Marshal Lane Morgan, keeper of the peace in the Colorado community of Skylar during the final decade of the 19th century, embodies the taming of the West. Not only is he an agent of the law, charged with pacifying that onetime wide-open mining town, but his demeanor and his voice—he narrates this western-mystery hybrid—reflect the softer, more civilization-friendly impulses within the American spirit. That’s not to say that he lacks the capacity for rip-roaring action. In one scene, he leaps from the window of a saloon-hotel and onto a buckboard. In another, he heads off to rescue his kidnapped wife, Callie, only to find himself bound and gagged, and staring into the barrel of a gun. Yet the story that he tells, pivoting as it does around a formal murder investigation, belongs to the world of settled society. It starts when Callie’s former husband, one David Stanton of Chicago, comes to Skylar and pursues a scheme to blackmail Morgan and Callie. Stanton soon turns up dead, and Morgan sets out to interview people who might have had reason to kill the interloper. Suspects include a farmer woman who had slept with the victim; the husband of that woman; the town potentate, who believes that he’s above the law; and, of course, Callie. To conduct his sleuthing rounds, Morgan uses a horse rather than a beaten-down roadster, but otherwise he operates essentially in the same mode as Philip Marlowe. The frontier way of life, and the fabled passions that it arouses, have all but vanished. Even Morgan’s effort to clear his wife of suspicion comes across as controlled and stately; by the standards of modern pulp entertainment, it’s hardly “relentless.” Similarly, Gorman’s prose is stolid and whip-smart, but largely devoid of raw emotion. The emphasis here is on the rule of law, not the law of revenge, and the marshal’s tin star, battered though it may be, stays firmly in place on his chest.
ED GORMAN. Relentless (2003).