Monday, June 27, 2011

Rio Loco by Robert J. Conley (Barjack series Western)

When local outlaw Owl Shit Johnson commits his latest murder, he makes the mistake of doing it right in front of the town's marshal, Barjack. Owl Shit is used to being bailed out by his brother, Chugwater, but Barjack can't be bought off. He might be prone to extreme violence and heavy drinking, but the marshal of the town of Asininity upholds the law.

Because of a promise made to their mother to take care of his little brother, Chugwater is determined to break Owl Shit out of Asininity's jail before the county judge arrives to sentence Owl Shit to be hanged. And Barjack is determined that the murderer will be face his punishment. This results in an "irresistible force"/"immovable object" fight of near-epic proportions.

Author Robert J. Conley is a three-time winner of the Spur Award from the Western Writers of America, and his character Barjack is one of the most entertaining I've encountered. He has his own way of doing things, and his code is not above using dynamite to make a point when the outlaws just don't seem to get it.

Barjack tells the story, and his voice is its primary appeal. But I was never once bored, even though Rio Loco (whose title, strangely, never appears in the text) is mainly an attack-and-defense story all the way through. Chugwater hires cowhands to do his dirty work, and Barjack deputizes a selection of trusted gunmen and -women to defend their post at the jail.

Each must try to outshoot or outwit the other to get his way, and neither is willing to give up his own, to the death. The fact that both are fighting for his own deeply held moral code — Chugwater's promise to his mother, Barjack's upholding of the law — makes it hard to feel that either is completely "wrong."

Conley peoples this mostly traditional Western with interesting characters and balances moments of shocking carnage with others of light humor, so the reader never knows what to expect. This gives Rio Loco a very modern appeal. I liked it so much that I immediately acquired a copy of the preceding volume in the series, Barjack and the Unwelcome Ghost, available in both ebook and mass-market paperback — for a limited time, I'm sure — for around a buck and a quarter.

1 comment:

Ed Gorman said...

Robert is one hell of a writer. I wish he was still publishing.

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