Sunday, December 14, 2008
A Foray Into Westerns: GHOST TOWN by Ed Gorman
Andre Gide reading.
It's been of some embarrassment to me that despite the many readers and writers of Westerns who contribute to Friday's Forgotten Books, I have not read one. Okay, I did read Lonesome Dove, but that's about the only one.
I've always suffered from the mistaken impression that Western novels resemble the TV westerns of my youth. The plots were about cattle rustling, bar fights, women depicted as all good (schoolmarms and wives) or all bad (saloon girls and hookers), shootouts, Indian fights, cattle herding, lynchings, etc. Everything seemed painted in black and white to match the day.
Ed Gorman took pity on my misconceptions and sent me two of his Westerns, saying he thought I'd be surprised at the modern Western and how it bore more a resemblance to noirish crime fiction than I might think.
I read GHOST TOWN and it was surprisingly like current crime fiction, but more than that, it was a terrific novel, regardless of its genre-leanings. GHOST TOWN was a great story, well-told, with interesting characters in an unfamiliar setting.
The book takes places in a small Wisconsin town overrun by both malaria and a few suspicious types who run the bank and the town. It's the story of Bryce Lamont, who comes here to get his share of the take from a jewelry theft that put him in prison. What he finds in that Wisconsin town will lead him down a bloody trail, jeopardizing himself and the people he loves.
I don't want to give away too much of the plot here, but let me say this--nearly every character in Ghost Town is complex--neither all good or bad, and this includes, of course, the protagonist. Although there is a lot of action in the novel, it never feels overdone. There is plenty of time to look around at the scenery, the clothes, medical practices, woman's issues, the news of the late 1800s in a small mid-western town. Despite this, the book is succinct, fast-moving and exciting.
Its greatest asset is-- this book has heart. You can feel it beating on every page. And that's not easy to pull off in any genre of writing. Grit and heart in one slim volume is a gift.
I will certainly read more Westerns after this one. It hardly hurt at all. Thanks, Ed.