Trunk Music was clearly not going to get me to Midway airport, so I had to do something–wandered around some bookstore in the Denver Airport for awhile, seeing a few things I’d been meaning to buy and a few I added to that list–but all more money than I was willing to fork out at the time. Thankfully, I spied Robert B. Parker’s Appaloosa before plunking down full cover price for some hardcover I was mildly interested in. It got me to Midway, and even gave me a few minutes of pre-sleep reading while at GA.
This is Parker’s second western novel–he did a western film for TNT (I think), too. While I wouldn’t call his previous western, Gunman’s Rhapsody (a retelling of the Wyatt Earp/Doc Holiday story) a complete waste of time, I did spend too much time thinking “they got this better in Tombstone.” But Parker’s been hitting his marks better lately (particularly with Double Play), so I had hope for this.
This was certainly better than Gunman’s Rhapsody. And better than, say, Potshot or Perish Twice. This isn’t Parker at his best. It’s him at his comfortable mediocre.
Basically we have two guns for hire–the veteran gun, Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch, his junior partner–men who travel from bad town to bad town, hiring on as peace officers, laying down a Draconian law, until the town gets cleaned up. Then they move on to the next town. Hmmm, sound like someone that Kurt Russell and Sam Elliott have played? They get hired on in Appaloosa to do just that.
So Cole and Everett drink a little, shoot a little, be tough, talk in obscure phrases, spend time with women of questionable repute…town gets cleaned up ‘cept for one man and his outfit…you can pretty well finish it all from there. There are a couple of twists to the story I hadn’t seen a million times–but I’m not a big western guy (tv, film or print), so I can’t say for certain how much of a cliché it is.
The most jarring thing about the story to me–and maybe the thing that keeps me from giving it a C+–is the dialogue. I have no problem with historical novels using contemporary language. I recall a handful of writing teachers telling us we had to make a choice when writing historical fiction–modern dialogue or vocab and diction proper to the time. Pick one and stick with it. Parker didn’t. He tended towards “Western” sentence structures (think Mal and Jayne in Firefly), with the occasional malapropism thrown in to make sure that Cole sounds uneducated. But he used contemporary jargon, contemporary attitudes. Parker’s given himself a reputation for being lax on the research front, and this confirms it for me.
I’ll give it a C- because it kept me occupied, didn’t feel entirely cheated out of my money, and I liked the horses–even if the metaphor there was heavy handed. (think Spenser coming out of the theater after seeing Empire Strikes Back)
Oh, just noticed on IMDB that Appaloosa’s going to be a movie directed by Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen’s attached. I could buy him as Cole. Honestly think it’d make a better movie than a book.