Max Brand’s 1930 novel embodies one of the aspects of pulp novels that has always drawn me to them: humans struggling with or against morality in an amoral universe. The harsh, dangerous, and unforgiving landscape of the American frontier crushes the weak or merely naive, exposing bourgeois morality as a dish only those well insulated by civilization can afford to dine upon.
But Destry bears more resemblance to a a wild animal than any human bred by civilization. A carefree, wild spirit–a carouser, a brawler, and a gunfighter–Destry doesn’t have much time for the weaknesses, foibles and hypocrisies of his fellow men. So when he gets framed for a payroll robbery, the twelve jurors convict Destry more on the malignance of their grudges toward him rather than the strength of the evidence. Destry calls out each one of his “peers” by name and promises to return for revenge. Five years later, Destry does indeed return–though a very changed man…
From here, Brand takes us through clever plot-twists and a journey that is as much about Destry having to decide the man he wants to become as it is about vengeance.
If you’ve ever seen the well-regarded, eponymous 1939 film starring Jimmy Stewart and Marlene Dietrich, know that the similiarities between the two stories begin and end with the title.
Destry Rides Again is a page-turning, two-fisted tale of betrayal, love, and the razor’s edge between redemption and damnation.
And likely one of the best pulp westerns you’ll ever pick up.