Thursday, August 05, 2010

Shootout at Picture Rock - Joseph A. West

I made the email acquaintance of Western author Joseph A. West a while back, and since I try to read books by people I know, I picked up his 2006 novel SHOOTOUT AT PICTURE ROCK. Set in 1877, the book’s protagonist is Deputy U.S. Marshal John Kilcoyn, who works out of an office in Dodge City that he shares with Ford County Sheriff Bat Masterson. One of Kilcoyn’s old enemies, a former lawman turned outlaw, comes back to haunt the marshal by kidnapping Dodge City’s doctor and the doctor’s beautiful daughter, who, as it happens, Kilcoyn intends to marry. With the outlaw holding his hostages for ransom, Kilcoyn sets out to rescue them, along with Bat Masterson and a young Irish photographer who is new to the West.

Well, that’s enough plot for a book right there, you say. But no, Kilcoyn is also being hunted by a renegade Cheyenne war chief because he killed the chief’s son in battle. The marshal also has to deal with a family of crazed, perverted sodbusters who make a business of robbing and killing travelers, somewhat like the infamous Bender family. Oh, and did I mention that while all this is going on, there’s also a killer blizzard bearing down on Kansas?

I had a great time reading this book. West has the knack of piling more and more problems on his hero until the reader really has to wonder how he’s going to get out of it. SHOOTOUT AT PICTURE ROCK has a nice epic feel to it, even though the actual scale of the story isn’t really that large. There’s plenty of action, the characters are well-developed (including an interesting portrait of Bat Masterson, one of my favorite real-life Western characters), and there are some nice twists relating to who lives and who dies (not everybody you’d expect). This is an excellent traditional Western, and lucky for me West is a fairly prolific author, having written more than thirty novels so far with more to come. I plan to read more of his books very soon.  (That's the large print edition of this one over in the Amazon box.)


Joseph A. West said...

James, thank you for the kind words. You do me great honor.
SHOOTOUT AT PICTURE ROCK began its life as the 7th novel in my GUNSMOKE series, but my publisher and Universal couldn't agree on financial terms. Finally my editor said: "The hell with it, we'll publish the book as a stand alone." Then, with many a merry quip, he added: "Big hurry, Joe. Change the names and send it back to me yesterday."
Of course, there was a lot more involved than simply changing Matt Dillon to Kilcoyn. I had to saw the novel apart then rebuild it, the deadline hanging over my head like the proverbial sword.
In the end, poor, ink-stained wretch that I am, I got the job done and Shootout was the result.
Ah, I love the publishing business so much, just sitting here thinking about it brings a tear to my eye.

James Reasoner said...

Thanks for the story behind the story. Now that you mention it, I can see how this one began life as a Gunsmoke novel, but that thought never crossed my mind when I was reading it. You did a good job turning it into a stand-alone. Back in the early days of our careers, my wife and I had to rewrite a hundred thousand word novel literally overnight. This was long before computers, so we had to retype all 400 pages of the manuscript in about sixteen hours. We had only one typewriter, so we took turns at it, typing as fast as we could and rewriting as we went along. Finished at dawn, slept for a couple of hours, then got up, took the pages to have them photocopied, and overnighted them to New York.

Yes, you've got to love the publishing business.

Ron Scheer said...

Loved all three stories. I recall the days of writing before word processing AND photocopying. I still have my old Olympia manual typewriter as a keepsake of the old days, to bring a tear to my eye, almost.

Unknown said...

This past week I've been watching some 1955, first-season episodes of GUNSMOKE on DVD, rented from the local video store. My immediate reaction to the first paragraph of your post, James, was "I wonder if this is GUNSMOKE-inspired?" Testimony to how well you strike to the heart of matters when reviewing your reading, aware of it or not!

Now a terrible admission: I've never come across a Joseph A. West book in New Zealand. I can see rectifying the omission must be added to my list of things to be done.

Matthew P. Mayo said...

Thanks for reviewing this book, James. I've read a half-dozen or more of Mr. West's books, though not "Shootout at Picture Rock," and I've enjoyed each very much. In fact, I just tracked down a copy of "Gunsmoke: Dodge the Devil" and now I can't wait to dive in.

A 400-page rewrite--and on a typewriter--in 16 hours! I will never complain about rewriting or deadlines again. Well, maybe a little....


James Reasoner said...

I may have told this story here before, but when I finished the final draft of my first novel, Livia and I took the manuscript to a drugstore that had a coin-operated photocopy machine and fed nickels into it for a couple of hours as we copied every page, one at a time. I feel nostalgic about those days, but I wouldn't go back to them.