GEORGE C. APPELL – Gunman’s Grudge. Lion #139, paperback original, 1953; reprinted as Lion Library LL161, 1957.

   â€œBelongs among the best westerns of this or any other year.”     — STAG Magazine

   Now how’s them for creds!

   Actually, this is surprisingly fine: a fast, remorseless and straightforward tale of violence and damnation in the manner of Jim Thompson and James M. Cain — yes, it’s that good.

   Tracy Silleck opens the book on the run from killing the man who killed his dog. There’s a brief, rather cryptic scene early on as he returns to his home town and tries to reconnect with people who never really accepted him in the first place, then murders a man for no very good reason. Back on the run again, he takes refuge in an outlaw town where he’s quickly roped into another murder and slowly finds himself mired in the role of killer-for-hire.

   I’ve only read one other book by Appell (the rather unimpressive Ambush Hell) and it did nothing to prepare me for the unsettling nihilism of Gunman’s Grudge. I mentioned Jim Thompson with good reason, as this book recalls the best of Savage Night (published the same year, also by Lion) and The Getaway, which came several years later.

   Silleck’s character recalls the Thompson protagonist: drawn to violence but haunted by remorse. He’s no pulp-novel killer, but a man who can miscalculate, talk too much and worry over what he’s become and where he’s going. And as Grudge speeds to its predestined end, it carries the reader with him irresistibly.