Book Review: The Man in Black

October 16, 2017

Al Conroy wrote this book and it’s a fun read. The story is fairly common — a small town held under the thumb of a greedy (in this case, two), wealthy, cruel landowner. Town folk are afraid to stand up for themselves until a tall, strong, handy-with-a-gun stranger (Clayburn, no first name) rides into town with his friend, Greco, which adds to the mix because they play off of each other instead of the standard Clint Eastwood “mysterious stranger” approach.

To be clear — I’m not belittling the storyline, I’ve written it myself in one of my Westerns — I’m just saying it’s been done.

To me, two things make this worth reading. First, Conroy does a good job. The writing is crisp and the story moves along at a fast pace, with nary a hitch. Second, he establishes the interesting antagonist (Alex Flood) early, and the scenes where these two trail each other, doing a deadly one-on-one dance, are well worth reading. Conroy spends pages showing how the two men, both excellent at their craft, try to outsmart each other, both aware that only one will leave alive. The way he switches back and forth between Clayburn and Flood so you know what each is thinking and why they’re making the moves they do is a great way to build tension and the scenes strike me as quite realistic.

“The Man in Black” has its love (or sex) interest, the struggling sheriff, the cowering townspeople and the requisite gunfights, but it’s the crisp writing and the chess match between Clayburn and Flood that push this beyond the pedestrian. Enjoy!

Three horseshoes.