Patrick's Reviews > Shoot First

Shoot First by Ed Gorman
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's review
Dec 12, 11

bookshelves: westerns
Read in December, 2011

The year is 1888, the place is Butte City, Colorado, and four wealthy businessmen find out in this story that what happens in Denver doesn't stay in Denver.

Avuncular sheriff Reed Matthews is fully realized as a humane lawman. Matthews lives alone, respects his deputies, hates court appearances, believes in continuing education, and finds sunsets depressing. Ed Gorman deserves mad props for writing the characters around him with similar skill, and yet this is a hard book to warm up to, let alone recommend.

I'd have liked the story better if it didn't spend so much of itself in what feels like postmodern malaise projected backward into the late nineteenth century. Some malaise seems appropriate, given the nature of the past and present crimes in the story, but some seems forced, as when Gorman burns a few paragraphs telling us that Reed is spiritual but not religious, and a few more paragraphs describing the local minister as a pompous blowhard.

I don't mind westerns with brooding or quirky characters (Loren Estleman has written a few of those), but "Shoot First" pegs the needle over to the "High Plains Drifter" side of the emotional spectrum without having the iconic presence of an in-on-the-joke Clint Eastwood to relieve the gray, or the steely optimism of quirky little Stella in "Silverado" to cheer for.

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