Karen Martin reviews Silver City

January 20, 2017

Silver City
by Jeff Guinn
Putnam, 376 pages, $27

Reviewed by Karen Martin
for blood,dirt & angels

As a former books editor at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Jeff Guinn knows what works when it comes to writing a crowd-pleasing novel.

Fast pace. Attractive characters (not too many). Easily visualized physical descriptions integrated into the narrative. Personalities with appeal. Graphic (but not disgusting) violence. Realistic dialogue. Tension. Short chapters that practically beg the reader to keep moving. The possibility of a sequel.

It’s not easy to get all of these right. Most writers stumble on characters and dialogue. In Guinn’s speedy-read Western novel Silver City, he blunders a bit by including several flat characters (all bad or all good) and occasional theatrical-style conversations that detract from the characters’ believability.

But that’s all. The rest of Silver City is a rowdy romp across Arizona Territory in 1874. It’s a revenge tale in which Cash McLendon, a likable lout, is paying dearly for dumping his spirited girlfriend Gabrielle Tirrito in order to achieve financial stability by marrying his St. Louis-based criminal boss’ daughter. Too bad she turns out to be unhinged — enough to kill herself. Dear old dad takes it personally and sends a giant brute of an enforcer, Patrick Brautigan, to find McLendon — who’s lit out for a new life in the wild West — and bring him back to St. Louis in order to exact painful revenge.

Silver City is a lively read, a difficult and adventurous cross-country journey peppered with fascinating period details such as excruciatingly hot weather, the arrival of decent whiskey in saloons, the popularity of a one-lane bowling alley in an up-and-coming town, how canned peaches and peas made desert journeys a bit more bearable, and details about the desperate competitiveness of young Apache warriors.

Oh yeah, there’s one more aspect Guinn might have overcome: a predictable outcome. But it doesn’t detract from the book’s entertainment value.

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