This Western novel was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and has been brought back into print by the NYRB Classics. Thank goodness for that as it is a terrific book.
Warlock is the name of a small ficitional mining settlement in the American west. The year is 1880 and this small town has a problem with cowboys, cowboys who like to come in and shoot up the town and its inhabitants. The county sheriff refuses to enforce the law in Warlock as it lies too far from the county seat; the only protection the town has is a deputy which position has been passed on all too often as they either run or are shot dead within a short time of taking it up. Fed up with lawlessness, the town merchants decide to hire a famous gunman as marshal.
This is actually a pretty complex story, involving several main characters. There isn’t really one that stands above the rest. There is Marshal Blaisedell, his gambling friend Tom Morgan, the new Deputy Gannon, and a host of other characters. The interactions between the cast are at times subtle and other times violent. Probably the best element of the book is the complexity of the characters relationships.
At well over 400 pages the novel is fairly lengthy but never feels poorly edited. I found myself beginning to think about how it all might end about half way through, not out of boredom but out of curiosity as to how the several relationships would play out.
This is the second Western I have read this year, the second I have ever read actually. And although I don’t define myself as a fan of Westerns they have both been very good. This one comes in a pretty close second to Blood Meridian. It is not difficult to see why Warlock was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. It’s a novel about honor and dishonor, pride and humility, bravery and cowardice. Is there justice? And must it be obtained at any price? When do you take a stand and when do you turn tail and run? These are old themes, but turned out very well by Mr. Hall with some deep characterization to boot. I suggest this to anyone, Western fans or otherwise.