Thursday, December 09, 2004

TIN STAR: a book review

Tin Star: a book review

This anthology of western short stories has nothing to do with the movie of the same name, starring Henry Fonda & Anthony Perkins. Then again since the stories and the film have to do with those who carry a badge in the Old West, I guess in that way they do have similarities.

Edited by Robert J. Randisi, himself a writer of mystery and western fiction, the book contains twelve short stories by some well known (and lesser known) writers. Perhaps the most familiar to western fans would be Elmer Kelton and Loren Estleman, both multi-award winners in western fiction. Along with their work are ones by Ed Gorman, Wendi Lee, Tim Champlin, Douglas Hirt, Deborah Morgan, Marthayn Pelegrimas, James Reasoner, Frank Roderus and L.J. Washburn. Between them these writers have won numerous awards both in the western and mystery genres. In fact, I have been surprised as I begin reading westerns and checking on the writers the number of them who seem to cross over between the two. I suppose in someway there is a common theme of the ‘good guy’, often a loner, out to right some wrong or bring the ‘bad guy’ to justice. I can see why both would attract certain writers.

The theme of the collection involves the men, and in one case a woman, who put their lives on the line to bring law and order to a region of the country just beginning to make the change from frontier to nation. The stories range from shortly after the Civil War (or War Between the States, if you will) until the very beginning of the Twentieth Century. While most of the characters are on horseback, you will find a few automobiles and even a telephone or two making an appearance. They remind me of many of the Roy Rogers & Gene Autry films in which it was sometimes impossible to figure out exactly when a particular story took place, generally unless the characters entered a large town they could have taken place at almost any time period.

Like any anthology the contributions range from ones which deserve award consideration to simply decently told tales. Estleman, Gorman and Washburn create new stories featuring series characters that have appeared previously, while Deborah Morgan introduces the fascinating former Buffalo Soldier Archie Law in a terrific story which begs to be continued. The writers all focus on the individual behind the badge; in a couple of cases the badge itself plays an important part in the story.

I’m hoping that sales and popular reaction to the book urges Randisi (and the good folks at Berkley Publishing to turn TIN STAR into an on-going series.
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