Sunday, June 23, 2013

SHORT STORY SUNDAY - James Reasoner's "The Wish Book"


Sometime back I mentioned that I had several short stories that I number among my favorites, but that I wanted to talk about three in particular. I've previously discussed Dorothy Johnson's "The Last Boast" and Ed Gorman's "The Face"... today I'm talking about James Reasoner's "The Wish Book" (though I have since thought of at least one or two others I want to highlight in the future.)

"The Wish Book" features Reasoner's Texas Ranger hero, Cobb, who has appeared in several short stories -including "Rattler" in WF's The Traditional West, and "Presents for One and All" in Six-Guns and Slay Bells.

This particular story first appeared in 1996 (I think), in the audiobook How the West Was Read (Robert J. Randisi, ed.), read by George Kennedy. I missed that one; I was introduced to the story a couple of years later when it appeared in print, in The Best of the American West (Ed Gorman and Martin H. Greenberg, eds.) The story was one of those that stuck with me for years afterward -not just for the taut plot, but for the dark mood the author created.

Texas Ranger Cobb is delivering a prisoner, a brutal killer named Spivey, to his hanging. They have become enveloped in a thick fog, from which they hear gunfire and screams. They take refuge in a line shack, only to discover they have entered a world of madness. The three cowboys staying at the shack have been isolated so long it has driven them insane, and they are engaged in a bloody feud over the most priceless possession they have: a mail order catalogue, or "wish book." Each man has picked out the object of his own desire within its pages, and is willing to kill his partners to have it all to himself.

While Cobb is occupied with his own efforts not to be killed by the lunatics, and to stay alive without hurting them if possible, his murderous prisoner escapes. Now Cobb has four killers loose in the fog to contend with.

I won't tell you any more beyond that, you'll have to read it for yourself. It is included in Reasoner's short story collection Texas Rangers, available at amazon and barnes & noble .


  1. I appreciate the kind words, Troy. My intention in "The Wish Book" was to try to strike a note of tension and hold it for as long as I could. I think it's one of the fastest-moving stories I've written.

  2. Wow, Troy. This sounds fantastic. I will be getting this one, for sure. Now I have to know what happens!

  3. That sounds great. I can't wait to start reading it.

  4. Such a creative concept and one that is being added to the TBR pile. Doris

  5. I sure enjoyed the story in Six-guns and Slay Bells, and look forward to reading this one, too. :)

  6. James Reasoner and Texas Ranger stories... it don't get any better than that!

    Jim Griffin

  7. Four killers in the fog? Sounds mighty intense to me--just the way I like it.
    I remember the days gone by when my sister and I would wear out the Sears Catalog wishing and dreaming in the toy section.

  8. I remember doing the same thing, Sarah... it takes a good writer to take something so simple, and good, and make it symbolize madness and evil! And when you think about it... aren't many of us driven mad sometimes by our wishes, even the simple ones...?