Monday, September 9, 2013
Review Roundup: Metamorphosis of a Gunman
By James Reasoner
The Book Place, August 2013
$11.99 paperback, ISBN 0615870392
$3.49 Kindle, ASIN B00ELNH852
Both sides of a violent mining war declare a truce for the Christmas holiday; nevertheless, notorious hired gun Logan Handley is anything but at peace. An unnatural sixth sense — evidently a job requirement for fictional gunmen — warns Handley something’s not right. He interrupts a deadly plan to steal a fortune in gold, but just as he’s about to foil his adversary’s scheme…
…the genre clichés abandon him — and the novel.
Dancing with Dead Men, James Reasoner’s 300th story, is an extremely unusual, riveting tale. The tropes are all there — hired killers embroiled in a last-man-standing grudge match, beautiful women in peril, goodhearted townspeople, wealthy barons with impoverished souls — but Reasoner twists everything until not a single cliché remains. Handley, a gunman feared throughout the west, is laid low by polio. In vastly changed physical circumstances, he can’t allow his remaining assets — a sharp mind and a diehard spirit — to wither along with his body.
Handley is a bundle of contradictions. He never overtly admits he’s tired of killing other men for a living, but readers feel his fatigue. He’s not given to excusing or rationalizing his life, nor does he waste time wondering if things might have turned out better had he cast different dice after his father’s murder. Though he’s well aware he’ll never again be the man he once was, he doesn’t wallow in fear or self-pity. In fact, every time readers are inclined to feel sorry for Handley, he finds another way to demonstrate he doesn’t need their pity, either.
From start to finish, Handley faces forward, eyes wide open, unflinching, determined to reclaim what physical function he can and adapt to everything else. He’s fascinating to watch: Time and again readers, like guilty voyeurs, spy on heroism of an unexpected sort from a man who considers himself no kind of hero.
There’s traditional western action aplenty, and no little humor, in Dancing with Dead Men, but the true joy of reading lies in watching Handley both embrace and reject the label “cripple.” In doing so, he becomes the man he really was all along.
Kathleen Rice Adams is a Texan, a voracious reader, a professional journalist, and a novelist in training. She received a review copy of Dancing with Dead Men from the author. Her opinions are her own and are neither endorsed nor necessarily supported by Western Fictioneers or individual members of the organization.