David Whitehead




Jack M Bickham

(I'm indebted to my good friend Link Hullar for this fine article)

Settle back in your chair for a moment and picture with me a typical hero of western fiction. Now, forget that vision and imagine instead Wildcat O'Shea, the outrageous western character created by Jack M Bickham more than three decades ago. See if you can conjure up an image of bright red hair, no front teeth, yellow boots, purple vest, green pants, blue shirt, red hat ... well, you get the idea. Wildcat O'Shea is far from the typical western hero. Instead, he is one of the most unusual and eminently enjoyable characters in western fiction.

The Fighting Buckaroo by Jeff Clinton Watch Out for Wildcat by Jeff Clinton

Wildcat burst upon the western scene in The Fighting Buckaroo (1961), then ran for a total of fifteen books before concluding with Hang High O'Shea in 1972. In fact, the character was introduced in an earlier book, Hangman's Territory as "Boom Boom O'Malley" but this name did not stick so the "new" series character became Wildcat O'Shea. Later, Jack Bickham observed, "Until Boom Boom came along, I didn't know I could write humour. I enjoyed writing about the guy ... The moment I wrote that first half-drunken scene with him, my imagination lit up from the exaggeration and I thought I had someone special."

Bounty on Wildcat by Jeff Clinton Wildcat's Claim to Fame by Jeff Clinton Wildcat's Revenge by Jeff Clinton Wanted: Wildcat by Jeff Clinton

There is no doubt that Wildcat is "special." This reluctant hero drinks too much, chases the ladies and spends more time loafing or in the local jail than he does working. While O'Shea might take an occasional job as a cowpuncher, his specialty is dynamite. However, most books find our hero in jail for some violent drunken brawl or for pulling another of his large-scale pranks (and when you specialize in dynamite, those "pranks" can be rather destructive). The local, long-suffering law usually presses Wildcat into service in an effort to direct his energies to more positive accomplishments as well as to get O'Shea off the streets, out of jail, or, even better, out of town. The stories are filled with action, adventure and a wild 'n' woolly sense of humor that keeps readers coming back for more.

The War on Charity Ross by Jack M Bickham Target: Charity Ross by Jack M Bickham
Feud Fury by Jack M Bickham Killer's Paradise by Jack M Bickham Gunmen Can't Hide by Jack M Bickham

Jack Miles Bickham wrote the Wildcat books under the pseudonym "Jeff Clinton". He was born in Columbus, Ohio, on 2nd September 1930. He was educated at Ohio State University (B.A. 1952) and the University of Oklahoma (M.A. 1960). He worked as a newspaper journalist and editor and also taught Journalism at the University of Oklahoma (from which he retired in 1991). Indeed, some measure of his abilities as an educator can be seen by his elevation to the rank of David Ross Boyd Professor - the highest award the University could bestow. His work includes seventy-five novels and five books about writing for Writer's Digest Books.

Writing Novels That Sell by Jack M Bickham I Still Dream About Columbus by Jack M Bickham Writing and Selling Your Novel by Jack M Bickham

While Bickham's books have included mainstream novels as well as mystery and espionage, his largest body of work has been in the field of western fiction. Gunman's Gamble was published by Ace Books in 1958. This was followed by a long string of successes in the western market, including the Wildcat O'Shea series from Berkley. Discussing the appeal of western fiction, Bickham once said, "The western novel, with its theme of a lone man fighting for justice and self-respect against a hostile environment, is the stuff of our American dream and ethic. The issues are usually simple -- loyalty, courage, personal integrity and independence against selfishness, corruption, dishonesty, greed and cruelty -- and these issues are played out against a romantic, rugged backdrop that strikes a mythic chord in most Americans' hearts." Two of his westerns, The Apple Dumpling Gang (1974) and Baker's Hawk (1975) were also turned into movies.

Baker's Hawk by Jack M Bickham Dopey Dan by Jack M Bickham A Boat Named Death by Jack M Bickham

The author went on to add, "I think it's a shame that fewer westerns are published today ... Today's publishing world stresses the bizarre and macabre, or the impossibly elite. Collectors of old paperback novels have a treasure-trove of well-told stories of the kind that just aren't being printed much today. Today, a good story, well-told, is not enough for publication. And that's a shame."

Jilly's Canal by Jack M Bickham Gunman's Gamble by Jack M Bickham Killer's Choice by Jeff Clinton Katie, Kelly and Heck by Jack M Bickham

Following his retirement, Jack Bickham lived out his remaining years in Norman, Oklahoma. While he did return to the western novel for Big Sky Revenge (1991) as by Jeff Clinton, however, most of his later work was in the field of mystery and espionage fiction. His six books about Brad Smith (international tennis star and sometimes-CIA assistant) were published by Forge/Tor. Beginning with Tiebreaker and concluding with The Davis Cup Conspiracy, the Brad Smith novels have been widely and highly praised by reviewers around the country. In addition, Bickham wrote a variety of other novels, using the pseudonyms "Jeff Clinton", "John Miles", and "George Shaw". Regardless of the genre or name, however, his work has consistently provided quality entertainment for his many readers.

Breakfast at Wimbledon by Jack M Bickham Tiebreaker by Jack M Bickham The Davis Cup Conspiracy by Jack M Bickham

Bickham died on 25th July 1997, following a long battle with lymphoma.

Taking a glance through the many Jack Bickham/Jeff Clinton westerns that are neatly stacked upon my shelves sparks a pleasant memory for each of the titles. While I have never read a book by this author that I did not enjoy, my heart belongs to Wildcat O'Shea. The big, red-headed brawler captured my imagination almost thirty years ago and still fascinates me today. Haunt those used-paperback book shops to hunt up some of these old tales. You will never regret a rip-roaring, action-packed, fun-filled visit to the wild, wild west of Wildcat O'Shea!