Friday 22 June 2012

The First Death

By William M. James
NEL, March 1978

First published by Pinnacle, 1974 
(cover shown below)

In the great tradition of Cochise and Geronimo, Cuchillo is a warrior to be feared. But he is not a man easily driven to war. When the brutal and sadistic Lieutenant Pinner removes two of his fingers for allegedly stealing his ornamental knife, and brands him Cuchillo Oro (Golden Knife), he seeks a peaceful solution. When the true thieves come after him, even then, he keeps his head. But when Lieutenant Pinner takes his squaw and his baby boy hostage – then the white eyes have gone too far… 

Pinnacle published George G. Gilman’s very successful Edge series in America and saw them agree to publish a new series written by the man behind the Gilman pseudonym, Terry Harknett, and Laurence James. In fact the series idea came from the latter. Both these English authors, alongside a couple of others would latter become known as the Piccadilly Cowboys. When Terry decided to stop writing for this series his place was taken over by John B. Harvey, another of the PCs. The series ran from 1974 to 1984 and saw the publication of 27 books. Only the first 12 were published in the authors’ home country. The first book I’m reviewing here being written by Terry Harknett. 

This opening novel deals with the misunderstandings that lead to the tragic deaths that will set Cuchillo on the vengeance trail in the following books. It also explains how he gets his new name, Cuchillo Oro, and how he comes to carry the bejewelled knife. 

The book is superbly paced, full of well-crafted characters, and savage bloody action. There aren’t any white-hat heroes here, just hard men, and women, struggling to survive. Sympathies lie with the Apaches, as to be expected in a series with one of them as the lead character, and the soldiers are painted, mainly, as vicious, heartless, men who think nothing of torturing and raping, who take great pleasure from doing this, so it isn’t long before the reader is urging Cuchillo to victory. There is one white man who is a friend of Cuchillo, teacher John Hedges, a man who will turn up from time to time in later books.

For those who’ve read the Edge books and are aware of the groan worthy, grin-making, one liners of gallows humour Terry Harknett always included you’ll be pleased to discover he continues that tradition here, not as often but just as good, or bad, depending on your point of view.

The book ends with a very violent rescue attempt that leads to a couple of horrific killings that sees the story end with a promise that paves the way to the next book in the series and will leave you wanting more.

Due to its continuing storyline I’d suggest reading the books in order to get the greatest enjoyment from them.

Cuchillo Oro is Apache. 
and Deadly.


Anonymous said...

I would love to see these books republished as e-books. Seems like a fun series to read.

Unknown said...

How about these books be made into movies. The action and the violence is gripping and scary.

James Seger said...

Ten years later and hey, they ARE being republished as ebooks! I have the first two so far.