Journal Of the Gun Years Hardcover – Dec 1991
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From Publishers Weekly
This nicely executed western takes the form of annotated diaries by legendary gunfighter Clay Halser, first met as a minor hero in the Civil War. The taste of excitement sours upon Halser's return to his bucolic home town, and he is forced to leave in haste after an argument over cards leads to a shooting. In the charming, picaresque tale that follows, Halser plays virtually every archetypal role the Old West has to offer: barman in a cow-town; shotgun-rider on an often-robbed stagecoach; hostler under a sadistic Prussian overseer; unwilling but effective--and ruthless--desperado; no-nonsense, much-beleaguered lawman; and, finally, burnt-out gambler. As Halser moves from one familiar Western town to another, and from one corpse to many, his legend grows. Dime-novels and newspaper articles are written about him, children idolize him, young men challenge him and he begins to rely on his legend to define his identity. Carefully structured set pieces clearly trace Halser's emotional evolution, as he slowly degenerates into a paranoid mess, short-tempered and murderous. The author, who wrote a number of original Twilight Zone episodes, gives his story a credibility and honesty unusual in the genre.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Bored with farm life, young Civil War veteran Clay Halser goes West in 1866 to find adventure and excitement. In his detailed and soul-searching journal (with profanity chastely blanked out), he describes his progress through the Southwest, from common laborer to deadly gunman with a charmed life, operating on both sides of the law. Newspapers run exaggerated stories of his prowess and make him a national legend--an identity he comes to believe himself. From that point, it is a short road to a sorry ending. While this study of the deterioration of a good man is not pleasant, it makes for a very readable novel. A wild Western.
- Sister Avila, Acad. of the Holy Angels, Minneapolis
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Don't expect any overt heroism in this story. Halser is presented as pretty much a victim of circumstances that got caught up in a violent environment that was almost completely out of his control. Yet, since was also an adrenaline junkie, who just couldn't stay on the farm after his experiences in the Civil War, he also eagerly sought out "exciting places"- at first. You see, at first Halser was the sort of man of action who didn't even think of death or danger when threatened- he just automatically reacted. Later on, largely as a result of keeping the journal that this story is based on, he started to reflect on his actions and mortality after the fact. At the height of his legend he simply became numb- he was a walking killing machine doing what was "expected" of him. In his later years, he lived in a state of constant anticipation and frayed nerves. That's a lesson that jumps out at you- a man's nerves will only stand so much in a lifetime- and when they are finally shot you NEVER get your old composure completely back.
This is also an excellent study of 19th century law enforcement. If the right person was caught and punished for a crime it was almost an accident. All that was important was catching somebody (anybody) and hanging (often literally) the crime on them. The average western lawman was often recruited from the criminal element to protect the rich and well connected from people very much like himself. As City Marshall, Halser kept the drunken and violent of his side of the "dead line"- and the decent people didn't even want him or his family on the other side of that line. Otherwise Halser saw to it that no one got too out of hand in the business establishments (usually saloons and whorehouses) on his side of the line- and collected a share of the profits to do so. That's another thing that jumps out at you about Hauser- he never really seemed to have much of a sense of, or pride in, protecting the weak and innocent or upholding justice. It was just a job, or an opportunity to relieve boredom by buffaloing and outdrawing other violent men. It was a chance to build on his reputation and legend- which came back to haunt and hound him in his later years. You see that's all he really had in the end to justify and comfort him, his personal legend- and the vast majority of that was based on circumstances out of his control, exaggerations, and out-right lies.
Clay Halser died in a barroom gunfight a worn out old man- at the age of 31.....