Western Fiction

Reviewed by TONY BAER:


GLENDON SWARTHOUT – The Shootist. Doubleday, hardcover, 1975. Bantam, paperback, 1976. Signet, paperback, 1986. Berkley Books, paperback, 1998. University of Nebraska Press, softcover, 2011. Film: 1976. Directed by Don Siegel; starring John Wayne (his last movie) and Lauren Bacall.

   J. B. Books, 51 years old, of Creede, Colorado, is the last of the legendary gunfighters. It’s 1901. John Wesley Hardin? Dead. Billy the Kidd? Dead. The James brothers? Dead. Wild Bill Hickok? Same. The time of the gunfighters is gone. But Books remains, a dinosaur that survived the asteroid.

   He’s been feeling pretty run down lately, so he sees a doctor. The doctor tells him he’s dying of prostate cancer. But he doesn’t believe him.

   There’s only one doctor he’ll believe: Dr. Hostetler of El Paso, Texas, who saved Books’s life 11 years prior, expertly extracting a bullet from his liver and sewing him up before he could bleed out.

   So he rides horseback 10 days straight to El Paso on his bloated, contorted underside, comforted only by “a soft pillow of crimson velvet trimmed with golden tassels” he’d stolen from a whorehouse.

   Dr. Hostetler confirms the worst. He’s got about 6 weeks to live — if he wants to die in bed, screeching in pain, unable to move, soiled in filth and wretched incapacity. But, Dr. Hostetler suggests, perhaps that’s not the way he’d prefer to go out.

   The e.e. cummings epigraph is the best summary of the story:

            We doctors know
            a hopeless case if — listen: there’s a hell
            of a good universe next door: let’s go

   So Books decides to go. But go his own way.

   Books asks the town Marshall for the names of the baddest gunmen in town. The Marshall gives him 3:

   1: Jack Pulford: “Runs the faro layout at Keating’s….straightest shot I’ve ever seen, and cool as a cucumber. Couple years back he got off one round here, under fire, through the heart, and they measured. Eighty-four feet. Through the heart.”

   2: Serrano: “El Tuerto they call him, ‘Cross-eye.’ He’ll rustle a bunch of cattle over the river, sell ’em on this side, then rustle ’em back and sell ’em to the same outfit he rustled ’em from in the first place. A real cutthroat. I wouldn’t turn my back on him in church.”

   3: Jay Cobb: “Cobb’s only twenty or so, but I’ll hang him before he’s thirty, or somebody will. Gun crazy–been toting one since he was big enough to lift it.”

   Books invites all three to meet him at 4:00 p.m. at the nicest tavern in town. May the best man win.

   “They were like actors on an empty stage….The curtain had risen, the hour come. But they had no audience, save for one another, and even more bewildering, they had no play. They were assembled to take roles for which no lines had yet been written, to participate in a tragedy behind which there was no clear creative intent, to impose upon senselessness some sort of deadly order.”

   The deadly order comes, but comes too pat for my tastes. It’ll smack you right between your thousand-yard stare.

   It’s a good concept for a story. But at the end of the day, it didn’t do anything for me. You can tell by the last line that Swarthout thinks he’s written a freaking masterpiece. A tour de force of the first magnitude. Self-congratulations are clearly in order. Just no congratulations from me.

DANIEL BOYD – Aesop’s Travels: A Crackerjack Tale of the Old West. Montag Press, trade paperback, July 2023.

   Let me say right here at the start that in your eyes, you may not consider this an unbiased review. I know the author personally, and if you stop by this blog even only every so often, so do you. Under his own name, he goes by Dan Stumpf, and his book and movie reviews that are posted here are even better than mine, if that were at all possible, not to mention all of the most cogent comments he leaves on posts of others here.

   But since I believe that this is the book I most enjoyed reading all year, I thought I’d at least tell you some more about it, and you can make your own decision from there.

   It is a western, of the traditional variety, but I cannot give you another author to whose work you might compare it to. It is very nearly unique in many ways, and hopefully what I say here will explain further. It takes place in the 1880s, perhaps, in Dakota Territory, and the small town of Greenfield, where Beefy Beaumont, the narrator of the tale, now owns the Queen of Egypt saloon.

   And as the story opens, a good friend of his, Charlie Greenfield, a gambler who holds down a table in the saloon nearly every night of the week, is in jail and is destined to be hanged by the end of the week. There is more to the story than that, but it comes out only gradually and you’re be better off reading it on your own anyway.

   I hope I will not spoil things too much by saying the hanging does not happen, and when it doesn’t, Part Two of the book takes off from there. What I do need to tell you is something about Little Aesop, the young waif Beefy finds hunkered down in the saloon when he takes over. Little Aesop, by the way, is the new name Beefy gives him (from Billy Boogers, as I recall, based on the snot that continually flows from his nose, and whom Beefy teaches how to clean himself up.)

   Little Aesop, being only one step up from being the village idiot, so to speak, also needs to learn how to handle life, and to that end, Beefy tells him stories every evening from Aesop’s Fables.

   Now I admit that this may not seem like much to base a 300 page novel on, but it is the starting point that you may be wondering about as to the what and wherefore of the title, at least, and Part Two of the tale is a rip-roaring tale of retribution and revenge. You will read the last two chapters in perhaps thirty seconds or less.

   Participating in this second-half journey are: the Bartender, the Old Scout, the Outlaw, and Gambler, and of course, Little Aesop. They do not all come back alive, but while you, the reader, have no idea all along where the story is headed, it does come to an end in due course to the spot where it was headed all along.

   Daniel Boyd has a voice all his own, consistently humorous and folksy and real. If you like westerns which go off the beaten path as much as I do, then I think you’ll enjoy this one as much as I did.

Reviewed by TONY BAER:


ELMORE LEONARD – Valdez Is Coming. Fawcett R2328, paperback original, October 1970. Library of America #308, hardcover: Elmore Leonard: Westerns: Last Stand at Saber River / Hombre / Valdez Is Coming / Forty Lashes Less One / Stories. Film: United Artists, 1971, starring Burt Lancaster & Susan Clark; director: Edwin Sherin.

   Bob Valdez is a local constable in some bullshit Arizona corporation town, late 1800’s. There’s some trouble down at a barn.

   Frank Tanner is the big man in town. He ain’t a big man physically. Tough and wiry as the expired slim jim between the seat folds of your rental car. But he’s got maybe 20 gunmen working for him, and he makes a lot of coin running guns down to Mexico to sell to the revolutionaries and running cattle thru the frontier.

   Tanner says the man in the house is a black deserter of the cavalry who murdered Tanner’s friend. And this deserter has got to die. So he and his gunmen have cornered the man inside a barn, and have been shooting the thing up, indiscriminately.

   Valdez, being the law, figures he’d better come around and see what the ruckus is. None of your business, he’s told. Brusquely. The law is expected to serve the Man.

   Well I’m still gonna go in and talk to the guy, says Valdez.

   So Valdez walks to the barn. Knocks on the door. And talks to the guy and his wife, a Native American woman. Very pregnant. The man has proof he’s not the guy they’re looking for. He was honorably discharged, and his papers are in his wagon.

   They go to retrieve the papers, Valdez yells for Tanner to hold his fire. But Tanner has used Valdez as a diversion to set his rifle sights on his prey. At close range. The man now thinks Valdez has betrayed him. And draws his pistol.

   Valdez, having no choice, pulls his double barreled sawed off scattershot first, and blows the man away.

   Tanner walks up to the man and says: He’s not the guy. Black guys all look the same anyway. But this ain’t him. You killed the wrong guy.

   Valdez says: It was you that made the mistake. You took the woman’s husband. You should pay her five hundred bucks for the loss of her husband, the baby’s father.

   â€˜If I wanted you to talk, I’d tell you,’ says Tanner. Learn your place. And tells his men to kick Valdez’s ass. Strap a cross to his back. In the desert. So he can die.

   Valdez doesn’t die, though. He kidnaps Tanner’s woman. A beautiful blonde. He’ll give her back, he says. Soon as Tanner pays the widow her $500.

   Tanner’s woman “had come from Prescott with her nightgowns and linens to marry James C. Erin, and five years and six months later she fired three bullets into him from a service revolver and left him dead.”

   Once kidnapped by Valdez, turns out she’s not too fond of Tanner either. She likes Valdez better:

   â€œSlowly her hands came up in front of her and she began unbuttoning her shirt, her hands working down gradually from her throat to her waist. She said, ‘I told you I killed my husband. I told you I don’t want to marry Frank Tanner. I told you I have nothing. You decide what I want.”

   Tanner tells his men kill Valdez and bring his woman back.

   But when she tells his men she prefers Valdez, they turn on Tanner. “A man holds his woman or he doesn’t. It’s up to him, a personal thing between him and the man who took the woman.”

   Tanner took the Native woman’s man. So Valdez took Tanner’s woman.



   It’s a good, tough Western. Some atypical stuff happens for a Western — not the least of which is the woman’s free will. She’s not your average damsel in distress. And this seems to take all sides by surprise. The ending, too, is atypical. At first I was a bit disappointed by a lack of fireworks. There’s a great buildup to a showdown that never happens.

   But the more I think about it, the more I like it. Apparently the number of actual gunfights in the wild west were surprisingly few. Plenty of folks surely chickened out. But chickens are rarely the stuff of myth. And the western is nothing if not mythology. Elmore Leonard shows great courage in delivering a chicken shit denouement.

   I enjoyed it. If Valdez is coming, you should go ahead and let him in. He’s good company.



NOEL LOOMIS – Have Gun, Will Travel. Dell First Edition B-156, paperback original; 1at printing, 1960. Cover art by Robert Stanley.

   Not a real winner, but it inspired me to make a pipe.

   Noel Loomis was a well-regarded Western historian, and he wrote several scripts for the television show, so he was a natural for this paperback tie-in. And he gives it the dollop of polish one expects from a writer of his caliber, but that’s not always a good thing.

   The plot involves Paladin’s involvement with a notorious lady of the theatre, the search for a missing newspaper editor, Mexican revolutionaries and the near-legendary outlaw Three-Fingered Phil.

   Freed of the time and budget constraints of network television, Loomis lets his hero and himself ramble, from San Francisco to Santa Fe, down into Mexico and up into the mountains, with every leg and limb of the journey described in detail. Oh, it never gets monotonous, it just gets, well… long!

   And perhaps it’s no fault of Loomis’ that he never really evokes the forceful personality Richard Boone brought to his characterization, though he lards the dialogue with allusions to Shakespeare. He just misses the laconic personality and repressed rage essential to the character of Paladin, and it leaves a gaping whole in the book that Robert Stanley’s excellent cover can’t quite fill.

   That said, there are enough fist-fights, knife-fights and gun-fights to keep the reader awake, and Loomis puts the action across reasonably well. Maybe it’s me, I just couldn’t get excited over this.

   But it did prompt me to make a pipe out of a tree branch and trim from an old cap pistol!



HAL G. EVARTS – The Long Rope. Dell First Edition A172, paperback original, 1958. Pocket, paperback, 1973.

   Long Rope starts with the brutal massacre of a squatter family and the near-fatal wounding of luckless drifter Will Landry by persons unknown — but not for long. The scene quickly shifts to the modest cow town of Antelope, run by acting sheriff Roy Kell, who is holding Landry, with the narrative that he got shot while murdering the squatters and will be tried and quickly hanged as soon as he recovers.

   Enter Dan Croft, an old trail buddy of Landry’s, keeping his cards close to his vest, playing it cool and cagey while he surveys the situation, figures out who he can trust, who really killed the squatters and why Kell is so anxious for Landry not to stand trial—even to the point of hiring Croft to kill him!

   This first part of the book is confined to the town of Antelope, and I use the word “confined” advisedly because it reads more like a film noir than a western, as Croft walks mean streets knee-deep in double-crosses, trying to out-bluff adversaries who hold all the cards, and spring his buddy from Jail.

   At which point (and I’m not giving away anything that ain’t on the back cover) the tale moves out into open country, and The Long Rope becomes a tale of pursuit and survival in the wilderness as the fugitives cross forests, snow-capped mountains, and dusty plains to escape a lawman bent on murder.

   Evarts writes this just as vividly as he did the first part, with a keen appreciation of the rigors of the terrain and the vagaries of the chase, with Kell closing in, falling behind, and finally…

   Well I’ll just say that The Long Rope comes to a terse and satisfying conclusion, and I’ll be looking for more by Evarts!



H. A. DeROSSO – .44 .  Lion #129, paperback original, 1953; Lion # 145, paperback, 1956. Leisure Books, paperback, 1998.

   Harland is a reluctant gunfighter. He got sucked into it without wanting to. He beat a famous gunslinger in a drunken pique, and his reputation grew and followed him. He only wanted to be a hired hand. But anytime he got hired these days it was because the rancher wanted him to shoot somebody. They’d say he was just another hand. But they’d lie.

   Finally he figured he might as well accept his fate. If he’s gonna have to gunfight, he might as well get paid for it.

   His first hired kill is a man named Lancaster. He tracks down the man, out beyond the range in the middle of no man’s land. Betwixt some craggy straggly chasm. Lancaster stops and waits.

   What are you following me for, asks Lancaster. I mean to kill you, Harland responds. You mean you were hired to kill me. Well go ahead and draw.

   And they draw. And Lancaster has him beat. Handily. No doubt. But he sadly smirks and doesn’t fire. And Harland does, his finger jerks, the bullet flies, and Lancaster dies. Smiling.

   Now Harland is wracked with regret. Why didn’t Lancaster fire? What was that sad smile about. What the hell is going on? So Harland he can’t let it go. He has to find out what was behind Lancaster’s desire to die.

   Harland turns detective trying to figure out why he was hired to kill Lancaster. Turns out Lancaster and a couple of other men made off with $100,000 in a train robbery. Then Lancaster screwed his partners and made off with the plunder.

   But the partners don’t want Lancaster dead — at least not until they get their grubby hands on the loot. So who was it then? Who is it that wants Lancaster dead, that already has their hands on the money, that made a gunfighter give up the ghost?

   Harland can’t stop til he finds out, meanwhile falling in love with Lancaster’s widow. A woman who all the men fall for and long to protect.

   Til death do they part.


   If this were a straight urban crime novel, it’d be riddled with clichés. But as it is, it takes a typical noir and marries it seamlessly with the typical western. Perfectly, paradigmatically. It shows the way. Typical noir + typical western = atypical masterpiece. Like a bulgogi burrito.

   If anyone ever wondered if western noir was a thing, this is it.

   If it sounds like your bag, it surely is. And if it don’t, it ain’t.



CHARLES WILLEFORD – The Difference. Dennis McMillan, hardcover, 1999. Previously published as The Hombre from Sonora as by Will Charles (Lenox Hill Press. hardcover, 1971).

   Starts off as a typical western. Set up maybe a bit like Shane.

   Johnny Shaw is 19. Living in Phoenix. He gets a letter saying his father is dead, deep in Arizona Territory, 1880. The elder Shaw left his son no money, only a ranch. But a nice one, with six head of breeding cattle.

   Soon as he arrives, the local open range ranchers want him gone. This is their land. Has been forever. Legal land claims be damned.

   But hey, for your trouble, we’ll pay you well. Say twice its value in gold. You’ve got til tonight.

   I don’t need til tonight, says Johnny. I’ll tell you now. I don’t want your money. My dad left me this ranch and this ranch only. It’s all I’ve got. Now get out.

   My father’s land, my father’s honor. My inheritance, my honor. I’m here to stay.

   So now Johnny’s at war with the ranchers. And the shooting starts.

   But this is Willeford, so you know there’s gonna a twist on western tropes.

   Once Johnny starts a-killing, he starts to like it. Once he defends his honor and wins back his right to till his land, to get the girl, to start a homestead, to be his father’s son, he doesn’t want it anymore.

   Like Courtney Love says, ‘Once I get what I want, I never want it again.’ Well Johnny’ll lay double on that.

   He’d rather be a gunman. And be free.


   If you like Willeford, you’ll love this one as much as anything in the Willeford canon. It fits right in. Another psycho in Willeford’s psycho pantheon. If you aren’t into Willeford and just like westerns — dunno how you’ll feel. I’m not that into westerns except as an alternate setting for hardboiled crime. It seems to me that noir is hardboiled in the city and gunslinger westerns are hardboiled in the country. As writers like Willeford and Whittington and Elmore Leonard and Clifton Adams show, a writer adept at one may be equally adept at the other.

   Another point of interest to me, the protagonist only fully realizes his potential once he dies inside. I book I read awhile ago, of marginal interest here, is called The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down about cultural clashes between the Hmong and American medicine. It’s about how American doctors have a hard time dealing with the superstitions of other cultures and view them as impediments to scientific treatment methods. On the other hand, Hmong feel that to abandon their faith causes ‘soul death’.

   In any case, ‘soul death’ is exactly what allows Pretty Boy Floyd to become a successful, cool-handed bank robber and it’s exactly what allows Johnny Shaw to turn from a scared little boy to a stone cold killer. If you get treated like crap for long enough, you dissociate. You experience time-compression. You are outside your body and can watch things happen more slowly. Veteran NFL quarterbacks talk about time slowing down, watching the action unfold like Neo in The Matrix. In half-time, in quarter-time. While for everyone else everything is moving much too fast. Everyone else is scared.

   But for the dead man, the man who is dead inside already, like Johnny Shaw: “I knew that I would be faster [on the draw]…and deep down inside me I knew why, too. [They] wanted to live. They had everything to live for: a huge ranch, and two pretty girls anxious to marry them. Nobody had ever wanted to keep on living any more than those two men did at that moment. But I wanted to die, and knowing that I wanted to die meant that I would not be killed by either one of them. That was the difference between us”. That’s the Difference.



GEORGE C. APPELL – Posse. Macmillan, hardcover. 1961. Avon T-549, paperback, date?

   A superior Western novel by an under-appreciated author.

   Three owlhoots hurrah the flyspeck town of Broadman’s Bend Arizona, killing a dog, mauling a local belle, and pistol-conking the Chinese Laundryman. The townsfolk set about assessing the damage and debating what to do and whether to pursue them, then things take a more serious turn when they discover the bank has been robbed.

   Which puts the townsfolk in a bit of a quandary. Most of the able-bodied citizens in the area are away on round-ups and cattle drives, which leaves only the softer sort of townsfolk to go in pursuit of the desperadoes. And Appell throws in another wrinkle with a flashback disclosing that Bank Clerk Arthur Milam planned the robbery and enlisted three dangerous hard-cases to carry it out. Now he thinks they’re going to share the loot with him.

   All unawares, a posse slowly forms: a hard-scrabble miner, an aspiring artist anxious to prove his manhood; a well-to-do idler, pressured to join by his father, the leading citizen of Broadman’s Bend; the sheriff, a once-able lawman dissipated by drink; and the Chinese Laundryman named William The Kid.

   The five of them are hardly a match for three hardened outlaws, or so it would seem, but Appell develops his story skillfully, bringing out the strengths in his characters but not forgetting the weaknesses, with thoughtful, fast-reading prose that adds depth and dimension to a tale of sudden violence and stubborn persistence.

   This was my first experience of reading George C. Appell, but it won’t be the last!



JOHN CUNNINGHAM – The Rainbow Runner. Tor, hardcover, 1992; paperback, 1993.

   The partners always kept locked the half-glassed doors of their office. Neither of them had ever been shot at, Jacko thought as he felt in his pocket for his key, but it was always a possibility.

   West Pointer and former Rough Rider Jacko O’Donohue of O’Donohue and Horton Export/Import has good reason to worry about being shot at. He and his partner Mike Horton are more private detectives than importers, and Jacko’s life is complex by any standards.

   His family owes money they can’t raise or they will lose their California vineyards, his wife married him expecting riches and comfort that Jacko couldn’t give her, his old “friend” and partner Mike Horton is blackmailing clients according to the D. A. (“Where’d they get the idea of blackmail? They don’t like me, never did.”), and Mike and Jacko’s wife May are having an affair.

   So when the Mexican Consul in Los Angeles, Manuel Palafox, a frequent client of O’Donohue and Horton for whom they spy on local anarchists, offers Jacko a considerable fee to escort a religious artifact that was smuggled out of Mexico by would-be anarchists, a monstrance worth a quarter of a million dollars stolen from the church in San Luis Potosi, back to its rightful place it seems like a solution to all his problems.

   But that may not be as simple as it seems, not with Palafox’s dangerous half-brother Herculano, the revolutionaries in L.A. who stole the relic in the first place and moved it out of Mexico, the forces of the Pancho Villa’s army in Mexico, and the treacherous Mike and May simply surviving may be all Jacko can manage.

   Jacko went over his Tactical Rules. Number 1: the most effective offense as well as the most difficult is to take the enemy by surprise from the rear. Number 2: in the rear from an elevated position. Number 3: in the rear by enfilade. All these West Point abstractions were subsumed under the general heading of Backshooting.

   While this may sound like a private eye novel (there was never all that much difference between the two), and a fairly hard-boiled one at that, The Rainbow Runner, is, in fact, a Western (though one that would not have been out of place in Black Mask), and by a fairly well known Western writer, John Cunningham, a highly praised master of the form well known for his fine novel of the trail drives, Warhorse, and a little story called “The Tin Star” filmed under the more familiar name of High Noon.

   The high quality of the writing (… his small feet adventuring timidly, one after the other, like a pair of old married mice out of a hole.) the well-developed characters, and the sense that everything arises naturally from the characters and plot as set in motion mark this as a classic adventure story as Jacko gets involved reluctantly with Becky (“I can see you, scuttling along behind me, terrified because you think you might have to protect me.”), Mike’s wife and tries to survive against a background of treachery and violent terrain.

   Everyone is out for themselves and everyone has a hidden agenda. No one can be trusted, and Jacko isn’t all that sure of himself or his own motives. All he knows is his life has come apart and now delivering that religious relic may mean the end of it.

   Here he evokes the divided border town of Nogales as sharply as Berlin divided by the Wall:

   They came out onto International the broad double width of street cleared like a tornado straight east to west across the town. Down the center ran a line of telephone poles as though to mark the line. Where Grand crossed south into Mexico stood an obelisk, a little taller than the sentry posted next to it. Three others of the U. S. Infantry patrolled the line with Springfields at shoulder arms, looking professional in their wrinkled bloomers. On the other side of the telephone poles two Mexicans in bedraggled shirts and pants, one with a jacket half torn off his back, shuffled slowly back and forth, carrying captured Mausers across their shoulders as if they were shovels.

   Cunningham is often ranked with writers like Jack Shaefer and A. B. Guthrie as a Western writer, and here blurbed by Guthrie, Elmore Leonard, Alan LeMay, Douglas C. Jones, and reviewed in The New Yorker. His bona fides as a writer of Westerns are top notch.

   This and his novel Starfall came along late in his career and are both well worth finding. Four novels and a classic short story aren’t a prolific career, but when they are all this good quality weighs far more than quantity.



CLIFTON ADAMS – The Desperado / A Noose for the Desperado. Stark House Press, trade paperback, 2017. // The Desperado. Gold Medal #121, paperback original, 1950. // Noose for the Desperado. Gold Medal #683, paperback original, 1957.

   First heard about this via George Tuttle’s defunct website defining noir and suggesting some titles:

   He says there: “The Desperado by Clifton Adams … though a Western, this novel is a landmark of early Gold Medal noir. Set in Texas during Reconstruction, the story traces the subtle transformation of Talbert Cameron from battler of injustice to outlaw.”

   Never before having thought of westerns as part of the noirboiled genre, this way eyeopening and provided this bibliomaniac with a whole new reading source to plunder.

   Though westerns seem like they are 1800’s rather than 1940’s, the genre started around the same time as noirboiled crime, involved many of the same writers, and contains many of the same themes and styles as the Hammett’s and Chandler’s whose bibliographies I’d exhausted.

   The lone gunman, the town harlot, and the marshall of the western are fairly transposable to the hardboiled detective, Jim Thompson psycho, and the femme fatale. The town always corrupt.

   The Stark House edition I read has the following Donald Westlake quote on its cover:

   â€œA compact, understated, almost reluctant treatment of violence, first introduced me to the notion of the character adapting to his forced separation from normal society.” Sounds like the Desperado’s the Parker template.

   Onto the books themselves (in a recent read (Blue of Noon) a female character says: “Get to the point. I never listen to prefaces.”).

   Talbert (“Tall”) Cameron is around 18 years old, with a temper, in small town Texas during reconstruction. His folks have a little homestead, raise cattle and horses. It’s all real homey.

   But then Talbert punches a carpetbagging cop who insults the local ladies, and he’s due to do time on the work gang.

   He ain’t going.

   He takes off, and when the cops beat his dad to death when his dad refuses to squawk of Tall’s whereabouts, all bets are off.

   Tall comes back, exacts his revenge, and from there on out he’s a desperado.

   It’s well written. It’s hard. It’s dark. It’s boiled.

   The Desperado is quite good. Quite archetypal. Innocence lost. Young love. Honor. Revenge. Betrayal.

   And like the typical hard-boiled detective, he’s got an ethos. He doesn’t steal. He only kills in self-defense.

   And then comes the sequel: A Noose for the Desperado.

   First of all: Spoiler alert: No Noose. Not even the suggestion of a noose.

   He takes over a western version of Poisonville for no apparent reason than greed.

   Now, for some unexplained reason, the Desperado has lost his morals. Or at least traded them for ambivalence.

   He’s like Yogi Berra’s old saying that if you see a fork in the road, take it.

   He steals. And then he decides that money doesn’t matter. He uses people. And then he looks after them. And then he doesn’t.

   One of the main Aristotelian virtues is constancy. It’s a virtue all the great heroes have.

   The Desperado has it in the first novel and loses it in second.

   While he escapes the noose, we do not.

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