A bullet shattered the farmhouse window. Glass imploded, shards glittering, spiraling in all directions, raining on to the threadbare parlor carpet.
Guns of the Past (Black Horse, 1997 and Linford, 1998) starts with a bullet - and speeds like a bullet on through to the climax. And woe to anyone who gets in that bullet’s way. This is one of the hardest hitting westerns I’ve read in a long while. Characters die here - likable, sympathetic, even innocent characters whom other writers would hesitate to kill. But though it's sad - even shocking - to see them go, they die in a good cause, to give more emotional punch to the book’s protagonist, Matt Brenner.
Matt, you see, was once foolish enough to join the Scarred L Gang, some of the most ruthless outlaws ever to terrorize the West. The gang’s leader is a demon in human form who allows no one to quit. But Matt quit, and ran, and has been hiding ever since, regretting the mistakes of his past. And now, suddenly, that past has caught up with him, making his present a living hell. (One thing the book does not tell us is that Matt bears an uncanny resemblance to Clint Eastwood, as revealed by the Linford edition artwork, below.)
Lance Howard, who has written a whole bunch of westerns, is in reality Howard Hopkins, who has written a whole bunch of horror novels. I tried to count them and ran out of fingers and toes, but I’m pretty sure his total book count is well over forty.
Howard, I’ve learned, is also a great aficionado of pulp heroes like Doc Savage, The Shadow and The Spider - as am I. Howard recently announced that he's been asked to write new comic book adventures of The Spider, The Master of Men, and after reading Guns of the Past, I can see why he got the gig. The Spider requires a courageous writer - one willing to take risks - one willing to take the reader by the throat and drag him places he didn’t expect to go. Well, Howard is all of that. I’m very much looking forward to his version of The Spider, and to more westerns by Lance Howard.
For more, visit his blog, Dark Bits, and his website.