Thursday, July 12, 2012

Brand #1: Gun for Hire - Neil Hunter (Michael Linaker)

My friend Michael Linaker has been a busy author the past forty years or so, writing a couple of classic traditional Westerns under the name Richard Wyler, creating and writing a pair of successful Western series, Bodie the Stalker and Brand, under the name Neil Hunter, and continuing the Frank Angel series as Frederick H. Christian. In addition, he's written a number of Mack Bolan novels for Gold Eagle, as well as contributing entries to some of the Bolan spin-off series, and authored the science fiction/police procedural series Cade.

Piccadilly Publishing is doing e-book reprint editions of some of these books, and I recently read the first book in the Brand series, GUN FOR HIRE. These books were originally published in Norway in the late 1970s, when the Norwegians provided a huge market for Western fiction. They were reprinted in England during the Nineties, but the Piccadilly Publishing editions are the first time they've been readily available worldwide, as far as I know.

GUN FOR HIRE quickly establishes the series premise: former army scout and deputy U.S. marshal Jason Brand has lost his job as a lawman because of what his superiors consider excessive brutality, although Brand sees it as just doing his job. With his talents and background, about all he's suited to do is becoming a hired gun, so that's what he does. In this novel he's hired by a wealthy rancher in New Mexico Territory to rescue the man's daughter, who has been kidnapped by persons unknown. Brand sets out on the trail, which leads him south of the border into Mexico and ultimately into a Rurale prison known as "El Casa Muerte" – the House of Death.

Linaker spins a fine yarn here. Not everything in the plot is as it first appears to be, which is always a plus where I'm concerned. Brand is a good, well-developed character, too, not wholly sympathetic but enough so that the reader has no trouble rooting for him. The prose is suitably gritty, dusty, and hardboiled, and the action scenes, of which there are plenty, are excellent, tough and graphic without rising to the bloody levels of, say, the Edge books by George G. Gilman, aka Terry Harknett. (Which is not to criticize the Edge books. I like them, too.)

I really enjoyed GUN FOR HIRE. It's a fast, very entertaining Western novel. I'm glad to see it available again, along with all the other books from Piccadilly Publishing.

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