Saturday, June 23, 2007

West Texas War -- Gary Lovisi

I’ve known Gary Lovisi for many years as the publisher of the excellent small-press imprint Gryphon Books, as well as the long-running magazines Hardboiled and Paperback Parade. I’ve also read many of his mystery stories. In recent years, though, he’s started to make a name for himself as a Western writer, with stories appearing in several anthologies (some of which also feature stories by Livia and me, I might add). But I wasn’t aware until now that Lovisi had written a Western novel, WEST TEXAS WAR, which was published in England by Robert Hale Ltd. as part of the Black Horse Western line.

That novel has been reprinted by Ramble House in a fine volume that also includes a half-dozen of Lovisi’s Western short stories. WEST TEXAS WAR is a good solid traditional Western, with an action-packed plot and a few nice twists that lift it out of the realm of the formula Western. (As an aside, this is true of most of the Black Horse Westerns, whose authors generally do a great job of finding fresh variations on traditional plots.)

It’s in the short stories that Lovisi really shines, though. In a distinctive voice that mixes wry humor, colorful language, and terse action, Lovisi spins yarns that range from the supernatural (“Enough Rope to Hang”) to the quiet and poignant (“Old Aunt Sin”). He comes up with great titles like “Tombstones Are Free to Quitters”, which could have come right out of an issue of a Popular Publications Western pulp like Dime Western or Big-Book Western during the Forties, and “There Ain’t No Men in Heaven”, another of the more touching stories in this volume. “After the Great War” is a more modern-day Western, a Texas Rangers tale set during the period following World War I, and “My Brother of the Gun” features a more traditional Western plot elevated by Lovisi’s swiftly-paced writing.

I was familiar with Ramble House more as a publisher of mysteries, most notably those by the notorious Harry Stephen Keeler. I don’t know if WEST TEXAS WAR is the company’s first foray into Westerns or not, but it’s a good one, and I hope it’s not the last we see along these lines from Gary Lovisi.

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