Not even their creator’s death can slow down newly appointed Indian Territory marshal Virgil Cole and his friend and deputy Everett Hitch (Blue-Eyed Devil, 2010, etc.) as they board a train for a routine journey that turns out to be anything but.
Virgil and Everett are returning from a trip down south to bring several Mexican prisoners to the Texas border so that they can be summarily executed back home. They don’t expect their train to be held up by gunslingers, which are so numerous that the nine they kill barely make a dent in their numbers. What would attract the attention of such a large cadre of lawbreakers? Not just the presence of the governor of Texas and his wife and daughters, but the $500,000 in cash he plans to invest in a business venture, money the robbers have other plans for. Virgil is rarely at a loss, but he’s surprised when he realizes that the gunmen include Bloody Bob Brandice, who’s just escaped from prison after getting bested by Virgil years before. In addition to being bloody, Brandice is unexpectedly inventive, and the initial robbery turns out to be only the beginning of an increasingly baroque series of maneuvers and countermaneuvers played out first aboard a moving (and eventually a fragmented) train, then in the town of Half Moon Junction, whose leading mercantile establishment is Constable Burton Berkeley’s church-turned-whorehouse, and finally, in the back country where only burros and iron men venture.
Screenwriter Knott effortlessly handles the nonstop plot complications, doesn’t bother to create actual characters and comes a cropper with the laconic dialogue he supplies for Virgil and Everett, who sound like parodies of the strong, silent types Parker created.