Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote only four westerns and The Deputy Sheriff of Comanche County was the last of them. It was published in the pages of Thrilling Adventures magazine and illustrated by his son John Coleman Burroughs. What makes this book stand out from many other westerns is that not only was it a good look at the Contemporary West but it was also a solidly written mystery as well.
The book begins with the introduction of your standard hero; Buck Mason, a straight talking straight shooting cowboy who has a problem with Ole Gunderstrom surrounding a land dispute that has been going on for 18 years. His visit is most likely not entirely about this dispute but more to garner information about Gunderstrom’s daughter Olga who he sent out East for a proper education. Buck and Olga had been friends since childhood but Ole Gunderstrom has no intention of letting his daughter marry an ignorant cowpuncher. Despite all kinds of discouragement, Buck has been secretly reading up on society, perusing such magazines as Vogue to make himself more appealing to a returning and presumably more sophisticated Olga.
Things take a turn for the worse when Ole Gunderstrom is murdered by a group of cutthroats who gun him down in his cabin in the middle of the night. Buck Mason, who is also Chief Deputy of Comanche County, is sent ahead by the Sheriff to investigate. Later, the Sheriff learns of an anonymous phone call accusing Buck Mason of the murder, and when Buck vanishes after investigating the crime scene everyone jumps on the “Buck is guilty” bandwagon.
The story then shifts three weeks into the future and over to the TR Dude Ranch where we meet our other key characters; Cory Blaine, the owner and operator of the ranch, and the guests Kay White, Bert Adams, Miss Pruell, Dora Crowell, and Mr. and Mrs. Talbot. It’s clear that Cory has designs on Kay White as not only is she quite attractive but her father is quite rich. Unfortunately for him she makes it abundantly clear she has no romantic interest in him. The last key player is a new arrival to the ranch in the form of Bruce Marvel, who is clearly a tenderfoot and is ridiculed for his English riding habit, his Eastern clothing and his inability to ride properly.
When Kay White’s horse gets spooked while the group is out hunting lions and starts off running madly down a dangerous trail, it’s Bruce Marvel who jumps into action and rides like the wind to rescues her from certain injury or death. This sudden competence in horsemanship does not go unnoticed by the group. It also has Kay looking at Bruce Marvel in a different light and begs the question, “Just who is Bruce Marvel?”
It is made clear rather quickly to any astute reader that Bruce Marvel is in fact Buck Mason and that he has obviously come to the TR Ranch to investigate the murder of Ole Gunderstrom. This not only makes The Deputy Sheriff of Comanche County a fun and exciting Western but it puts it on par with a good Agatha Christie mystery with the added bonus of the investigator being a badass undercover cowboy.
In The Deputy Sheriff of Comanche County Burroughs gives us well drawn out villains, numerous colorful characters and a savvy hero who is as smart as he is strong. And as with any good mystery we even get the standard Drawing Room reveal where the hero lays out all the “Whos and Whodunnits” to the astonished group. This is a must read for fans of westerns and mysteries alike.
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