MacKINLAY KANTOR – Wicked Water. Random House, hardcover, 1948. Unicorn Mystery Book Club, hardcover, 4-in-1 edition, 1949. Bantam #809, paperback, 1950; 2nd printing, #1238, 1954.

   Another tip-off from the redoubtable Bill Crider.

   Okay, for starters I assume everyone here has read Shane or seen the movie and you all remember Jack Palance as the saturnine gunman, Wilson. Well, Wicked Water is what Shane would have been if it were called Wilson.

   Buster Crowe makes his entrance in the classic fashion, riding into the tiny hamlet of Pearl City on a dusty afternoon, and he shows his nature by beating a kid in the first few pages, then cowing the boy’s dad with a display of deadly marksmanship. In short order he’s hired by the local big ranchers to scare away the “nesters” and the murders start.

   Kantor takes a simple tale, does it in prose that’s expressive but never showy, and rings in some colorful characters to move it along, notably Mattie MacLaird, a saloon-singer-turned-schoolmarm, and Marshal “Speedy” Rochelle, a laid-back lawman who ambles in at the half-way point to set things to rights — another neat reversal on Shane.

   Mostly though this is about Buster Crow, the hired killer, and his murderous progress through the environs of Pearl City, and it’s here where Kantor really shines, fleshing out the character without letting up on the pace, and he lets the interaction among the characters bring things to a conclusion that actually got me a little misty.

   Definitely one for fans of Westerns or just plain good writing.