Sunday, January 10, 2010


Bill Brooks is one of those contemporary western novelists I marvel at. Within the confines of the traditional western, and typically using authentic western personages (I'm thinking specifically here of his Law for Hire series)Law for Hire: Saving Masterson, he creates a realistic milieu with seemingly very real people involved in the normal behavior of daily life in the frontier West, and sudden, action-filled, inexplicable violent episodes. His narrative flows smoothly, seemingly as effortlessly as a well-fed stream, and his prose is relaxing, engaging, and spot on.

Last Stand at Sweet Sorrow is the first of one of his trilogies from Harper/Torch. It introduces Jake Horn, a man on the run from the law, framed by a woman he thought loved him, but who turns out to be something of a femme fatale. Shot and left for dead by a couple of hardcases who pose as lawmen in the town of Sweet Sorrow, in the Dakota Territory, Jake survives to bring dramatic change to the lives of several people in the town -- including an errant husband by the name of Roy Bean. (Brooks can't quite escape dropping in historical figures. It's a habit that may annoy some readers, but I don't find any problems in his handling of these characters. Brooks' Bean seems to owe more to the character portrayed by Edgar Buchanan on TV than to Paul Newman's version.)

There is something elegiac in Brooks' prose for Sweet Sorrow -- as in his Law for Hire books. The tone is appropriate for that latter series, which depicts historical figures -- Bat Masterson, Buffalo Bill, and Wild Bill Hickock -- at times far from their glory, and the reader of these stories understands the connection of the passing of these characters with that of the Old West. The tone seems slightly out of place with this particular novel when considered in relation to the Law for Hire series. But the rash of deaths, of people inexplicably taking leave of their senses to murder and maim those they love, in the midst of a bone-drying drought, is appropriate. As all these events are eventually -- by the novel's end -- tied to one man's melanchollic embrace of death because of a jilted love, the tone has played its part as a musicless soundtrack to this story.

Brooks is a master storyteller. It's a joy to read his books, and I look forward to reading the other novels in this series.