Backshot: 1902 is the first of two related short novels. 1902 is written by Ed Gorman and Backshot: 2012 is written by Tom Piccirilli. The connection is familial. Marshal Royce, who appears in the later parts of 1902, is the grandfather of the protagonist in 2012. I haven’t read 2012 yet—my copy is still wending its way across the United States, last check put it in North Carolina—but 1902 is damn good.
Declan Parnell is a young, relatively harmless, man working in the finest restaurant in Granite Bend. He has two weaknesses, the tables in the local casinos, and Jancey. Jancey is the beautiful, manipulative, self-serving girlfriend of Declan’s boss. She gives Declan a taste whenever she wants her beau in a jealous huff. Declan’s other vice destroyed his relationship with his only real friend, a middle-aged woman named Burl, which makes him vulnerable to a supporting role in the robbery of a local judge. The robbery goes bad, and Declan’s prospects get bleaker when Marshal Royce, who is in town investigating the local Sheriff for corruption, starts sniffing around.
Backshot: 1902 is a marvelously executed western noir. Declan is likable, maddening in his foolishness, and hopelessly inadequate to Jancey’s powers—
“She was right. I didn’t know much about women and the little I did know scared the hell out of me.”
It is very much like an old Gold Medal crime novel—a man trapped in a situation far out of his control, his downfall brought by a beautiful woman, and his redemption in the arms of another. It is developed with Ed Gorman’s masterful colors of humanity. The most egregious, nasty villains are painted with the light brush of understanding, creating a moral ambiguity that is more horrifying than straight evil. It is an understated masterpiece, an apt description of many of Ed Gorman’s works, and well worth the price of admission.