THE BADGE #8
By Bill Reno
Bantam Books, December 1988
When Denzel Murdoch was sent to the gallows for strangling a young woman, he shouted that he was innocent and vowed he would come back from the grave and take revenge on the judge, the six jurors and the marshal and deputy who had arrested him. And now it’s happening – Green River’s marshal is discovered in a freshly dug grave with the initials D.M. carved on his brow – and there are more deaths to follow. The townspeople are terrified. They can only turn to the man they call John Stranger – a mysterious drifter they found in the Green River cemetery after a shoot-out that left three bank robbers dead – a man who can’t remember his own identity after being grazed by one of the robbers’ bullets. All people know about him is that he’s faster with a gun than anyone they’ve ever seen before – and that’s enough.
This is another strong entry in what, for me, has been a superb series so far. Each book is a stand-alone title linked by the fact that one, or more, of the main characters wears a badge of some kind.
Like the previous books this story has a fairly dark content and the author is very good at describing the grip of fear that begins to motive many of the characters as they try to convince themselves that Denzel Murdoch’s ghost has not risen from the grave to kill those he holds responsible for his death. But what other explanation is there? As terror brings forth desperate acts, can the lawman and John Stranger keep control before mob rule will see more innocents put to death?
And what of John Stranger himself? Who is he? A robber? A killer? A lawman? Where is he from and why is he in Green River? Bonnie Bodine, the murdered marshal’s sister, convinces herself that Stranger is a good man and the two begin to fall in love. But is Stranger already married? Are they setting themselves up for the agonizing pain of heartbreak if Stranger does indeed have a wife, a family?
Bill Reno packs this story with questions and mysteries that become more and more tangled as the death toll rises. Once you think you may have some idea as to what is going on the author springs more twists to the tale. One of my suspicions did turn out to be correct, kind of, as to the identity of the killer, but Reno had a major surprise in store where that person is concerned that provides another excellent twist that I doubt anyone will see coming.
Does Stranger get his memory back? Is he the kind of man who Bonnie would want to spend the rest of her life with? Is he married? Are either, or both of them alive by the end? The quest for Stranger to discover his identity keeps throwing up surprise after surprise – and that is all I can say without ruining this story.
Bill Reno is a pseudonym for Lew A. Lacy who once again presents the reader with a hard-hitting, at times brutal tale that is a gripping read. On finishing this book I find myself eager to pick up the next one in the series and to try some of the other westerns he has written, such as a number of entries in the Stagecoach Station series as Hank Mitchum.