The Savage Gun tells the brutal coming-of-age story of John Savage, a young man who sees his family and closest friends slaughtered by a gang of bandits while working at their gold claim in a place known as Cripple Creek, high in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. The ruthlessness exhibited by the assassins, led by the fierce Oliver Hobbart, steels the protagonist’s determination to avenge his loved ones.
As the story unfolds, John Savage - still called “Johnny” by his reluctant partner and the other survivor of the Cripple Creek massacre, Ben Russell – becomes an unfeeling yet obsessed individual, tracking Hobart’s gang through the wilds of Colorado. It is in these passages that Sherman’s prose shines, as in this rare moment of quiet when John lays to rest after catching up with the first of the killers. John disposes of him remorselessly, burying all shreds of his adolescent innocence for good:
“John slept deep beneath an ocean of soft rain and whispering wind through spruce boughs. He floated through October hills with the sumacs and the maples blazed with a vermillion fire and the oak leaves yellowed and browned in shady hollows and on the ridges where the white-tailed deer nibbled the last of the acorns while gray squirrels chattered on the slopes, their bottle-brush tails flickering nervously as they scurried through the skeletons of fallen leaves like fugitive church mice.”
The young Savage is becoming familiar with his father’s Colt, a finely-crafted weapon whose barrel reads in Spanish: “Ni me saques sin razón. Ni me guardes sin honor” (Do not draw me without reason, nor keep me without honor). The Colt rightfully instills fear in the surviving bandits who are heading for the town of Pueblo to cash in on the looted gold. There, they are to meet with the alluring Mexican cantina owner Rosa Delgado, as John comes to terms with a secret that connects her with both his father and the killer Hobart.
The Savage Gun is an old-fashioned Western with all the necessary elements of high adventure and drama plus a writing style that, while contrasting with contemporary genre writers’ penchant for barebones prose and quick scenes, makes for an engaging read.