Sunday, July 29, 2012

Railroaded! By Mark Bannerman

Mark Bannerman is the pseudonym of Robert Hales writer Tony Lewing, whose first Black Horse Western was Grand Valley Feud, published in 1995. Steve Myall has a very nice interview with him from 2009 on the Western Fiction Review blog. You'll find it here.

Railroaded! was published as a BHW in 2001. I read the large print edition published in the Linford Western Library in 2003.

Here's the cover blurb:

After the Civil War, Kansas was a wild territory ripe for exploitation German immigrant Helmut Rapp and his wife come west, claiming land under the Homestead Act. With the new railroad thrusting towards his land, Helmut strives to preserve the life and obscurity he has worked hard to achieve.

Mark notes in his interview that he's a fan of Ernest Haycox. His well-crafted sentences, the details he uses to build his characters, and the descriptions of events all provide proof that he's studied Haycox's finer works. There is a pulse and rhythm to Bannerman's narrative that demonstrates his attention to his storytelling craft.

His structuring of the novel provides a nice example. Most BHWs I've read offer a linear narrative, building from a traditional exposition of place and setting, introducing characters, and then adding the points of conflict from A to B to C.

In Railroaded!, Bannerman opens with a dramatic scene spotlighting the primary character in mortal danger, then moves to a deep flashback, so that the narrative keeps moving forward to the point at which the novel opened—not the climax, but quite near it. Building his novel with this structure displays Bannerman's confidence in his skills and his awareness of how to place the load-bearing structures in a plot.

This story is an emigrant tale: Helmut Rapp's story begins in Bavaria, where – as a starstruck and somewhat na├»ve youth -- he marries stage star Ingrid. Ingrid continues to bed other men, and when Helmut discovers her continual infidelity and lack of remorse, he takes his savings and goes to America. He meets a resourceful Irish girl and marries her, sure that his past will not catch up to him.

Of course, how wrong he turns out to be introduces all kinds of conflict into the plot.

After he successfully builds a ranch in the west, Ingrid tracks him down and extorts him into signing over ownership of the farm to her. In return, she won't reveal that Helmut is a bigamist. She opens a brothel in town and lives the high life of a wild west entrepreneurial bordello queen.

Helmut's troubles grow exponentially when the railroad arrives and wants to buy his valley to make its way to the nearby town. The townspeople want Helmut to sell, because the railroad will bring money to the town's businesses. Helmut could be rich. But Ingrid holds the paper on his property, so he stands his ground and refuses to sell – even though the ground he stands on doesn't legally belong to him.

Conflict escalates until the reader returns to the first scene, where Helmut is on the run from the local marshal, a bloodthirsty gunman named Keno who doesn't mind if the line of the law wobbles a bit in favor of the railroad.

In terms of storytelling finesse, this is one of the best BHWs I've read. Bannerman demonstrates an expert hand at pacing and storytelling. Recommended.

Railroaded! is available from Amazon. Click here for a large print edition. Click here for the Kindle edition..

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