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 moir 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, breathless action, and a substance as gritty and blood-soaked as the puddle beneath a hanged man. Scoop some up and enjoy.
©, 2013, Jerry Wheeler