Review

Blue-eyed Devil

by Robert B. Parker

Robert B. Parker was that rarest of writers: a commercially
successful author unafraid of taking risks in his craft. The
acknowledged “dean of mystery writers,” he stepped away
from that genre completely in 2005 to start a western series with
the publication of APPALOOSA. Now, several months after his death,
comes the release of the third book in that series, BLUE-EYED
DEVIL.

Parker proves that, had he started a few decades earlier, he
could have made Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch as popular as Spenser
and Hawk. He also shows that he ranks up there with great western
writers like Louis L’Amour and Larry McMurtry. And here we
see again what made Parker such an outstanding writer: he makes
readers want to spend time with his protagonists.

Parker’s writing is so good, so exact, that he has you
sitting on the porch in front of the Boston Saloon, eavesdropping
on the conversations of Cole and Hitch and totally engaged in their
situation. In BLUE-EYED DEVIL, they have returned to the small
outpost town of Appaloosa after rescuing the love of Cole’s
life, Allie, from a brothel in the last installment of the series,
BRIMSTONE. Cole and Hitch do itinerant “gun work” and
once were the law in Appaloosa. But when they get back, they find
that there is a new sheriff in town. Parker describes him on page
one: “He was tall and very fat in a derby hat and dark suit,
with a star on his vest, and a big black-handled Colt in a
Huckleberry inside his coat. Standing silently around the room were
four of his police officers, dressed in white shirts and dark
pants, each with a Colt on his hip.”

Amos Callico is more like Tony Soprano than your typical
sheriff, shaking down the saloon owners for protection money. But
then again, he has big ambitions. He wants to be President of the
United States one day. And in BLUE-EYED DEVIL, he is going to find
an opportunity to get there by fighting Indians. Unfortunately,
much like that other great Indian fighter who wanted to become
President, George Armstrong Custer, his military skills might be
somewhat questionable.

Just to make things interesting, his rival for power in the town
is General Horatio Laird, formerly of the Confederate States of
America, and accused not only of retreating but also of committing
war crimes against civilians. But the accusations seem to come from
Callico’s wife, who has a bit of an interesting past herself.
When the saloon owners hire Cole and Hitch to be their own private
security force, Callico becomes their enemy. When Cole throws the
General’s son out of a saloon after he starts abusing a
whore, our protagonists find themselves with yet another powerful
enemy. Callico says to them, “This is exactly why I
don’t want no vigilante law enforcing going on. There’s
a distinguished citizen being insulted by some whores and you side
with the whores.”

But that’s the thing: Cole operates within his own code of
right and wrong, which does not take into account what the powerful
want. And this series, narrated in the first person by Cole’s
faithful sidekick, West Point-trained Everett Hitch, is really an
exploration of the personal code of honor of the Old West. And, as
with all Parker books, it has brilliant dialogue, outstanding in
its simplicity.

Besides expertly working in multiple, entertaining subplots,
such as Cole’s difficult relationship with the untrustworthy
Allie, Parker transcends the genre here by returning again and
again to the moral dilemma faced by men like Cole and Hitch. In
this regard, his work reminds me of the early westerns written by
the great Elmore Leonard, such as THREE-TEN TO YUMA.

For despite the fact that they say they do “gun
work,” that is just a euphemism for what they really do. Cole
and Hitch are killers, plain and simple. Hitch says over and over
again how fast Cole is with a gun and how he is the best he ever
saw. But Cole points out that you can’t just kill people
because you are faster than them. When he is the law, he has the
protection of the badge. But without it, we see him wrestling here
with his justification for killing and explaining in detail how he
always gives somebody the option of backing down and walking
away.

The unstated other side of the coin that Cole must wrestle with
is the sure knowledge that someday somebody will come along who is
just a little faster that day, or the day will come when Hitch is
not around to have his back. But still he goes from fight to fight.
According to his personal code, he must act no other way. General
Laird brings another hired killer in to even the score with Cole.
Again, Parker writes superb dialogue.

Add Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch to all the great characters
that Robert B. Parker created over the decades to give us enjoyment
and entertainment. In three books, we were just getting to know
them. They will be missed. But BLUE-EYED DEVIL is a terrific
western. It is the work of one of the greatest writers America ever
produced, still working at the top of his game.

Reviewed by Tom Callahan on December 22, 2010

Blue-eyed Devil
by Robert B. Parker

  • Publication Date: May 4, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction, Western
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult
  • ISBN-10: 0399156488
  • ISBN-13: 9780399156489