A Wind of Knives – Ed Kurtz (Snubnose Press)

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Buy it from Amazon.com

I really love Old West historicals. Dale Chase has gotten me
into them with her terrific Western erotica, but other than that I haven’t read
too many other entries in the genre. Enter Ed Kurtz, better known for his
hardboiled noir stuff, who gives this neat tale of revenge a gender twist and
comes up with a gritty winner.

Failing ranch owner Daniel Hays has more to worry about than
his meager harvest. His only ranch hand, Steven Houpe, has just been whipped, lynched
and mutilated by persons unknown. His crime? Being a sodomite in Civil War-era
Texas. Moreover, he was also Hays’s lover, prompting Hays to set off across
Texas for vengeance. He finds friends in unexpected places, but can he find the
satisfaction he seeks?

Kurtz answers this question with the deliciously laconic,
terse dialogue that I always envision cowboys having. In fact, there’s a lot
that’s terse here, but Kurtz packs a helluva lot into this novella. It’s 20,000
well-chosen words that, oddly enough, don’t leave you wanting more. The story
spirals out and pulls back as neatly and tidily as you could possibly want.

Kurtz displays many talents, including one for
characterization. Even minor characters like Mercy, the plains widow who nurses
Hays back to health after a mishap, are presented with such choice detail that
they lodge themselves in your imagination. Kurtz carves these characters out of
the Texas dirt, stands them up against a lawless landscape made even more
perilous as conscription has sucked the male population away, and breathes some
damn fiery life into them.

He doesn’t skimp on plot, either. He drags Hays across the
state and back again, mixing it up with the aforementioned Mercy as well as the
local lawman and his brother, and a gang of Texas Rangers. Kurtz hits the
ground running with Houpe’s hanging and only pauses the pace long enough to let
you breathe before dragging you behind the horses again. But perhaps the most
interesting metaphor here is the ghost coyote Hays encounters along the way, as
elusive and ephemeral as the revenge Hays seeks.

In short, A Wind of Knives is a whirlwind of a read
with great characters, breathelss action, and a substance as gritty and
blood-soaked as the puddle beneath a hanged man. Scoop some up and enjoy.

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©, 2013, Jerry Wheeler

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