Robert B. Parker has authored 60 novels over the past 34 years,
but RESOLUTION is only his third western. This should come as no
surprise, since he is widely acclaimed and acknowledged as the
“dean” of American mystery writers. At this point, he
is such a great writer that he could make anything
In 1974, Parker revitalized the American private-eye story when he
introduced a Boston tough guy with a tender heart named Spenser.
The series is still going strong today, although co-existing now
with two other excellent mystery series authored by Parker.
In RESOLUTION, Parker goes back to the Old West and takes us to a
brand new town making a hardscrabbled rising from the land. But
longtime readers will recognize the themes of loyalty, violence and
the personal code of honor that have filled Parker’s work
from the beginning.
RESOLUTION picks up where Parker’s 2005 western APPALOOSA
left off. After a bloody confrontation in that town, Everett Hitch,
former West Point cadet, soldier and occasional lawman, arrives in
Resolution and soon finds employment as a bouncer/peacekeeper in
the Blackfoot Saloon. It is a challenging job since Resolution is
so new that they don’t have a sheriff or any law to speak of.
His new boss warns him that he has had difficulty keeping a saloon
“lookout” in the past.
Sure enough, trouble soon arrives and Hitch kills the hired gun of
the mining camp up the hill. And he starts giving shelter in the
saloon to abused whores. He confesses to being
“softhearted” for them, much to the chagrin of his
boss, who is waging his own personal struggle for supremacy over
the town against both the owner of the mine and the ranchers, or
“sodbusters,” homesteading down the hill. With more
trouble on the horizon, Hitch is happy when his old friend from
Appaloosa, ex-lawman Virgil Cole, rides into town. Hitch describes
“She stared at him. I knew she did not understand him. Most
people didn’t. There was about him a flat deadliness that
And it is in the character of Cole that readers will find the
psychological complexity that has made the Spenser novels
so fascinating to read. Both Hitch and Cole hire out to do
“gun work.” They may be hired to keep order, but that
job often involves killing people, something they do easily and
extremely well. They live constantly with the possibility of sudden
death or dealing out death. As Hitch explains to a young
“You make a living doing gun work, you got to accept the
possibility somebody gonna shoot you dead.”
Since there is no law and order, Hitch and Cole live by their
loyalty to each other, their sense of duty and their own moral
code. Although not formally educated, Cole reads Locke and the
French philosopher he calls “Russo” trying to
understand the social contract, human nature and the order that
society is based upon.
So while the gunmen kill for a living, they don’t take
killing lightly. This causes immediate conflict when Amos Wolfson,
the saloon owner, seizes control of the mine after he has the owner
assassinated and starts stealing the ranchers’ land and
violently dispossessing them. In other words, he is a ruthless
acquisition capitalist of the sort who dominated late 19th-century
America and gave rise to the Gilded Age.
This does not sit well with the gunmen, but he is paying their
salaries after all. Further complicating matters is when the leader
of the ranchers brutally beats his wife in public; Cole steps in to
protect her and then quickly gets involved with her.
Fans of Parker’s Spenser series will love this book.
It has all the elements of great writing we have come to expect
from the author: short chapters, chipped dialogue and simple
descriptions. But what is remarkable is that, like the
unfortunately departed HBO series “Deadwood,” Parker
does not give us the romanticized view of the American West.
“‘Hard on women out here,’ Virgil said.
‘Hard on everybody out here.’ I (Hitch)
And it is especially hard on the nameless Native American teenagers
who defiantly “jumped the reservation” and got
themselves killed because of it.
What Parker depicts here is not Gary Cooper’s High
Noon Old West where the good and bad guys draw on the count of
three. No. Hitch and Cole, and men of their like, will face you,
tell you they are going to kill you and then proceed to do it. If
the opponent is not fast enough to reach for his gun, or even if
they put their hands up in surrender, they are dead. And nobody is
fast enough yet to shoot back. Bullets resolve everything.
Hitch and Cole are killers with a conscience, as were the men who
eventually brought order to the frontier. And despite their
temporary ties to women or towns, they are as solitary as the vast
plains and destined never to settle down. Hitch says:
“A whore I knew back in Appaloosa had asked me once if I get
lonely, moving around in all this empty space, stopping in little
towns with nothing much there. I told her I didn’t. I’m
not hard to get along with. But I am not convivial. I like my own
company, and I like space.”
And so was born the American myth of the Old West that played up
the rugged individualist, the knight errant in spurs, and played
down the killing, especially of Native Americans, and the constant
degradation of and violence against women.
Readers of the genre and fans of Parker’s mysteries will
enjoy RESOLUTION, an entertaining, grown-up western.
Reviewed by Tom Callahan on January 23, 2011