This is only Parker's second western, after the Wyatt Earp story Gunman's Rhapsody (or third if you count the Spenser PI quasi-western Potshot), but he takes total command of the genre, telling a galloping tale of two Old West lawmen. The chief one is Virgil Cole, new marshal of the mining/ranching town of Appaloosa (probably in Colorado); his deputy is Everett Hitch, and it's Hitch who tells the story, playing Watson to Cole's Holmes. The novel's outline is classic western: Cole and Hitch take on the corrupt rancher, Randall Bragg, who ordered the killing of the previous marshal and his deputy. Bragg is arrested, tried and sentenced to be hanged, but hired guns bust him out, leading to a long chase through Indian territory, a traditional high noon (albeit at 2:41 p.m.) shootout between Cole's men and Bragg's, a further escape and, at book's end, a dramatic final showdown. Along the way, Cole falls for a piano-playing beauty with a malevolent heart whose manipulations lead to that final, fatal confrontation. With such familiar elements in play, Parker breaks no new ground. But that's irrelevant. What he does do, and to magnificent effect, is invest classic tropes with fresh vigor, revealing depth of character by a glance, a gesture or even silence. As always, the writing is bone clean. With Appaloosa Parker manages to translate his signature themes (honor among men) from the mean streets to the wild west in one of his finest books to date. Agent, Helen Brann. (June) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Best known for his Spenser novels (e.g., Cold Service), popular author Parker likes to break out of the mystery genre once in a while. In this Western (the second after Gunman's Rhapsody), deputy Everett Hitch recounts the struggle between lawman Virgil Cole and outlaw rancher Randall Bragg for control of the little town of Appaloosa. Modeled on Wyatt Earp, Cole is the kind of man who never loses a fight, and he comes close to taking down the murderous Bragg with ease, until Bragg's hired guns rescue him by abducting Cole's romantic interest and using her as a hostage. This precipitates a long chase, a struggle with wandering Kiowa, and a gunfight reminiscent of the OK Corral. The story gallops along to a surprise ending, but beneath the trappings of this gunfighter novel, Parker really has something to say about the nature of men and women in the Old West. Highly recommended for all fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/05.]-Ken St. Andre, Phoenix P.L. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
If Spenser and Hawk had been around when the West was wild, they'd have talked like Cole and Hitch. The dialogue shines with a Western drawl in this admirably plotted change of pace from Parker (Double Play, 2004, etc.). Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch ride into Appaloosa, Colts slung serviceably low, and are instantly spotted for what they are: town tamers. "They're living off us like coyotes off a buffalo carcass," complains the Appaloosa establishment, meaning a ruthless no-good named Randall Bragg and the hands he employs on his ranch. Their sins include whisky and food consumed but never paid for, horses "borrowed" and not returned, women commandeered whenever. More recently, the marshal and one of his deputies were gunned down in cold blood. Do Cole and Hitch want to replace them? "It's what we do," says Hitch. Marshal Cole and Deputy Hitch then set about posting their rules, the same rules that had transformed Gin Springs, for instance, from a wide-open hellhole to a paradigm of civic virtue. Check your firearms at the town limits, Bragg and his hard-cases are ordered. They obey, though of course it requires a tactical killing or two before the rules are accepted as binding. Enter Mrs. Allison French, a woman more beautiful and more complex than is good for the general peace. Cole is smitten-and awed. "Takes a bath every evenin," he tells his partner. Having seen more of the world than the parochial Cole, West Point graduate Hitch is cautious. Does a dangerous seductress lurk behind the fetching facade? Into town ride the Shelton brothers, quick, mean gunmen several notches above the ordinary. Bragg reappears in the guise of a community booster: slick, plausible and dazzling to shortmemories. Pervading it all is the winsome widow lady's private agenda. Wonderful stuff: notch 51 for Parker.
“Like the Spenser books, it’s a study of Parker’s enduring themes: buddy relationships, the weight that honor and responsibility put on a man, the consequences of violence, the way good can shade into bad and vice versa…a melancholy and sometimes moving tale of a lost but fascinating era.”—The Seattle Times
“Dryly amusing…a conclusion that had to make Parker smile as much as his readers will.”—Los Angles Times
“[Parker] takes total command of the genre, telling a galloping tale…[a] classic western… magnificent. As always, the writing is bone clean. One of Parker’s finest.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“For…readers with a hankering for the Wild West, including a high-noon shootout and all the accoutrements.”—USA Today
“Beneath the trappings of this gunfighter novel, Parker really has something to say about the nature of men and women in the Old West. Highly recommended.”—Library Journal
“As always, [Parker] is a master…his plot gallops to a perfect, almost mythical ending. Like a great gunfighter, Parker makes it look easy.”—St. Petersburg Times
“If Spenser and Hawk had been around when the West was wild, they’d have talked like Cole and Hitch. Wonderful stuff: notch 51 for Parker.”—Kirkus Reviews