Monday, August 31, 2009

"The Bandit" by Loren D. Estleman

A note up front. I wrote this piece, read it, and then debated for some time about actually posting it. As you can see I decided to go with it. The subject matter, "The Bandit" by Loren Estleman, is really terrific. You should find a copy and read it. As for the wistful philosophy, it is all my own, and while it sounds more like a sophomoric argument in a community college literature paper, and less like something truly deep and meaningful, don't hold that against the story or its author.

There is one constant in human history. Change. There are times when change seems terribly distant, and others when change is so near and terrifying we try to ignore and hope it doesn’t last. It always does last however, and the only thing that will take its place is more change, and that expected change never moves us back to where we were. Sometimes it seems like we step back, but we never really do—it is always forward, although not always for the better, and only sometimes for the worse.

The Western story is a glimpse at that change—the moving from the old to the new, and then further past still. It is a window to the past. A vision of what was. The technology of an era gone by—the freight wagon was the high technology of its day, and without it we never would have devised such a thing as the freight train or the modern semi-tractor trailer rig, or even the airplane. There is a progression that is natural and scary as hell that is defined by one word: time. It moves forward with an unflinching eye and we either stay with it, or we are unmercifully left behind.

I recently read a short story that reminded me of change and its unrelenting march forward. It is a Western story written by one of the best writers the genre has produced: Loren D. Estleman. It was published in 1986 and won the Golden Spur Award for best short story. Its title: “The Bandit”.

It is the chronicle of an outlaw who was incarcerated in 1878—the pinnacle of the post Civil War mythologized Western outlaw era. He spent the prime years of his life in a penitentiary only to be released 29 years later at the age of 60.The automobile was replacing the horse and wagon as the major mode of transportation, and the American economy was moving from its old agrarian self into the industrial age—and still it changes today as we move into the so-called post industrial age.

The old man is in awe at his first glimpse at an automobile—“He watched it go by towing a plume of dust and blue smoke and said, ‘Oldsmobile.’” He kept up with modern life and technology through magazines and newspapers, but there is nothing like the real thing, and when he is released he finds the world a changed place. He doesn’t know if the train station is still in the same place, and he doesn’t know exactly how he will live in this world—a world to which he really no longer belongs.

The irony of the story is that it is his past—the past—that gives him currency in this new place. It is his stories and wisdom that allow him a position. Very much as it is our own pasts—both our personal past as well as the cultural past—that give us a future. We depend on the past to define ourselves, and in that definition and experience we create both today and tomorrow.

“The Bandit” is a wonderful tale that is as entertaining as it is enlightening. It can be read as both a genre piece and a deeply affecting literary story. The difference between the two is probably no more than semantic, but this story should appeal to anyone who enjoys a story as a story and also to those who need to grapple with deep meaning and nuance. A line that is nearly impossible to walk, but a line that Loren Estleman often approaches and straddles in his Western fiction.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Monday, August 24, 2009

Masters of Horror: "Sounds Like"

I ran out of time over the weekend and was unable to get anything written for the blog, but I found this review I wrote and posted December 2007. I have a love-hate relationship with the Showtime series Masters of Horror. It is a rocky and uneven series--or was, since I think it is gone now. A few of the episodes are terrific while others are nearly unwatchable.

"Sounds Like" is one of the good episodes. I've watched it again since I wrote this review and it was just as entertaining and fun as it was the first time. The quiet scenes are the most interesting. They remind me how loud we are as a species. We drown our thoughts with racket and noise--music, television and our own voices--to keep a certain amount of sanity against our vast and uncontrollable environment. It is a great piece of television, and Brad Anderson has added another terrific film to his body of work:

I watched an episode of Masters of Horror—a Showtime anthology series—a few weeks ago that has stayed with me. The title: “Sounds Like.” It was directed and written by Brad Anderson—he also directed the 2001 horror film Session 9; a film that really scared me, and absolutely terrified my girlfriend. His work since has mostly consisted of television episodes; he directed an episode of The Shield, Surface, and two episodes of HBO’s overrated series The Wire.

“Sounds Like” is a quiet film—it tells the story of Larry Pierce, a manager at a customer service call center who, at the death of his son, develops hypersensitive hearing. He can hear whispered conversations across crowded rooms; small sounds that we all ignore—dripping water facets, the clinking of glassware, nervous fingers playing on cloth and tables. He can literally hear everything, and at first it doesn’t bother him, but as the film progresses Larry becomes more and more isolated from the world. He is more an observer of his surroundings than a participant, and the crushing noise of humanity quickly threatens his sanity.

“Sounds Like” is a terrific film that drips with melancholy, isolation, rage, and a forbidding loneliness that exists in us all. Chris Bauer, who plays Larry, is perfect for the role. He exudes tired desperation. The sadness of the character seemingly haunts the screen, and as the film moves toward its climax the audience can’t help but feel a mixture of empathy and horror at what the man becomes.

Brad Anderson has created an atmospheric film that not only tells a great story, but also says something about society, loss, and the human condition. "Sounds Like" is the best episode of the very uneven Masters of Horror series, and very much worth the price of rental.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Philip K. Dick a Gnostic?

A few days ago I came across a magazine article about the work of Philip K. Dick. The article was in a Catholic Magazine—a rather good magazine—called Commonweal (May 4, 2007). The title of the article “The Real Gnostic Gospel: The Fiction of Philip K. Dick” by John Garvey. It compared Dick’s work—particularly his later work—with the Gnostic gospels. A subject I am less than literate with, but interesting and thought provoking nonetheless since I have always viewed Dick’s paranoia—the ideal that there is much more than meets the eye—as less a support for organized religion and more an indictment of everything organized, including religion.

While it isn’t my intent to discover any new truth or argue with the author of the article I do want to examine the idea—rather shallowly I assure you—for no other reason than to figure out how Dick’s body of work can be used as an apologist piece for organized religion—and more importantly see if there is anyone around who knows enough about the early Christian texts, mythologies and dogmas to intelligently compare and contrast the two.

Firstly, a simple definition of the term gnostic: to know. It is derived from the Greek and has the direct opposite meaning of agnostic, or without knowledge. The Gnostic gospels are defined by the The Gnostic Society Library as:

Among early followers of Christ it appears there were groups who delineated themselves from the greater household of the Church by claiming not simply a belief in Christ and his message, but a "special witness" or revelatory experience of the divine. It was this experience or gnosis that set the true follower of Christ apart, so they asserted.

A key idea in Garvey’s article is when he compares Dick’s work with both the Gnostic texts and the more modern view that religion uncovers the hidden truths about both human nature and God—or god, depending on ones personal pantheon.

They key paragraph:

The animating idea behind Dick’s fiction—hardly original in itself—is that things are not as they seem. This is, of course, a major part of any religious insight—and as an Episcopalian, Dick understood this. Walker Percy’s essay, “The Message in the Bottle,” for example, describes an island (this could be the beginning of a sci-fi plot) where everything is pleasant. Life seems good for all its inhabitants; then someone walking along a beach finds a bottle with the message, “Don’t despair, help is on the way.” This is what the Christian gospel says to a complacent, obtuse world, and it is not unlike one of Dick’s plots.

Garvey goes on to compare this Christian enlightenment of humanity to Dick’s work—“the world is depicted as not merely asleep, but deliberately deceived. Any remedy or salvation will therefore have to include a battle against powers that not only seem insane, but are evil.”

My view of Dick’s work is that everything organized should be approached with suspicion because there is something deeper and much more nefarious than it first appears. The truth is hidden and the seeker of that truth—the protagonist—must risk both his easy vision of reality along with his personal safety. I tend to disagree with the author’s view that Dick is a weaver of Christian tales and an apologist for organized religion. Rather, his work is one that should be measured as something dangerous—to standard and unenlightened thought—and counter to the status quo of government, industry and religion.

I should note that I absolutely agree with the idea of Philip K. Dick as a gnostic writer; at least as far as the genuine definition of the word is concerned because his work (most if not all) dealt with a protagonist moving from a state of no knowledge to that of knowledge. Moving from agnostic to gnostic, if you will.

What do you think?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Film Festival: Leigh Brackett

I'm going to change the format of these posts a little. Rather than featuring a television series episode or film I'm going to concentrate on a particular author. This week is a look at the screen life of science fiction and mystery novelist Leigh Brackett.

Bill Pronzini, in his anthology Hardboiled, called Brackett "one of the top hardboiled writers of all time." Her first novel was published in 1944. It was a Raymond Chandler-type mystery titled No Good from a Corpse. It was well received and, according to the Thrilling Detective website, it is this novel that impressed director Howard Hawks and won her the job of writing the screenplay for The Big Sleep with William Faulkner.

Leigh Brackett was a versatile writer. She is best known for her work in the science fiction genre. She wrote the screenplay for The Empire Strikes Back. It was her final work and the film was released two years after her death. One of Brackett's best known science fiction novels was also her first: The Nemisis from Terra. It was originally published in Startling Stories in 1944 and has since been published in book form by the ACE Double line in 1961 (F-123 with Robert Silverberg's Collision Course) and the short lived TOR Double line in 1989 (#8 with Edmond Hamilton's Battle for the Stars).

Brackett also wrote in the Western genre. She was credited as co-writer for the screenplay of both Rio Bravo and Rio Lobo--she also wrote a novelization based on the screenplay--as well as several other Western films. She wrote one Western novel, Follow the Free Wind, in 1963 that won her the Golden Spur Award.

Leigh Brackett was an exceptional storyteller from the golden age of the paperback. She straddled the line between Hollywood and prose and did it all startling well.

Her IMDb page.

Television -- Full Episodes

Alfred Hitchcock Hour: Death of a Cop (Season 1, episode 32; original air date May 24, 1963)

The Hulu page.

Alfred Hitchcock Hour: Terror at Northfield (Season 2, episode 3; original air date October 11, 1963)

The Hulu page.

The Rockford Files: The Four Pound Brick (Season 1, episode 21; original air date February 21, 1975)

The Hulu page.

Feature Film Trailers

The Big Sleep, 1946

Rio Bravo, 1959

Hatari!, 1962

El Dorado, 1966

Rio Lobo, 1970

The Long Goodbye, 1973

The Empire Strikes Back, 1980

Monday, August 17, 2009


I read a Brian Garfield novel a little better than a month ago. I was going to review it originally, then I got lazy or busy or something, and it never happened. But the problem—the story, the characters, and the action won’t leave me alone. It visits me in small segments; something the characters said, a twist of the plot, the setting, the lonely desperation. 

Everything comes in small vivid flashes at moments when I should be sleeping, working, or generally concentrating on something else. So here, finally, is a little something about it.
The title: Fear in a Handful of Dust as by John Ives. It was originally published in 1979.

Calvin Duggai is a veteran of the Vietnam War. He is Navajo and was raised traditionally on the reservation. He has been in a mental institution for the criminally insane for seven months. The institution is a place worse than hell for Duggai. It is squalled, harsh, and pungent with the rancidness of human decay and rot—

“He hears the slap of the bolt and the male nurse’s footsteps pocking away down the corridor; he hears the squeak of springs, the rustle of bedclothes along the ward. He hears Joley’s fear-of-darkness whimpering and someone’s catarrhal snort and the empty bitter cough of an inmate’s laughter.”

Duggai was transferred to the asylum from prison. He was convicted of murder. He stranded five men in the Mojave Desert to die solemn and harsh deaths after an argument. He was sent to prison and then declared insane by four psychiatrists, including a man named MacKenzie. A man half Navajo, but raised far from the reservation and culture. A man who is very different from Calvin Duggai. Duggai blames the psychiatrists for his hellish imprisonment in the asylum and when he escapes he has only one thing on his mind. Vengeance.

Fear in a Handful of Dust is a modern Western. The setting is the New Mexico / Arizona deserts, but it is more than just the setting that makes it a Western. It is the attitude and atmosphere—humanity and nature. A battle between two men (Duggai and MacKenzie), both from the same place, but with very different attitudes—one has spent his life escaping his roots and the other embraced them. 
It is a small-scale story, an adventure more than a thriller, as the protagonist—MacKenzie—must save only himself and his three companions. But the group represents more than just itself—it represents society in its many complex and conflicting mannerisms. There is love, hate, responsibility, jealousy and envy. It is an adventure story with many of the elements that make a Western a Western—the lonely protagonist with the skills and drive to save society; a society that he only marginally belongs to, and a society that can never quite fully accept his presence.

Fear in a Handful of Dust is brilliant. Everything works. The action. The pacing. The plot. The prose; elegantly simple. The dialogue. The characterization. It all works to a stunningly violent and meaningful climax. If your only exposure to the work of Brian Garfield are the Death Wish films, read this novel and be blown away.

It really should still be in print.

Fear in a Handful of Dust was made into a low budget film titled Fleshburn. It was released in 1984 and directed by George Gage. It was written by George and Beth Gage and starred Steve Kanaly, Karen Carlson, and Sonny Landham.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Random: Summer / Books / Shamus

1. It’s been a great summer so far. As most of you know we—my wife and I—moved to a small city in Southern Utah. I’m attending graduate school. There are five National Parks within an hour of our front door, including Zion, Bryce, and a beautiful National Monument called Cedar Breaks. It is a beautiful and rich location. The people are friendly, the scenery is vivid, harsh at times, and alive. Below is a photograph of Bryce National Park.

We’ve explored several new bookshops and thrift stores in the area and, wow, what a take. Okay, some bragging follows. I found a terrific little bookshop in St. George—it has a wonderful selection of old paperbacks at reasonable prices. And I have availed myself to a few. Some of the highlights—ACE D-129 The Dangling Carrot by Day Keene with Silenced Witness by Norman C. Rosenthal; ACE F-111 The Girl from Las Vegas by J.M. Flynn with To Have and to Kill by Robert Martin along with several Western titles and even a science fiction title or two.

I also picked up three Robert Colby novels—one an ACE Double—The Quaking Widow—that I reviewed last week—and the other two: Make Mine Vengeance (Avon, 1959) and Run for the Money (Avon, 1960).

Okay, enough bragging.

2. There are a few novels coming out over the next few months that I’m really looking forward to. The bulk are mystery / crime novels, but there is also a Western or two, a horror, and a someothers that I’m pretty sure I will enjoy and I bet you may too.

August 25. Flesh by Richard Laymon. This is a reprint of an older Laymon title—are there any other kind these days?—that has potential. It has been a difficult title to find here the United States and it’s one that I really want to try.

September 1. Baby Shark’s Jugglers at the Border by Robert Fate. I read the last Baby Shark novel—High Plains Redemption—and really enjoyed it.

September 15. You’re Nobody Until Somebody Kills You by Robert J. Randisi. This is Randisi’s fourth novel featuring the Rat Pack and Eddie G. The Rat Pack is a series I have really enjoyed. In fact, it is Randisi’s best work since his brilliant Arch series. It is purported to be the “Marilyn Monroe” book. I can’t wait.

September 29. Gallows by Robert J. Randisi. This is, I believe, an original Western and it features Lancaster, who—again unconfirmed—has been in two earlier Randisi novels.

October 1. Between the Dark and the Daylight and 27 More of the Best Crime and Mystery Stories of the Year. Whew, now that’s a title. This is the Gorman and Greenberg annual “best of” collection. A collection that look forward to every year. The title story, by Tom Piccirilli, is terrific and I assume the rest are just as good.

November 15. Ticket to Ride by Ed Gorman. This novel features Ed’s Sam McCain character—a part time private eye and lawyer in the small Iowa town of Black River Falls in the 1960s. The McCain novels are near the top of my P.I. and I’m excited that there is another scheduled for release.

Hmmm…the list is getting long. I’ll leave it here for now.

3. I received a nice email from Robert J. Randisi with details about the Shamus Awards ceremony.

“The PWA Shamus Award Banquet will be held Friday, Oct. 16, from 6:30-9:00 at The Slippery Noodle, the most popular blues bar in Indianapolis. Good food, great music, and the Shamus Awards. Tickets are $50 and are available now. Reserve your place asap as seating is limited. Email Bob Randisi at with your home address and an invitation will be sent to you."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Film Festival Episode Two: "Ride the Nightmare"

It has already been a week since I posted the initial sorta-kinda film festival featuring television and film written by, or based on the work of, paperback era writers. The first issue was an episode of the The Alfred Hitchcock Hour titled "Annabel" written by Robert Bloch.

This week I found another episode of AHH titled "Ride the Nightmare". It is based on a brilliant paperback original written by Richard Matheson with a screenplay adapted by Matheson. The translation from novel to film isn't entirely successful--the run time is a little short and a key character was removed--but it is still entertaining.

"Ride the Nightmare" originally aired November 29, 1962. It was the eleventh episode of season one. It was directed by Bernard Girard--an active television writer and director from the 1950s to the 70s--and starred Hugh O'Brian and Gena Rowlands.

To go directly to the Hulu page click Here.

There was also a film adaptation of Ride the Nightmare. It starred Charles Bronson, James Mason--with an unbelievably awful Southern accent--Liv Ullman, and Jill Ireland. It was released in the United States in 1974 and directed by Terrence Young.

It is available on YouTube, or by clicking Here.

Monday, August 10, 2009


“A man can get into a lot of trouble if he’s lonely. If he’s just lonely enough and has time on his hands. That’s a combination made for trouble.”

Burt Keating is from New York—just outside Buffalo—where he manages a small loan branch. He is mid-thirties with a beautiful wife and very comfortable life. That changes when his wife leaves on an icy night for some butter, and a few blocks from their house she is crushed between a Buick and a tree. Burt can’t seem to function anymore. He sells the house, takes a leave of absence from his job and purchases a new car—

“I wanted to flee to a new world and I knew that short of some South Pacific island, southern Florida was as close as you could come. After a few restless days in Miami, I took an apartment on the beach at Ft. Lauderdale some twenty miles away. It was a place called the Tropic Moon Apartments.”

Unfortunately the miles and warmer clime can’t set Burt’s mind right. The only thing that has any meaning is the memory of his dead wife and the life they had, but that is over and there is nothing he can do to change it. Then he meets Alicia Shafton. A woman who seems as lost and lonely as Burt, but she has a secret. Her husband, a gambler and shyster, died and left a lockbox with a note attached. It instructed her to sell the box to a man named Ralph Emory for $200,000. The only problem: Everything goes wrong and Burt can’t help but get involved.

The Quaking Widow is the first work by Robert Colby I have read and it won’t be the last. It hit a note with me—the story, setting, characters—that many works of fiction don’t. It opened with a blast—an immediate and drastic change for a protagonist with an uncertain future—and cruised forward into ever increasing peril. The characters were the expected: sleek, beautiful, mysterious, and good and bad in varying measures.
The setting is drawn marvelously. As I read, I mourned the Florida that was. The pre-Disneyland and Miami Vice Florida that was one part hillbilly and other parts chic, wealthy and dangerous. A Florida that a person can get lost in. The same Florida that was painted in the novels of John D. MacDonald with his vivid and beautiful flashes of prose.

The plotline is the expected—the dangerous and unknown femme, murder, a wildcard nympho and mysterious opponents that will stop at nothing to get the prize. In this case the box and its contents. I guessed the major plot turns before they were revealed, but it didn’t bother me because the story, while plot-driven, is textured with enough humanity to keep it more than interesting. The pacing didn't hurt either. It is perfectly developed with a well balanced mixture of action and suspense, with a dash of romance and mystery. The prose is hardboiled and, at times, clever and rich:

“She turned around and walked briskly across the room, her high, firm buttocks waving an insolent goodbye.”

The Quaking Widow is worth tracking down. It is fifty-three years old, but it is more than just nostalgia. Heck, I wasn't even on the radar when it was written. Instead it is a fine example of a linear and well-told tale that is both entertaining and exciting.

It was published by ACE (D-195) in 1956, and coupled with Owen Dudley’s The Deep End.

Friday, August 07, 2009

"Top of the World" by Bill Crider

This is becoming a trend—a short story for Friday morning. This time it is a more recent story. A story published in 2002 and written by Bill Crider. The title: “Top of the World”. It originally appeared in the anthology Flesh & Blood: Dark Desires. I read it in The World’s Finest Mystery and Crime Stories, Vol. 4.

The date is never clarified, but the story takes place in a dusty town in 1950s or 60s Texas. The protagonist is a mechanic with dreams—he wants his own shop and maybe even a dealership. But to make his dreams he needs money. Enter Sam Cobb, a middle-aged man who robs banks less for the money and more for the act robbing.

One early summer day Sam finds the protagonist—a young guy who is never assigned a name—in the small-time shop where he works. Sam has a job planned and he needs a driver. It is a situation the mechanic is used to, but there is something new this time. Sam has gone in with a woman and it makes the young man nervous; at least until he meets her.

Her name is Vicky. She is older, but beautiful with red hair and a wildcat style and insatiable appetite for men. The mechanic and Vicky hit it off after that first heist and then start a regular thing. Sam warns him off, but the youngster doesn’t listen. To give more would ruin the story, but damn is it a swift and twisted little plot.

“Top of the World” is a throwback. It has the feel, pacing, and style of a 1950s noir story. It very easily could have come off the typewriter of a pulp era writer, but it is all Bill Crider. It is a sort of black widow story twisted sideways and then turned upside down and shaken.

The prose is smooth and dusty with a pinch of melancholy:

“He shook his head again. He didn’t look mad, just kind of sick, or maybe just sad, and he turned and left the garage, settling his hat down carefully on his head.”

The narrative is first person, but it is executed in a manner that both the reader and narrator are emotionally distanced from the story. It loses a sense of rushed suspense, and is replaced by a bittersweet melancholy of lost past. It somehow feels old and new all at once.

“Top of the World” is the real deal. It is literate, beautiful and dark. It showcases Crider’s broad range as a writer—it is nothing like his Sheriff Dan Rhodes novels—and more than that, it is entertaining.

You can read "Top of the World" by clicking Here.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Film Festival Episode One: "Annabel"

The Internet is an amazing place. It is a spider web of interesting (and uninteresting) information and cool stuff. It is especially brilliant when it comes to entertainment. I discovered the old television series The Alfred Hitchcock Hour a few weeks ago when I went on a hunt for Richard Matheson films--Matheson wrote two episodes and both are online!

Which got me thinking about all the fabulous writers of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s--a period when writers could seemingly mix-and-match a career of both film and fiction. I went on a hunt and I was impressed with what I found. I also decided I would share some of the better episodes and films here at Gravetapping.

A sort of online film festival of television and film written-by, or based on the work, of popular paperback writers of this era. A few of the writers on the horizon: John D. MacDonald, Richard Matheson, Henry Slesar, Charles Beaumont, William F. Nolan, Cornell Woolrich, David Goodis, Leigh Brackett and many, many more.

The first installment is from The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. It is an episode written by Robert Bloch and based on a Patricia Highsmith novel. The title: "Annabel". It is the seventh episode of season one, and it originally aired November 1, 1962. It stars an amazingly young Dean Stockwell and it was directed by Paul Henreid--a television director who actively worked from the 1950s to the 1970s.

Enjoy, and let me know what you think if you are so included.

A technical note
: There are five commercials, four that you must watch; the fifth is at the end, well after all the action is over. A few of the commercials are placed a little awkwardly. To watch the episode full-screen hover the cursor over the screen and click the small rectangular box in the top-right corner.

Monday, August 03, 2009

GUILD by Ed Gorman

Guild is Ed Gorman’s first Western. It was published in 1987, and reissued by Leisure Books this past April. The protagonist is a former lawman turned bounty hunter with a past—one terrible incident—that haunts him. He shot and killed a young girl and can’t forgive himself. He now resides on society’s fringes and survives by his wit and strength.

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.