I received a package of old paperbacks in the mail yesterday that has prompted me to post something a bit different today.
Australian author Leonard F. Meares has become one of my favorite authors over the last few years and I only became aware of him when I saw an online gallery of James Bama covers from the late 1960's that were used on Meares Americanized Nevada Jim Western series. The covers for many of those lovely Bantam Books paperbacks are pictured above. Originally published by the Horwitz Group as "Big Jim Rand", Nevada Jim Westerns follow Jim Gage, a former Cavalry sergeant who leaves the service to track down the murderer of his brother, and then once this task is successfully accomplished over the course of several novels, his further exploits continue in the town he eventually settles in called Cornerstone.
Meares was perhaps best known for an even longer running series of novels, again originally published overseas by the Horwitz Group as Larry and Stretch westerns, but adapted for Bantam as "Larry and Streak" westerns. In fact between 1955 and continuing until his death in 1993, the prolific Meares could turn out around thirty books a year. He eventually wrote 746 novels, the majority of which were westerns under a variety of pseudonyms such as Ward Brennan, Glenn Murrell, Shad Denver, Brett Waring and Marshall Grover (this too was changed by Bantam Books into "Marshall McCoy", for Meares American volumes).
Of course James Bama, whose cover artwork on the Nevada Jim Westerns attracted me to Meares terrific writing, is famous for producing almost all of the covers for the first sixty-seven Bantam Books paperbacks reprinting the adventures of pulp hero, Doc Savage. Bama went on to enjoy a career as a fine art painter of naturalist western subjects.
Whether as Marshall Grover or Marshall McCoy, Leonard Frank Meares westerns are - in my humble opinion - superior to many western authors who may be more familiar to most fans. I won't name any in particular, but simply put, there are some top gun writers whose work on "oaters" (aka cowboy tales) has always bored the living hell out of me. Meares doesn't. His westerns resound with the same level of cinematic clarity and excitement that fueled the heyday of Hollywood's classic film westerns on the big screen. More mythology and folklore than reflection of reality, Meares heroes travel the the unknown west meting out true two-fisted justice to evil back-shooters, ruffians and land barons in a most satisfying manner.
I have painstakingly sought out, tracked down and acquired a dozen beautiful copies of the sixteen Nevada Jim Westerns that Bantam released (out of 70 "Big Jim Rand" novels that Meares actually penned). The pricing on these old paperbacks can vary wildly and many often fetch prices up to $50-70 dollars each, even in less than desirable grade. I believe this is largely due to Meares excellent writing talent and just how wide his fame spread worldwide. I also have to add that many online sources mistakenly identify Larry and Streak volumes as Nevada Jim Westerns, so word to the wise, while I've read & enjoyed his Larry and Streak paperbacks, my favorite Meares series is his Nevada Jim Westerns. Bantam Books tightly edited the longer, original Horwitz material and they also excised some of the more racist elements in depictions of minority characters and this served the Americanized volumes very well.
The following list of Bantam Books Nevada Jim Western editions are the entire actual run as best as I can determine: A Man Called Drago, Bury the Guilty, Guns of Greed, Die Brave, No Gun is Neutral, Limbo Pass, The Killers Came at Noon, Seven Westbound, Behind the Black Mask, Killer Bait, Big Lobo, Satan's Back Trail, Gun Flash, Justice for Jenner, Crisis at Cornerstone and Bounty on Wes Durand.
I am still looking for high grade Bantam editions of A Man Called Drago, Big Lobo, The Killers Came at Noon and Justice for Jenner. Depending upon the condition, I will pay up to $25 each. I can't recommend these novels highly enough.