One of the greats has gone up the trail. Brian Garfield died on December 29. A versatile writer of Western, crime and history, Garfield penned one of the books that shaped me.
As a kid in junior high school, I read the covers off of his novel Wild Times, which was made into a TV miniseries starring Sam Elliott as Hugh Cardiff, sharpshooter and western showman. The miniseries was great — the novel was magnificent. It went to my head like strong wine. I wanted to be Hugh Cardiff.
I never read Garfield’s most famous novel — Death Wish — but I loved Kolchak’s Gold.
On the hunt for long-lost gold, a historian attracts murderous attention
Twenty-five million people died during the Russian Civil War. It was a clash between Tsarist loyalists and the new Soviet order, and when the imperialist forces saw defeat in sight, their thoughts turned to their future. Under the command of Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak, they loaded the entire Tsarist treasury onto a train, packing millions of worthless banknotes alongside platinum, jewels, and over five hundred tons of gold bullion. As Kolchak retreated, the train disappeared, and the fortune vanished.
America’s foremost historian of Russia, Harry Bristow, is researching a new biography of Kolchak when an ancient veteran of the Russian Civil War gives him a clue to the gold’s whereabouts. Bristow would like to find the treasure for the sake of historical research, but where gold goes, greed follows—and death is not far behind.
That novel sparked a long-term interest in the Russian Civil War.
Garfield also penned a devastating takedown of Richard Meinertzhagen, one of the larger-than-life figures on the East African frontier in the early 20th Century. The title tips Garfield’s hand: The Meinertzhagen Mystery: The Life and Legend of a Colossal Fraud.
Tall, handsome, charming Col. Richard Meinertzhagen (1878–1967) was an acclaimed British war hero, a secret agent, and a dean of international ornithology. His exploits inspired three biographies, movies have been based on his life, and a square in Jerusalem is dedicated to his memory. Meinertzhagen was trusted by Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George, Chaim Weizmann, David Ben Gurion, T. E. Lawrence, Elspeth Huxley, and a great many others.
He bamboozled them all. Meinertzhagen was a fraud. Many of the adventures recorded in his celebrated diaries were imaginary, including a meeting with Hitler while he had a loaded pistol in his pocket, an attempt to rescue the Russian royal family in 1918, and a shoot-out with Arabs in Haifa when he was seventy years old. True, he was a key player in Middle Eastern events after World War I, and during the 1930s he represented Zionism’s interests in negotiations with Germany. But he also set up Nazi front organizations in England, committed a half-century of major and costly scientific fraud, and — oddly — may have been innocent of many killings to which he confessed (e.g., the murder of his own polo groom — a crime of which he cheerfully boasted, although the evidence suggests it never occurred at all). Further, he may have been guilty of at least one homicide of which he professed innocence.
Garfield looms large in the pantheon of important Frontier Partisan writers. He had a long and a good ride, and now he raises a horn in some literary Valhalla where the tales flow with the mead… endlessly.