Friday, April 21, 2017

Blue City - Ross MacDonald

I didn't go near him. I had the notion that his tense body would give off a sour-sweat odor of depravity. But I moved close up to the wretched smile and took the envelope from breast pocket. He winced and jerked as if I was trying to tickle him. I had an impulse to hit him then, but I held it back. Violence might destroy the remnants of human dignity that kept him erect and smiling, and turn him into something queer--so queer that I wouldn't want to look at it. Another violence might do something to me too--make me howl like a dog or cry like a baby or pleat daisies in my hair.

Bantam Books
For his third novel, Blue City, Ross MacDonald was still finding his hardboiled style while giving the reader a straight up dose of sex and violence, It mostly works, barring MacDonald's ever-present penchant for the awkward English Major touches. It's a simple revenge tail of a prodigal son returning to his hometown to avenge the murder of his father. Only in in this instance, John Weathers doesn't know that his father J.D. Weathers has been murdered upon his ignominious return home. Unshaven, road weary, penniless, and homeless, he only learns of his father's murder, two years before, from a rummy in a cheap bar. A few hours later he learns that his father was something of a crook, albeit a gentleman crook, with an array of enemies from both sides of the law. The town itself, unnamed but located a few hours from Chicago, is a snake-pit of corruption and vice, thanks to the legacy of J.D. Weathers and his associates.

If' you've only read MacDonald's Lew Archer novels, Blue City is going to be a jarring experience for you. People are shot, stabbed, sliced, kicked in the head, hit with shovels, beaten, slapped, raped, slashed in the face, punched...well it ain't pretty friends. And John Weathers is no Lew Archer by any stretch. In fact it's difficult to have any empathy for John Weathers at all, as he spends the first third of the novel barging into living rooms and night clubs pushing people around and accusing them of being complicit in his father's murder.

For a lead protagonist, John Weathers is a little hard to swallow. We learn that he's been on the road for a number of years and is home from the war, and that he's only 21 years old. At no time in the book does he seem like a man that young. Granted, war experience will age a person, but John Weathers must have had some college time in the army because there are a few instances where he lapses into professor-speak, For instance, after beating the crap out of a couple hoods in a restroom he informs the bartender, "If the comic in the lavatory doesn't come to in another five minutes, you better send for a police ambulance."

He is also better read than your average 21 year old combat veteran. "Some of the titles I noted were Gargantua and Pantagruel, The Sentimental Education, To Have and Have Not, The Wild Palms. It was somehow comforting to know that the good people of the town that supported Kerch were protected against the lubricity of Rabelais, the immorality of Flaubert, the viciousness of Hemingway, and the degradation of Faulkner."

Plot-wise, Blue City doesn't come close to the labyrinthine plots of the Archer novels. There are past sins to answer for, some skeletons in closets, but the main plot is a relatively straightforward pursuit of justice. Everyone in the novel carries a collective guilt for the corruption within our unnamed Blue City. Complacency, greed and vice by its citizens produce the cesspool in which they must live. Even the mayor, Freeman Allister (note the subtle symbolism in the name!) is not immune to the lure of complacency in which he attempts to get along with the entrenched political forces.

Women don't fare any better then the nefarious men of Blue City. They're all either prostitutes, drug addicts, alcoholics and schemers. Abortion seems to be a thriving business. They're routinely beaten and raped in the course of their lives. It's literally South of Hell the way it's depicted. It's an angry novel, one that in some ways reminds me of Sanctuary by William Faulkner in its exuberant embrace of depravity.

First published in 1947, Blue City is still in print. I would recommend it to fans of hardboiled literature as well as fans of Ross MacDonald who may have missed this novel among the better known Archer series.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Nullifier (Joe Gall) - Philip Atlee

The next number was a blue tango. This tango does not depend on gyrations, clutchings, or simulated copulation, and yet there is more sexuality in it than any other dance. The movements are all grace and pointed pause, in slow time, and in them the man defers to the object of his chase. So I held her lightly, fingertips and hip, and we moved to the controlled tempo. 

And when that dance had ended, I did not step away. Instead, I thrust my hands under the rajah coat and cradled her firm breasts.  (-- The Silken Baroness Contract)

I thought it would be fun to look back at the couple of  Philip Atlee's Joe Gall novels that I've read. Joe Gall was an American response to James Bond much like another hardboiled spy of the time, Matt Helm, His first adventure occurred in the novel Pagoda by Philip Atlee, however the proper series of Joe Gall adventure starts with The Green Wound Contract, originally published under the title The Green Wound, way back in 1963.

You certainly do not have to read these in order, because continuity between contracts really goes out the window as Joe Gall's adventures progress. Looking back at his first "contract" known as The Green Wound Contract (which was the 4th one that I read) we have a plot that careens from one set piece to the next with all the logic of a dream in which there is a race riot, a blackjack wielding nun, a blues guitarist who kills for kicks, a bunch of "Arab-gowned goons" and a couple of screwy women to spice things up. The whole thing is delivered in a cynical hardboiled tone that I find kind of enjoyable. You learn fast that Joe Gall can be a real dick, and he's no fan of politically correct observations.

My first exposure to Joe Gall's world, (and reading these adventures you have to accept that it's Joe Gall's world and no one else's!) was in the novel The Ruby Star Contract. In this one, Joe Gall gets sent to Burma where he hires an escort, has lots of sex and curry, blows shit up, plays poker for his life against a drunken monk, is captured by a tribe of headhunters, somehow manages to play one dictator off against another, and (mostly!) comes out in one piece by the end. And I'm not sure what the damn thing was about.

Then there was The Rockabye Contract in which Joe Gall was assigned to act as bodyguard, under the guise as manager, for a 6'2" folkie singer named Hester Prim. This one had a loopy chase through Europe that included a factory of walking teddy-bears wired to explode. Then somehow it ended up on a Caribbean island run by a dictator who wanted to kill our hot singer Hester Prim. And yes,this is all during a rebellion.

I lay listening, staring at the sky. The airport was only a few miles from town. The ring of tanks around the Palace was still blowing up foolhardy rebels who tried to rush the gates and the lighter fire from the roof and the gatehouses continued. (-- The Rockabye Contract)

Joe Gall will go to any lengths in his adventures as long is it involves bedding plenty of babes. For example, in The Death Bird Contract from 1968, Gall takes an assignment to investigate the background of a potential diplomat (and millionaire) named Lewis Wardlaw in Mexico. We know it's not going to be easy when we learn that two previous agents assigned to monitor Wardlaw had come to bad ends. The crazy thing about this "Contract" is that in order to go undercover and appropriately blend into the scene in Mexico Joe Gall must first become a heroin addict. With that setup, we're off and cooking in a plot wherein Gall hooks up with a beautiful dancer, goes to jail, lives in a party-house, attends an opium-fueled orgy, takes a dip in a pool filled with piranhas, escapes from a clinic specializing in black-market organ stealing, gets chased by federales and all while suffering withdrawals from the needle. Proving once and for all that spying ain't a game for sissies!

It all sounds crazy, but I must say that in all seriousness, these novels are really well written. Philip Atlee has a compelling eye for detail, especially in all the exotic places he sends our hero. There is also an appealing charm to Joe Gall's attitude that grows on you, in spite of his being a bit of a jerk. I'm not going to say they're any better or worse than some of the better known spy series novels out there. They're full of confusing plots and odd diversions that make you wonder if the whole thing was done in a make-it-up-as-you-go-along manner. Women are props and not much else. Gall is a chauvinist just like any proper secret agent from the 1960's should be. So with that in mind I am going to say that they're a lot of fun to read.

I think it would be just fine if these were made available again for e-readers, noting that I prefer the smelly old paperbacks first and foremost. And wouldn't it have been something if we had a team-up of Joe Gall and Matt Helm out there on a caper? I can only imagine! There wouldn't be a safe broad in sight, unless they did something unforgivable like wearing slacks!

Happy hunting.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Infinity Science Fiction - November 1957

After a year of being stationed on the Lunatron, Jim Britten had the feeling of being fed up. Lunatics they call us, he thought. Real crazy.  - From "Formula for Murder" by Lee Gregor

November 1957 - Cover by Ed Emsh
Digging back into the stack of 1950's Science Fiction mags I picked up last year for this one. The line-up of writers in this issue includes: Gordon R. Dickson, Robert Silverberg, Lee Gregor, James Blish, Algis Budrys, Allen K. Long and David Mason. Clearly you have a selection of Science Fiction heavyweights represented here. Also, not a single woman writer in the bunch. Something I just now noticed. Which may explain somewhat the reason this issue came off as just a tad dry for me.

I've read Silverberg, Blish and Budrys before tapping into this digest. All of the others, including Dickson, were new to me. Yes, I've seen Dickson's name on tons of science fiction racks in used bookstores, but I've never been tempted to read anything by him. His story here, "The General and the Axe" didn't do anything to change that. The plot concerns a settlement of pioneers on an Earth-like planet after the destruction of our own Earth. It seems that, although all of their needs and comforts are provided for, they have no desire to populate their new home with a new race of Earthlings. General Tully, an Earthling himself, is assigned to motivate the pioneers into action. It's understood that our home planet has been decimated in what is assumed to be a nuclear holocaust of some type. The other planets in the solar system are populated, and interstellar travel has been conquered. Given all that, the concern of these pioneers makes no sense. So Earthlings take to their new planet with a malaise, and don't seem to care about their pending extinction. I just wasn't hooked on the premise with this one.

"One Way Journey" by Robert Silverberg was a lot more interesting. In this story, we have a planet, Kollidor, which is essentially a military outpost wherein one of Earth's soldiers falls in love with a native and desires to remain after his tour of duty is up. The "problem" is that the natives are considered so unattractive and appealing that there is no clear reason why an Earthling could ever fall in love with one and want to remain. In fact he's so adamant on remaining on Kollidor that he's willing to become a deserter. The story is a study in psychology and motherhood as his reasons are discovered. It was decent, but one expects that in a Robert Silverberg story.

"The Skirmisher" by Algis Budrys is the best in the magazine in my opinion. It's also the shortest. This story could have been at home in a crime digest of the time. That's probably why it appealed to me so much. In it, a cop named Hoyt investigates the seeming random deaths of a number of people across the U.S., all of which are connected to one single man named Albert Madigan. Hoyt attempts to interrogate Madigan as he is performing target practice with a rifle. Through a tense exchange between the two we learn that there is nothing random to a man who controls time.

"The Long Question" by David Mason is about a strange, really strange, televised game show where the lone contestant, in this case an accountant named Don Gerson, is sent to an isolated island for 2 months. The island has all the creature comforts Gerson could want; food, shelter, books, music, everything except companionship. At the end of two months Gerson will be retrieved from the island and have to answer a quiz in the hopes of winning $100,000. If he loses...well, we don't know what happens. Because two months go by and no one returns for Gerson. It's a weird story, hinting at an end-of-the-world scenario and what the last man left can create for future history. I liked this one a lot also.

"Nor Iron Bars" by James Blish involves interstellar travel on a microcosmic level. It didn't engage me at all. I was never once pulled into the story in spite of some sort of cool settings. This is where I might as well admit that my taste in Science Fiction is probably not very mature by some people's standards. I look for escapist entertainment in my Science Fiction, or at the least characters I can relate to. A lot of Science Fiction I've encountered seems to present what could be intriguing ideas played out by bland characters who use bad dialog (calling out Poul Anderson and Robert Heinlein here!). That's what happens in this story. Same thing with "The Railhead at Krystl Khoto" by Allen K. Long. It's just people talking about stuff, in this case, building a rocket to the moon before the Soviets do until "the end" is typed.

"Formula For Murder" by Lee Gregor is more like it when it comes to escapist Sci-Fi. It involves espionage, brainwashing and murder on a satellite orbiting the Earth. It's a lot of fun and the only fault I had with it is an ending that is rushed.

This issue of Infinity also contains a column by Damon Knight reviewing Big Planet by Jack Vance, The Green Odyssey by Philip Jose Farmer, and Eye in the Sky by Philip K. Dick. He liked Big Planet and Eye in the Sky. As for The Green Odyssey, not so much.

And that's that for Infinity Science Fiction in November of 1957. Old fashioned, square-jawed entertainment for less than a dollar! Some good stuff, some not so good stuff.

Monday, February 6, 2017

A Glass of Darkness - Philip K. Dick

Motionless--but alive. This was no stone image, no frozen statue. This was life, but life outside of time. There was no change, no motion for him, as men comprehended change and motion. He was eternal. The averted head was his most striking feature. It seemed to glow. It was clearly a radiant orb, apulse with life and brilliance. 

His head was the sun.

Satellite Science Fiction, 1956 - Cover by Kelly Freas
Whoa, man...that's cosmic! Well, yeah, it is kinda cosmic just like the really cool cover by Kelly Freas indicates. Some Philip K. Dick fans will know that A Glass of Darkness was later reprinted as The Cosmic Puppets in 1957 by ACE Books. I have the Vintage Books edition that was published much later. I don't have to read it, since I've now read the original Satellite Science Fiction version, thanks to picking up a bunch of old Sci-Fi digests not long ago.

Back in the early 80's, after seeing Blade Runner in the theater, I went out and picked up a bunch of PKD's novels in paperback and went on a binge. I still wish I had them. I had no idea that good clean used copies of his books would be so hard to come by in later years.

As you can see by the date, this is early Dick, when he was still working out the themes that would come to dominate his later novels and stories. Here you have something closer to The Outer Limits, or the Twilight Zone, wherein our hero Ted Barton takes his wife Peg on a detour into the hills of Virginia to see his old hometown Millgate. Peg couldn't give a rip, and is more interested in knocking back cocktails in the city than having to endure a tour of Millgate. Peg is kind of a shrew, but an interesting character in that she seems so unlike the type of woman that would marry Ted Barton. I was curious who she was in Philip K. Dick's imagination, and why she was introduced beyond getting descriptions of her legs and breasts whenever she's on the page. But sadly, she's dispatched off to some hotel in Martinsville to cool her jets for the rest of the story. Clearly Dick want her around bitching about how boring Millgate is and how crazy Ted has become.

You see, Millgate is definitely not the Millgate that Ted remembers from his childhood. Gone is the park, the school, the stores, the streets, even his own house. Instead they've been replaced by different streets, buildings and businesses. No one Ted talks to admits to ever knowing anything about the places he remembers. A research in the local paper reveals something even more disquieting for Ted. That instead of moving away at the age of 9, he's reported to have died of Scarlet Fever as a child! Is Ted Barton someone else? a man with false memories? Or is the town locked in some kind of mad hypnosis? To make matters even worse, Ted discovers that he can no longer leave Millgate, as all roads out of town are now blocked.

So you have a good setup here, but then things get really weird. In Millgate, you have this odd kid named Peter Trilling who is able to make clay figures come to life. You also have another kid name Mary Meade who can verbally communicate with bees and cats and moths. You also have these strange figures referred to by the locals as "The Wanderers." The Wanderers are ghostlike apparitions, beings, that can walk through walls. It's all very upsetting for Ted Barton, who probably should have taken Peg's advice and ditched Millgate for a bar in D.C.

Ted takes up room and board in Mabel Trilling's home, where he meets the strange kid Peter. Peter right away senses that Ted is an outsider, that somehow he's managed to cross into the town when others could not. Ted also meets Dr. Meade who runs a private hospital named Shady House. As things progress in the novel, Ted encounters the town drunk, William Christopher, who seems to be the only person in Millgate that remembers "the change" that occurred 18 years in the past. It's now Christopher's mission to return the town back to its real version, something he can only manage in small doses,

So what's the deal with Millgate and all weirdness? Well, it turns out that there is a cosmic battle of sorts between to godlike entities Ahriman and Ormazd and Millgate is the terrestrial arena. Yup!

Yeah, it all kind of goes a bit bonkers and sort of lost me at that point. I found myself thinking more about Peg and her heaving breasts back in a dingy hotel bar in Martinsville while the cosmic battle is playing out in Millgate. But, as far as pulp novels go, it was cool. You can see the early makings of Philip K. Dick's talent for unsettling paranoia and what is the nature of reality going on. I think most fans of mid-century science fiction would dig it.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Dancing Bear - James Crumley

I caught her day-drinking at the Doghouse, and when she came to the phone, she was mumbling drunk. "Winter, winter," she kept blubbering. "I can't stand another goddamned winter alone, Ralph." Ralph was an ex-husband twice removed. When she finally understood who I was and what I wanted, she lurched out of tears and into cursing. "Why don't you want to know where I live, bastard, why?" Then she hung up. By the time I drove out to the Doghouse, she had left. I called some more bars without luck. Lady bartenders live a tougher life than anybody knows.

Vintage Books, September 1984
Once again we're in the confused, rambling, wired-out-the-ass world of James Crumley as his weary hero Milo Milodragovitch meanders through a complicated maze of missing persons, surveillance, drug smuggling, guns, hand grenades, and environmental sabotage. And lots of schnapps and cocaine.

Again, my copy of the book has blurbs comparing James Crumley to Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. I can only say to forget those comparisons. They're not even close. Crumley's novels are wholly original takes on the myth of a private detective slaying dragons and righting wrongs. Comparisons to Hunter S. Thompson are far more appropriate. Crumley's heroes, Milo and Sughrue, are submerged in chaos and substance abuse and plots that make no sense to them, and barely any to the reader. Someone gets drunk, shot, beat up or screwed by a tough woman on just about every page. And throughout are observations on war, love and death that propel our heroes to inevitable disappointment and grudging justice. Dancing Bear is no different then any other of the novels by James Crumley that I've read. A rehash of the plot would be meaningless in attempting to entice a reader to enter Crumley's world. There is no linear path of discovery and justice that private eyes like Lew Archer and Philip Marlowe follow. No sun-burnt streets lined with palm trees and emerald lawns to wax cynical about. No glittering mobsters and sloe-eyed vixens to exchange deceit with. Instead you have an extremely flawed and marginally honorable hero barely managing to hang on to his own sanity while consuming massive quantities of drugs and alcohol in pursuit of a case that has no real beginning or end. Side trips and diversions, often to a dive bar or motel, are the norm. Romance with myth and heartbreak with reality at at constant odds.

This is the 5th novel I've read by James Crumley, and I can only tell you that I'm sorry there aren't more. I have a couple to go yet, not counting a collection of his short stories called Whores (which I imagine will be almost impossible to find) and I'm torn between holding off reading them, or diving right in to them now.

If you've not read one of his novels yet, then perhaps you should. Take one with you when you escape to Mexico after shooting someone who burned down your house.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Weapon Makers - A.E. van Vogt

But each time she caught the desperate defeatism with a tight-lipped resistance. The House of Isher could not afford to destroy such a secret. Some day, it might play a vital part in preserving the Imperial House from resurgent enemies. She smiled at the intensity of her indecision. And there was no doubt in her mind that so long as the ship remained in existence the hours would seem long, and the Crown would be in mortal danger.

Tempo Books, cover art Paul Lehr
So yeah, I have both this book and its companion "novel" The Weapon Shops of Isher, which is supposed to come before this one but was built from stories published after the original serial publication of "The Weapon Makers" from February to April, 1943 in Astounding Science Fiction. If you think that's confusing, just wait.

I was supposed to read The Weapon Shops of Isher first, then this one. That's because it was published in novel form in 1952, a year after the other novel. It was again republished as One Against Eternity as part of an Ace Double. But really, I don't think it matters which one should be read first because, like most of the A.E. van Vogt stories and novels I've read, The Weapon Makers doesn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense by the time you're done.

Not to say that's a bad thing. This novel is such a Snap-Crackle-Whiz-Bang-Pulp of a Science Fiction adventure that plot and logic goes out the window in all the shit that's going on.

This one is about Captain Robert Hedrock and the struggle between the House of Isher and the Weapon Shops. The current Empress is the beautiful Innelda Isher who, at the start of the novel has just ordered the capture and death sentence of Hedrock for being a spy. Hedrock gets advance notice of this order and manages to escape Innelda Isher's soldiers from a banquet hall,  seeking sanctuary at the The Weapon Shops headquarters. Much to Hedrock's consternation, the Weapon Makers have issued their own death sentence on Hedrock, because they believe he is a spy for the House of Isher. You see, there's been a several thousand year long uneasy balance between the House of Isher and the Weapon Shops, which were designed to build and store weapons that could only be used in self defense against a tyrannical government. These Weapon Shops came about after the destruction of around a billion people in a war that just about destroyed the Earth and around the same time House of Isher rose to power from the nuclear ashes.

So anyway, Hedrock manages to flee the Weapon Makers  and escape into an underground laboratory where he's promptly attacked by a giant rat! The giant rat is the by-product of experiments that Hedrock has been conducting for the past several hundred years in an attempt to understand and harness the radioactive chain of events that made him immortal thousands of years ago. That's right, Hedrock is immortal...just go with it. Anyway, Hedrock is now on the hunt for a cat named Derd Kershaw, who has apparently come up with a design for an interstellar rocket ship that both the Weapon Shops and the House of Isher are determined to get their hands on. Apparently having this method of space travel at one's control insures superiority over one's enemies. Don't ask me why.

Hedrock's seach for Derk Kershaw leads him to twin brothers Gil and Dan Neeland. It turns out that Gil is looking for his brother Dan, who was involved in the rocket design that Derd Kershaw was overseeing. Through a confusing series of events Hedrock gets a job as a rocket designer for a suspicious dude named Greer, but when Hedrock reports to Greer he discovers that the building they're working in is really a hangar hiding the Kershaw's rocket ship! I'm throwing the exclamation point in because that's how things move in this novel.

Ed Valigursky cover art from 1970

So Hedrock dupes Greer long enough to tie him up, providing the opportunity to investigate the ability of the ship they're in. But, Greer has been in communication with security commanders from the House of Isher and they've now surrounded the hidden rocket ship with 800 cannons, or something, forcing Hedrock to assume Neeland's identity, after which he manages equip part of the ship with an interstellar drive and make his escape by blasting off into space, where he travels at many times the speed of light, ending up on a planet where he's captured by a species of giant spider-like aliens so advanced that they're capable of fusing identities through telepathy, allowing Hedrock to return to Earth under Neeland's identity!

(Whew! ...catching my breath here)

Back on Earth, Hedrock makes a giant man which then attacks the cities of the Empire, forcing the House of Isher and the Weapon Shops to form an alliance against the destruction of their cities.

At least I think that's what happens.

I'm telling you this novel shifts gears so many times that I was never really sure what was going on by halfway through it. The whole story moves like a dream, where shit just happens without any seeming design or logic. Somewhere in his career, A.E. van Vogt determined that in order to hold a reader's attention he'd have to keep the action fast and furious, and logic be damned. Much of this was a result of his novels being structured, or cobbled together, by previously published short stories from the pulps. At least this is true of his novels from the 50s. It was also during the 50s that A.E. van Vogt was involved in L.Ron Hubbard's Dianetics centers in California. So make of that what you will.

Most of A.E. van Vogt's novels are easily found in used bookstores for really cheap. It seems they were never out of print, finding new readers every generation. It's understandable because, in spite of their flaws, they're pretty fun to read. They're the stuff that inspired many more "sophisticated" novels that came after in Science Fiction. So take 'em for what they are.

Monday, January 2, 2017

High Lawless - T.V. Olsen

Channing's fingers flexed lightly over the Colt butt; he let his hand drop. You draw lightning once, he thought, and you can't turn back. He had been fool enough to think he could escape it once, mustanging in the lonely hills, only to find himself embroiled again. Once a man drew trouble in this raw country, it marked him. Like the brand of Cain his father had always been fond of throwing up to him. 

2016 has been short and difficult year for too many on the planet and most of us are glad to see it pass. I had a long holiday weekend, of sorts, so I had time to read something that I think is good for the soul, an old Gold Medal western. I'm not as well read in westerns as others are. I came really late to the game in reading these classics. I've long been a fan of hard-boiled fiction, since my mid-teens, but my only exposure to westerns had been occasionally reading a Louis L'Amour novel left in the squadron room at my Air Force base. 

I got more familiar with the genre thanks in part to the terrific blog Pulp Serenade. I went off to the used bookstores with a nice helpful list of writers and books to look for. I found a double novel paperback of T.V. Olsen, including this novel, High Lawless, from 1960. 

The plot is a simple tale of vengeance after Ed Channing's partner and friend gets fleeced of their entire business proceeds by slick cardshark, Costello. Channing confronts Costello at the poker table, only to see his pal take a bullet from Costello that was aimed for him. Costello gets away, his buddy dies, and the chase is on. Channing tracks Costello to the Anchor ranch where Costello had taken cover under his crooked uncle Santee Dyker's protection. Dyker has surrounded himself with a bunch of no-good gunnies in preparation for a range war. When Channing shows up at the Anchor to confront Costello he gets himself horsewhipped for his troubles. What follows is a plot involving shootings, a torture, a couple of fistfights, a couple of kidnappings, a stampede, and a final showdown outside a saloon! 

I liked this novel just fine. It had an appropriate laconic hardboiled vibe about it that always appeals to me. I can't speak to its predictability and such, since I haven't read as many westerns as others have. Certainly Channing is an archetype western hero, a loner looking to settle down but getting pulled back into the life by forces beyond his control. There is a love interest as well that Channing has to contend with. It's not spoiling anything to say how that will turn out. But thankfully, that lovey stuff doesn't slow down the pace of this novel in any way. There are plenty of bad guys to round up and bring to justice before getting to that huggy kissee stuff!