From the Publisher
“He is legend, Richard Matheson, and The Gun Fight is the kind of story that made it happen. Here is a deceptively simple premise–how a lie can kill–and an unforgettable character, ex-Ranger John Benton. Matheson makes everything work just as he did in Journal of the Gun Years, which won the Golden Spur Award from the Western Writers of America.” Dale Walker, Rocky Mountain News
“Matheson has crafted an engrossing account of the frequently deadly consequences of mistaking vanity for honor.” Publishers Weekly
“With the possible exception of the modern woman's romance, Richard Matheson has conquered every category of fiction in our time. With The Gun Fight, he has marked the American Western in its newest and most important phase with his brand. Raw, rough, and real, the book resonates with the long sure role of history.” Loren D. Estleman, author of Frames
“Written in the traditional Western style, this substantive story addresses several moral issues, and the rather illusive term ‘honor' is made crystal clear . . . An action-packed, suspenseful tale.” School Library Journal
“The Gun Fight is another western triumph for Richard Matheson, to add to his Spur-winning Journal of the Gun Years.” Norman Zollinger, author of The Road to Santa Fe
“In just three days, gossip leaves a trail of wrecked lives, death, and life-long remorse. By the author of Journal of the Gun Years, this is a superbly written suspense story with a moral.” Library Journal
“Richard Matheson packs The Gun Fight with enough real people, plot twists and authentic western color to make this the equal of his Spur-winning Journal of the Gun Years. This is a very, very good book.” Ed Gorman, author of Fools Rush In
“Any novel bearing the name Richard Matheson is going to be breathtakingly good. No one writes better.” Richard Wheeler, author of North Star
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Ex-Texas Ranger John Benton was once known as the fastest gun in the West, and his legend still looms large in Kellville, Texas. Louisa Harper, in an attempt to hasten a slowly blooming romance with her nebbishy fiance Robby Coles, lies to her suitor about untoward advances made by the retired lawman. Mustering his courage, Robby approaches Benton at the local saloon to demand an apology. News of the ensuing scuffle travels fast, eventually reaching Louisa's spinster aunt Agatha, the town busybody, and Robby's control-freak father, Matthew. As eager to tarnish Benton's popularity as he is to avoid being branded the father of a coward, the elder Coles goads his son into defending his fiancee's honor in a duel. The impending conflict is further ensured by Agatha's self-righteous fury. Meanwhile, Benton, equally misguided by his own notion of honor, must clear up the misunderstanding before he is forced into a shootout which would likely result in young Coles's death. Matheson ( Journal of the Gun Years ) has crafted an engrossing account of the frequently deadly consequences of mistaking vanity for honor. (Sept.)
The theme of this unusual novel of the West reads, ``The wages of gossip is death.'' In 1871, Texas Ranger and famous gunslinger John Benton, tired of killing, puts away his guns and becomes a rancher. He is the local hero in the small town, especially for the young people. In order to make her fiance, Robby, jealous, a silly girl tells him that Benton has been bothering her. This lie starts the ball of gossip rolling, and it grows at every telling. Robby's tyrannical, brutal father forces him to ``defend'' the family's honor in a gunfight with Benton. In just three days, gossip leaves a trail of wrecked lives, death, and life-long remorse. By the author of Journal of the Gun Years ( LJ 11/1/91), this is a superbly written suspense story with a moral.-- Sister Avila, Acad. of the Holy Angels, Minneapolis
School Library Journal
YA-In Millview, Texas, on August 13, 1871, lawman John Benton took off his gun and swore never to wear it again. Eight years later, he is forced to rethink his decision when an innocent young woman, Louisa Harper, tries to make her boyfriend jealous with a story that the famous officer made advances toward her. Goaded by his father and friends to defend Louisa's honor, Robby challenges Benton to a gunfight. Written in the traditional Western style, this substantive story addresses several moral issues, and the rather illusive term ``honor'' is made crystal clear. YAs will identify with Louisa and Robby, and will understand the damages, dangers, and far-reaching implications of lying about another person. An action-packed, suspenseful tale.-Carol P. Clark, R.E. Lee High School, Springfield, VA
Read an Excerpt
The chaparral bird was running a .erce race with the black roan as it pounded across the hard earth. The long legs of the bird .ashed wildly in a swirl of alkali dust, ten yards ahead of the roan’s battering hooves.
Off the wide trail, a jackrabbit bounded into the brush with great, erratic leaps. Awakened by the muf.ed thunder in the earth, a coiled rattlesnake writhed sluggishly and lifted its .at head, dead eyes searching.
The tall roan galloped along the trail, its broad legs drawing high, then driving down quickly at the dust-clouded earth. The spur rowels of its young rider raked once across its heaving .anks and the thick weave of muscles underneath its hide drove it on still faster.
Robby Coles paid no attention to the long- beaked roadrunner skittering its weaving path on the trail ahead. He rode close- seated, his knees clamped against the roan’s .anks, his booted feet braced forward and out against the stirrups. Beneath the broad brim of his Stet-son, his dark eyes peered straight ahead at the out fences of the small ranch he approached.
The driving hooves came too close and the chaparral bird lunged off the trail, racing into the brush. The roan thundered on, following the twists of the trail, a thin froth blowing from its muzzle. Spur rowels scratched again, the horse leaped forward obediently, past the tall and spiny- branched cholla cactus, galloping past the .rst fence line of the ranch.
Now the rider’s eyes focused on the far-off cluster of buildings that comprised the ranch layout. His thin lips pressed together into a blood- pinched line and there was a strained movement in his throat. Was he there? The question drifted like smoke across his mind and he felt sweat dripping down beneath his shirt collar and realized, abruptly, how thirsty he was.
Cold resolve forced itself into his eyes again and his slender hands tightened on the sweat- slick reins. He could feel the rhythmic pounding inside his body as the hooves of his roan pistoned against the hard earth. He could feel the arid bluntness of the wind buffeting across his cheeks and against his forehead; the abrasive rubbing of his legs against the horse’s .anks.
There were other things he felt, too.
As the hooves of his mount drummed along the trail, Robby Coles noticed, from the corners of his eyes, the aimless wandering of cattle beyond the fences. He swallowed hot air and coughed once as the dustiness tickled in his throat. The ranch was a half mile distant now. Robby Coles reached down ner vous ly and touched the smooth walnut of his gun stock. He wondered if he should be wearing it.
Merv Linken was coming out of the barn, carrying a pitchfork, when the big black roan came charging into the open area between the barn and the main house.
At .rst, the horse headed for the main house. Then the rider saw Merv and pulled his mount around sharply. Merv stood watching as the roan cantered over and stopped before him, its .anks heaving, hot breath steaming from its nostrils.
“Hello there, Robby,” Merv said, smiling up at the grim- faced young rider. “What brings you out in sech a rush?” Robby Coles drew in a quick breath and forced it out.
“Benton here?” he asked breathlessly, his dark- eyed gaze drifting toward the main house.
“No, he ain’t,” Merv said. “Matter o’ fact, he’s to town gettin’ supplies.”
He saw how the skin tightened across Robby’s cheeks and how his mouth pressed suddenly into a line.
“Guess you rode out fer nothin’,” Merv said, then shrugged. “Unless you want to set and wait.”
“How long’s he been gone?” Robby’s voice sounded thin and disturbed above the shuddering pants of his roan. He drew out a bandanna and mopped at his face.
“Oh... I reckon, since about eight,” Merv said. “Said he was—”
He stopped talking abruptly as Robby jerked the horse around and kicked his spur rowels in. The sweat-.ecked roan started forward, breaking into a hard gallop before it passed the bunk house.
Merv Linken stood there a while, leaning on the pitchfork, watching Robby Coles ride away toward town. Then he shrugged and turned toward the house.
Julia Benton came walking in quick strides across the yard, drying her hands. She was a tall woman, slender and softly curved, her hair a light blond.
“Who was that?” she asked.
“Young Robby Coles,” Merv answered.
“What did he want?”
“Got no notion, ma’m,” Merv told her. “Just came in, tight- leggin’ and asked for the old man.”
“Is that all?”
“That’s all, ma’m. Reckon he’s headed for Kellville to see Mr. Benton now.”
They stood silent for a moment, watching from beneath the shading of their palms, the roan and its rider dwindle into the distance of the brush country.
“He’s sure bakin’ that hoss,” Merv said. “Must be anxious to see yore husband.”
Julia Benton stood motionless in the hot sunlight, a look of uneasy curiosity in her eyes. She watched until she couldn’t see the horse any longer.
Then she went back to her dishes.
Excerpted from The Gun Fight by Richard Matheson.
Copyright © 1993 by RXR, Inc.
Published in November 2009 by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and
reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in
any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.