Over the years I’ve had a bit of a love/hate relationship
with the work of British Western writer George G. Gilman, who was really a
prolific paperbacker named Terry Harknett. I’ve read more than two dozen
entries in his most successful series, Edge, and while I really enjoy the
plotting and pacing, and I’m even fond of the groan-inducing puns the series is
known for, I don’t like the graphic violence and the vicious amorality of the
books. Even so, I find myself drawn to read one now and then.
Harknett’s second most successful series features a former Confederate cavalryman named Adam Steele. Steele and Edge even met in several crossover volumes. Both series were reprinted in the U.S. by Pinnacle, often with title changes. The first Steele book, THE VIOLENT PEACE, was published by Pinnacle as REBELS AND ASSASSINS DIE HARD. I believed I had read that one many years ago but never continued with the series. Recently, thinking that I might give the Steele books another try, I decided to reread it, only this time around it would be the e-book version, under the original title THE VIOLENT PEACE.
Well, I discovered that I must have started but never finished it, because I have no memory of it beyond the first few chapters, which occur on the night Abraham Lincoln is shot at Ford’s Theater. The Civil War is over, and Adam Steele is supposed to meet his estranged father at a tavern in Washington D.C. so they can mend the rift between them. Unfortunately, in the uproar over Lincoln’s assassination, the elder Steele is lynched by a group of men who claim that he was part of the conspiracy to kill the president. Adam Steele arrives too late to save his father, but he immediately sets out to track down and kill the men responsible for the lynching.
All that, I remember. But I don’t think I read beyond that point, because Steele follows the murderers to Tennessee and finds himself mixed up in such a bizarre, over-the-top situation that I feel certain I would have recalled if I ever read it. In the last section of the book, Steele finds himself facing enemies the likes of which I don’t think I’ve ever encountered before in a Western.
Of course, THE VIOLENT PEACE isn’t much of a Western, taking place as it does in Washington D.C., Virginia, and Tennessee. I may have found that off-putting enough that I never continued with the series all those years ago. The violence is just as graphic and disturbing as in the Edge books, and I found Adam Steele to be an even less sympathetic protagonist than Edge. However, I did enjoy Harknett’s plotting in this one, and I like the fast-paced style of his writing. I’m not a big fan of origin stories to start with, and that’s definitely what THE VIOLENT PEACE is. From the looks of them, the other books in the series are more traditional Westerns. I found enough to like in this book, and in the Edge books I’ve read, that I’m going to read at least the second book in the Adam Steele series, and then we’ll see how things go from there.