The Tarnished Star, by Jack Martin. Robert Hale, London. 2009.
Black Horse Westerns are not well known in the United States, but it’s strictly a geographic problem. These small, lean hardbacks are the house imprint of Hale Publishing of London and are mostly available only in the United Kingdom. Eventually they are seen in the U.S., but the distribution is still very limited. This is a shame, because the BHW gang, of which I am affiliated with through their online group, are a fine group of very talented writers.
Which brings me to the book The Tarnished Star, written by Gary Dobbs under the pseudonym Jack Martin. Dobbs is no stranger to fiction writing, having already published several short stories in online forums such as Beat to a Pulp and print periodicals , which has earned him a reputation as a fine writer.
The plot is a simple, classic Western one: Sherriff Cole Masters is at odds with a rancher and his worthless son who is accused of murdering a prostitute. Masters is pushed into circumstances in which he ends up not the lawman in pursuit, but the criminal being pursued.
The Tarnished Star will not disappoint those who want a quick read that is lean, suspenseful and is true to the standard Western conventions. All of these qualities total up to a solid Western that is appealing and suitable for anyone’s taste.
But that doesn’t mean that it’s a run-of-the-mill yarn for one important reason: Dobbs’ skill as a writer. For those who like to read the works of new and talented writers, this is the book for you.
Dobbs’ experience as a noir thriller writer is of benefit in The Tarnished Star. He writing has almost a minimalist quality, resulting in a style that is spare and yet nuanced. Dobbs wisely keeps his storyline within a time frame of only a few days and fills his scenes with finely detailed scenes, rich characters and believable dialogue – the latter being one of the hardest skills for a writer of Westerns to master. The result is a book that you can get lost in with scenes filled with strong tension. One feels as if time has stopped, and I could not help but think of the movie High Noon throughout the story.
It’s been a long time since I’ve read a Western that I couldn’t put down – come to think of it, I think the last time was when reading another Black Horse Western, Winter’s War by Matthew Mayo, and a few short stories like A Man Called Horse. The Tarnished Star is now on that list.
I could have used more physical description of the characters, but it’s a minor complaint when considering the entire book and how well it came out. One can only hope that more Cole Masters stories will appear in the BHW line and, more importantly, that Dobbs keeps writing.
The Tarnished Star can be purchased through Amazon.com, Amazon.com.uk, and The Book Depository. (The latter does not charge for shipping to any destination in the world.)
For more information on Gary Dobbs, you can go to his blog, The Tainted Archive.