Thursday, September 16, 2010
Farewell to Hitch and Cole
Robert B. Parker's final entry in his "Hitch and Cole" western series is pretty much as satisfying as the previous three books (Appaloosa, Resolution, and Brimstone). It features the same amiable, easygoing, yet somehow still always razor-focused exchanges between the two expert gunmen; several humorous scenes revolving around the quality (or lack thereof) of Cole's woman Allie's cooking; and a few memorable bursts of violence.
One thing that's new this time out is an interesting discussion of politics. Blue-Eyed Devil, among other plot points, features a town lawman who wants to become sheriff, later mayor, and ultimately President of the United States. While it's clear to Hitch and Cole that most of the lawman's actions are geared more toward getting him elected than doing the right thing in a given situation, they concede that sometimes it takes a cold, calculating figure, with a healthy dose of self-interest, to get things done in a town. I enjoyed the complexity of those discussions between Hitch and Cole, who usually see things in more black-and-white terms. The lawman, by the way, eventually becomes the book's main antagonist, when he starts to take things too far in his pursuit of power.
More familiarly, there is also plenty of the usual discussion among the characters about their own codes of honor and those of their enemies, to the point where everyone always knows how everyone else is going to act in any given situation, which somewhat impacts the story's ability to generate suspense. Heck, Cole even feels comfortable and perfectly safe socializing and working with the well-dressed assassin from New Orleans hired to kill him, because he knows the assassin's code of honor will prevent him from making a run at Cole until their present business at hand (the book's main plot throws them together as temporary allies) is concluded. It might have been more fun if Cole had to worry at least a little about working side by side with a guy hired to put a bullet in him.
For better or worse, there are three or four other situations in the book where Hitch, Cole, and even the dandy assassin discuss how certain characters are going to act in a given situation, and, well, that's exactly how those characters do act when the time comes. Mostly it's interesting to see things play out exactly as Hitch and Cole predicted they would, but sometimes I felt the book could have benefitted from more surprises.
When all is said and done, however, Blue-Eyed Devil, with its many scenarios that are both sharply dramatic and wistfully melancholy, is a very entertaining western novel that makes me sad that it's the last installment in Dr. Parker's fine, late-career series.
I actually listened to the unabridged audio recording of Blue-Eyed Devil, downloaded from Audible.com and read by Titus Welliver. I liked Mr. Welliver's approach: he mostly read the story in a dry, understated manner, but knew when to pepper in the emotion and drama. Blue-Eyed Devil is also available on Kindle for $12.99.