Monday, September 23, 2013

Book Review: FARGO by John Benteen

Click the Cover to See it on Amazon
To me, Neal Fargo is a combination of Robert E. Howard's Conan mixed with Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch. Fargo, John Benteen's (aka Ben Haas) eponymous globe-trotting adventurer/mercenary is in his late 30's, a highly-skilled and incredibly lethal fighting man who's already had a lifetime's worth of adventures by the time we meet him arriving in El Paso in the beginning of the book. Like Conan, Fargo is a lone wolf, a man who really trusts no one and nothing except, perhaps, his weapons. He fights for money and because it's what he's best at, and because he's one of those rare breed of men who, unashamedly, needs to be in mortal conflict with man and the elements in order to feel alive. Fargo knows he'll meet a violent end one day, and you know his only hope is that he dies on his feet, surrounded by his enemies.

But at the same time, the world Fargo lives in is one of chaos. The series is set in the era around WW1, a time of change and upheaval, of increasing mechanism in the manner in which men kill each other. Like the men of The Wild Bunch, you get the sense that Fargo is a man born out of an earlier age, symbolized, I feel, by his shock of white hair, evidence of how life has aged him far beyond his relatively young years. He's a man who is, in a way, better fitted to the latter half of the 19th century than the beginning of the 20th. But to Fargo, it is a small matter; he knows men skilled with guns, knives, and their bare fists are still in demand all around the world, and his reputation is such that he can command top dollar.

In this first novel in the series, Fargo is looking for employment along the border with Mexico. He knows the revolution to the south is a perfect place for a man of his skills, but Fargo won't throw in with just anybody. He picks and chooses based on the most profit and the best chance of success, although sometimes those two might be at odds to each other. Fargo is approached by Ted Meredith, a man who owns half of a silver mine three hundred miles south of the border. The mine is under siege by a Mexican bandit lord by the name of Hernandez, and Meredith knows the mine is lost to him, but perhaps they can sneak out with a mule train loaded down with a quarter million dollars' worth of silver coins. Meredith offers Fargo ten percent of whatever they get out of Mexico, and Fargo agrees to take on the assignment.

I don't want to spoil the plot, because there are a number of twists and turns, some predictable, some not so much. There's a lot of fighting, especially gunplay, and this is one of the areas where Benteen/Haas lavishes a lot of strong detail. Fargo is a man who lives and dies not only by his wits but by his weapons, and he carries a small arsenal with him wherever he goes. I was somewhat reminded of that scene in 1999's The Mummy when O'Connell - a fighting man in the same "globe-trotting adventurer" vein as Fargo - throws his duffel on a table and opens it up to reveal a small army's worth of weapons and ammunition. Fargo always brings with him a steamer trunk filled with weapons and ammo. He carries a .38 caliber Colt Army revolver, a Winchester .30-30 rifle, and, his most prized firearm, a custom-made Fox ten-gauge double-barrel hammerless shotgun given to him by none other than Teddy Roosevelt. Fargo rode in the Rough Riders and fought on San Juan Hill, and as payment of sorts for an unnamed favor, Roosevelt gifted Fargo this shotgun. Fargo cut the thirty-inch barrel down to a more portable thirteen inches, and keeps the weapon loaded with double-ought buckshot. There are several times in the book where this shotgun is fired with both barrels, and the blast of shot has the seeming effect of a Napoleonic field cannon loaded with grape, but I'll forgive Haas the embellishment because, frankly, it's just that badass. Fargo also carries with him a razor-edged Batangas knife, better known as a butterfly knife, that sports a ten-inch blade. Fargo is dazzlingly lethal with this knife, and in one epic fight scene, demonstrates his gift of ambidexterity.

The wonderful folks at Piccadilly Publishing are re-releasing all of the Fargo books as ebooks, and this first novel is a steal of a deal in ebook format for $1.99 on Amazon. It is an incredible read, full of high adventure and epic battles, dangerous villains and sultry women. I cannot recommend this book highly enough, and my greatest frustration is that I'll have to wait for the followup volumes to be released (the original paperbacks can be found, but the one I have is rather brittle, and I'd rather just read it as an ebook).


David Cranmer said...

My kind of pulp adventure. Thanks for bringing it to my attention, Jack.

Hank said...

Like the review so much I bought the book. Thanks.

Chris said...

Definitely going to get this. Thanks, Jack. Whatever you vouch for is good enough for me!

Charles Gramlich said...

I've only got one of the Fargo books, and not this one. I enjoyed the one I read quite a bit.

Anonymous said...

Referenced this review over at I always felt like the John Benteen books echoed Robert E. Howard. I remember twlling friends back in jr. high that Jim Sundance was "a high plains Conan."

I dig what you do.

Jim Cornelius

Hank Brown said...

I just got an Amazon gift card, and am gonna by it on this recommendation.

Is it just me, or does the guy on the cover not resemble Lee Marvin a little bit?