Thursday, August 21, 2008

Robert B. Parker: Appaloosa

I recently saw an announcement for Robert B. Parker’s new western, Resolution. As I added it to my wish list, I decided to re-read his first western, Appaloosa. Parker is best known for he Spencer detective novels, as well as his Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall mysteries. As far as I know, Appaloosa is his first foray into the western genre.

The story is told from the perspective of Everett Hitch, the side-kick Marshal Virgil Cole. Cole seems to wander the West taking marshalling jobs in different towns that need help. Hitch follows along, serving as his deputy. It’s a very informal arrangement between them, but it works. Cole has developed a set of rules that he posts when he takes a job. If the town leaders won’t accept his control and his rules, he refuses the job.

The town of Appaloosa, Colorado has a problem with a local rancher named Randall Bragg. He and his men do and take whatever they want. They “buy” supplies from the local store and never pay. The take horses from the livery stable and don’t bring them back. They eat and drink in the saloons without paying. After killing a man and raping his wife the town marshal went to arrest the men responsible. They killed him. So the town aldermen, who own the store and saloons, sent for Cole and Hitch. The aldermen accept Cole’s rules and hire him. If they hadn’t the book would have needed a different name.

Randall Bragg is plenty of trouble, but Cole’s life becomes more complicated with the arrival of the widow, Mrs. Allison French. She takes a job playing the piano in a saloon, and takes an interest in Cole.

The first half of the book could be pretty standard western dealing with stopping Bragg’s rampages. Getting things under control takes about as much time as it would in a Louis L’Amour or Zane Grey western. But then Parker throws us a twist, and the second half of the book gets better. But I really can’t say much about it.

Everett Hitch is a fun character. Cole less so, but playing off Cole is what makes Hitch so enjoyable. Mrs. French is complicated and complicating. And Randall Bragg is great as a bad guy. He’s nasty, but surprising.

It’s only been three years since I first read Appaloosa, but I had forgotten most of it, even the second half plot twist. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and look forward to eventually trying Resolution.

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