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Literature / Ben Snow

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The Ben Snow series by Edward D. Hoch is a series of American Old West mysteries set around the turn of the 20th century. Like the Dr. Sam Hawthorne series by the same author, these tales are carefully researched historical pieces, sometimes including real historical characters such as Butch Cassidy. He met another Hoch character, Sam Hawthorne, in "The Problem of the Haunted Teepee".

The first Ben Snow series appeared in 1961 in The Saint Mystery Magazine; the series has since been continued in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.


The Ben Snow stories feature examples of:

  • Amateur Sleuth: Ben is a cowboy drifter in the old west who discovers and solves mysteries.
  • Animal Assassin: A snake in the story "Suddenly, with Fangs". Subverted in that the snake wasn't that interested in attacking, and the intended victim ended up using it on the assassin.
  • Animal Stampede: In "Banner of Blood", the murderers used a cattle stampede to mask the true cause of the victim's death and Make It Look Like an Accident.
  • Authority in Name Only: In "The Phantom Stallion" bedridden ranch owner Horace Grant has the ultimate say about approving the hirings done by his two sons and foreman but never questions their judgments, and simply appreciates being given the right to give final approval for formality's sake.
  • Bandito: In the story "The Trail of the Golden Cross", Ben fights to protect the cross from the bandito Zanja who turns out to be a gringo and his gang.
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  • Big Bad Friend: Eddie Abilene the river boat gambler with the end of that story even having Ben noting that he lost a friend when he solved the case.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Stories tend to have Ben lose people he care about to either death or prison, or be forced to move out of town due to claims he's Billy the Kid.
  • Blow Gun: In "The Edge of the Year 1900", a blowgun dart coated in curare is used as the murder weapon. The murderer actually pressed the dart into the victim in the dark. Using the dart was an attempt to frame the blowgun's owner.
  • Circuit Judge: Ben is hired to protect one of these in "Dagger Money"
  • Clear My Name: Eventually, fed up with always being accused of being Billy the Kid, Snow hires a detective to prove that either the real Billy is dead or track him down if he he survived. Unfortunately, the apparent real Billy the Kid is involved in the assassination of President McKinley and Ben is forced to kill him, with there being no evidence left to prove he was Billy the Kid.
  • Cult: In "The Edge of the Year 1900", Ben spends New Year's Eve 1899 with a group following a woman who had vision that the world would end with coming of the year 1900.
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check: In one story, Ben comes across the con man Doc Robin, who demonstrates a type of hang glider then sells nonexistent copies of it and disappears with the down payments. He ends up murdered by a Retired Outlaw he tried to blackmail into helping him, with Ben sadly noting that Robin persisted with making crooked money when he could have just made it honestly by charging the townspeople money to watch him fly rather than do it for free as a supposed demonstration.
  • The Drifter: Ben is a wandering cowhand looking for work who keeps stumbling into mysteries. It doesn't help that he is sometimes mistaken for Billy the Kid.
  • Ghost Town: In "Ghost Town", Ben visits the ghost town of Raindeer looking for a place to spend the night, and is captured by a quartet of train robbers. Then someone starts picking the robbers off one by one...
  • Headless Horseman: In the story "The Headless Horseman of Buffalo Creek", Ben investigates a local legend of a headless horseman and uncovers a brutal murder.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: In "Ghost Town", the first of the Ten Little Murder Victims is impaled with a harpoon that leaves him Pinned to the Wall.
  • Imposter Forgot One Detail: In "Banner of Blood", the killers plan on Faking the Dead by killing a stooge and leaving his body too mangled to be identified expect by the tattoo of the American flag on his chest. However, they slip up because when they take their patsy to be tattooed, the tattooist tattoos the current American flag, and two states had been added since the killer had his done.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: In "Frontier Street", the murderer gives himself away when he says how many times the victim had been struck over the head: something he would not have been able to tell just from looking at the body.
  • Injun Country: In "The Valley of Arrows", Ben solves a murder committed inside a fort besieged by 500 Navajo.
  • Interesting Situation Duel: Realising the difficulties of bringing the murderer to trial in "Frontier Street", Ben agrees to meet him in a showdown in the main street: with Ben only having one live round in his revolver, and not knowing which chamber it is in.
  • Locked Room Mystery: In "The Phantom Stallion", an invalid confined to a bed is murdered inside a room with the door latched and the window locked. The killer used a chip of ice to hold the latch open as they closed the door. When the ice melted, the latch fell into place. The fact that the door was locked provides Ben with a vital clue.
  • Mercy Lead: In "Frontier Street", a crooked gambler gets spooked and shoots a deputy. Ben, who witnesses the shooting, draws his own pistol but tells the gambler he will give him a five second head start.
  • Murder-Suicide: "The Phantom Stallion" ends this way, with the Wham Line at the end revealing that well after revealing the truth of what happened to the cuckolded husband of the murderess (and son of her victim, who had found out about the affair Ben learns that instead of taking her to the sheriff, her husband gunned down her, her lover and then himself.
  • New Year Has Come: "The Edge of the Year 1900" takes place on New Year's Eve 1899, with Ben getting mixed up with a Cult that believes that the world is going to end, and Ben having to solve a murder that occurs on the stroke of midnight.
  • Pinned to the Wall: In "Ghost Town", the first of the Ten Little Murder Victims is Impaled with Extreme Prejudice by a harpoon that leaves him pinned to the wall.
  • Pocket Protector: In the short story "The Trail of the Golden Cross", Ben is saved from being shot in the back when the bullet deflects off the cross, which he had concealed by hiding it in the small of his back under his shirt.
  • Quick Draw: Although he is trying to leave gun-play behind him (along with the persistent rumour that he is Billy the Kid), Ben is still phenomenally fast on the draw: able to draw and fire five times in the time it takes most men to get off one shot
  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax:
    • In "The Phantom Stallion", the murderer attempts to make the murder look like an attack by a ghost horse.
    • "Ghost Town" has a sheepman outside of a ghost town claiming that it's haunted as a temporary measure to keep anyone from wandering into the area and stumbling across his plan too rob and kill a band of train robbers.
  • Showdown at High Noon: Realising the difficulties of bringing the murderer to trial in "Frontier Street", Ben agrees to meet him in a showdown in the main street: with Ben only having one live round in his revolver, and not knowing which chamber it is in.
  • Ten Little Murder Victims: In "Ghost Town", Ben is captured by a gang of train robbers who are using the eponymous ghost town as hideout. Then, while Ben is tied up, someone starts picking off members of the gang one by one...
  • This Bear Was Framed:
    • In "Banner of Blood", the murderers smash in a man's head with an axe handle, and then use a cattle stampede to make it look like an accident.
    • In "The Phantom Stallion", the murderer bludgeons the victim with a horseshoe nailed to a piece of wood to make it look like he was killed by a ghost horse (It Makes Sense in Context).
  • This Is My Name on Foreign: In "The Trail of the Golden Cross", the Mexican Bandito Zanja turns out to really be a white man named Cole Fosse; Zanja and Fosse being the Spanish and French, respectively, for 'ditch'.
  • Twilight of the Old West: The stories start in 1890 (nine years after the death of Billy the Kid) and advance in to the early years of the 20th Century. "The Edge of the Year 1900" takes place on New Year's Eve 1899.