This is the latest of now seven novels in the Merlin Fanshaw Western Mystery series. Merlin is a young deputy marshal working the Montana Territory jurisdiction in the 1880s. Dubious intelligence surfaces of a possible assassination attempt of the copper mining mogul, William Andrews Clark, by a hired killer named Charon. Merlin checks into the Centennial Hotel of the boom town Butte City to investigate.
The supposed witness overhearing the plot turns up dead and labeled a suicide. Merlin isn't so sure and a series of events, including his being beaten up and having to shoot a tin horn gambler in an alley while stark naked because a bum had stolen his clothes from a bathhouse, reinforces his skepticism.
The author's strengths, besides his clever and humorous storytelling in the first person, descriptive comments and ear for authentic dialog, are his diverse, developed characters from a hard drinking Irish hack driver; a going blind ex-boxer named Scrapper and saucy sister Molly; a seductive, beautiful visiting actress; to a Jewish storekeeper. Although the reader might recognize the author's name from his western comic strips Rick O'Shay (syndicated 1958-1981) and Latigo (syndicated 1979-1983), there is nothing cartoonish or flat about the people in the "Fanshaw" novels. Ever since James Fenimore Cooper and the likes of Bret Harte and Twain, the West and westerns have been ideal vehicles for the quirky and oddballs who dance to different drummers.
By combining history and the art of detection, the "historical mystery" subgenre captures both history and mystery buffs. Why can't a western lawman also turn detective? A lot of credit for the "western mystery" has to go to the late Tony Hillerman and his terrific Joe Leaphorn & Jim Chee series introduced way back in 1970 with The Blessing Way. Today's "western" readers might also want to lasso Steve Hockensmith's humorous "detectifying" series starting with Holmes on the Range (2006) or the Willa Award winning Silver Rush series by Ann Parker beginning with Silver Lies (2002). Her female character, the saloon owner Inez Stannert, contributes a unique feminine perspective to the mining frontier.
For the non-western history and mystery readers, one can pick any historical period: Elizabethan, Czarist Russia, Ancient Athens or Rome, Medieval, or the Roaring Twenties. The publishers, Carroll and Graf, have at least three anthologies that introduce the reader to both authors and characters representative of the popular "historical mystery" subgenre. Mosey down to your local library for The Mammoth Book of Historical Whodunits, Mammoth Book of Historical detectives, or Mammoth Book of New Historical Whodunits. 264 pages (POD or print on demand book).
Recommended by Robert L.Hicks, high school librarian, Arkansas