The novel opens with Guild dragging a bounty into the town of Danton. The man’s name is Maloney and he is friendly and likable. He is so likable he convinces Guild to purchase a bucket of beer to share before they hit the Sheriff’s office and jail. Once Maloney has been safely turned over and Guild has the chit in his pocket he decides to find a place to stay. He chooses a boarding house in town where he meets an angry young man that has a much larger affect on Guild’s life than expected.
Shortly thereafter, the young man is charged with a bank heist and his partner—a beautiful young woman that Guild becomes very protective of—drags Guild into the fray. It turns out Danton isn’t the town it seems to be on the surface. The law is crooked, and the town's founding family will do anything to keep their power and wealth. And Guild quickly finds the center of everything.
The Leo Guild novels are my favorite Ed Gorman Westerns—the protagonist is a dark and melancholy figure who is equal parts brawn and brain. He is a tough and violent man, but he is also self-aware. He understands human nature and while his view of the world is dark, his cynicism is never quite proven out and the blackness is never allowed to overtake him. He always finds something to admire about humanity, whether it is the beauty of a sincere woman or the hard fought integrity of a man taking the correct action no matter the consequences.
Guild, like all of Mr Gorman’s Westerns, is a hybrid—it is as much hardboiled noir as it is Western. The mystery is the centerpiece of the story, and the setting—the old West atmosphere and its dusty and wild towns—are the playground where it takes place. The true power of this novel is the sturdy portrait Mr Gorman paints of the past. He creates believable characters that behave very much as our own generation—they are tired, scared, lonely, naïve, brutal, horny, indifferent, kind and courageous; sometimes all at once. Which is most likely exactly how our ancestors behaved.
Guild is a damn fine example of a modern Western. It is hardboiled, tough, and entertaining. It will appeal to readers of both traditional Westerns and crime.
UPDATE. Leisure is reissuing all four of the Leo Guild novels. The next to be released is Death Ground, which was originally published in 1988. It is scheduled to hit bookstores October 27, 2009, and the cover art is pretty great. I read Death Ground last year and loved it. I also reviewed it here.