Elmer Merle Parsons enjoyed a career as a script writer, newspaper editor and author. While in prison for grand theft auto and check fraud, Parsons developed his writing skills, eventually selling his first novel, Self-Made Widow, to Fawcett Gold Medal. His crime fiction output was published using the pseudonym Philip Race, and his three western novels were under the name E.M. Parsons. The last of these, The Easy Gun, was published in 1970 by Fawcett Gold Medal.
The Easy Gun is a unique western as it never fully discloses any clear-cut hero or villain. True accounts of America in the 1800s reflect a striking contrast to fictional western storytelling. In most cases, there were no white or black hats – no heroes or villains. Just simply people enduring and surviving in a merciless place and time in history. Parsons positions his novel's key characters on neutral ground. Little Easy is a confused, troubled young man, and Long Gone Magoffin is a successful businessman saddled with enormous misfortunes.
In the book's beginning, readers find Little Easy in an El Paso jail cheating his fellow cellmates out of money, guitars and pride. After a few days of debauchery, Easy finds himself headed to a long-term prison sentence. However, his father, Big John Easy, pleads with the judge to allow his son one more opportunity to find righteousness. That opportunity involves a large herd of Mexican cattle that John has found and agreed to sell to Long Gone Magoffin, a cattle dealer. John and the judge agree that Little Easy's rightful place is on the range roping cattle instead of liquor and cards. Little Easy departs jail and heads to the range to count cows.
The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Unfortunately, Big John makes many of the same mistakes that his son does. After Magoffin finds that the cattle are covered in ticks, he refuses to purchase them. Big John, in a drunken rage, confronts the cattle dealer and demands his money. Magoffin, being sensible, attempts to talk Big John off the ledge. A fight ensues and Magoffin is forced to fatally shoot Big John. When word reaches Little Easy, he sets out to avenge his father's murder despite the misinformation that it was a cold-blooded slaying.
Parsons utilizes many of the same elements that makes his crime-fiction engaging – gambling scenes, flawed heroes and villains and numerous characters that serve as a backdrop for his protagonists’ interactions. Once the action moves to a dusty town called Ellsworth, the reader is thrust into an emotional conflict: is Easy justified in his quest for vengeance or is Magoffin the cool-headed businessman that made a tough, but right, choice? I think both characters represent the late 1800s – Easy as the more primitive, unsettled frontiersman and Magoffin the embodiment of the progressive modern west.
Regardless of where your allegiance lies, The Easy Gun is a fantastic story. Sadly, it was published the year of Parsons death. With just a trio of westerns notched on his gun, I imagine that Parsons could have delivered a lot of quality stories given more time. Nevertheless, The Easy Gun is a testament to his talent.
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