“ROGUE LAWMAN”, the first novel in Peter Brandvold’s series, is a very fine adult western. It’s not adult in the sense that there’s a sex scene every fifty pages (there isn’t). It’s adult in the sense that the characters are fleshed out enough to seem like real people rather than pulp archetypes.
Much of the book’s action is prompted by a tragedy, in which Deputy Marshall Gideon Hawk’s little boy is murdered by an outlaw. Even more devastating for our hero, grief weighs so heavily on his wife’s mind that it drives her to commit suicide. His own anguish is all but unbearable, and when the outlaw beats the murder rap, Hawk goes rogue. Now he’ll devote the rest of his life to hunting down and killing the West’s worst predators, unburdened by the need to gather evidence, apprehend suspects, and wait for the courts to succeed or fail at dispensing justice.
That first novel is excellent, although ironically the author does such an effective job of conveying Hawk’s grief that the book’s entertainment value is dampened somewhat. This is not at all your typical pulp western material, in which good guys shoot bad guys and all’s well with the world. Hawk is a different sort of hero, grim, taciturn and obsessed, with a hunger for revenge that can never be satisfied.
The second novel in the series, “DEADLY PREY”, is consistent with the first, but some of its rougher edges have been sanded down. Hawk’s sadness has been replaced with acceptance. The action is more exhilarating, the outlaws are both menacing and colorful, and there are a few surprisingly sexy interludes, although there still isn’t much actual sex to interrupt the story.
Brandvold has a knack for making his scenes vivid by salting his prose with lots of tiny descriptive details. For example, other writers will tell you there’s a fire in the fireplace, but Brandvold will tell you about the popping sounds made by exposed sap in the pine logs in that fireplace, and what the distinctive aroma of the smoke is like. Occasionally this kind of thing weighs down the action, but not often. Usually it just helps bring the scenes to life, and his attention to historical detail is another advantage.
Most of “DEADLY PREY” involves Hawk’s efforts to slaughter a huge gang of killers which has invaded a tiny Colorado town just as a snowstorm hits. Essentially, that means finding ways of killing them one or two at a time, without getting caught or killed himself, and it’s a very satisfying read, with plenty of tension and a few surprises. Along the way the reader will meet some unexpected characters, from the grizzled prospector whose only friend is the skeleton he shares his cabin with, to the outlaw who gets gunned down and farts on his way to the floor, to the roaring bisexual sister of the outlaw leader, who’s every bit as vicious and deadly as he is.
I visualize John Russell (of the old TV western “LAWMAN”) in the role of Hawk, and he’d have been perfect for it. I’m glad that two of my favorite genres--- the western and the vigilante story--- intersect so perfectly with this series. I’m also glad that there are several more 'Rogue Lawman' books on my shelf, yet to be read. And with any luck, Brandvold will write a few dozen more!