The Gunsmoke Serenade
Reviewed by Joe Bonadonna
Thomas McNulty writes 5-star westerns on par with Zane Grey, Max Brand and Louis L'AMour. I've now read and enjoyed five of his westerns, and he just keeps on getting better and better. From his prose to his characterization and action-packed climaxes, he helps keep the western genre alive and kicking. One day I hope to see him write his own epic, a magnum opus like Larry McMurty's Lonesome Dove.
In The Gunsmoke Serenade, Marshal Maxfield Knight see three gunslingers in the town of Cherrywood Crossing, CO, one afternoon. When they try to draw down on him, he outdraws and guns them down. Later, Knight learns that the gunmen had been hired to kill him by one Silas Manchester. Why? Could it possibly have something to do with the hanging of a bank robber and murderer named Cal Randal? Does this all tie in with the murder of Knight's wife? Knight doesn't yet know, but he intends to find out.
This is the start of manhunt that soon turns into a deadly, guns-blazing cat and mouse game that Knight is determined to win, even though the odds are stacked heavily against him. When Knight is pinned down in the mountains by Manchester's men, a mountain man named Albert LaCroix saves his life, and together they hole up in a cave while they join forces and plan their strategy.
Meanwhile, Deputy Cole Tibbs, growing more and more worried because Knight has been gone too long, sets out to find and help the marshal -- if he's still alive. From here on the action is fast and furious -- sort of a guerrilla warfare in the Colorado wilderness, and you'll soon see why the title of this excellent novel is The Gunsmoke Serenade.
The game then becomes more interesting when an educated tracker named Castellanos, who was hired by Manchester to find Knight, makes contact with the marshal. He delivers a note from Manchester to Knight, who is basically calling him out to a face-to-face confrontation. This leads to a final showdown between Knight and Manchester, a battle royale between the two men that rivals John Wayne's and Randolph Scott's two legendary fistfights in the films "Pittsburgh" and "The Spoilers."
With an graceful yet gritty style and a sharp eye for detail, as well as crackling dialog, colorful characters, and plenty of action that is well-written, well-choreographed and easy to follow, McNulty once again hits the bull's eye. You'll wince at every twig and bit of foliage that's stepped on, smell and taste the crisp mountain air, duck at every gunshot, and smell the tangy gunsmoke drifting on the morning breeze. McNulty is a master at writing westerns, and I look forward to reading more of his work.
The Gunsmoke Serenade:
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