The Old Gray Wolf by James D. Doss (1939–2012) is the 17th and final western mystery featuring Colorado rancher and investigator Charlie Moon (available October 30, 2012).
As I was introduced to small-time thief LeRoy Hooten in James D. Doss’s new novel, The Old Gray Wolf, I kept thinking one thing: how many times can one man get his head whacked and still live? Turns out, three is the limit. The petty thief rolls into town and promptly gets himself tossed out of Bertha’s Saloon and Pool Room and has a nice face-to-face meeting with a fire hydrant. Later that afternoon, he helps himself to a lady’s purse right out of her grocery cart in the middle of a parking lot. That earns him the notice of Scott Paris, former Chicago police officer, current Granite Creek Chief of Police, who just happens to be an ex-football player. Paris, reliving a shining moment of gridiron glory, decides the only way to stop the fleeing Hooten is to throw his best forward pass using a can of black-eyed peas. Give you one guess where the can connected. That’s right: alongside Hooten’s head. That would be the second hit. Paris’s friend, Charlie Moon, former Southern Ute Police officer and current ranch owner, tries to snatch the purse out of Hooten’s grasp. Unwilling to give up the bag, Moon helps Hooten out by a nice right hook, a blow that connects Hooten’s head with a steel signpost.
Now, as funny as this scene is, things quickly take a darker turn. The local police arrive to arrest Hooten, but take him to the ER first…where he promptly dies. And what do our two law officers earn for their troubles? They become the target of a hit placed upon them by dear old LeRoy’s loving mother, Francine. Unbeknownst to Francine, a woman with mob connections, her meeting with the hit man—Cowboy, as he is known to the FBI—is witnessed by Louella Smithson, private investigator and wannabe writer. Miss Smithson decides to take it upon herself to track said hit man in the hopes of fulfilling her “daydreams about her primary ambition—which is to become a bestselling author of hair-raising accounts in that ever-popular genre known as True Crime.”
Going into greater detail here would rob you of the chance to discover for yourself how Doss presents these few main characters and the many other flawed and crazy characters he has in store for you. There are twists aplenty along this joyride of a novel, leading to many surprises.
As I mentioned in my Fresh Meat of Black Thunder by Aimee and David Thurlo, I am always on lookout for novels featuring Native American characters, and that’s what drew me to this novel. True, Charlie Moon is a Ute Indian and his Aunt Daisy is both a shaman and the Ute tribal elder, but surprisingly, the Native American influence is not that prevalent, at least not to the extent I was expecting.
I need to comment on Doss’s writing style. It’s an unusual type of style where the author himself basically speaks directly to the reader. Stephen King does this in many of his novels when he talks to us Constant Readers, but he does it in the introductions. Here, Doss is speaking directly to the reader—almost as if he is literally in the same room with you and telling you the story—often adding his own comments and observations. Take this as an example of how the author sets the scene to introduce the reader to Bertha’s Saloon and Pool Room:
And you will be pleased to know the establishment caters to uppity professors from Rocky Mountain Polytechnic University, armed-and-ready GCPD police officers, cheerful country-government officials, clear-eyed cowboys, honest truck drivers, and local entrepreneurs of all stripes. The proprietor does not welcome shifty-eyed grifters, high-plains drifters, whining panhandlers, slithery pick-pockets, loudmouthed louts, or any other sort of disreputable riffraff you can think of. (Take careful note of this management bias, which is relevant to what is about to transpire.)
Personally, I find this style to be cheeky and somewhat old-fashioned. It took me right out of the book the first time I encountered it, but, as I kept reading, I got used to the flow. It’s on the whimsical side, but I prefer more traditional prose.
The Old Gray Wolf is an interesting change of pace in storytelling and may well be quite entertaining for many readers, but I’d recommend you keep the peas for the dinner table.
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Vanessa L. Parker is a jewelry artist and avid reader. You can see her work at Betoj Designs.
Read all posts by Vanessa Parker for Criminal Element.