Monday, December 21, 2009

Liberty and a Law Badge - Chap O'Keefe (Keith Chapman)

For those of you who don’t know, prolific Western author and occasional commenter on this blog Chap O’Keefe is really Keith Chapman, who’s been writing and editing a wide variety of genre fiction in comics, magazines, and books for many years now, in addition to his work as a journalist.

Recently he’s established his own publishing imprint for Western fiction, BHE Books, providing the first two novels himself, brand-new entries in two long-running series: MISFIT LIL CHEATS THE HANGROPE and the latest one, LIBERTY AND A LAW BADGE, another adventure of range detective Joshua Dillard, a former Pinkerton’s operative with tragedy in his past that drives him to fight outlaws of all stripes.

LIBERTY AND A LAW BADGE is the first Chap O’Keefe novel I’ve read, but it certainly won’t be the last. As the book opens, Dillard is on his way to his latest assignment, stopping a range war in Montana and finding out who’s been rustling cattle from his employer’s ranch. Pretty standard stuff, you say? Well, maybe at first glance, but not by the time Chapman gets through throwing twist after twist into the complex plot. The Liberty of the title is actually a young woman who’s been blackmailed into a sordid affair with a crooked sheriff, who’s the brother-in-law of the cattle baron who hired Dillard, who owns the cattle that Liberty’s husband is accused of stealing. Got that? Then there’s the cattle baron’s sister, who’s married to the crooked sheriff, and she goes on a rampage when she finds out about her husband’s adulterous affair with Liberty (said affair really being nothing more than a series of rapes). Add in a brutal deputy with an agenda of his own, and there’s a whole lot for Dillard to untangle before he can straighten everything out. Naturally, that untangling involves a number of fistfights and shootouts.

This book is a lot of fun, pulpish but with a sharp, contemporary edge. The dark, complex plot, the emotional angst, and the gritty storytelling remind me very much of many Westerns published in the Fifties by Gold Medal, by authors such as Lewis B. Patten, Dean Owen, and William Heuman. The pace is very fast, the action scenes are handled well, and Joshua Dillard is a very likable hero, tough and competent enough to handle just about any situation, despite his occasional self-doubts, but not a superman by any means. I’m ready to read more about him right now. You can order LIBERTY AND A LAW BADGE here or at Amazon, and if you’re a fan of hardboiled action Westerns, I definitely think you’ll enjoy it.