Friday, December 11, 2009

Vendetta by Ed Gorman (Western noir)

Father Pete Madsen's best friend Noah Greaves was released from prison and was subsequently killed trying to exact revenge on the one reason he was there: Tom Radigan. Noah's daughter Joan decides to finish what her father set out to do, but that's not the only revenge being enacted in Vendetta. Simple stories are not author Ed Gorman's stock in trade.

Vendetta beautifully showcases Gorman's skill at characterization through various lengthy passages from different points of view. In this way, we more closely follow the actions of Joan Greaves; her quarry, Radigan; his lover, Caroline Petty; her husband, chief of police Walter Petty; his assistant chief, Red Carney; and bank-robbing brothers, Carl and Leonard Schmidt.

Gorman puts the reader inside his characters' heads and gives us access to their most private thoughts. All the while offering suspenseful narrative that leaves questions unanswered until the reader is simply aching to find out how these complex and interconnected relationships will out.

His ability to make the villain of one story into the tragic hero of another only enhances the reader's involvement in the tale. The centerpiece of Vendetta, a 4-hour bank robbery, brings all the characters together in one place and brings their tensions to a head. The ending floored me.

Best of all, Vendetta is a story that could be set in any time or place. The events are universal and timeless. That Gorman has set it in the Old West merely allows the author to utilize aspects specific to the era while showing that people really haven't changed all that much. It will appeal to fans of Westerns and crime fiction (given that Gorman calls his style "Western noir") or any enthusiasts of solid storytelling. (Fans of modern westerns will appreciate the cameo from a gunsmith named "J.R. Randisi.")

Reader of the unabridged audiobook, Scott Brick's dysthymic delivery is perfect for Gorman's tight prose. Brick is one of my favorite all-around audiobook readers due to his ability to avoid inserting himself into the story; he's a fresh canvas primed for any material, and offers a letter-perfect interpretation of Vendetta.

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