Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Murphy's Herd

By Gary Paulsen
Pocket Books, January 1992
Cover art by Garin Baker
Originally published by Walker and Company, 1989

After Al Murphy resigned his sheriff’s badge and swore off the violent, dusty streets of Cincherville, Colorado, he followed the directions of an old Indian to Wyoming’s land of wide green valleys. There under the broad sky, with a good woman by his side, he would ranch with a few dozen horses – far from the knives and guns of his lawman’s past.

But his enemies, deadly gunslingers, follow him. Returning from Casper with provisions for his new home, Murphy rides into the wrecked scene of their most savage attack…at the heart of his homestead. The blood and charred wood shatter his peaceful life and drive him back – to the hard kick of his heavy gun, the rip of outlaw bullets, the agony of manhunting in a lawless land – and the determination to die for what is right.

If anyone has the first four Murphy paperbacks put out by Pocket Books then please take note that this publisher put out books three and four in the wrong order. The book they’ve numbered as four is really the third book and vice-versa. To get the most enjoyment from this series you need to read Murphy’s Herd after Murphy’s Gold as there are strong continuation plot lines from book to book.

The first two books in this series were tough and brutal so it came as a surprise when the first half or so of this book was almost light in tone, dealing with Murphy’s joy of embracing a new life away from violence and being with the lady he loves, Midge. There are a couple of fights to be had during their journey but nothing Murphy isn’t capable of dealing with quickly and efficiently, incidents soon to be forgotten.

Paulsen’s writing is so good that I soon found myself swept up in this time of happiness, sharing the wonder at discovering the valley in which Murphy and Midge set up home. Their easy-going attitude and simple life can’t fail to appeal to anyone. Then comes that trip to Casper and the return to horrors that Murphy will blame himself for and it’s at this point that the book switches in mood, the dark tones of the previous books rise up as Murphy is consumed with hate, the need for vengeance and after that there is only the welcome desire to blow his own brains out to escape the nightmare, after all he will have nothing else to live for.

Paulsen’s hard hitting prose is beautifully paced, moving at times such as when tranquil life is ripped away by brutal violence. Murphy’s anguish will have you feeling for him, hoping he will succeed in his intense need for revenge. Paulsen doesn’t let Murphy’s suffering end there though, the final savage showdown leads to more self-doubt, more agonizing questions as he rides back to the destroyed homestead to end his own life but what he finds there may just change his mind.

The more I read of Gary Paulsen’s work the more I enjoy his writing and I’m sure it won’t be long before I read another of his books.

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