DEATH GROUND by Ed Gorman,
By Benjamin Boulden
This review is from: Death Ground (Mass Market Paperback)
$3.99 on Kindle
Leo Guild is an aging bounty hunter. He is a former lawman, father and
husband, but that is all behind him. Now he rides alone. He is
melancholy, intelligent and violent; when he needs to be. He also has a
past that sticks with him. He killed a little girl. The courts forgave
him, but he can't find the heart to forgive himself.
DEATH GROUND opens on the evening of Guild's 54th birthday. In lonely
celebration he makes a date at the local brothel with a young
"straw-haired" girl. Things don't go as expected with the girl and his
birthday truly turns for the worse when he is summoned to the Sheriff's
Two men are dead. One--Merle Rig--hired Guild as a bodyguard and the
other--Kenny Tolliver--was technically Guild's employee. He hired Kenny
to protect Rig while he paid a visit to the "straw-haired" girl. As he
looks at the cadavers on the heavy mortician's tables he figures his
job is gone and it is time to ride on, but first he pays a visit to
Kenny's mother. A scene that unsettles Guild and also piques his
interest; Kenny's mother knew Rig and Kenny palled around with a couple
Leo Guild decides he can't leave town until he figures who really
killed the pair and why. He has a feeling it is not the violent
mountain man being blamed by the Sheriff, but he doesn't have many
suspects. He doesn't have anything but a hunch, really.
DEATH GROUND isn't a traditional Western. It, like all of Gorman's
Westerns, a noir mystery wrapped in the trappings of the Old West.
That is not to say that the historical element isn't accurate or
interesting, because it is. It is also central to the story, but an Ed
Gorman Western is more of a historical mystery than anything else. A
hardboiled historical mystery at that.
The prose is tough and tender in varying shades. It defines the story,
action, and protagonist with a lean, smart and melancholy and literate
"Then he started digging snow up with both hands, and he covered them
good, the two of them, and then he stood up and looked out on the
unfurling white land. There was blue sky and a full yellow sun. Warmer
now, there was even that kind of sweetness that comes on sunny winter
days. It made him think of pretty women on ice skates, their cheeks
touched perfect red by the cold, their eyes daring and blue."
Leo Guild is an everyman. He is the man who does what needs to be done.
He isn't a hero, or a villain, but rather he is simply a man; a man who
has seen much, done much, and lost much. Guild is an example of what
makes Ed Gorman's fiction so damn good: characters that are measured
and three-dimensional; characters that act, feel and sound real. His
male characters are strong and pitiful, lustful and scared, vain and
dangerous, lonely and weak--generally all at the same time--and more
importantly they are recognizable. And his female characters exhibit
the same steady qualities. Neither wholly good nor bad, just human.
DEATH GROUND is a Western that should have wide appeal. It will please
the traditionalist with its rugged description of frontier life and the
people who settled it. It will also introduce readers of hardboiled
crime fiction to a new genre, but mostly it will please any reader who
wants something tangible and meaningful mixed into a well-told,
excellently plotted and immensely entertaining novel.