The Only Man in Town

Author: Emerson Dodge (Paul Wheelahan)
Publisher: The Cleveland Publishing Co.
First Published: 1977

“We don’t cotton to strangers makin’ free with our womenfolk!”

I have often bemoaned the fact the Australian pulp fiction tradition is dead – but there is one last hold out, and it is Cleveland Publishing. Cleveland caters to a unique niche market, especially for Australia, and that is they publish westerns. And they really are pulp – it’s hard to describe the actual books themselves – they are more like a mini magazine printed on newsprint – only 20,000 to 25,000 words (under a hundred pages) and barely 5 millimeters thick.

Here’s some of the history of Cleveland from their website:

Cleveland Publishing Co Pty Ltd, home of the Cleveland Westerns, is an Australian owned and operated publishing house which was founded in Sydney, Australia in 1953 by Jack Atkins. Having its beginnings in the boom of pulp fiction writing in the 1950s, Cleveland prospered as a publisher of high-quality short stories, principally in the Western genre, and remains as Australia’s most successful and only pulp fiction publisher today.

At its height, Cleveland Publishing printed 18 of its exceptionally popular Westerns each month with print runs for each of its titles peaking at 25,000. The company continues to satisfy its readers’ desire for superior short stories in that genre today with the publication of eight titles, including two new stories under its popular ‘Cleveland’ brand, each month both in Australia and, via its website, internationally.

The story I am reviewing here is called The Only Man in Town, and it was written by Emerson Dodge. A quick Google search reveals that Emerson Dodge was one of the many pen names of Paul Wheelahan – and Australian author who wrote for Cleveland from 1963 to 1997.

Here’s a snippet from a 2005 interview with Wheelahan on Reader’s Voice by Simon Sandall.

The Cleveland westerns were just under 100 pages long, in 10 chapters. Paul Wheelahan could turn out these 100 page westerns at a rapid rate.

“During my three books a month period at Cleveland I used to take four or five days,” he said.

“… Sometimes on the Monday I’d get up and I wouldn’t have a synopsis, and I’d write a synopsis, and then start the story and I’d take it in on Friday afternoon in the car, get there about 10 minutes before closing time, and then go to the pub. I don’t know how I did it.”

Read the whole article and interview here.

The Only Man in Town concerns Harlan Chadd, a mysterious no-nonsense stranger who rides into the town of Assembly. He immediately locks horns with the spirited owned of the Cressida Hotel, Etta Cassidy. Etta was the oldest of four sisters, and when their mother died, she assumed the responsibility of getting the girls married off to prosperous men. Adopting a pompous and snobby attitude, Etta only associates with the finest and wealthiest people of Assembly. Chadd, as a grubby unkempt horseman is an unwelcome.

Unbeknownst to the good people of Assembly, somebody has been buying up all the property in a line from the end of the railroad, to the river. Those who have refused to sell have either been bullied and threatened, or become victim to freakish accidents. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that the railroad intends to come through the town.

Naturally, one of the properties on the proposed path, is the Cressida Hotel, and Etta has no desire to sell. She figures her wealthy friends will stand beside her when push comes to shove. Of course they don’t, and it is Harlan Chadd who comes to her aid when things turn ugly.

The Only Man in Town is quite predictable, but that doesn’t detract from the enjoyment this fast paced story has to offer. If I have a criticism, it is the resolution is wrapped up in about two pages – which seems a tad abrupt after such a prolonged build up. However, for the price of a pot of beer, this tale delivers everything it should.

I was delighted to find out Cleveland Publishing is still going – putting out the same type of stories it has for nearly sixty years – and I hope it continues to do so.

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