The Book of Murdock

The Book of Murdock

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by Loren D. Estleman
     
 

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Page Murdock has been many things in his day: a cowhand, a saloonkeeper, a Comanche slave, and, lately, a deputy U.S. marshal. But the one thing the mean-faced, middle-aged gunman never expected to be was a man of the cloth.

Funny how things work out sometimes.

Posing as Brother Bernard Sebastian of the Church of Evangelical Truth, Murdock dons a

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Overview

Page Murdock has been many things in his day: a cowhand, a saloonkeeper, a Comanche slave, and, lately, a deputy U.S. marshal. But the one thing the mean-faced, middle-aged gunman never expected to be was a man of the cloth.

Funny how things work out sometimes.

Posing as Brother Bernard Sebastian of the Church of Evangelical Truth, Murdock dons a clerical collar to worm his way into the good graces and confidences of the wary residents of Owen, Texas. Seems a gang of ruthless bandits is terrorizing the Texas panhandle, and all evidence points to the dusty cattle town as their base of operations. Murdock aims to unmask the gang, provided he can pass himself off as a preacher long enough to stay alive.

Imitating a minister troubles his conscience, almost driving him to the Good Book for comfort, and his prickly assignment grows even more complicated when he crosses paths with a shady lady from his past. With one hand on the Bible and the other on his revolver, Murdock navigates shoot-outs and Sunday sermons. He might not be well-versed in the Gospels, but one thing he knows for certain: avenging angels don't get halos.

The Book of Murdock is an outstanding Western adventure by Page Murdock's celebrated creator, Loren D. Estleman.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781429934565
Publisher:
Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date:
03/30/2010
Series:
Page Murdock Series , #8
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
272
File size:
283 KB

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  Book of Murdock, The
IJudge Blackthorne’s Epistle to the TexicansONEHow much do you know about the Bible?”“It’s black, isn’t it?”Judge Harlan A. Blackthorne and I were seated in the library of the Helena Stockmen’s Club on Fuller Street, drinking claret with a shard of rye, the Judge’s own concoction, called Old Thunder’s Gavel by the deputies who served him. The only book present was a hollowed-out copy of the Montana Territorial Code containing the pocket model Colt the Judge carried in response to the latest threat against his life. The club’s reading material stood in presses in the dining room, clearing space for its much larger liquor supply inside oak cabinets in the room where we sat.His expression betrayed a piety that didn’t match his Satanic features and pitchfork beard. But as usual he shifted his annoyance to a less revealing subject. “Damn it, Deputy, I know your prejudice against displaying the badge of office, but you might pay me the respect of wearing it in my presence.”“Yes, Your Honor.” I foraged it from a pocket and pinned it on. Blackthorne scowled whenever I addressed him by any title other than Judge. Anything else didn’t quite fit my mouth, although I could get out a proper “sir” in times of admiration; and I did admire him, but I’d take a bullet through the star before I’d say it. He was a vain old rooster who never forgot an insult or a compliment.He dismissed the shaft with a gesture that told me how deep I’d struck. I’d just returned from a messy errand in Oregon that had reflected badly on us both as well as on the federal court, and I hadn’t scrupled to remind him I’d been against it from the start. That I was there at all when I should have been on leave while tempers cooled said he needed me for something unpleasant, and I was determined to let him twist until he got to the point.“Do you seriously know nothing of Scripture?” he asked. “I’d expect someone of your frontier stock to have been brought up on sourdough and Jesus.”“Dugouts are designed for getting snowed in. There was always plenty of Jesus when the bread ran out. I caught a case of devotion, but it was like measles. You don’t get it twice.”“Have you no faith apart from your oath to the Union?”“I took it with my hand on a Bible. If I thought it was for more than show I’d have sworn on my pistol. I’ve seen good men die and bad men prosper, but never an angel to tip the scale. If I ever was going to, it would have been at Murfreesboro.”“Are you an atheist?”“I never liked the ones who claimed to be. They all tried to convert me.”“An agnostic?”“I don’t know.”He frowned as if I’d made an inappropriate jest. The truth was I didn’t know what the word meant. I learned later it was of recent coinage.“But you can sham belief,” he said.I’d no idea where the conversation was headed, but already I didn’t care for it by half. The Judge was a regularattending Presbyterian; whether that was for community relations or because he thought as much of his immortal soul as he did of the bench wasn’t something he shared with those of us who provided him with defendants, and I doubted he was any more forthcoming with his prosecutor or the local leaders he met with formally and at poker. I’d have suspected him of leading up to a dire announcement if I weren’t certain he intended to live forever.I said, “I can be an eagle or a duck. Which one depends on the job.”“I haven’t said there is a job. You’re on inactive duty.”“That’s true. As long as we’re just chewing the fat, where do you stand on Pharaoh’s daughter finding baby Moses in the rushes? She spun a good yarn, but that was the last time anyone believed a story like it.”“That’s blasphemous.”“You ought to know. You’re using Holy Writ to recruit me for work.”“You’re hopeless.”“If I didn’t have hope I’d be dead in Oregon.”The forbidden subject jerked him back onto the rails. He rang for the steward, a bald, leathery Scot in a rusty tailcoat who’d navigated for Lewis and Clark and Noah, and asked him to fetch the big atlas from the dining room.When he returned lugging a cloth-bound volume the size of a saddle blanket, Blackthorne opened it across the arms of his chair, made heretical marks on one of the watercolor maps with a gravity pen, and sat back. I rose and circled behind to study it over his shoulder. With a sinking heart I recognized the outline of Texas, my least favorite place after Dakota; which to be fair to Dakota had only been the place where I’d almost been slaughtered by the Cheyenne Nation. Even worse, the marks he’d made were in the panhandle, a spot that existed because the same incessant wind that blew it away daily blew in fresh dirt from Mexico. The panhandle would disappear when the sand ran out.“I’ve marked the sites of five armed robberies that have taken place in the past six months,” Blackthorne said. “Two banks, an Overland stage, two trains. The banks aren’t our concern, but mail was stolen from the Overland and one of the trains, and that is.”“What’s the matter with the federal court in Austin?”“Its deputy marshals are spread thin over a jurisdiction the size of France. The Texas Rangers, who normally can be depended upon to fill the gap, are busy patrolling the border of Mexico for bandidos. Governor Ireland has asked us for our help, after Isaac Parker in Arkansas turned him down for obvious reasons.”Parker was the only U.S. jurist who was more put-upon than Blackthorne, with seventy-four thousand square miles of Indian Territory to tame by way of two hundred deputy marshals and a gallows in Fort Smith the size of a frigate. The two despised each other for reasons unknown to me, but they were united in their contempt for interferers from Washington.“Still, five robberies. We can scrape up that many in parts of Montana most seasons. What’s our end?”“Method of operations was nearly identical in all five. That suggests the same band. At the pace they’re going, they’ll fish out their current waters in short order and relocate. I’d rather we fought them on Texas ground than ours. Innocent bystanders there are spread out more and less likely to take a stray round.”That was thin even for him, but I didn’t press the point. If he were going to confide the truth to me, he wouldn’t have bothered to put up even so transparent a lie. In any case we were interrupted by the antique steward, who’d returned to ask if we wanted more refreshment. To my surprise the Judge nodded, and the Scot took from a cabinet a cut-glass decanter and from another a bottle of Monongahela and mixed their contents in our empty glasses. Blackthorne was a one-drink, one-cigar man by order of his physician, who had seen him through a heart attack, and no one who answered to the Judge had ever asked for seconds in his presence.Except me, of course; but this was the first time he’d joined me in the rebellion.If the steward noticed that a valuable book from the club’s collection had been defaced, his expression didn’t show it, and he left without remark. Membership was restricted to owners of ranches exclusively, but although Blackthorne held no title to a single square inch of real property, an exception had been made in his case because he’d tried and convicted rustlers with such Old Testament fervor that not so much as a stolen pair of horns had crossed the territorial line in more than a year. It stood to reason that until one did, he could scribble dirty pictures all over the walls of the reception room on Ladies’ Night without a mark appearing against his name in the register.He closed the atlas and slid it over the arm of his chair until it leaned against the side. For a few moments I watched him shifting his weight on the cushions in search of a compromise between his bony angles and the arrangement of horsehair in the upholstery. The only seat that really suited him was the one behind the high bench in the courthouse. Just because he was physically restless, however, didn’t mean he wasn’t complacent in his mind. He knew I would raise the subject sooner or later.I took a long draught of the Gavel and gave him his way. “The Bible.”“I take solace from it often. The beauty of the Song of Solomon stands out against its background of war, plague, and human sacrifice. I was reminded of it when ‘Whispering Hope’ swept through town last year; I was trying a case of rape, murder, and dismemberment, and the strains came through the window as an eyewitness was testifying. I was comforted by the reflection that ugliness and beauty—hell and redemption, if you will—have abided side by side on earth since the beginning. All the changes are superficial. I wonder if the Israelites gathered in the courtyard of the palace to predict Judgment Day the way our street philosophers do on Catholic Hill?”“If so, and Solomon’s father David was in charge, he’d have stuck them in the front lines and given them the first look.”“So some of the Word remained with you after all.”“Not enough to get me from the Kingdom of Israel to the panhandle of Texas.”He ran a finger around the top of his glass, drawing a dull hum from the crystal. He made some kind of decision and set it on his chairside table untouched. “Each of those robberies took place within three days’ ride of Owen, a former buffalo-hunting center more lately concerned with sheepherding, with all the complications that represents with the local cattle interests. Full-time brigand is passing out of fashion. Increased numbers of law enforcement officers and the Pinkertons’ stranglehold has forced many road agents into the cover of legitimate employment. Jesse James and the Youngers scorned the life of the working ranch hand, but most of the later breed has come out of line shacks and the bunkhouse and fly back into them between raids. My theory is you’re more likely to find these highwaymen rounding up strays in Palo Duro Canyon than hiding out in some cave planning their next outrage.“The challenge, of course, is to penetrate that close society without raising the alarm—sending them into flight or open confrontation with their loyal friends at their side. A band of officers would bring about the former, and a single man poking about would almost certainly end up bleaching his bones somewhere on the Staked Plain. However, there is one profession that thrives on a healthy knowledge of the lives of the members of his community without arousing suspicion, and without prowling beyond his station and the various tables where he is invited to break bread.”I saw where he was heading then, and felt a nasty grin splitting my face. “I can stand for a cowhand because I’ve been one, and they took me for a saloonkeeper down in New Mexico because I know my way around a bar, but the first time I thump a pulpit, they’ll smell brimstone clear to Chicago.”“You fail to appreciate the proposition. Men confide in their barbers, women in their dressmakers, but both sexes trust their ministers. In addition, the many social affairs that surround the church place the pastor in the best possible position to monitor gossip. No one knows his community better than the man who serves its spiritual needs.”“Get Ter Horst. His wife teaches Sunday school, and that sheep face of his belongs at the Last Supper.”“I considered him first, but he thought the plan profane. He threatened to resign.”“Whereas my soul’s up for grabs. The star draws fire like a bottle on a fence rail, but I put it on when you ask. I won’t reverse my collar for you. I never met a man struck by lightning who was decent company after we got past the obvious.”He smiled then, close-lipped without the teeth he wore only in the courtroom. “I felt certain once I scratched that infidel’s hide I’d find a believer. You’re too hard on yourself, Page. You have an ecclesiastical mien when you discuss a subject that arouses your passion. The rest is costuming.”That was when I knew I was beaten, although I argued my case a few more minutes just to make the conversation as disagreeable for him as it was for me. When Judge Blackthorne addressed me by my given name, there was no slack left in the leash.Copyright © 2010 by Loren D. Estleman

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Meet the Author

Loren D. Estleman is the winner of multiple awards for his Western writing, including five Spurs, two Stirrups, and three Western Heritage Awards. He lives in Whitmore Lake, Michigan.


Loren D. Estleman is the author of more than fifty novels, including the Amos Walker, Page Murdock, and Peter Macklin series. Winner of three Shamus Awards, three Western Heritage Awards, four Spur Awards and many other literary prizes. He lives outside Detroit with his wife, author Deborah Morgan.

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The Book of Murdock (Page Murdock Series #8) 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
glauver More than 1 year ago
The latest Page Murdock Western is longer on character than action. Estleman is a fine writer in several genres but this oater could have used another shootout or two and the plot seemed a bit thin.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago