Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Fun Change of Pace

The Knights of Misery
The Gunsmith, Giant #12
by J.R. Roberts (Robert Randisi)
Jove Books

In an interview with Robert Randisi that I found on the Internet, he is quoted as saying that he realized early on you could write a good western around the sex scenes required in an "adult" western. For the most part, Randisi seems to be doing that in his Gunsmith series, which is currently at monthly issue #327.

I generally like Randisi as a writer. After reading this interview, and coupled with the generally positive talk among western readers about the series and other such westerns, I picked up a few. I noticed on the cover of all the monthly issues is printed "The All Action Western Series." This bode well, too, as did the plot of this year’s annual Giant Gunsmith, The Knights of Misery. It all sounded like a pulp plot in which Jimmy Christopher might have become embroiled. Fun stuff.

And it turned out to be fun, too, even though it appeared that Randisi approached the story a bit tongue in cheek.

Randisi is good at writing Gunsmith (of course he’s had nearly 300 of them on which to perfect this part of his craft). Several elements about this story and its titular main character I found superior to its sordid brethren.

The sex scenes appear to be (you’ll pardon the expression) organic to the plot. There’s a purpose to them; they grow out of the story and characters. Also, Clint Adams – our hero, the renowned shootist reverently nicknamed The Gunsmith – is not involved in every one of them. Yet when he is involved in one, each is different. Like in most of the titles in the series (I’m doing a bit of assuming here), he becomes intimate with a couple of women. In Knights the women are quite dissimilar, each having her own motivation for (and method of) taking Clint to bed.

Another quality I liked is that Clint Adams is not a superman like Smoke Jensen or even the Trailsman. Rigorous activity leaves him tired. He sometimes isn’t sure what to do. He asks for help from others – and not just with his button fly.

This is not to suggest that character development is on par with, say, William Faulkner’s work. But it gives the reader characters that are a touch more rounded than cardboard.

In Knights, Adams is asked by his off camera Secret Service friend James West (you get the reference, of course) to investigate the disappearance of a missing and presumed dead agent who was spying on a gang that has taken over a town in Virginia. The gang is made up of an off-shoot of the Freemasons that calls itself the Knights of Masonry, which is bastardized by the terrorized townspeople into Knights of Misery.

As expected, Adams ferrets out the evil doers and saves the town. There isn’t much more to say about the plot. It’s really not worth mentioning.

While I enjoyed the read, the book is a bit of fluff, and ultimately disappointing. More than 140 pages go by before we get any real action (sex scenes notwithstanding). This belies the proud cover statement on each issue of Gunsmith, "The All Action Western Series." The plot and writing reminded me of a 1950s TV Western (again, sex scenes notwithstanding) where the characters move from one simple set piece to another and talk. There are precious few outdoor scenes (and almost nothing that couldn’t be shot on a minimally dressed soundstage). No chases or barroom brawls or midnight ambushes. There is one truncated shootout at the very end, but it is clean enough for family viewing.

In fact, I got the sense that a lot of this tale was truncated; that Randisi spent so much time on his characters – trying to keep them close to being real and not have them jumping to wild conclusions that would have sped along the plot and made room for more action – that he ran out of the proscribed number of pages and had to rush the ending. We are left hanging on several key issues, not the least of which is the promised assassination attempt of Grover Cleveland, which never materializes and, after page 16 is never mentioned again. Clearly here we have the deepest connection to the old pulps, many of which left forgotten plot threads dangling to the consternation of faithful readers.

I cannot recommend this book, and yet I won’t pan it. It was a fun read. And sometimes, that’s what it is all about.

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