Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Longarm and the Bank Robber's Daughter by Tabor Evans/James Reasoner

I knew about Longarm long before I read a single one of his cases.
My grandfather only read westerns. They were stacked and double-stacked in a few bookshelves throughout his house in Tyler, Texas. Most of them were the big names: Louis L’Amour, Zane Grey, Luke Short, etc. I was a Star Wars kid so I paid those old paperbacks no mind. But they had great covers, including the ones for Longarm. My grandfather didn’t have many Longarm novels distinctive back in those days with a nearly all white cover and a few images, but he had a few. My dad’s recollection of why my grandfather read those novels was that he had read everything else, probably more than once. Now, I wasn’t a dummy back in the day, but a cowboy book with a pretty lady mostly undressed meant something. There was sex in them thar pages! It was a small miracle I never scanned those books on summer nights, trying to find those particular sex scenes. Heck, if I’d have actually read the books, I would have discovered just how entertaining the stories actually were.
But I wasn’t ready in the early 80s. I am ready now. So I cracked open Longarm and the Bank Robber’s Daughter. This is the 301st entry in the series that began in the late 70s and ran all the way until 2015 with the 436th installment! Custis Long, nicknamed “Longarm,” is a deputy U.S. Marshal in the old west, likely the 1880s. He is based in Denver, Colorado, and is sent all over the region to solve cases and bring bad guys to justice. And to bed women along the way.
Why this novel? I have four of them right now, three of which were written by James Reasoner. Yeah, for those that don’t know, “Tabor Evans” was a house name that many different writers used. Mainly, I wanted to see how a Longarm novel was constructed. So I opened up each one and read the opening passages. This is how Bank Robber’s Daughter starts.
Longarm jerked open the door of his rented room and growled, “What the hell do you want?”
Then his jaw tightened as he realized that Death had come knocking on this mild spring evening in Denver.
Death wore the pale, haggard face of an old man who clutched at his middle. Crimson blood welled between the fingers of the hands he pressed against his belly. He leaned forward and croaked, “G-Gold…”
Bingo! If I had picked this book up in a bookstore back when it was published in 2003, I would have walked out with it. Sold with three paragraphs. Action in three paragraphs. And that’s pretty much how this story rolls.
It turns out old man is Floyd Pollard, recently released from prison, and who shared a cell with Clete Harrington, an old bank robber that Longarm put in prison. The loot Harrington stole was never found, but Pollard’s dying words were “Sweetwater Canyon.” Naturally, Longarm is assigned the case and he’s about to head out to Sweetwater Canyon, New Mexico, when Emily Harrington shows up. She’s the titular daughter and, after a few more scrapes, Longarm agrees that she tag along.
What follows is a very good story about hidden gold, a range war, and enough clues scattered throughout the book that, upon learning the truth at the end, you realize Reasoner laid it all out for you. The action-packed structure of the book is such that, even if you get a chapter mostly of traveling down from Colorado to New Mexico with the characters talking, something happens at the end of the chapter that compels you to keep going. Definition of a page turner.
I didn’t know what to expect when the sex scenes arrived. How would they be written? How graphic would they be? Well, it turns out that the scenes were rather romantic. The action is spelled out, but the words Reasoner uses to describe the anatomy and what’s happening are euphemistic. You know exactly what’s going on and being done, but the word choices are nice. I emailed James to ask him about that and he said the descriptions were up to the discretion of the individual writer. I prefer it this way.
The ending was a nice surprise. By the time I read the last word, I was grinning ear to ear. I so thoroughly enjoyed this book that I immediately started another. But that’s a different review.

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