Thursday’s Featured Book is starting today and hopefully continuing on every Thursday for a long time to come, highlighting a different Western book every Thursday. Most of the time, I plan on the books being new releases, and candidly, I will be focusing on books that friends have written. Today is going to be a little bit different, though Mr. Reasoner is a friend!
First, it’s an older book, James Reasoner’s “Redemption Kansas” — and a terrific book. Second, it’s not my review, it’s Tom Simons’. Tom contributed this review to another book I wrote and curated, “52 Weeks • 52 Western Novels,” and the following is his contribution, which was well written and well thought out. Enjoy this and look here tomorrow for the Friday’s Forum Q&A I did with Mr.
Reasoner. Now, to Tom’s work…
“Redemption, Kansas” is a character-driven Western that combines the best elements of the genre — mystery, violence, justice and romance — into a tight paperback original. The novel is a coming-of-age story following a young Texas cowboy named Bill Harvey who is severely injured during a sabotaged cattle drive destined for Dodge City. His crewmates deliver the injured Bill to the mysterious town of Redemption, Kansas — a settlement with a strict “No Texans” rule posted at the town line. After some convincing, Bill is left in the care of the beautiful and feisty shopkeeper’s daughter, who agrees to nurse Bill back to health against the wishes of the sheriff, his deputy and her own father.
During his convalescence, Bill comes to suspect that not everything is as it seems in Redemption. It’s a town of shared secrets begging several questions: Why does a seasoned sheriff choose an obvious thug as his deputy? Who is responsible for the recent assassinations of several local shopkeepers? Why are the townspeople of Redemption financially struggling despite a robust local economy? What secret are the people of Redemption collectively hiding?
The answers to these questions are revealed throughout the novel, interspersed with scenes of explosive action designed to keep Bill from the facts. But over the course of 218 pages, truth is uncovered, romance blossoms and a hero emerges.
Texas pulp fiction aficionado James Reasoner is one of the most prolific authors of genre story writing today. In addition to a deep catalog of Western novels and short stories published under his own name, his backlist features hundreds of books published under house names and pseudonyms. Reasoner’s bibliography includes scores of editions in the long-running adult Westerns “Longarm” and “The Trailsman.” Whereas the adult Western genre featured propulsive gunslinging action interspersed with contractually obligated graphic sex scenes, “Redemption, Kansas” is strictly a PG affair. Being a hardcore James Reasoner fan can be daunting because the odds are against you living long enough to read more than a fraction of his published work. From his early writing of Mike Shayne novellas under the Brett Halliday moniker to his historical fiction of today, Reasoner seems to write books faster than most fans can read them.
For those accustomed to Reasoner’s pulpy and hardboiled style, there is a sweetness to “Redemption, Kansas” that comes as a pleasant departure. While the violent scenes are genuinely explosive, the innocence of Bill Harvey and his blossoming romance with his comely caregiver harken back to simpler times of proper courtships. The novel was followed by two highly regarded sequels, “Redemption: Hunters” (2012) and “Redemption: Trackdown” (2013). Book three of the trilogy left the door open for more editions of the series, but none have yet materialized. However, for a high-output writer like Reasoner, the possibility of revisiting the town of Redemption in the future should not be discounted.
“Redemption, Kansas” began its life as a book proposal Reasoner wrote in the 1990s that didn’t sell at the time. After it languished in the proverbial trunk for nearly two decades, Reasoner blew the dust off the manuscript to fulfill the beginning of a three-book contract with Berkley Books.