Sunday, December 3, 2017

Apache #01 - The First Death

I had been reading up on the U.K. westerns of the 70s and stumbled on a series entitled ‘Apache’. Further reading brought me up to speed on a familiar name in western fiction – Piccadilly Cowboys. This group consisted of writers Terry Harknett, Kenneth Bulmer, Mike Linaker, Angus Wells, Laurence James, Fred Nolan and John Harvey (if not more). Collectively, they wrote a ton of westerns and individually contributed to science fiction and men’s action adventure genres. ‘Apache’ was a bit of a snowball effect resulting from the tremendous success of the violent western series ‘Edge’. According to the excellent blog "Western Fiction Review", ‘Edge’ was published by George Gilman, a pseudonym for authors Terry Harknett and Laurence James. Harknett (under the name William M. James) wrote the debut ‘Apache’ novel “The First Death”, released in February, 1974 through Pinnacle. The series would run from 1974 through 1984 – 27 books written by Harknett and John Harvey (later). Thankfully, I was able to track down an Ebook copy of “The First Death” using a nifty online library – openlibrary.org.

Although the year is never mentioned, the book is set somewhere around 1861. There is a mentioning of a possible rebellion against the Union in the East, thus the beginnings of the U.S. Civil War. The book begins with Lieutenant Pinner riding troops into an Apache rancheria in the Arizona Territory of the Department of New Mexico. He’s looking for a Native American that he suspects stole his prized golden dagger, a cherished gift from his father. Pinner is a royal dick and routinely takes his aggression out on what is now a peaceful tribe of Apache. Their chief, Black Horse, allows Pinner’s troops to run through the tepees searching for the dagger, putting aside frustration and pride for the greater good. 18-year old brave Cuchillo sees the invasion from a rock outcropping and races in to protect his wife Chipeta and his newborn son. In a shocking early revelation, Cuchillo produces the dagger from inside of his shirt. Pinner and the troops take Cuchillo back to nearby Fort Davidson for trial. Pinner asks his superior, Major Anson, to execute Cuchillo, but the leader suggests removing Cuchillo’s index finger as a suitable punishment. Pinner, in a prime asshat move, actually removes two fingers in a disturbing and graphic scene.

Harknett introduces a solid backstory outlining Cuchillo’s place in the tribe, a feud with fellow brave White Dog and his friendship with the white John Hedges, whom has educated Cuchillo with English culture. Cuchillo provides a valid explanation as to why he had Pinner’s dagger, and later, tangles with the violent father-son due of Nathan and Armstrong Ford – two pivotal characters in the book’s ultimate plotline. Cuchillo attempts to settle the dagger transaction, only to run afoul of the Fords, killing one of them. Before he can return back to the rancheria, the cavalry arrests Cuchillo’s wife and retains his son until the brave returns to Fort Davidson to confess and ultimately hang. This puts Cuchillo in the worst situation – trading his own life for his wife and son’s.

The book’s violent finale has Fort Davidson’s scum run the rape train on Cuchillo’s wife. It’s a brutal scene, but done with just enough detail to paint the revenge scenario facing Cuchillo and the reader. It’s tough to read, but isn’t a grizzly, squeamish scene. I’m glad the author held back a bit…enough is enough with the cruelty. The climatic ending is a shocker, but a mandatory finale to set up the long running series. I’ve got to have book two…right now.

I’ve read a ton of western fiction but I’m going to put ‘Apache’ in the upper echelon. It’s a quick read at under 200 pages, with just enough violence and a good mystery to saturate the book’s contents. I’m hoping this series will expand on the Cuchillo and Pinner conflict while also furthering the development of White Dog’s feud. I can’t say enough good things about this book. Based on this debut, ‘Apache’ looks like a winning formula.