THE TIRED GUN is a very appropriate title for a Lewis B. Patten novel, because there's a distinct strain of world-weariness that runs through most of his work. If not for the happy endings demanded by the Western market during the era Patten was writing, his vision of the frontier probably would be regarded as even bleaker than that of H.A. DeRosso. And those so-called happy endings often wind up with the protagonist irreparably damaged, emotionally, physically, or both. The hero wins, but pays a high price to do so.
This novel, published in hardback by Doubleday in 1973 as part of its Double D line and reprinted in paperback by Signet a year later, is told in first person, something of a rarity for Westerns, although Louis L'Amour did it frequently in his books, notably the Sackett novels. The narrator of THE TIRED GUN is Sam Court, who was once the marshal of the little town of Cottonwood Grove, Kansas. Six years before the novel opens, a personal tragedy drove Court to leave Cottonwood Grove and take up the life of a hired gun. As the book begins, he's on the run, being pursued by a wealthy, vengeful rancher whose brother Court killed in a gunfight. The killing was self-defense, but the rancher doesn't care about that. He's determined to hang Court anyway.
Finding himself near his former hometown, Court makes the fateful decision to return there briefly. Events conspire to keep him there, however, until his pursuers catch up to him, and during that time Patten uses flashbacks to fill the reader in on how Sam Court came to be in this perilous situation.
There's not a lot of action in THE TIRED GUN, but there's a heck of a lot of HIGH NOON style suspense and tension as Court waits for almost certain death to catch up to him. Patten believed in really piling the trouble on his protagonists, so it's not enough that Court has to deal with the danger catching up to him from behind. He finds fresh problems in his old hometown, too. While I was reading this book, I thought that Patten had buried Sam Court in such a deep hole there was no way he'd ever get out of it, but when the action finally does explode at the end, Patten does a great job of resolving everything.
Patten began writing in the early Fifties, and by the Seventies, his work had become pretty inconsistent. He's at the top of his game in THE TIRED GUN, though. If you want to read a hardboiled, noirish traditional Western that packs a lot into 50,000 words, this is about as good as they come. Highly recommended.