Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Ed Gorman, Riders on the Storm

Ed Gorman’s new Sam McCain mystery is set in 1971 and reflects some of the civil turbulence of those Vietnam years as they wash over a small Iowa town. 

Plot. A hawkish Senator is trying to ride a waning tide of patriotic enthusiasm to keep himself in office. But his handpicked candidate for a Congressional seat gets murdered after an altercation with a fellow veteran who has made public his opposition to the war.

That John Kerry-sympathizing vet is quickly suspected of the crime by the new sheriff, and the man’s best friend, McCain, has an uphill battle finding evidence of his innocence.  

Time and tide. Gorman remembers the early 70s well (Janis Joplin is heard on the radio at one point singing “Me and Bobby McGee”). The novel is aptly named for the mournful Doors song, “Riders On the Storm,” which recalls the darkly violent and divided mood of a time marked by the growing national ambivalence about Vietnam. He is also a sharp observer of small-town politics and social distinctions.

The portrayal of women in the novel does much to fix its particular point in social history. Whether wives, lovers, or others, they are mostly untouched by the feminist creeds that came to dominate public discourse about gender roles in the years that followed. Gorman shows them as attractive and sexy, reliant on the men in their lives, homemakers and loving mothers of small children.

Ed Gorman
Two, however, emerge as professional women, one of them McCain’s own girl Friday, bracingly independent and unapologetically resourceful. Another seems able to blend marriage and career, though we don’t learn quite everything a candid review would reveal about her until well after she gets involved in McCain’s attempts to rescue his falsely accused friend.

While Gorman does not necessarily endorse it, there is much of the 1970s indulgence in extramarital sex, booze, and other pastimes that had a generation smugly confident in themselves because they were under 30. But you can feel the earth shifting under McCain’s feet as the 1960s recede into the hazy distance behind him.

Wrapping up. This is an enjoyable novel that has as much fun capturing the time and place of its setting as puzzling over the clues pointing to the solution of the mystery it poses. Whether westerns or crime fiction, you know you’re in good hands with Ed Gorman. I recommend this one.

Riders on the Storm is currently available in print and ebook formats at amazon and Barnes&Noble.

Further reading/viewing:

Image credits:
Author’s photo,

Coming up: Max Evans, Bobby Jack Smith You Dirty Coward!


  1. My wife loved the McCain series and read every one she could get her hands on. They touched something within her.

  2. This is truely a wonderful series. When I picked up the first one sometime last year, I read through the whole lot in a couple of months without reading anything else. I think many of us identify with underdog Sam McCain and that's what gets us hooked as Mr. Wheeler alluded to earlier. To me the other most attractive characteristic of the books is the perfect evocation of another time, of decades gone by. The series starts in the fifties and gradually works its way into the mid to late sixties. Those decades are so well brought to life with so much eye for detail, that it's like watching all the great movies of that time simultaneously: West side story, Rebel without a cause, American Graffiti, Back to the future, In the heat of the night, North by Northwest ... It's all there, the references to music, movies and books of the time. And of course, as can be expected from Ed Gorman, the mysteries are gripping. Great stuff!

  3. Ron, I intend to start on a book or two in the Sam McCain series as soon as I finish the assorted books I'm reading currently. Mr. Gorman's writing style is clear, easily understandable, and engaging, and I'm basing my view on just the one book I have read of his, a western, "The Killing Machine" in the Cavalry Man series. Sometimes one book is all it takes to know how good a writer is. Thanks for the review.

  4. Never been disappointed in a Ed Gorman novel.

  5. Gorman is one of those writers who can do any setting and genre well

  6. I remember the early 70s pretty well myself. And it doesn't get any better than Janis Joplin and, "Me and Bobby McGee." I like Gorman and this looks like another good one.