If you haven’t read the first three books in Robert B. Parker’s series of Westerns featuring gunmen Hitch and Cole, you’ll probably like this one.
The dialogue crackles. The writing is as crisp and tight as anything Parker ever wrote. And Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch, soft-spoken gunmen who live by a code of honor, are enormously appealing heroes.
But the characters haven’t grown any since they first made their appearance in “Appaloosa” in 2005. For example, Cole’s woman, Allie, still runs off every time she spots a man with more money and power than Virgil. And Virgil still forgives her and takes her back every time the rival is killed or driven off.
The plot hasn’t changed much, either. Once again, Hitch and Cole show up in a town and discover that a bully is running the place as his private fiefdom.
Once again, they set out to teach the bully a lesson and give the town back to the decent folk. And once again, they succeed, gunning down a lot of bad guys along the way.
This time, Hitch and Cole return to Appaloosa, the setting for the first book in the series, and discover that a man named Amos Calico is now the town sheriff.
He’s got grand political ambitions, he’s shaking down town merchants to build his war chest, and he’s got a dozen deputies to back him up.
Readers of the first three books know immediately that a dozen won’t be nearly enough.
To readers of the other books in the series, “Blue-Eyed Devil” will feel familiar and predictable, as if Parker simply recycled the plots of “Resolution” and “Brimstone.”
Parker, author of more than 60 novels, died at his writing desk in January, succumbing to a heart attack.
His wildly popular series featuring a hero named Spenser, launched in 1974, is widely credited with reinvigorating and repopularizing the private eye novel, paving the way for a new generation of writers including Robert Crais and Walter Mosley. He also wrote two popular series featuring a Boston private detective named Sunny Randall and small-town Massachusetts police chief Jesse Stone.
Unless he has some unpublished manuscripts squirreled away somewhere, “Blue-Eyed Devil” may be his last book.
The last Jesse Stone, “Split Image,” and the last Spenser, “The Professional,” were both published over the winter.