Thursday, March 17, 2011

Virgil Cole

For the most part, there are two kinds of Western stories: There are the big epic tales of life on the plains, usually involving some sort of cattle drive across the country. Then there are the stories about gunslingers shooting each other. I like the stories about gunslingers shooting each other, and Robert B. Parker writes the best I've ever read, about the greatest gunslinger in Western fiction: Virgil Cole.

A couple of months ago, I wrote a glowing review about Parker's first novel in the Virgil Cole series, but I have since read the remaining three. When I picked up Appaloosa, I didn't know it was the start of a series. Then again, reading through these novels, it's difficult to tell if Parker knew it was going to be a series as well. There are a few details that pass through the novels necessitating they be read in chronological order, but there isn't much of an overall story arc tying the stories together. This books are mostly just the adventures of Virgil Cole and his sidekick (and chronicler) Everett Hitch, as they travel from town to town.

Story-wise, these novels are admittedly lacking. Each book pretty much has the same plot (Cole and Hitch arrive in town, find some trouble, and shoot the bad guy), but that's ok because the books are character-drive more than plot-driven. Actually, I'm not even sure if that's true since there is very little character development from novel to novel. We learn some about the two leads as the stories progress, but I can't say either one changes much from beginning to end. But, again, that's ok because these stories are so much fun, and Parker's prose is so wonderfully rich. These books are held together because of the conversations between the leads are so entertaining, and the various shootouts are so exciting.

Parker writes his gunslingers as though they are Samurai, and they follow certain codes and rules of honor as they meet one another. The worst insult one gunslinger can pay to another is "back-shooter." There are multiple gunslingers that meet up (and, on occasion, are killed by) Cole and Hitch, most of whom are so colorful and entertaining that they could've been the stars of their own series of novels. Of course, Parker makes it clear that nobody could touch Virgil Cole. He's the best there is, and his novels are some of the most fun Westerns you'll read.

That's all.

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