Many writers of so-called “adult Westerns” – typically, serial novels in which the main character not only exhibits his prowess with a gun but also his skills in bed, the latter scenes depicted with varying degrees of graphicness – have often said that, in terms of plot, their books are nothing more than traditional Westerns with a few almost arbitrarily added sex episodes to satisfy the “adult” part of the equation. Given how many of the authors who write under house names such as Tabor Evans for the Longarm series or Jake Logan for Slocum are also accomplished scribes who publish “non-adult” books under their own name, you could reasonably expect some of these novels to exhibit at least a modicum of quality if.
Longarm and the Golden Eagle Shoot-Out is one of those installments that falls on the “better” side of the spectrum as opposed to the clichéd raunchiness you find in the worst adult Westerns. Like the good Longarms, it delivers a well-written story with tight plotting and plenty of action. Oh, and there’s sex scenes too. Actually, there are probably more of those than usual since this is a “giant edition” episode, which means it boasts a larger page count (250 pages) than the typical series installment (180 pages).
The explanation for all this probably lies in the fact that this particular Longarm was written by James Reasoner. Like many of his Westerns, this novel is heavy on the mystery, each plot twist unveiling a further secret involving its colorful cast of characters. The story opens with Deputy U.S. Marshal Custis Long, a.k.a. Longarm, in Wichita, following the trail of seasoned criminal Felix Gaunt. In spite of having killed over a dozen men in gunfights, Gaunt has only come to the attention of the U.S. government recently, when he attempted to sell diseased cattle to an Indian agency in Wyoming. Busted by a federal employee, the criminal shot him dead and is now on the run.
The stage is set for a typical Longarm manhunt but just when you think you know in which direction the story is going, the author introduces a number of parallel plots. One of these involves Raider, a former Pinkerton operative who also happens to be one of the main characters in the discontinued Doc and Raider series of adult Westerns formerly published by Playboy Press and subsequently by Berkley. Raider is now a blacksmith trying to settle down in Arkansas. Although he has been unsuccessful in finding a woman, he has no intention of going back to his action-filled past behind. As is to be expected, another plot thread involves Raider’s former associate, Doc Weatherbee, who is also retired from the Pinkerton agency and is presently working at his well-to-do brother’s bank in Boston.
Their stories converge in a shooting contest in West Texas, the initiative of big-time rancher Edmund Corrigan. The bored millionaire has decided to find out who is the fastest draw in the West. The prize is a life-sized gold statue of an eagle and if that doesn’t attract enough contestants, the potential of unlimited bragging rights and a larger than life reputation is a srtrong enough magnet for all sorts of miscreants and adventurers. Suffice is to say that neither Longarm nor Raider nor Doc are interested in the trophy nor the glory and yet all three descend on Corrigan’s ranch for reasons of their own.
The author’s taut pacing and solid characterizations do the rest in what is one of the more enjoyable of the recent Longarms. His trademark humor likewise adds a welcome lightheartedness to the story, differentiating it from the insufferable nature of straightforward contemporary “adult” or “erotic” fiction. Take, for example, his depiction of one Chastity Doolittle, whose name “was a condition with which she hadn’t been familiar in a good many years, and when it came to messing a round with men, she didn’t do little; she did a lot.”
Although “giant” novels seem a good idea if only for the fact that you get more pages for a slightly higher price, I am unsure whether this plays well to the series' strengths, one of which is the compact nature of its stories. At times it seems that this novel could have ended a couple of pages earlier and that the protracted chase that that takes place in its final chapters was added more to make this a “giant” edition than to satisfy plot requirements. Similarly, the abrupt introductions of and allusions to characters from other Longarm aventures – namely, the giant edition Longarm and the Outlaw Empress which was also authored by Reasoner – might confuse readers who are not familiar with them and were expecting a standalone title.
If there’s anything I could complain about this thoroughly entertaining novel, it is how the back cover could have been mentioned that Raider and Doc would be featured in the story. Probably not many people remember or even know them, but readers who are familiar with the genre would have certainly appreciated it.