Monday, August 26, 2013

Review Roundup: Ed Gorman's Balancing Act

Dead Man’s Gun and Other Western Stories
By Ed Gorman
The Western Fictioneers Library, April 2013
$2.99: Kindle, ASIN B00CLTS6MC; Nook, BIN 2940016582924
128 pages

Though he’s better known for his crime, mystery, and horror fiction, Ed Gorman is no slouch at writing westerns, either. Gorman’s spare style and uncomplicated prose make it easy to imagine the author as a storyteller in the oral tradition, forced to put pen to paper during an attack of laryngitis.

Perhaps nowhere is that better expressed than in the new anthology Dead Man’s Gun and Other Western Stories. The collection of nine short tales and one brief treatise entitled “Writing the Modern Western” provides eloquent evidence of the author’s exceptional range in storytelling. More than range, though, Gorman’s short stories display the author’s uncommon ability to dig into the darkest recesses of the human psyche and expose the thin lines separating good and evil, bravery and cowardice, love and hate, pride and shame. The way Gorman’s characters balance on those lines — always in danger of falling to one side or the other — will make readers alternately shudder and rejoice.

No matter how uncomfortable the thought may be, Ed Gorman knows us all. Gazing into his mirror is undeniably uncomfortable, yet oddly liberating. “Dead Man’s Gun” will resonate with anyone who’s ever wanted revenge. Writers and movie buffs will relate to “Pards,” a bittersweet tale about a middle-aged, unsuccessful writer who finds a spiritual twin in an aging matinee icon. “The Face,” a Civil War story, is an atmospheric, psychological study of men under pressure, inexorably sliding into madness. “Mainwaring’s Gift” is at once sad and romantic and hopeful. “Gunslinger,” “Blood Truth,” and “Dance Girl” are equally compelling, each in its own way.

Though all the stories take place in the 19th century American west, it’s difficult to define Dead Man’s Gun and Other Western Tales as simply “western.” Fans of psychological horror, crime, and mystery will find much to enjoy in this volume, as well.

Read the book.

Kathleen Rice Adams is a Texan, a voracious reader, a professional journalist, and a novelist in training. Her opinions are her own and are neither endorsed nor necessarily supported by Western Fictioneers or individual members of the organization. The publisher provided a review copy of Dead Man's Gun and Other Western Tales.


  1. I goofed. All the stories don't take place in the 19th century American West. "Pards" is set in the mid-20th century. Oddly, it may be my favorite of the stories in the book, though "Blood Truth," "The Face," and "The Old Ways" are right up there with it.

    I'm curious: Among those of y'all who've read the anthology (or read the shorts back when they were published individually), which is your favorite? Why?

  2. Few do it better than Gorman. My favorite story has to be whichever one I'm reading at any given time, although "The Face" is one that will stay with me for many years.

  3. "The Face" is one of the best short stories I've ever read, in any genre.

  4. "The Face" is probably the sneakiest -- and darkest -- of the lot. I don't believe I've ever seen suspense built and sustained more masterfully than in that short story. It's an extremely powerful, haunting tale, made so by the way Gorman flirted with seemingly innocuous, but thoroughly chilling, psychological constructs. If folks read no other story in this anthology, that's the one I'd urge them to read.

  5. Oooooh, Kathleen...with rich review descriptions like "the darkest recesses of the human psyche and expose the thin lines separating good and evil, bravery and cowardice, love and hate, pride and shame..." YOU have tweaked my interest in this collection TEN-FOLD!! Excellent review.

    Cindy Nord

  6. Thanks, Cindy! The book really is something special, especially since it contains bite-sized pieces. They're sorta like potato chips, though: Once I started reading, I couldn't put down the volume. :-D

    Writers, regardless their genre, would do well to study Gorman's technique, IMO.

  7. Hot and humid here, so I need a good chill. Sounds like this collection is the perfect ticket!

    Jim Griffin

  8. Kathleen, sorry I'm so late getting here. This book sounds great. I snapped it up for my brand new Kindle Fire HD! (Happy Birthday to me!) I can't wait to actually get a chance to sit down and READ again! Thanks for a great look at this book. I know I'm going to enjoy reading it.

  9. Looks like I'd better pick up this book. Tex, you're awful hard on my TBR pile.