Editor's Note: Although reviews aren't a part of its overall mission, the Michiana Entertainer will run them – on a case by case basis – when the quality of the work merits it. The following book review is offered along those lines.
Let's be honest: the best books split readers down the middle. Anyone can – and all too often, does -- crank out an inoffensive, middle-of-the-road potboiler that doesn't inspire a second thought once you finish it, and ends up gathering dust in some airport gift shop. It's not a pretty sight.
That's not the case with The Red Seven, which marks Robert Dean's first novel – essentially, a Southern Gothic Western driven by one man's desire for revenge.
That figure is The Ghost, a relentless, brooding, black-clad gunslinger and bounty hunter with a penchant for leaving his fugitive targets more dead than alive (“Men looked less like animals through a set of crosshairs”).
The Ghost's world is abruptly shattered after the Red Seven storm his brother's farm, and slaughter him with his family – setting up the conflict that pushes Dean's novel along.
The Ghost responds by stalking his Southwestern stomping grounds, armed with a federal judge's warrant, and one main goal in mind: “He craved catharsis and closure. Wounds of the damned never close easy.”
At first, the Ghost's ticket-punching quest goes simply enough with the quick kills of Red Seven members Danny Boy McKay and “Snake Eyes” Ed Taylor.
Before long, however, the Ghost realizes he's facing no ordinary foe, one that will force him to call on every last drop of cunning – which leads to a final showdown with Charley Warchief, the Red Seven's Native American henchman.
Western fiction, Gothic or not, is often a difficult genre to pull off – if only because the same images pop up so often in books and movies. These stories live or die by atmosphere and characterization, which is how Dean succeeds, where others fall short.
“The Ghost searches for the men who murdered his family in cold blood. One by one, he'll cross their names off their wanted poster and find closure with each crushing bullet.”
These elements live and breathe here through Dean's vivid descriptive powers, which make the reader feel like they're in 19th century America. He spices those images (“blood flowed beneath the pavement in this town”) with flashbacks that shed light on his hero's past history and profession (“Before he was a bounty hunter, the Ghost had a Christian name: he was part of the living world”). The Red Seven's members are equally well-drawn, with each character earning his own chapter – and showdown – with the man breathing down their necks.
Like any good writer, Dean also understands the value of dialogue in advancing his story, as this exchange between the Ghost and a bartender that he's pressing hard for information will demonstrate:
“They call me the Ghost.”
“I ain't even gonna ask why.”
“You're better off.”
At 200 pages, The Red Seven moves with a pace that matches its lead character's grim pursuit of his targets across the plains. Not a word or image feels out of place. The Red Seven's graphic violence may not appeal to every taste, but it's just the right tonic for lovers of dark fiction – because that's how good writing works. Where Dean goes next will be interesting to see.
More Information: Weird West Books (www.weirdwestbooks.com),