Thursday, October 17, 2019


A few years ago, I wrote a short post about a 1971 TV series titled Bearcats!, about a pair of adventurers tooling around the American Southwest (and sometimes Mexico) in a Stutz Bearcat during the 1910s. They hire out to solve dangerous problems, usually involving crooks, spies or revolutionaries.

When I wrote that post, I hadn't actually seen the show since I was a child and I was wondering if it would be as much fun to watch it as an adult as it had been in 1971. After all, the premise and the cool car would be enough to carry the show for the average 11-year-old boy.

Well, the show finally came out on DVD a few years ago. As an adult, I find myself really annoyed by the obvious 1970s haircuts. There are a few continuity and story construction problems, and (at the risk of sounding brutal) it really needed to be a little more violent than it was, with a higher body count. That would have been dramatically appropriate for the stories being told.

But it's still an entertaining show, with fun protagonists and that totally cool car carrying along the stories nicely.

Today, though, I want to talk not directly about the show, but a tie-in novel based on the show.

But wait! There's no blurb on that cover saying something like "based on the hit TV series." In fact, there's no reference to the series at all and, interestingly, the copyright is in the author's name. The cover illustration, though eye-catching and accurate to the story, gives no hint to its early 20th-Century setting.

There were several posts about this on a Men's Paperback Adventure group on Facebook. Someone came up with a reasonable theory:

The author, John Hunter (a pseudonym for pulp veteran W.T. Ballard), was hired to write a tie-in novel--a common practice for TV shows at that time. He did indeed write the novel, but the show tanked after just 13 episodes and plans to publish the novel were cancelled.

So Hunter submitted the novel to another publisher and it was published under his copyright. It's not impossible that he asked permission of the show's producers before doing this, but it seems unlikely that studio lawyers would have signed off on it. Instead, it is very likely that Hunter simply hoped no one would notice that he was using the characters and premise from the show and call him on it. And, apparently, he was right. No one noticed and Hunter committed the perfect literary crime.

Anyways, if you like the premise of Bearcats! (a Western set late enough to allow for cars and machine guns), then this book is worth tracking down and reading.

The protagonists are asked by an old friend to help save her gold mine, which is on the verge of bankruptcy because of rampant theft and corruption. It's a good premise, starting off as essentially as a detective story. As events play out, the plot smoothly evolves into a pure action tale, with the heroes using their cool car in an innovative way to save men trapped in a mine by a fire, then later pursuing a group of bad guys into Mexico.

So if you run across Hell Hole in a used book store, don't hesitate to snag a copy. Despite its flaws, Bearcats! wasn't with us long enough. So another Bearcats! story is always welcome.

There will, by the way, be no post on Thursday next week due to my honeymoon. We'll be back on our regular schedule in two weeks.

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