Note: This review is by my husband Jim.
Robert B. Parker, who died in 2010, is best-known for his crime novels featuring a tough, but literate, detective named Spenser. He was a master of lean prose and snarky dialog who had only in his later years tried to write westerns. He finished four such novels, which feature U.S. Marshall Virgil Cole, a tight-lipped dead shot with his Colt revolvers. The Parker Estate along with the publisher commissioned actor and screenwriter Robert Knott to continue the series with Ironhorse.
I haven’t read the other Virgil Cole novels, but I have read about ten of Parker’s crime novels. The characters in Knott’s version of Parker are men of fewer words than Spenser or Parker’s other protagonists. They are also not as literate or literary, but I’m not sure I want my cowboys to be making veiled references to Shakespeare or Dostoyevsky.
I half expected the author to keep me guessing who the real bad guys were, but there is not much ambiguity in the plot of this novel. Cole and his deputy, Everett Hitch, are riding back home on a railroad train when the train is commandeered by a gang of robbers. Cole and Hitch manage to take back some of the cars of the train (killing a few of the robbers on the way), but then their cars are disconnected from the engine. The remaining robbers make their escape, taking with them the two pretty young daughters of the governor of Texas as hostages. Cole and Hitch go off the rescue the girls and settle some old scores with various members of the robber gang.
There are several opportunities to complicate the plot, for instance by having the governor be complicit in the kidnapping of his daughters to have state money pay the ransom, but all the characters are just who they appear at first to be. Despite the simplicity of the story line, the book manages to keep the reader’s attention. The author has mastered the details of 19th century railroading and teaches us a lot about the functioning of the telegraph. Perhaps his attention to the fine details of each character’s actions brings the story to life.
Evaluation: I enjoyed the book enough to plan to read one of Parker’s westerns written by Parker himself.
Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, a member of The Penguin Group (USA), 2013