Friday, August 27, 2010

Blue-Eyed Devil by Robert B. Parker (unabridged audio book read by Titus Welliver)

Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch have quite a history together. They kept the peace as deputy U.S. marshals in a town called Appaloosa, where Virgil fell in love with a woman named Allie. Then Everett left Appaloosa (for the obvious reason) and settled in Resolution, where he kept the peace in town on a less formal basis for basically the only local businessman. Virgil came along later on (after Allie left him) to visit and help out. Eventually the duo was aided by another pair of gunmen known as Kato and Rose.

Subsequently, the pair moved on to Brimstone, after hearing that Allie's last beau hadn't worked out and she'd gotten herself involved in prostitution. There they worked as deputy sheriffs until they rescued Allie from herself, in addition to helping out a young girl, a selective mute who will only choose to talk to Virgil, much to Allie's chagrin. At the end of Brimstone, the gang is headed back to Appaloosa.

Blue-Eyed Devil, the first novel in the series not to be named after the town in which it is set, begins on their third day back in Appaloosa, when chief of police Amos Callico lets them know in no uncertain terms that he is the one in charge. But he also offers them jobs working for him. When they decline Callico, they know he'll be trouble, and he is because Callico is running a "protection" racket, and those who don't want to pay look to Cole and Hitch for help.

Author Robert B. Parker approached Westerns in the same way he did his other novels: with long strings of dialogue and short chapters. This makes them not only fast reads -- though the laconic delivery of the characters can make them seem longer -- but also highly accessible to readers who may think they don't like Westerns. Actually, Virgil and Everett have a similar friendship as Parker's mystery heroes Spenser and Hawk: Everett is the narrator and main filter for the action, the relatable one, but Virgil, like Hawk, is the more mysterious and therefore more intriguing character.

Virgil Cole's skill with a firearm is legendary, and Parker gives it a mythic spin. Always calm and relaxed, Virgil's draw looks leisurely, but it is always faster than anyone else's. But my favorite aspect of the characters is that Virgil is well-read while Everett is well-educated. (Virgil regularly refers to Everett's time at West Point.) Neither is both, which means they often share knowledge with each other, and consequently with us. From the philosophy of Rousseau to the viability of the Macedonian phalanx in modern warfare, there is a lot to learn in Parker's Westerns in addition to terrific reads.

Blue-Eyed Devil is likely the final Parker Western, and that's too bad because these four novels have been some of my favorite reads of his. They are also some of the most readable modern Westerns available, and when an author of Parker's stature publishes a Western, it gives the genre some much-needed attention. The story as told comes full circle with new beginnings and old familiarities, but I wouldn't mind seeing the series continued by other hands.

The first name that comes to mind is that of Robert J. Randisi. Parker and Randisi share a skill with dialogue that says more than it seems to, and Randisi has also written his fair share of private-eye novels. Also, they both seem to follow the popular Strunk and White dictum to "omit needless words," resulting in the abovementioned brevity of dialogue and chapter. Because of these similarities, I think Randisi would be able to take over the series with little disruption, and I hope the publisher (and the author's estate) will consider this option to continue the Cole and Hitch stories.

Blue-Eyed Devil and the other three books in the series are read on audiobook by Titus Welliver, probably best known to Western fans as "Silas Adams" on the series Deadwood. Welliver has the perfect voice for these intelligent, confident, understated men: he stays out of the way and lets Parker's hardboiled Westerns speak for themselves and shine just like they do in print. Welliver's reading reminds me of that of the prolific Scott Brick's signature dysthymic delivery (see Vendetta), and he should translate well to other genres in the same way Brick does.


Slap Bookleather said...

Thanks for the review. I enjoyed the other books in the series as audiobooks, but have hesitated picking up this one because it is so short. Looks like it is still a good choice.

Craig Clarke said...

I didn't notice that this one was considerably shorter than the last two. Parker still managed, as usual, to pack a lot of story in. :)

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