Friday, December 23, 2016

Forgotten Books: Eve of Evil - George G. Gilman (Terry Harknett)

I always try to read something Christmas-themed for my Forgotten Books post closest to the holiday. This year's book comes from a bit of an unlikely source. The Edge series launched the British Western boom and also influenced American Westerns for several years with its graphic violence and dark humor. They were reprinted in the U.S. by the original Pinnacle Books with covers by the great Bruce Minney and were very successful. I read quite a few of them during the late Seventies and early Eighties, including this Christmas novel, and I just reread it in an e-book edition.

For those of you not familiar with the series, Edge is really Josiah Hedges, a farmer who went off to the Civil War (his adventures there are chronicled in several flashback volumes within the series) and fought beside several men who turned into brutal outlaws after the war. They show up at Hedges' farm before he returns from the war and proceed to torture and murder Hedges' younger brother because they think there's money hidden on the farm. When Hedges finds out about this, he tracks them down and kills them in bloody fashion, picking up the nickname Edge along the way. After that he becomes a drifter, riding into troublesome situations that always turn extremely violent. He tries to settle down a few times, but that always ends badly. The overall grimness of the series is broken up by Edge's penchant for puns and bad jokes, many of which are veiled references to modern-day popular culture. A lot of these come close to breaking the fourth wall but don't quite.

In EVE OF EVIL, Edge finds himself in a ghost town in Wyoming's Wind River Mountains on Christmas Eve, although he doesn't know what day it is when the book starts. A young couple named Joseph and Maria show up. She's pregnant, of course, and her rancher father has sent gunmen to kill Joseph. The rancher is also involved in a dispute with some sheepherders—or shepherds, if you will. There's a gunman named Starr who dies in the east. There's a whore named Angel. There are three strangers from Japan—three kings from the Orient? You get the idea. The story of the Nativity plays out all over again in Wyoming, although there are a lot more gunfights in this one. And there's a bit of a twist in the ending.

The Edge series is pretty much a love-it-or-hate-it proposition. I always enjoyed the books. Unlike all the house-name Western series, Edge was the brainchild of one man, British author Terry Harknett, who wrote all the books under the pseudonym George G. Gilman. Because of that, the voice remains consistent all the way through. There are stretches where the series gets a little too jokey and the pop culture references a little too blatant for my taste. That's not the case in EVE OF EVIL. Harknett plays things relatively straight, and as a result I enjoyed the book quite a bit and thought it held up well to rereading more than 35 years later. In fact, since I never finished the series before, I think I might go back and pick it up again, along with some of Harknett's other series that I never sampled.


Charles Gramlich said...

I don't believe I have this one. I've got a bunch

Anonymous said...

I tried a few Edge novels years ago and they didn't work for me. I recall the hero's one liners seeming forced and the plots seeming loose and anticlimactic. I have several unread, and so many people whose taste mirrors mine enjoy this series so much that I'm thinking I really need to try it again.

James, I recall reading that Roland Green wrote some of the very last Edge novels to appear in US editions. Anything to this?

Happy Holidays to you and yours..
John Hocking

James Reasoner said...

It's a series that either works or it doesn't. I'd recommend trying one of the later ones, which don't seem as jokey to me. I've never heard Roland Green's name mentioned in connection with the series and his involvement seems unlikely to me . . . but nothing is ever impossible in publishing, is it?

George said...

I enjoyed the EDGE books I read. I'll have to track down a copy of EVE OF EVIL. The Christmas element is clever!

Cap'n Bob said...

I'm waiting to find one where someone other than Edge survives.