The Big Showdown: A Caleb York Western
I just love it when the western genre gets the respect that it has earned and thus deserves. THE BIG SHOWDOWN gets the full treatment, consisting of a hardcover publication format with two legends sharing co-writing honors on the cover. Max Allan Collins can do it all, and quite well, as he has demonstrated time and again --- seemingly on a monthly basis --- in different genres and across different entertainment media. The late Mickey Spillane may be best known for his hard-boiled detective fiction, specifically for his iconic creation, Mike Hammer.
It’s actually not that wide a stretch between western and detective fiction. Both types of literature deal with two-fisted heroes attempting to preserve the thin veneer of civilization. Caleb York is Spillane’s western creation, the subject of a film vehicle for John Wayne that, alas, never saw the light of day. Collins adapted the script for novelization, which was published as THE LEGEND OF CALEB YORK. THE BIG SHOWDOWN is a more than welcome continuation of that series.
"...a smooth, quick-reading experience that is nonetheless full of substance and action. Collins brings his 'A' game to the proceedings, and the result is, as they used to say, a ripsnorter."
While there are some similarities between York and Hammer, the two men aren’t entirely alike. York is a lawman, while Hammer works his own side of the street, sometimes in tandem with law enforcement but oftentimes not. Hammer is what might be referred to as a bit of a womanizer, while York has a genteel, almost knightly moral code that bespeaks a strict upbringing. What the two do have in common is the ability to unapologetically mete out violence in their own defense and that of others, effectively and terminally, and to solve crimes by utilizing a method that relies on logic and instinct in equal parts. At one point, York notes that part of his job involves being a detective. Just so.
THE BIG SHOWDOWN starts off quietly enough, though it certainly doesn’t stay that way for long. York, having resigned as the sheriff of Trinidad, New Mexico, is waiting for the stagecoach that will take him on the first leg of his journey away from Trinidad --- as well as his sweetheart, Willa Cullen, who, with her father, runs one of the largest cattle ranches in the area --- to take new employment in law enforcement in San Diego, California. The new sheriff is ensconced in York’s old office, and York is having a final, somewhat uncomfortable breakfast with Willa when all hell breaks loose. Three masked gunmen hold up the town bank, and when the dust settles and the smoke clears, two of them are dead by York’s hand. Unfortunately, the new sheriff has been slain as well, and the third robber has escaped with the ill-gotten proceeds of their criminal enterprise. York feels duty-bound to bring the culprit to justice and the money of the townspeople back to the bank, and accordingly delays his trip until he accomplishes this and a new sheriff can be found.
While York is pursuing this course of action, an unlikely savior arrives in the form of Zachary Gauge, who has inherited the land holdings of his cousin, Harry. Gauge appears to be nothing like his notorious cousin, an outlaw sheriff and property owner who held Trinidad under his illegal sway until being dispatched by York in THE LEGEND OF CALEB YORK. He promises to save the financial future of the town and make up for his cousin’s deeds, but York isn’t so sure of his intentions, particularly as they may apply to Willa. Meanwhile, York has to find that money and deal with a band of outlaw siblings who are headed to Trinidad to seek vengeance on the sheriff. It looks like the big showdown is coming, and it will be a while before York leaves Trinidad...that is, if he gets to leave at all.
Those who enjoy westerns will find much to love here, while others who might be unfamiliar with the genre but are fans of mysteries and thrillers should give THE BIG SHOWDOWN a shot as well. It is a smooth, quick-reading experience that is nonetheless full of substance and action. Collins brings his “A” game to the proceedings, and the result is, as they used to say, a ripsnorter.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 29, 2016