Friday, February 03, 2006

Shoot First -- Ed Gorman

One thing I don't understand about mystery readers is why they'll read mystery novels set in ancient Rome or Victorian London but turn up their noses at one set in the American West in 1888.

Which brings me to Shoot First, another fine mystery novel by Ed Gorman, who said this on his blog the other day: "A long time ago I joked that I was a nobody in three genres and that holds true today as well." I think he was kidding, in a way, but if there's any truth in what he said, then it's a shame, and it's the readers' loss.

Of course the publishers don't help. Richard Wheeler believes that publishers have a narrow idea about cover art for western novels, and that point seems proved here, where the cover at the left seems to have little, if anything, to do with the contents. I'm not sure if Ed came up with the title or if it came from the publisher, but I don't see how it fits the book any more than the rest of the cover does.

But I've digressed again. What about the book? Well, for one thing it's a mystery novel. There's a series of murders, and Sheriff Reed Matthews has to investigate. There's a lot more to the book than that, however. If you're expecting a lot of "shoot first and ask questions later" action, you've come to the wrong place. This is a book about characters -- the sheriff, the mayor, the businessmen, and a lot of others. Gorman gives as much attention to the walk-ons as most writers do to the protagonists. These are people like you and me, just ordinary folks in an extraordinary situation, and you care about all of them. There's humor and tendnerness and fear and greed and all the things that good fiction is about.

So why won't mystery fans grab it and read it? Don't ask me. All I know is that they're missing a treat if they pass it by.

Update: I wonder if Steve Hockensmith's Holmes on the Range will change things. It's being published as a mystery, not a western, though it's set in about the same era as Ed's book. Steve's book, by the way, is also highly recommended, and see above for a link to the narrator's new blog.


Steve Hockensmith said...

Thanks for mentioning HOLMES ON THE RANGE, Bill! The book easily could have been (mis)classified as a Western: In fact, I showed an agent an early, early draft, and his only reaction was "Westerns don't sell." I think it's probably the Sherlock Holmes connection that's allowed the book to escape that kind of narrow thinking. I read a number of Westerns before I started working on HOLMES -- books by you, Ed, Bill Pronzini, Loren Estleman, Bob Randisi -- and *all* of them could have been classified as mystery/crime novels...if they didn't have a guy with a Stetson and a six-gun on the cover.


Gormania said...

Thanks very much for the plug, Bill. You know that Lincoln you've always wanted? It's on its way. True, the 1943 model (the only car produced during the big war in fact) didn't have the full four wheels but it did pioneer the Half-Screen windshield--half glass and half open air. Who needs air conditioning when you've got Half-Screen? I want you to know that we've tried everyting to get that Buy War Bonds Now--Ronald (too busy to serve) Reagan decal off the driver's side of the car. We're hoping, since the vehicle is now sixty-five years old the decal'll start to fade any time. But again, old buddy, thanks for the nice plug. If you don't mind I'll put it on my blog tonight. Sure because I hope it'll sell books but also because you've stated the argument better than anybody else. I never thought of it that way--if mystery readers will read novels set in ancient Rome, why not the west? Very well put.

Unknown said...

Sure, Ed. Put it on the blog. If you had the sales you deserve, you could buy me a brand new Lincoln.

JD Rhoades said...

Your first sentence makes an excellent point. I confess to knowing next to nothing (okay, nothing) about Westerns, but aren't they quite crime fiction-like?

Unknown said...

A lot of them are, for sure. And pretty good crime fiction at that.

Elizabeth Foxwell said...

Bill, Bill, Bill. "Turn up [our] noses at a mystery novel set in the American West in 1888"? I still think that Walter Satterthwait's _Wilde West_ (set in 1882, with Oscar Wilde pursuing a mystery on his American lecture tour, with Doc Holliday thrown in for good measure) is pretty darn good.

Juri said...

And what about Robert Randisi's THE HAM REPORTER?

And, yes, many of the Westerns are crime novels: revenge, psychopath killer, sheriff seeking for the murderer, they are all in there. Only the cavalry novels (and literary Westerns) don't fit the bill.

Unknown said...

I certainly agree about Wlide West, another one that St. Martin's sold as a mystery, not a western. As for the Randisi book, that was published as a Doubleday western, and I doubt that many mystery readers ever discovered it. Maybe the Stark House reprint will help remedy that.