Longarm: Deputy U.S. Marshall by Tabor Evans (1978, Jove Books)
Longarm is one of the first adult westerns that came on the scene in the late 1970’s. By the 60’s, the western novel was in a serious popularity decline due to the fading of the western TV show and other factors. I won’t go into what those other factors were, whole books were written on the subject. Even today, it is hard to find a book section with “western” listed, at least in those bookstores that still remain. About ten years after the Euro-western movie proved there was still a market for horse operas, someone decided the genre needed a shot of Spanish fly and the adult western was born.
Suddenly there were series of western novels, which featured square-jawed men who had sexual encounters with their Calamity Janes and where the violence was graphic. These books continued in popularity through the eighties and nineties until most of the series were sent out to the glue factory.
US Deputy Marshal Custis Long, known as “Longarm” by his friends, is sent to a small out of the way town known as Broken Lance to pick up a prisoner. The fugitive is supposed to be Cotton Younger, the lesser brother of the infamous Cole Younger. It’s some years after the Civil War and the reform administration of Rutherford B Hayes wants to project a clean image. Therefore, Longarm must wear his best Stetson hat to meet with his boss, the local federal marshal, to get his assignment. On the way, he shoots it out with a man at a barbershop who wants revenge for some reason. It’s all in a day’s work for Longarm.
As the author describes it:
“The barber shrugged and went to work. He knew the deputy wasn’t a man for small talk in the morning, so he lathered Longarm silently, wondering what he’d missed in the exchange just now. The barber was still stropping his razor when the open doorway suddenly darkened. The youth who’d apparently left for good was back, with the Colt Walker gripped in both hands and his red face twisted with hate.”
Eventually, after his encounter with other people who want to kill him, Longarm arrives at the town of Broken Lance to pick up the prisoner. It should be a neat operation with little fuss as he escorts the fugitive back to the federal courthouse. However, nothing happens the way a reader might expect.
First of all, there are a myriad of other legal representatives who are there to bring in Cotton Younger, including:
A married private detective couple who want the bounty.
A Canadian Mountie who wants Cotton Younger for a crime he committed in the North.
A railroad detective who wants the bounty too.
A sheriff from Missouri.
A federal Calvary officer who wants him for desertion.
And a Canadian Québécois who claims revenge for what Cotton Younger did to his beloved.
The local vigilante committee has Cotton Younger under guard and can’t decide whom to hand him over to, so they start taking bids because the fugitive is worth a lot of money.
But it gets better.
The man whom is under arrest claims not to be Cotton Younger at all. He swears he was passing through and they arrested him by mistake. Although he was caught with the tools of a cattle thief, he still claims to be an innocent man who was about to be hung.
Longarm is forced to solve the mystery using his own sharp abilities and bring the story to a close. Along the way, he beds, in graphic detail, most of the women in the story. The author doesn’t skimp on the details.
I need to point out this novel works on many levels. It works as a western adventure with the tight detail the genre fans expect. It works as mystery novel as Longarm spends most of the book unraveling the case of the unclaimed fugitive. It works as an erotic novel with multiple bedroom encounters between Longarm and many women. Finally, it works as a humor novel with Longarm not afraid to tell everyone what he thinks.
The author shows Longarm’s view of the world in this interchange:
‘“A professional thief who’s done more than one stretch at hard labor. You think I don’t recognize the breed on sight? No man has ever come out of a prison without that whining, self-serving look of injured innocence. So save me the details of your misspent youth. I’ve heard how you were just a poor little war orphan, trying as best he could to make his way in this cruel, cold world he never made. I know how the Missouri Pacific stole your widowed mother’s farm. You’ve told me about the way they framed you for borrowing that first pony to fetch the doctor to your dying little sister’s side. You’ve told me every time I’ve run you in.”
“That’s crazy. You never seen me before!”
“Oh, yes, I have. I’ve seen you come whining and I’ve had it out with you in many a dark alley. The other day I killed you in a barbershop. Sometimes you’re tall, sometimes you’re short, and the features may shift some from time to time. But I always know you when we meet. You always have that innocent, wide-eyed look and that same self-pity in your bullshit. I know you good, old son. Likely better than you know yourself!”’
It’s not hard to see why this series lasted until last year and spanned 436 novels. The only real surprise is that it was canceled in 2015.
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