Relentless by Ed Gorman was published in 2003 and has now been rereleased in eBook format through Rough Edges Press.
As a marshal working in Skylar, Colorado, Lane Morgan sees it all and then some. His day has him separating two old timers with medical conditions to keep them from beating each other up, relaying the good news to an old woman that the county assessor is going to reappraise her property, and teaching a tinhorn hell-bent on being a shootist a valuable lesson. He even finds time to debunk the flourishing myths about a lawman’s occupation to the kids at the local school (being the 1890s, this is one of the first generations corrupted by the sensationalism of the dime novels) where his wife Callie is the schoolmarm. Lane Morgan is an honorable lawman trying to do what’s right in the waning days of the Old West. His life, more or less, is one of routine.
That’s about to change.
He’s scheduled to testify against the young, unprincipled Trent Webley who had tried to kill him. Should be easy enough except Trent’s father pretty much owns the town. But daddy Webley doesn’t own Lane Morgan, and the marshal rejects a bribe of nearly $10,000. Webley then goes for the jugular by informing the sheriff that he had The Pinkerton’s dig up dirt on Callie’s first marriage to a lout named David Stanton.
The Pinkerton ruse fails. But Stanton, who is in Skylar under Webley’s employ, ends up murdered, and the evidence points close to Lane’s home when he finds blood stains on Callie’s dress and a button from her sleeve at the crime scene. Webley is one step ahead and threatens that he knows Callie had visited Stanton’s hotel room before the murder, and he can round up two witnesses to corroborate his account—even the wannabe shootist is claiming to have seen Callie exit the dead man’s room. Webley bullies, “How do you think all this would sound if the county attorney presented it to a grand jury, Marshal?”
The late Stanton had been quite the philanderer and was romancing a married woman named Sylvia Adams who had also visited him the night of his misfortune. Though she had strayed a time or two before, she’s no longer able to live with the thought of what she had done to her husband and two children. Lane approaches her but is unable to save the distraught woman from committing suicide.
She was slumped over in a rocking chair. The six-shooter hung from two of her fingers, angled down across her bosom. She’d put the barrel to her temple. Not even death could destroy the small, perfect, almost doll-like features of her face. The eyes looked stunned and sad at the same time.
Now with at least three suspects having motive to kill Stanton—one of them being Lane’s wife— Gorman constructs tighter and tighter nooses for Lane Morgan to escape. For example, a lieutenant governor is due to visit, and the town council is more interested in settling matters before the VIP’s arrival than uncovering the truth. They give Lane twenty-four hours to solve the murder of David Stanton, but he doesn’t kowtow to their demands and abruptly resigns. Free, to an extent, of the shackles of the marshal’s office, Lane still has a murder to solve especially when his replacement almost immediately arrests Callie for her ex-husband’s death.
With Relentless, Gorman transcends the Western genre akin to what writer Jack Schaefer did with Monte Walsh and film director Robert Altman accomplished with McCabe & Mrs. Miller. No mythological posturing between these pages but real individuals on the edge with seemingly no way out. Ernest Hemingway said, “When writing a novel, a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.”
Ed Gorman writes living people. Their hopes and dreams and the high costs of turning a blind eye to social justice. Relentless doesn’t have a lot of action per se but that makes sense in this noir Western that eschews fabled clichés and instead builds strong, riveting passages in the formation of these desperate lives.
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