Two curtain-raisers and one extended tale bring back Deputy U.S. Marshal Carl Webster, the hero of The Hot Kid (2005) and Up in Honey’s Room (2007).
Even mythic figures were kids once, and the first of these stories, “Showdown at Checotah,” initiates Carlos Webster, the 15-year-old son of rancher Virgil Webster, by having him witness a robbery that turns lethal and yields revenge on the murderous robber. In “Louly and Pretty Boy,” Carl meets his future wife, Louly Brown, who won’t be available to marry him till she gets loose from minor-league gangster Joe Young and the much more consequential shadow of Pretty Boy Floyd. Despite Carl’s matter-of-fact personal maxim—“If I have to pull my weapon I will shoot to kill”—Louly’s deliverance comes from an unexpected quarter. Both these stories—deft, understated, violent and amusing—set the tone for “Comfort to the Enemy,” in which Carl, now a ripe 38, is called back to Oklahoma to investigate the hanging of Willi Martz, a German POW at Deep Fork. Since Leonard’s lawmen don’t exactly excel at investigating, it’s no surprise when Carl gets diverted into a search for perennial prison-camp escapee Jurgen Schrenk, who’s clearly keeping company with Shemane Morrissey, a former Tulsa society daughter who lost some of her debutante’s sheen when she was abducted for Teddy Ritz’s Kansas City whorehouse. Carl has no trouble finding Jurgen, of course, but complications arise in the form of Teddy’s two enforcers, the Tedesco brothers, who develop their own interest in Shemane and her German lover. As the cast members brush aside rumors of the death camps across the wide Atlantic, Carl, Jurgen, Shemane and Teddy constantly devise new ways to fraternize, efface the boundaries between good guys and bad guys and give aid and comfort to the enemy.
The ritualistically extended final story, originally serialized in the New York Times Magazine, marks Leonard’s shaggiest hour to date. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.