SADDLE THE STORM is a western, but it's really not like any western I've read before. It's immensely, incredibly densely-packed with both named characters and plot. When I first started it and I realized how quickly characters were being introduced, I feared it would be a case of a huge cast being used to obfuscate a thin plot, but it's exactly the opposite. None of the characters Whittington introduces are filler nor are their words or actions wasted.
The entire novel takes place during a three-day Independence Day celebration in the small town of Malpais and features three main, interwoven plots about: a young couple whose marriage is falling apart; a Bible-thumping bully who terrorizes his wife and children as an outlet for his own anger at being pushed around by larger ranching outfits; and a young gunfighter who wants to get away from a life of violence and bloodshed. Each of the three plots could have supported a typical Whittington novel on its own, but here, Whittington weaves them together so skillfully, each character and plot playing off of and adding to, moving along, the others, that it's truly incredible. The endings don't wrap up as realistically as I'd hoped, but each has an ending that works and even if they're a little anti-climactic, they don't take away from the overall experience.
The thing about this book is that it was so good that it makes me wonder why Whittington didn't devote this kind of skill to his other works. SADDLE THE STORM was published in 1954, early on in Whittington's career. Almost all of his work in the 50s and early 60s was published by Gold Medal, who paid fairly small amounts for initial print runs (though they paid fair royalties on additional print runs and many of their books went through multiple runs and/or editions). Many GM authors produced large bodies of work simply to make a living. Whittington himself was incredibly prolific--at one point, he produced a 50k novel a month for more than three years--and I suppose at some point, he made the decision between a steady income from potboilers and a more uneven income from more-artfully-produced novels. Clearly, he chose the steady work.
It's too bad, really, because Whittington, while not forgotten, is not as widely remembered as he deserves to be and I truly believe that if his crime novels were as skillfully produced as SADDLE THE STORM, he would have been able to break into the more mainstream, larger publishers and gain more lasting recognition.
That being said, if you've never read Whittington, there's no time like the present to start and you can certainly do worse than start with this one.