hat Western writers often miss in all the flying lead and howling Indians is that there is something in the western genre that goes beyond all this. There is the thing that makes a western a western, and not simply a historical fiction with guns.
It’s the pragmatism of the western hero. It’s the saddle bum with nobility, the tramp with a strong sense of right and wrong. That’s what makes a western, and why the same story with Russians or Hawaiians or Eskimos does not work.
And Page Murdock, hero of City of Widows, has it in spades.
I picked this one up in a used bookstore – guess I had a taste for sagebrush and spurs that night. And I read it on the heels of a horrifically bad detective novel. But where that author simply paraded a noir puppet about, Loren Estleman has his Murdock saunter in with dust on his boots and his six gun (actually, he’s got a five-shooter) loose on his hip.
The thing is, Murdock is a guy you like. Apparently a lawman in a bunch of other yarns by the same author, here he’s forty and giving up his tin badge for something more profitable. He’s bought half a stake in a saloon, and seems content to flip pasteboard cards for the rest of his days, a man tired of blood.
But all is not what it seems. Whispered backstories abound. A woman out of Murdock’s past enters the picture. And maybe Murdock’s “retirement” is anything but.
I loved this book. After I finished each used and yellowed page, I stuffed it in my mouth and ate it. I loved the wry humor lobbed about. I loved the different characters. I even loved the shabby little town of the title, which yes, had widows, but this was simply background.
This was a great bounceback book from that flatliner I cannot name (it was so bad), glorious reading of a time under scarlet desert skies, where a man deals with liars, cheats, and backshooters, all while keeping to his vaguely understood code, and all while moving through situations and scenarios so quintessentially American.
Estleman shot the pips out of the card with this one. Loved it! Gotta look for more of them…!