"The Guns of Retribution", gets the atmosphere right. It's the story of a bounty hunter named Grey O'Donnell, on the trail of an old enemy. Through the machinations of a corrupt sheriff, he's brought face to face with his past, in a hometown he thought he'd left far behind.
Unlike the clean-shirted heroes that represent one common trope of Westerns, or the law-unto-himself drifter that represents another, O'Donnell is a man led to a fight he'd rather avoid, a reluctant savior of a town gone bad. Presented with the opportunity to wash his hands of the mess, he tries to take it, only to have that option closed to him by his sense of duty to his family. It all plays well, with the main character believably drawn. By turns conflicted, disgusted and opportunistic, O'Donnell responds to events in a plot that unfolds with a satisfying resonance with the ley lines of Western fiction. The scenes and settings feel historically accurate, without technological or societal anachronisms to pull you out of the story.
There are a few familiar characters in this book: the silent Native American companion, the dopey sidekick, the sexy-but-dangerous femme fatale, the pretty-but-pure maiden (typically in the role of a schoolteacher, here in the role of a hotel keeper). However, the characterizations and back stories of each of them are presented such that they grow outward from their stock character assignments. Perhaps the only exception is the aforementioned femme fatale. She offers her charms to O'Donnell almost the moment she sees him; on being refused, she arranges to have him beaten half to death. She repeats her approach and on his second refusal of her, arranges even worse. Is she simply a homicidal nymphomaniac? Motivations for everyone else are either implicit or explained, but she is a puzzle. She's the trophy wife of the territorial governor, left alone and bored in a dusty two-horse town on the edge of nowhere. Is dealing pleasure with one hand and pain with the other simply a way to pass the time? I would have liked to know more about her.
A Western adventure in the classic style, "The Guns of Retribution" is no mere shoot-em-up. It's a well-written and engaging story, with a hero who, if there is any justice left in the West, will go on to for further adventures.
"The Guns of Retribution" is published by Pulp Press, and is available for Kindle at Amazon.com and at Amazon.co.uk. The author, Icy Sedgwick, is on Twitter as @Icypop. You can find her on Facebook and on her blog, "Icy's Blunt Pencil" at http://blog.icysedgwick.com/.
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