By Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
Pinnacle, May 2016
Trinidad, New Mexico, is an oasis of civilization in an untamed desert ruled by outlaws, bank robbers and horse thieves. Sheriff Harry Gauge rules his town with an iron fist, a fast gun, and an unbridled thirst for power.
George Cullen sweated blood to carve a ranch from the wilderness. He’d rather take a bullet to the gut than give in to the greedy sheriff’s land grab. But a cattle empire isn’t all Gauge wants – he also has his eye on Cullen’s beautiful daughter Willa.
Cullen gets word out that he’s hiring the fastest gunslinger money can buy to take on the sheriff. When a stranger rides in, townsfolk wonder if this is the rancher’s hired gun. Wherever he came from, wherever he’s going, two things are clear – the stranger won’t be pushed…and his aim is deadly.
Originally published in 2015 as a hardcover this story is based on a screenplay, The Saga of Caleb York, written by Mickey Spillane for his friend John Wayne around 1959. It never made it to film due to Wayne’s production company struggling due to the losses his film The Alamo made. You can read much more about this, and how Max Allan Collins came to turn the screenplay into a novel at the beginning of the book. Collins is perhaps best known for his graphic novel Road to Perdition which inspired the Oscar winning film starring Paul Newman and Tom Hanks,
Collins has written a book that is extremely readable. Due to when the screenplay was written you can easily imagine it as a film from the 1960’s or perhaps the 1970’s. Having said that Collins has adapted it so it doesn’t appear dated. Occasionally it has the feel of one of those hard-hitting detective films full of tough men and equally as hard women that Spillane wrote about in his Mike Hammer novels. All this, and some fairly graphic violence, mix perfectly to result in a top class western read that should please all fans of the genre.
There’s a couple of neat twists, and some great mystery surrounding the Stranger’s identity, surely he is Banion, the man who killed Caleb York? Sheriff Gauge, a lightning fast gun himself doesn’t care who the Stranger is, just knows he’s a man to be got rid of in any way possible. The Stranger also has two women to deal with but can the fact that he is a killer be overcome by one of them so her true feeling can emerge?
For the seasoned western reader the plot falls under the banner of traditional but there’s nothing wrong with that, especially as I’ve already said the book is so well written by Max Allan Collins that it is a pleasure to read. So much so that I am looking forward to reading the sequel, The Big Showdown, that is already available as a hardcover and is due out in paperback next March.