Friday, June 21, 2024

John Benteen's Fargo

On my recent vacation, I decided to check out the men's adventure paperback series Fargo by John Benteen after discovering the whole series was cheap on Kindle. I became aware of the series thanks to the upcoming graphic novel adaptation, Fargo: Hell on Wheels, by Howard Chaykin.

Amazon bills the series as a Westerns, and I suppose some of them are, in the same way The Professionals (1966) or Fist Full of Dynamite (aka Duck You Sucker) (1972) or other adventure films in Western locales are considered Westerns. They take place in the early 20th Century (1912-1915 in the ones I've read so far) and involve imagery and action out of Westerns (tough men in wild country on horseback with guns), but they involve a range of locales more again to traditional adventure pulp. They range to the jungles of the Philippines and Panama, as well as the more traditional Mexican desert or Yukon.

I've read blogpost reviews that refer to Fargo as sort of a "Western Conan." I can see what they mean in that Fargo is tough as hell, irresistible to women (apparently due to sheer manliness, as he is described as unhandsome and hardly has a scintillating personality), and good at most everything in his warrior and outdoorsman purview. However, Benteen's attention to detail regarding gear and preparation for obstacles his hero faces, and his penchant for pitting Fargo against enemies that appear to be a match for him, serve to make the series feel more grounded and realistic. Only slightly pulpy instead of completely so.

Benteen's prose is lean in the mid-Century way, not pulp purple. His action and dialog are punchy and mostly effective but without any lyricism or descriptive vistas despite their natural locales. Unfortunately, but expected given their genre and when they were written, they carry a streak of misogyny, some of the volumes moreso that others. There is likely some cultural and racial insensitivity lurking in their too, but in the volumes, I have read the narrative is not unsympathetic to both Native Americans and Latinos, and Fargo himself doesn't exhibit any prejudice that I recall--though some of the villainous characters use racial slurs. 

They're all quick reads (under 200 pages) and fast-paced. So far I've read:

  • Fargo (vol 1): Set in 1914 during the Mexican Revolution, Fargo is hired to rescue an engineer (and his mine's haul of silver) from deep inside that war torn and escape bandits with revolutionary pretensions.
  • Panama Gold (vol 2): A prequel set in 1912. Fargo is asked by Teddy Roosevelt himself to investigate and thwart an attempt to foreign powers to use a mercenary army to sabotage the nearly completed Panama Canal.
  • Alaska Steel (vol 3) In 1914, Fargo is hired by a movie starlet to find her wayward husband so he can claim his oil money inheritance. The problem is, he's disappeared in the Yukon where he was seeking his fortune as a prospector.
  • Apache Raiders (vol 4) Just started this one, but Fargo is back in Mexico in 1915, smuggling guns for Pancho Villa. Presumably there are Apaches.

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