From pseudonyms like E.J. Gorman, Daniel Ransom and Robert David Chase, Edward Gorman's body of literary work is rather diverse. From horror to crime, action to western, Gorman's career was prolific and varied, producing over 60 novels. Along with the four-book frontier series 'Guild', many fans also choose the stand-alone western “Wolf Moon” as one of his finest.
Gorman's passion for crime-noir is clearly evident in this violent western tale. Despite it's turn-of-the-century setting, the author utilizes many genre tropes to propel this gritty narrative forward. While readers enjoy the paperback’s melancholic prose - draped over characters like a bed sheet - I'm entranced by Gorman's talents to weave a simple plot into such a grandiose spectacle. By the book's fiery finale – the gnashing of teeth in a fog of gunsmoke – the story feels much bigger than it really is.
Young Chase is first introduced to readers as a southeastern hayseed plow-boy. His brothers Don and Glen conspire with a bank manager named Schroeder to rob his bank and split the money. Chase tags along to help his brothers, only to watch Schroeder double-cross the gang and fatally shoot Chase’s brothers. Making off with the cash, Schroeder leaves Chase to become ensnared by the authorities.
The novel's early portion focuses on Chase's 12-years in prison, a grueling, graphic account of utter brutality. During that time, Chase keeps a tender correspondence with his childhood sweetheart, Gillian. Shortly after learning that the unmarried Gillian moved to a western town named Rock Ridge, Chase is officially freed. After a rewarding reunion with Gillian, Chase settles into civilian life and begins building for the future.
After taking a deputy job working for notorious Sheriff Hollister (no background checks then), Chase discovers that Schroeder, using the guise of a wealthy businessman named Reeves, is now managing a bank in Rock Ridge. Wanting revenge for the loss of his freedom and brothers, Chase must balance life on a triple beam. Will he settle into his new life or possibly jeopardize his new family's safety by seeking retribution?
Gorman poignantly presents the classic western tale – traditionally simple and effective. Yet, portions of the narrative expand into the story of an aging wolf, a character that retains a larger role in Chase's life. Like good crime-noir, elements such as the bank heist, double-cross, love interest and gunplay are consuming and important. Additionally, by setting the paperback at the turn of the 20th century, the author incorporates the smells of burning oil and telephone wires to add a more modern touch.
While certainly not flawless, Gorman crafts his westerns in a way that no one else can. “Wolf's Moon” maintains stark traditionalism, and for that reason the average western fans will embrace it. But seasoned, well experienced genre readers will appreciate the fact that Gorman provides some fresh footprints while treading familiar ground.
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