Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Edge #1: The Loner - George G. Gilman (Terry Harknett)

This book originally came out in England in 1971, and I must have read it a few years after that when the Edge series was picked up in the U.S. by Pinnacle Books (the first Pinnacle, an imprint that was a spin-off from the porn publisher Bee-Line, not the Pinnacle Books that are published today by Kensington). The first time I saw any of the Edge books was in Monnig’s Department Store in downtown Fort Worth, when I worked in the book department there in the fall of 1975. Several of my customers who read Westerns liked them, but in the words of one customer that I’ve never forgotten, “They’re sure not like them Louis L’Amours.”


Well, no. They’re not. In fact, although I had read a lot of Westerns by then, I think it’s safe to say I’d never read any like the Edge books.


The set-up really isn’t that non-traditional. Union cavalry captain Josiah Hedges returns after the Civil War to the Iowa farm that his younger brother Jamie has kept going during the conflict, intending to resume his normal life despite all the death and horror he’s witnessed during the war. But when he gets home, he finds that Jamie has been tortured, robbed, and murdered, and fairly recently, too. With nothing to keep him there, Hedges goes after the killers, and in the course of trailing them he discovers that they’re a group of no-account former soldiers he knew during the war. Obsessed with vengeance, Hedges plans to track them down and kill them, and heaven help anybody who gets in his way. It’s during this quest that a mispronunciation of his name leads to him being called Edge, a monicker he doesn’t mind adopting.


What sets this book apart, at least initially, is the high level of graphic violence. I just reread it for the first time in more than thirty years, and it’s just as shocking as it was back in the Seventies. Edge is very much an anti-hero. The only thing that makes him even a little bit sympathetic is the fact that he’s not quite as bad as the men he’s after. There’s also a heavy dose of gallows humor, as Edge turns out to be quick with a bad pun, especially after he’s just killed somebody.


I was a little thrown by the violence back then (I still don’t like really graphic violence in books and movies), but there was no denying the sheer speed and power of the writing. I read most of the books in the series, and the author – British novelist Terry Harknett, writing under the pseudonym George G. Gilman – gives the whole thing an epic feel by providing flashbacks to Edge’s service during the Civil War and really fleshing out his character, along with those of his enemies. There’s also a strong satiric streak to the stories which becomes more apparent as the series goes along. This first entry is pretty serious except for the occasional puns and one-liners by Edge, which are also more prevalent in later books. In rereading THE LONER now in the new e-book edition, I was impressed by how well it holds up.


The Edge series isn’t for everybody, but you’ll be able to tell within a few chapters whether or not the level of violence is too high for you. If you like the first book, I recommend sticking with the series, because it really does evolve in interesting ways as it goes along. For now, it’s good to see the first one available again after a number of years. This is an important series in the history of paperback Western novels.

14 comments:

August West said...
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August West said...

When I read my first EDGE paperback, I was a little taken back. But I shouldn't of been. It was inevitable that a Western series would emerge following the espionage or "Man against the Mafia" series successes. It took me 3 to 4 Edge books before I realized like you said-"This is an important series in the history of paperback Western novels." And all done by one writer Terry Harknett. Because of a strong following, copycats came later, but none were better than EDGE.

David Cranmer said...

I'm looking forward to it. So many violent westerns have come since, that aspect for which it is famous will probably breeze past me.

Charles Gramlich said...

I read my first Edge back about 25 years ago and stopped because of the violence. Later I started reading some in the series again, and although I still recognize the violence it doesn't bother me as much anymore.

Steve M said...

The EDGE books were responsible for me becoming a western reader and collector. The violence gets toned down as the series progresses.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

And the entire series will be made available again on eBook - the Archive will have an announcement about volume 2 shortly.

Fred Blosser said...

I read several of the novels but in the long run I didn't find the series interesting enough to stick with. KILLER'S BREED and SIOUX UPRISING were probably the best of the lot.

My friend the late Jim Neal once told me about talking with a fellow customer in a Fort Worth barbershop who enthused about "Lewis Lee Armor's" books. It took Jim a couple of minutes to realize that the guy was referring to Louis L'Amour.

James Reasoner said...

I had a good friend back in the Eighties who was a big fan of L'Amour's books. He always pronounced the name "Lewis Laymer".

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

I like the Edge books, too, but can't read them one after the other. Spacing them out works best for me.

Suresh Ramasubramanian said...

I started to "accept" ultra violent westerns a lot more after watching Sam Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch"

Alan Griffiths said...

Thanks for a great review, which has really wetted my appetite.

I’m not a western reader as such, although I like western films and the short stories I have read over at A Beat To A Pulp are all great reads. I’m definitely going to try and get hold of a copy of The Loner; alas, I have no e-reader but I think there are plans to produce the paperbacks on a print-on-demand basis.

Thanks again for a well balanced review.

Suresh Ramasubramanian said...

You can download kindle for your PC (or mac, blackberry etc) at www.amazon.com/gp/kindle/pc

Suresh Ramasubramanian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alan Griffiths said...

Thanks for the advice Suresh, much appreciated.