In this latest adventure starring John Lee Johnson, the hero and his friends tangle with hired killers, a crooked bounty hunter, a sinister clan bent on mayhem—and questions of innocence and redemption.
Though he failed to kill Johnson in Hamlett’s (John Lee Johnson: Both Barrels Blazing, 2015, etc.) last Western novel, Frank McGrew is still committed to revenge and hatches an even bigger plan this time, recruiting a small army of hired gunslingers. While these killers converge, Johnson captures some criminals with bounties on their heads. This exposes him both to the allies of the culprits and to the shady bounty hunter who had solid plans for what he was going to buy with the loot—and isn’t about to let anyone stop him. While Johnson faces off against the gunslingers stalking him, his friends Seth Johnson and Floyd Maccabee deal with the fallout from an outlaw attack on a town, including taking care of several orphans and running across a mild-mannered clerk who is suspiciously good with a gun. As with previous installments in the series, Johnson is presented as such a paragon of Western skills and virtues—“He ain’t like any man I’ve ever seen,” says one admiring woman—that there isn’t that much suspense about the outcome. In that way, readers may be reminded of James Bond, Sherlock Holmes, and other iconic heroes, where the pleasure of the tale is found not in suspense over the outcome but in how they get there. And as with Hamlett’s other books, some of the thrill here is in the side characters, who are drawn with humor and humanity: readers see a wicked patriarch burst into tears over deaths in his family and hear of one pugnacious fellow who would “fight at the drop of a hat and drop his own hat.” Even when Johnson wrestles with the question of his conscience, the outcome isn’t really in doubt. The focus remains on his exploits and legend rather than on a modernist exploration of psychology.
Another capable and rousing Western action tale from Hamlett.