Friday, August 04, 2017

The Easy Gun - E.M. Parsons

THE EASY GUN is one of those novels that comes out of nowhere and takes you by surprise. Published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1970 and promptly forgotten, it’s about 95% of a great Western. As for the unfortunate other 5% . . . well, more about that later.

The story begins in El Paso with Big John Easy, a brawling gambler/con man/outlaw who’s trying to go straight because he knows he’s set a bad example for his 20-year-old son, also named John but known as Little Easy. The name is ironic, because Little Easy is a massive six-and-a-half foot tall bruiser, even bigger and tougher than Big John.

A dispute with a cattle buyer/gunfighter known as Long Gone Magoffin (this book is full of great character names) leaves Big John dead and Little Easy on the trail of the killer. Little Easy doesn’t know Magoffin’s name, but he knows the man he’s after carries a gun with a fancy silver decoration on its black grips. The trail leads to Ellsworth, Kansas, where Magoffin works for the villainous Porter Jessup, a bizarre character who’s been in a wheelchair all his life because of his crippled legs, but that doesn’t stop him from being truly evil and establishing a criminal empire in Ellsworth, aided by his mute, giant, former prizefighter henchman Burgoo.

If you’re worried that I’m giving away too much of the plot, all this happens very quickly, and anyway, the real appeal of THE EASY GUN is the way Parsons takes a whole heap of Western stereotypes (there’s even a crusading newspaper editor who happens to be a blond, beautiful young woman) and turns most of them upside down. Hardly anybody turns out to be exactly what you’d expect them to be, although the plot plays out in a fairly predictable fashion, up to a point. The writing is very good for the most part, leading up to a violent, epic climax.

And that’s where THE EASY GUN drops the ball. Parsons rushes through the ending, devoting only a few paragraphs to the apocalyptic battle that should have been much more than it is. The last few pages of the book don’t work at all, as far as I’m concerned. Earlier, Parsons had played very fast and loose with the history and geography of Texas, which bothered me, but I would have been willing to overlook that because I was really enjoying his style and characters. That ending, though . . . I just can’t see it.

E.M. Parsons was best known as a TV writer, turning out scripts for various Western and detective series in the Fifties and Sixties. As far as I can tell, he published only three novels, all Westerns: TEXAS HELLER, from Dell in 1959; FARGO, from Gold Medal in 1968; and THE EASY GUN, also from Gold Medal in 1970, the same year he passed away. I have copies of the other two but haven’t read them yet. I will, based on all the things I liked about THE EASY GUN. Maybe I’ll like the endings better in the others. And it’s certainly possible somebody else might think the ending of THE EASY GUN is just fine. Your mileage, as the saying goes, may vary.


benbridges said...

A wonderful book which has long been one of my all-time favorites. On my website, I actually list it as one of my favorite top fifty westerns. I've read TEXAS HELLER by the same author and have FARGO on my reading pile, but certainly TEXAS HELLER never even came close to the originality and power of THE EASY GUN.

Charles Gramlich said...

Guess I better check it out

George said...

I've seen THE EASY GUN in thrift stories many times and I passed on it. Now, I wish I bought a copy. This sounds like a book I should track down.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes try Fargo, a very good one in my opinion, probably the best of the three!
All the best,
Tiziano Agnelli

Anonymous said...

I forgot to say that E.M.Parsons wrote a thriller "The Dark of Summer", (Avon T-541) 1961
All the best,
Tiziano Agnelli