This book originally came out in England in 1971, and I must have read it a few years after that when the Edge series was picked up in the U.S. by Pinnacle Books (the first Pinnacle, an imprint that was a spin-off from the porn publisher Bee-Line, not the Pinnacle Books that are published today by Kensington). The first time I saw any of the Edge books was in Monnig’s Department Store in downtown Fort Worth, when I worked in the book department there in the fall of 1975. Several of my customers who read Westerns liked them, but in the words of one customer that I’ve never forgotten, “They’re sure not like them Louis L’Amours.”
Well, no. They’re not. In fact, although I had read a lot of Westerns by then, I think it’s safe to say I’d never read any like the Edge books.
The set-up really isn’t that non-traditional. Union cavalry captain Josiah Hedges returns after the Civil War to the Iowa farm that his younger brother Jamie has kept going during the conflict, intending to resume his normal life despite all the death and horror he’s witnessed during the war. But when he gets home, he finds that Jamie has been tortured, robbed, and murdered, and fairly recently, too. With nothing to keep him there, Hedges goes after the killers, and in the course of trailing them he discovers that they’re a group of no-account former soldiers he knew during the war. Obsessed with vengeance, Hedges plans to track them down and kill them, and heaven help anybody who gets in his way. It’s during this quest that a mispronunciation of his name leads to him being called Edge, a monicker he doesn’t mind adopting.
What sets this book apart, at least initially, is the high level of graphic violence. I just reread it for the first time in more than thirty years, and it’s just as shocking as it was back in the Seventies. Edge is very much an anti-hero. The only thing that makes him even a little bit sympathetic is the fact that he’s not quite as bad as the men he’s after. There’s also a heavy dose of gallows humor, as Edge turns out to be quick with a bad pun, especially after he’s just killed somebody.
I was a little thrown by the violence back then (I still don’t like really graphic violence in books and movies), but there was no denying the sheer speed and power of the writing. I read most of the books in the series, and the author – British novelist Terry Harknett, writing under the pseudonym George G. Gilman – gives the whole thing an epic feel by providing flashbacks to Edge’s service during the Civil War and really fleshing out his character, along with those of his enemies. There’s also a strong satiric streak to the stories which becomes more apparent as the series goes along. This first entry is pretty serious except for the occasional puns and one-liners by Edge, which are also more prevalent in later books. In rereading THE LONER now in the new e-book edition, I was impressed by how well it holds up.
The Edge series isn’t for everybody, but you’ll be able to tell within a few chapters whether or not the level of violence is too high for you. If you like the first book, I recommend sticking with the series, because it really does evolve in interesting ways as it goes along. For now, it’s good to see the first one available again after a number of years. This is an important series in the history of paperback Western novels.