to the stage in a place where he is wanted more for his thespian skills than his outlaw misdeeds. He and his gang take their captives to a ghost town once known as Hale Junction, but now referred to as Hell Junction. York initially has no idea where the outlaws have gone but is able to figure it out soon enough. He embarks on a bold plan to recover everyone intact, which does not entirely survive the first surprising encounter with the enemy but comes close enough for government work.

There are plenty of twists and turns here, as York takes advantage of a break here, some luck there and an unexpected ally who may well figure in potential future installments. In the meantime, those delving into this fine work quickly find that there is no good place to stop reading short of the last page. What higher praise is there for a book than that?

I speak only for myself, but I would be content if Collins devoted the remainder of his career to writing Caleb York westerns. His workmanlike prose and straightforward plotting are perfect for the genre, and his characters, who are stock but with unique twists, are all memorable. More, please. And soon.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 31, 2019

Last Stage to Hell Junction: A Caleb York Western
by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

  • Publication Date: May 28, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Western
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Kensington
  • ISBN-10: 1496716779
  • ISBN-13: 9781496716774