Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Shotgun, by William Wingate

(hb; 1980)

From the inside flap:

"Baptist's Fire was a stormy little town all along, wtih gunfire from bitter Tennessee feuds spilling down Main Street since the 1890s. It was no place for a city slicker to visit, let alone start buying up, and that's what Mr. Cam seemed to be doing. And by the time some of the townspeople realized what was happening, they were too involved -- or too scared -- to do anything about it.

"Lou's pa didn't like it. Didn't like gassing up Mr. Cam's big black Cadillac and being polite to his bodyguards, and didn't mind saying so to the stranger whose broken-down car had to be pushed into the gas station. His name was Hardacre and that was about the only thing they found out about him, even though he stayed with them while the parts for his car were on order.

"Having Hardacre around made Lou nervous. But the strange thing was that it seemed to make the tough Mr. Cam nervous too, especially when he found out that Hardacre didn't scare. Whether provoked or moving swiftly on his own, the stranger was equally capable with his fists or his gun.

"Who was he? And to whom did he owe alleigance? Perhaps Baptist's Fire would never know, but when the dust had settled -- and Lou's shameful secret was bared -- the town and its inhabitants were changed and shaken."


Wingate employs a structure Jack Schaefer used in his classic -- in the truest sense of the word -- 1949 novel, Shane (which later became a 1953 film), except this time it's a fifteen-year old girl (Elsa Lou Colson), not a young boy (Robert "Bob" Starrett), who narrates the story. The daughter of an ornery gas station owner (Jedemiah "Jed" Colson), "Lou" tells how a stranded, quiet stranger (John Hardacre) refuses to be pushed around by a bullying land baron, who's also an exiled East Coast mafioso (Sam Camazza, aka "Mr. Cam").

The local police, led by a quirky Sheriff, Barton Haskins, aren't any help to Hardacre: they're on Camazza's payroll. So, of course, it's up to Hardacre to make things right -- as much as he can, given the situation.

More than a modern-day knock-off of Schaefer's lean, mean Western, Wingate infuses his characters with complex, relatable personalities, especially "Lou" (who, in comparison to Bob Starrett, is a runaway chatterbox), and the action is vivid and riveting -- especially in the last twenty pages, when I couldn't put the book down, even though I had writing of my own to do.

Solid, singular read, this. Shotgun reads like the bastard mating of Schaefer's Shane and David Morrell's novel First Blood.

Check it out.


Shotgun, retitled Malone, became a loosely-linked theatrical release on May 1, 1987.

Burt Reynolds played Richard Malone (a cinematic stand-in for John Hardacre). Cliff Robertson played Charles Delaney. Kenneth McMillan played Hawkins. Cynthia Gibb played Jo Barlow (a cinematic stand-in for Elsa Lou Colson). Scott Wilson played Paul Barlow (a cinematic stand-in for Jedemiah "Jed" Colson). Lauren Hutton (who also starred in the films Gator and Paternity with Reynolds) played Jamie. Tracey Walter played Calvin Bollard.

Harley Cokeliss directed, from a script by Christopher Frank.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Hey, cool blog. I read with interest your review of Louis L'Amour's West of Dodge, since that's what I'm currently reading. You should check out my blog and let me know what you think!

Keep up the good work!

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