I kind of shy away from saying “My Favorite Western Novel” –it’s too hard to pick just one. But I can certainly say this is one of my favorite western novels of all time: The Ghost with Blue Eyes by Robert J. Randisi.
I read it when it first came out in 1999. Something about Randisi’s sparse prose and the powerful subject matter came together in a way few western novels ever have for me- on one level it was one of the most perfect examples of a traditional western (short, action-oriented, compelling), and on another level it affected me profoundly, remaining vividly in my mind ever after. It is one of those rare works –and I will probably write about others in this space, but they include Lonesome Dove –that leave me with a bittersweet feeling of the sublime, a mixture of professional admiration and intense envy. That probably sounds like hyperbole, and it probably sets the book up with unfair expectations if any of you read it after this –but that really is how I feel about it. I consider it one of the best westerns of the 1990s.
The story centers on a gunman named Lancaster. He hires himself out for protection, and one day –during a gunfight –something terrible happens. He accidentally shoots and kills a little girl. The memory of her blue eyes staring at him haunts Lancaster, to the point he becomes a drunk. Then, one day, he gets an unexpected chance at redemption: another little girl is in danger, and her mother is killed. To keep her safe from her murderous father, Lancaster takes her to the only person he can think of –that first little girl’s mother.
And then it gets intense.
This is a darn good book, and it has a depth that few writers would be able to squeeze into 200-odd pages.
Troy D. Smith