Wednesday, July 28, 2010

You Want Laconic? I Got Laconic

Everett Hitch, who is telling our story, has just been hired to keep the peace in the old Western town of Resolution.  In those days, the guard used to sit on a chair somewhat elevated from the saloon floor.  He's the sidekick of the novel's main character, icy legendary gunfighter Virgil Cole, who has not yet put in an appearance, but his presence is still felt.  Everett is  keeping an eye on one desperate-looking character in particular.

     "Hey Lookout," the Weasel said.  "What's your name?"
     "Hitch," I said.  "Everett Hitch."
     He was wearing a dark shirt with vertical stripes, buttoned up tight at the collar.  The buttons were big.
     "Any good with that shotgun?" the Weasel said.
     The room was quiet now, and everyone was watching.  The Weasel liked that.  He lounged back a little in his chair, his bowler hat tipped forward over his forehead.  The gun he carried was a Colt, probably a .44, probably single-action.  He had cut the holster down for a fast draw.  And wore it tied to his thigh.  Probably the local gunny.
     "Don't need to be all that good with a double-barreled eight-gauge," I said.
     "And I bet you ain't," the Weasel said.
     "Wouldn't make much difference to you," I said.
     "Why's that?" the Weasel said.
     "I was to give you both barrels, from here," I said, "blow your head off and part of your upper body."
     He was enjoying this less.
     "Yep, probably kill some folks near you, too," I said.  "With the scatter."
     I cocked both barrels.  The sound of them cocking was very loud in the room.  Virgil Cole always used to say, You gotta kill someone, do it quick.  Don't look like you got pushed into it.  Look like you couldn't wait to do it.  It was as if I could hear his voice as I looked at the men in front of me:  Sometimes you got to kill one person early, to save killing four or five later
     I leveled the shotgun straight at the Weasel.

Folks, that is about as chatty and poetic as Robert B. Parker's Virgil Cole/Everett Hitch westerns ever get.  Parker published four before his unexpected death in January:  Appaloosa, Resolution, Brimstone, and Blue-Eyed Devil.   

It's summer.  It's hot.  You want a quick, effortless read that still entertains you.  You're not all that fond of commas.  You might like a little killing in your books.  But you thought you had outgrown westerns.  Or you never liked them.  Or you never read one but thought you wouldn't like one if you did. 

Fair enough.  But if you don't mind a little gunplay, give one of these a try.  Probably best to start with the first in the series, Appaloosa (which was made into a movie you didn't see with Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen), as the subsequent volumes refer to some of the history established there.  Like Elmore Leonard novels, there's a certain sameness to the writing and the characters and the stories, but all three are classic.  And a pleasant break from the awful prose in much of today's "literary" fiction, and almost all pop fiction.  If you'd prefer more familiar territory, you might try Parker's first western, Gunman's Rhapsody, which retells the story of the Earps, Doc Holliday, and the Clantons in Tombstone.

There's also a fair dose of humor in the books.  For my money, the humor works much better in the westerns than it does in Parker's Spenser novels for which he is best known.  In the Spenser series, the joking seems arch and smartypants.  Here it flows more naturally from the cadences and habits of the characters' speech and the situations in which they find themselves.  But don't mistake me:  These books are not primarily yukfests.

So have a look.  Short chapters.  Short sentences.  Short lifespans.

And after awhile you will find yourself talking like Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch.  Yep.

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