Friday, July 14, 2006

APPALOOSA by Robert B. Parker

I skipped Parker's earlier Western, Gunman's Rhapsody, because I'd heard it was a Spenserized telling of Wyatt Earp—the way Poodle Springs was a Spenserized version of Philip Marlowe.

I heard Appaloosa was better than Rhapsody because it was completely from Parker's imagination. Marshal Virgil Cole and his deputy Everett Hitch pursue renegade rancher Randall Bragg after he shoots the previous marshal. As with most of Parker's books, he sets up a romance that protagonist Cole takes very seriously, to the point of staying with a woman he's sweet on even though she's obviously weak-willed and promiscuous.

Virgil and Allie's relationship might have been convincing if I'd seen more of their chemistry on the page. Unfortunately, Parker lets ex-soldier Hitch narrate, making Cole a kind of otherworldly Hawk figure. As a result, I couldn't see why Cole remained committed to Allie.

Up to now it had seemed to me that Parker tended to show men as being less flawed than women (e.g. Spenser stays with Susan despite her being difficult, Jesse Stone humors ex-wife Jenn—at least through the Sunny Randall book Blue Screen...) Perhaps, however, the tragic flaw of Parker men is their inability to break off unhealthy relationships (i.e. where one partner sacrifices more than the other).

As with the Spenser book Cold Service, Parker managed to keep the page count under 300 and still feel padded and slow by the middle and end. By the end, Bragg, pardoned by the president, has gained control of the town. Relieved of his duties, Virgil Cole can no longer legally touch Bragg. Deputy Everett Hitch turns in his badge and calls Bragg into the street for a shootout. Hitch becomes the novel's most courageous character, willing to give up the comforts of a system and head into uncharted territory.

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