Working under the pen name George G. Gilman, Terry Harknett had a handful of good ideas in mind for his new 'Edge' western, “BLOOD ON SILVER”. He created a couple of unique characters (one is a giant Zulu in a derby, and the other is a kill-crazy Quaker whose thundering speech is peppered with “thee” and “thy”), along with two or three very strong action sequences.
But as it is when children pound on the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to make them fit, these elements don’t really come together very well, and the plot lacks cohesion. As soon as you get a feel for the story, it’s suddenly about something else, and before you’ve really made the adjustment, it’s turned into something else again.
It could be argued that nobody reads an 'Edge' novel for the story. This series is famous (or notorious) for its over-the-top gory violence, and I guess there were Edge readers who salivated over the grisly depictions of pain and suffering the way Longarm readers sought stimulation in the extensive sex scenes. You pretty much have to expect violence in a paperback western, and usually that sort of action keeps things lively. But the Edge novels are something else. Virtually every character the reader encounters, no matter how trivial, will be killed off in excruciating ways, and innocent bystanders often get it worse than the bad guys. There’s a difference between two-fisted action and brutality porn, and this series leans toward the latter.
In the opening pages of “BLOOD ON SILVER”, for instance, Edge watches indifferently from the safety of a barn as an entire wedding party is slaughtered by the Quaker and his gang. It’s a powerful sequence. But Harknett cranks it up to eleven. Before it’s over, the bride has been seized, stripped, tied upside down to the pulley rope of a water well, nearly drowned over and over, then tortured with a lit cigar (you can guess where that cigar is ultimately applied as the lusty gang crowds around to watch), before she’s finally killed.
Again, for some readers this will be the visceral highlight of the book. For the rest of us, it’s nasty overkill which gets in the way of enjoying the story. Harknett isn’t a hack. He can deliver action, color and suspense without soaking everything in blood, as his 'Adam Steele' series proves. But Pinnacle Books demanded crazy violence for the 'Edge' series. (Why? For readers in prisons and psych wards?) So we get exactly that.
There are other idiosyncrasies on display here. One is the author’s insistence on ending every chapter with somebody (usually the humorless Edge) making a wincingly unfunny wisecrack. There’s also a little sloppiness here and there, as when Edge watches a wagon load of silver disappear into a lake and mutters, “Hi-yo silver, away” in a story set decades before the Lone Ranger was created.
For a really good 'Edge' western, try the third book, “APACHE DEATH”. It’s plenty violent, without wallowing in pointless sadism, and everything that’s good about this series is distilled into that novel. The things that work a bit less successfully can be found in “BLOOD ON SILVER”.