WINDING STAIR by Douglas C. Jones
Kirkus Star


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In The Court-Martial of George Armstrong Custer, Jones described a hypothetical trial of Custer for his misdeeds. This time he has taken believable crimes of a real gang of desperadoes from the 1890s, has surrounded the real criminals with fictitious lawmen, and gives them a fictitious trial before the real ""hanging judge"" Isaac ParKer. Young Eben Pay, from St. Louis, is reading for the law in the frontier town of Fort Smith in the Indian Territory which will later become Oklahoma. Marshal Oscar Schiller asks Eben if he'd like to come along on a hunt for whoever raped and cut the throat of an Indian woman. What follows is a gripping legal procedural under heavy iron skies as Schiller's posse bird-dogs a gang of five men who now have added still another rape and triple murder to their foul catalogue. In part, Jones makes clear, this is a record of the frontier's social insanity brought on by alcohol, since the ringleader of the gang is an illiterate distiller who sells his goods to one and all--and the gang was dead drunk during the worst horrors laid to its ramblings. Primary witness for the prosecution: the nubile daughter of the second woman to be raped, who happened to escape harm by hiding in the attic. When she is brought back to Fort Smith, Eben falls in love with her, and she seems to return his interest, but slowly it appears that she is really trying to save one of the handsomer young rapists (he had seduced her some months before). And the trial itself turns up a surprise: Judge Parker's thorough fairness and humane concern. None of the moral force of Tie Ox-Bow Incident perhaps--but a gritty, lovingly etched Western-crime re-creation.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1979
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston