Friday, 29 June 2018


Robert Parker wrote four westerns starring Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch, starting with Appaloosa, which was made into an excellent film whose adaptation was co-written, with star Ed Harris, by Robert Knott. Blackjack is Knott's fourth continuation of Parker's series, and probably the best of the bunch.

You can find my reviews of the two of those previous novels here at Irresistible Targets. I wrote before that Knott was restrained a bit by the characterisations built up in the film,
which was a shame because it was Parker's sharp contrast between Hitch's perceptive narration (much like Spenser's first person in the detective novels) and Cole's western silence that delineated the story even more than the characters themselves. This problem continues: Knott lacks Parker's ability to allow Hitch to sketch in quickly the characters of supporting players, a shame in this book because the characters have the potential to be hugely entertaining, particularly Boston Bill Black, a gambler and gunman accused of a brutal murder, Valentine Pell, a gunman with a surprising past, and Daphne Angel, the muse of a great hotel/saloon/casino/brothel going up in Appaloosa.

But what is most problematic is the loss of the edginess in the relationship between Virgil and Allie, which lay at the core of Appaloosa. Allie is the polar opposite of Spenser's Susan. Just as Virgil is love struck but opposed to Spenser in his inability to deal with his obsession with Allie, Allie is incapable of being fully independent, and it's her lack of attachment to Virgil when his presence as anchor is drifting that made her a source of constant tension. Here they seem to have settled into a sort of unsatisfactory domestic bliss--but it also seems pretty clear that Knott is building a future conflict into the story.

Blackjack is actually more of a murder mystery than a western, made more difficult because the murder occured in Denver and there were no witnesses. There are scenes of courtroom drama, and unusual behaviour from the local judge which is never really explained. It's resolution is not quite unexpected, but the motivation and casuality are; they are very modern in their execution. Which also reminds me that there are a number of times when modern discourse interferes with the western setting: I doubt if 'meaningful relationship' or Ms. were part of the 19th century.

Knott keeps the story moving well, introduces a nice, if not fully delineated suporting cast, and gets enough out of the Hitch-Cole dynamic to make Blackjack a diverting, if not compelling, read.

Blackjack by Robert Knott
Putnam, US$9.99, ISBN 9781101982525

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