Edward Gorman (1941-2016) authored over 60 novels in a wide variety of genres ranging from horror to crime. His many pseudonyms included E.J. Gorman, Daniel Ransom and Robert David Chase. Some of his most beloved literary contributions are westerns, notably the four volume 'Leo Guild' series published between 1987 and 1991 by Ballantine.
The series debut, “Guild,” introduces readers to bounty hunter Leo Guild. In a backstory, we learn that Guild was a lawman who accidentally killed a young girl while pursuing criminals (like Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder). Mercifully, Guild is found innocent of murder and is released to face his own demons. Burdened by heavy guilt while seeking retribution, Guild is now a middle-aged bounty hunter in the 1890s.
The story begins with Guild escorting a prisoner into the small town of Danton. Guild stumbles onto a murder mystery as a local banker is found dead. The culprit seems to be a drunken ex-circus performer named Earle, but Guild has second thoughts after talking with the man's young friend, Annie. Having no real allies, Guild agrees to look into the murder for Annie but is surprised to find that Earle has apparently committed suicide by hanging himself. Fearing that the law may be covering up the real murderer, Guild's pursuit of justice makes up the novel's narrative.
Like many westerns before and after Guild, the plot introduces the stereotypical villain in a rich playboy named Frank. As the son of wealthy land developer Mason Cord, Frank's silver spoon is Danton's bank. Guild learns that Frank had gambled and lost four-thousand dollars to Earle. Further, Frank is apparently draining the bank's assets in a frivolous attempt to purchase liberal amounts of both whiskey and prostitutes. This overwhelming evidence points Guild's guns at Frank in hopes of bringing justice and peace to Annie and her slain friend.
While telling a familiar tale, Gorman writes with enough conviction to captivate readers. I read the 184-page novel in nearly one sitting, as evidence of the book's easy flow. There's a number of interesting characters – the rehabilitating criminal Maloney, the endearing widow Ruby, lovable Annie and of course our sole hero, the darkly complex Leo Guild. For action fans, Gorman injects a fair amount of gun play, but the storytelling and character development is the real trophy here.
“Guild” is a rock solid treat for western fans.
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