It’s interesting that the lore of the American West was so universally appreciated that many foreign writers produced successful western series titles aimed at international audiences. Norway’s big entry in this literary international arms race was the 83-book Morgan Kane series that started in 1966. The author was listed as Louis Masterson, but his real name was actually Kjell Hallbi (1934-2004). His books were written in Norwegian but received English-language translations for U.K.’s Corgi imprint beginning in 1971. A handful of the early installments have been made available on Kindle at reasonable prices, so I decided to try the first one, Without Mercy (Original Title: Uten Nade).
Morgan Kane is a Texas Ranger and saloon poker player in the late 1800s American West. After successfully killing a fugitive in St. Louis, he is ambushed by fellow passengers on the train ride back to Fort Worth, shot twice, and tossed into the brush in the middle of the night. Kane awakens beside the tracks to the sound of a buzzard waiting for him to die. With holes in both his gun hand and his gut, it likely won’t be long.
The reader learns that the attack on the train was not a random act of violence but rather a coordinated bit of revenge arranged by Troy Duncan, the brother of a Texas Ranger man that Kane killed in the line of duty. Duncan leads a four-person gang that includes his brother’s widow, a comely lass with a body built for loving. After shooting Kane in the gun hand and and the gut, they assume that the toss off the moving train probably finished the job on the ambushed lawman.
In Without Mercy, the author changes third-person perspective between Kane trying to survive his injuries, to the Duncan Gang looking to finish the job, to Kane’s Texas Ranger partner trying to find and help his oldest friend. Of course, we know that Kane survives the ordeal and lives to seek revenge on the crew who tossed him from the train. However, a crippled gun hand presents the hero with quite a handicap to overcome in his quest to satisfy his vendetta.
The English translation of Without Mercy is flawlessly-smooth, so you’d never notice it was originally written in Norwegian. Moreover, the author is an excellent storyteller with a knack for pace and tension. This won’t be the best western you’ve ever read, but it was a compelling and engaging story that will make you want to further explore this interesting series in the vast world of western fiction.
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