Wednesday, June 08, 2016

BRANDED by Ed Gorman

“He wanted to build himself a cigarette, but his hands were covered with the woman’s blood. There was something vile about cigarette paper soaked with blood.”

Rough Edges Press continues its revival of Ed Gorman’s classic western novels with its ebook release of Branded. Branded was originally published as a paperback original in 2004 by Berkley and didn’t get the play it deserved, but, thanks to this reissue it has and opportunity of reaching a larger audience.

Andy Malloy is nineteen and preoccupied by the daydreams of youth. Andy, Sir Andrew as he is known in the realm, imagines himself a knight of King Arthur’s Court where he is brave, just, and admired. But his reality is much different. He works as a store clerk, his father is a drunk, and his stepmother, Eileen, is petty and unfaithful. Arriving home from work Andy discovers Eileen lying dead on the couch, a gunshot wound to her forehead. His father, Tom, is the obvious suspect and Andy hides the body until Tom convinces Andy he isn’t the killer. The only problem is the Sheriff, a hard man with a reputation for beating and killing suspects, doesn’t believe any of it.

Branded is a superior western novel. It is a heady mixture of character, plot and action. Populated by real people who act and behave, at different times, both rationally and irrationally. A town gossip whose only joy is causing trouble, a violent lawman with a suspicious background, a town drunk whose personal frailty and desire for respect is painful, an isolated woman with a burned face. And townspeople who do their best to ignore it. The plot is closer to crime, shadows of serial killings no less, than a traditional western and there is a satisfying, and surprising, climactic twist. But it is also appealing as a traditional western and readers of both genres will find much to like here.              

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