Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Law and the Lawless: A Ralph Compton Novel by David Robbins (Western)

Cestus Calloway leads a gang of bank and stagecoach robbers. To keep in the public's good graces, he throws some of the ill-gotten gains into the crowd during the getaway, giving him the moniker "the Robin Hood of the Rockies." And his main rule is no killings: "There's nothin' that stirs folks up more than a killin'. They send out bigger posses and hardly ever give up.... We want them on our side, not scourin' the countryside to string us up."

Boyd Cooper is the town marshal of Alpine, an otherwise quiet settlement. But the law is the law, and Cooper gathers a posse including his deputy and a local scout to chase the Calloway gang. Trouble comes when one of the gang stays behind to use the posse's horses for a little target practice and hits a man instead.

Retribution is quick — gang: 1, posse: 1 — and the hunt is on. From here on, hotter heads will rule and the stakes rise until neither side is willing to put aside honor or revenge for a peaceful outcome.

Author David Robbins (riding once again for the Ralph Compton brand) combines traditional Western writing with individuated characters in The Law and the Lawless.

Robbins strikes the ideal balance between exciting action scenes and quieter character moments — including a touching middle-age romance that hits all the right spots — with enough of the former to keep the pages turning and enough of the latter to ensure we care about who lives or dies. This makes The Law and the Lawless the best Western I've read in a while and the best from the Ralph Compton camp since The Man from Nowhere.

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