Friday, November 2, 2018

Canyon O'Grady #01 - Dead Men's Trails

Writing as Jon Sharpe, author Jon Messman was the primary architect and ghostwriter behind the popular adult western series, ‘The Trailsman.’ In 1989, Signet Books launched a new series called ‘Canyon O’Grady’ also using the Jon Sharpe house name, so it only made sense to have Messman pen the inaugural installment.

The premise of the Canyon O’Grady books is pretty interesting, and it’s quite similar in structure to Longarm. Canyon is a “U.S. Government Agent” who gets his investigative assignments directly from U.S. President James Buchanan. For instance, in Book 2, POTUS asks Canyon to protect the man working on a new invention called “the machine gun” before the device falls into the wrong hands. Book 5 finds Canyon working double duty to protect political rivals Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln from terrorists seeking to disrupt the next U.S. presidential election.

When asked the difference between a federal marshal and a U.S. Government agent, Canyon explains: “A federal marshal arrests people and brings them in. Sometimes he does some law-keeping. Mostly, though, he’s the arresting arm of the federal government. A government agent tracks down trouble and troublemakers anywhere and everywhere. Federal marshals have a territory. I go anywhere the trail takes me.”

The first book in the series takes place along the wild and lawless Kentucky-Tennessee border in 1859 where Canyon is undercover on a special assignment from the President involving the mysterious death of Meriwether Lewis of Lewis & Clark fame 50 years earlier - a cold-case homicide that becomes a manhunt and a treasure hunt.

Shortly after his arrival into a small Kentucky town, Canyon witnesses a targeted murder of a man who might have some answers regarding Lewis’ death. It turns out that the victim is one of several close associates suffering assassinations at the hands of hired hit squads because of a shared secret in their past. Only one of the group has survived and his comely daughter wants Canyon to find her reclusive and hidden father before it’s too late.

Because this is an adult western, you can count on regular breaks in the action for some mandatory graphic sex scenes. It took 37 pages for Canyon to get laid in the debut, so you know the author was really committed to the main plot. However, never fear - there’s also a substantial amount of cinematic and grizzly violence to keep the pages flying by.

Messman includes lots of details and backstory regarding our hero. Canyon was conceived in Ireland and born in the U.S. His father was an Irish revolutionary fleeing British rule with a price on his head. Canyon was classically educated by wise and learned Catholic friars and often quotes ancient Greek poets and sings Irish folk songs. He rides a beautiful palomino horse named Cormac after the Irish king of the 8th Century.

A fair amount of the novel is Canyon traveling through the wilderness accompanied by a beautiful girl in search of her father. They encounter many obstacles along the way requiring Canyon to save the girl’s bacon from mountain lions and rapey fur trappers. At times, the intensity of the violence approaches the level of the Edge series when the bullets begin to fly and the blood starts to flow. Meanwhile, the central mystery regarding the assassinations is remarkably compelling for a pulpy paperback.

The Canyon O’Grady series lasted for 25 books before folding in 1993. The authors changed hands with Chet Cunningham writing several and Robert Randisi delivering the final eight books. Canyon O’Grady and Skye “Trailsman” Fargo actually team up in Trailsman #100. As for this first episode, it’s an outstanding debut that makes the reader want to dig deeper into this fascinating hero. Recommended.