After he's forced to kill the son of a wealthy rancher in self-defense, drifter Jeff Clane is wrongly convicted of murder because of the rancher's influence. After escaping from jail before he can be hanged, Clane is pursued by a bounty hunter who wounds him with a long-range rifle shot. However, Clane is taken in and nursed back to health by a family of farmers. Clane's saviors and their homesteader neighbors are being crowded out of their valley by a range-hogging cattle baron who wants the valley for himself and will stop at nothing to get it. Once Clane recovers, he is inevitably drawn into this fight, as well as having to deal with the dangers dogging his own trail.
What a joy this book is to read! Yes, the plot is pure formula, although Whittington does go to the trouble of blending two standard plots into one. What makes it so entertaining is the rapid-fire, stripped-down prose and the noir-ish tone of the book. Whittington puts his characters through both emotional torment and physical torture. Clane doesn't heal overnight from his wound but is bothered by it throughout the entire book. Nor is he immune from the psychological effects of not only the violence he endures but also that he's forced to dish out. Like an earlier version of Ed Gorman, Whittington's Westerns are often crime stories populated by more realistic, fallible characters than are sometimes found in Westerns. SHADOW AT NOON is probably too formulaic to be considered one of Whittington's best books, but I had a wonderful time reading it anyway.
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