Book Review: The Guns of Retribution

I haven’t always loved Westerns.

When I was younger, I thought they were boring, except for the shoot-outs. But my Dad and my brother loved them. In fact, Westerns written by Louis L’Amour were the only books my brother read. Between him and our sister, they had pretty much all of Louis L’Amour’s books. Through them, I heard about The Sackett brothers, and grew to like names like “Orin” and “Tell”, to name a few. It all sounded pretty cool, but I was into Stephen King at the time.

Being a movie buff, I had more patience with Western movies. From the slapstick, spaghetti westerns “They Call me Trinity” and “Trinity is Still My Name”, to the post modern Sam Raimi classic “The Quick and the Dead”, to true classics like “The Searchers”, and The Man With No Name trilogy.

But it took a fellow writer’s original Western, “The Guns of Retribution”, for me to finally read a Western.

Written by Icy Sedgwick, “Guns….” tells the story of Grey O’Donnell, a typical tough-guy of the Old West. Together with his young protegé, Billy Cole, and his silent, loyal, childhood friend, and Apache Native American Mahko, they are bounty hunters, literally waiting for a train. On that train is their next payday.

But, like any good story, things don’t go as smoothly as planned, especially when a man from Grey’s past turns up as Sheriff of their shared hometown, Retribution. To say there’s bad blood between Grey and Sheriff Jasper Roberts is an understatement. Although Grey and his posse escape their initial run-in with Sheriff Roberts, you just know it won’t be the last. Soon, Grey has no choice to face his past, one that includes family, a lost love, and revenge.

There isn’t really anything new with “The Guns of Retribution”. But if you love Westerns, then sometimes, the best stories are the ones that we know and want to hear again and again. It doesn’t have the details and depth of the true classics, but any fan of the Western genre will easily slip into the feel of the story.

Grey O’Donnell is a classic Western tough-guy archetype. He’s the tough, fair, handsome stranger that brings out the best of his posse. Billy is the young, hot-head, but he doesn’t come across as stupid or foolhardy, which is a relief. Instead of charging off half-cocked, he’s loyal,  and smart enough to help get Grey out of a jam a couple of times. Mahko is a silent partner to Grey and Billy. He has a shared past with Grey, one that is brutal and terrible, like many stories about interactions with settlers and Native Americans. As the story goes, and we learn more about Retribution, Mahko’s tribe, how he and Grey came together, and just who Jasper Roberts is. Like Grey, no new ground is covered with Roberts. He’s the bad guy. A nasty piece of work that needs to be put in his place. Although typical, he still pushes all the right buttons and makes you cheer even more for Grey to do what needs to be done.

The biggest downside to “The Guns of Retribution” was its length. I wanted more of Billy and especially Mahko! The interplay between them and Grey felt genuine and made them quite likeable. Even though Mahko doesn’t speak throughout the book, his personality shines through, especially when dealing with a lady of a hotel in a nearby town where they hideout. Mahko’s wordless charisma was a simple, but enjoyable high-point.

The book’s brevity is also a good thing. If you want a quick, fun read with some violence, sensuality, and vengeance, you can’t do much better. Icy Sedgwick keeps the pace fast, but not break-neck. She also throws in just enough surprises and revelations to make it a worthwhile read.

My only hope is that we haven’t seen the last of Grey, Billy and Mahko.

As I discovered during my interview with author Icy Sedgwick, there will be more!

Icy Sedgwick: “Very much so. I sometimes write flash stories about Grey to explore how he got to where he is in Guns, but the first draft of the sequel is almost completely finished. Things take a darker turn in the next one and it veers into the territory of the ‘weird Western’, which has really seen a boom lately. It’s a good way to combine genres, and hopefully get people reading Westerns who might normally pass on them.”

Sarcasticus Rex: Having read some of your other fiction, which leans more towards fantasy, how did you end up writing a Western?

IS: “I was asked to. The publisher who originally put Guns out asked me to write a novella in one of about five genres, and the Western was one of them. I’d looked at Westerns during a film studies unit on genre during my degree, and I’d had an idea for a Western character for a while that I wanted to use, but while writing the book Grey O’Donnell ended up becoming someone else entirely.”

SR: As a writer myself, I can understand how characters can take on a life of their own. So how would Grey O’Donnell compare to some of the more iconic western heroes/ characters?

IS: “I don’t really think he does compare. A lot of the Western heroes are gunslingers, renegades or marshals, and Grey is a bounty hunter who fell into the job almost by accident. He’s too much of a drifter to want to be tied by jurisdiction, but he wants to see justice done. That said, he’s not the avenging angel Clint Eastwood type either – if he can bring a man to the court, then he’d much rather do that than execute him on the spot. Grey’s more of a facilitator to bring someone to justice, rather than a judge, jury and executioner.”

SR: I mentioned above some of the Westerns that interested me, and that I’ve enjoyed. What were some of your influences for writing this story?

IS:  I’d say I was influenced far more by cinema than I was by other Western novels. By the point that I was writing, I’d only really read Flashman and the Redskins, and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, but I’d watched far more of the films. I think the older Westerns gave me a feel for the story, while the newer ones helped me to visualise the old West.

SR: How much research was done on the area where the story takes place?

IS:  “I watched a lot of films set in the area, and spent a lot of time on Google Earth getting a feel for the landscape in particular. I also did a lot of research into the history so I could place things like the arrival of the railroad in the right period, and I looked at Apache names to make sure Mahko had a proper Apache name. It might only be a pulp adventure story but I didn’t want the historical details being the flaws that people picked up on. When you write any kind of historical tale, you need to make sure that you’re not including anachronisms, or mistakes, because if someone else reads your book and knows more than you, the mistakes will just shake them out of the story.”

Special Thanks to Icy Sedgwick for her time. “The Guns of Retribution” is available from Amazon or contact the author via her website…


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