Someone once said that the best westerns are just noir on horseback. Well, over-simplication or not, that seems definitely true in the case of Anrold Hano's Flint. Originally published by Signet in 1957 under the nom de plume Gil Dodge, and recently republished by Stark House, in a collection entitled 3 Steps to Hell, that includes two other excellent Hano novels, So I'm a Heel and The Big Out. Flint is noir with a vengeance. As well it should be since the plot was borrowed from Jim Thompson's noir thriller Savage Night.
Though Hano, in transposing the narrative from the mid-twentieth century to what must be the 19th century, gets rid of the weirder, more surreal elements of Thompson's book. Too bad since that's what I so enjoyed about Savage Night. Nevertheless, this is as dark as any western is going to get. I suppose it's fair-play since Thompson took many of his plots from Greek tragedies. Or in the case, based on a synopsis his publisher, Lion, had given to Thompson. Of course, Hano was Thompson's editor (as well as David Goodis') at Lion during the latter's most prolific period, between 1952 and 1954, when he wrote some fourteen novels. Savage Night, which had always been Hano's favorite ("the best crime syndicate
novel ever."), and had worked on it with him. So, realizing he could turn it into a decent western, asked and was granted permission to use the plot.
It's a simple, yet complex tale. Flint is a retired killer with a bullet lodged in his lungs. His retirement is interrupted when someone arrives at his Arizona farm to blackmail into doing one more job in Colorado. A rancher wants him to kill Thomason, who owns the adjoining land, as well as Slott the town sheriff. But things don't go exactly to plan. Mr. Good, the man who s hired Flint, is playing everyone against everyone else. And then there's Cora, Thomason's wife. Interestingly, Hano's editor for Flint was none other
than E.L. Doctorow. An unexpected link if there ever was one.
Hano, who was born in New York in 1921, also wrote a number of novels and sports books (Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, Muhammad Ali, Robert Clemente, as well as his best known book A Day in the Bleachers) under his own name, including The Big Out, originally published in 1951, about two brothers (which put in mind of John R. Tunis' Russell brothers
in The Keystone Kids) and a protagonist who is banned the game only to
escape to Canada. Then there were books published under the names Matthew Gant, Ad Gordon and Mike Heller. It was the latter pseudonym which he used for So I'm a Heel, originally published by Gold Medal in 1957, about an embittered, sadistic cripple who, out of revenge
for the hand that life has dealt him, resorts to extortion. But it's Flint that caught my attention. And I wasn't disappointed. Now over 90 years old, Hano still lives in Laguna Beach. By the way Stark House collection also includes a short interview with Hano. Not to be missed.