Saturday, November 06, 2004

Troubled Sharpshooters

Trouble Man by Ed Gorman (Leisure Books 1998)
The Sharpshooter: Brimstone by Tobias Cole (Harper 2003)

I began these two titles with two very different expectations. Trouble Man is by an old hand, Ed Gorman, and has a very simple set-up that promises excitement. For some reason this book called to me from the Borders bookshelf for months before I picked it up and for months after I brought it home. Maybe it was the title in heavy, raised typeface or the cool blue cover of a lone rider. Certainly the back cover blurb enticed me. I started reading eagerly, finally, and by the end of its 312 pages I was fairly disappointed.

Ray Coyle is an ex-gunfighter come to town to claim the body of the son he barely knew. He realizes immediately that his son’s death is suspicious and goes about investigating. Of course, he stirs up a hornet’s nest. This sounds good, doesn’t it? But the book is all over the map and, like the one that follows, is full of touchy-feely crap when decisive action is needed. There’s a lot of fluff in this – conversations that ramble on endlessly, scenes that repeat, that kind of thing. There is some dramatic potential here, but it is not well handled.

By contrast, Brimstone was bought on a whim and with low expectations. It was clear from the beginning that this was supposed to be the first in a series of stories about the eponymous sharpshooter. The font size was large so it promised to be a quick read. Looking carefully at the copyright page we find that the actual author is Cameron Judd. So, it seemed worth a shot, even if it was just a dashed off effort.

Dashed off is exactly what this book was. There is little real character development, very limited action. The story is described in very bland terms. It is ostensibly a mystery so its first person narration is not a bad voice to use. But the character is a whiner, as are most of the characters. The mystery is feeble and badly laid out. The entire plot revolves around the Andersonville Civil War prison, and the horrors within its walls. Apparently 13,000 of the 45,000 Union Soldiers to pass through its gates died of disease and other causes. By the time the story starts the war is years in the past but it is still affecting the characters. That, in and of itself, is not a problem. War affects people for many years. But the coincidences in the story that rely on Andersonville are just too much to take. And, the worst offense, at least to my mind, is the unmitigated fluff and air throughout. Scenes are elongated to ridiculous lengths. Useless scenes are added. While the story starts out – literally – with a bang (albeit one described rather lacklusterly), it never again achieves that level of movement or action. This is one to avoid.

Both of these books suffer from what is becoming, for me, a persistent pet peeve: they’re bloated. These books should be lean and hard but they’re puffed up and ultimately impotent.

Enjoyment Factor (out of 10) – 4

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