This is an entertaining anthology of 14 stories about gamblers and gambling in the Old West. Editor Randisi has assembled a notable gathering of western writers, providing an array of storytelling styles and imaginative treatments of the subject. The names of several contributors will be quickly recognized: Johnny Boggs, John D. Nesbitt, Matthew P. Mayo, Nik Morton, and Chuck Tyrell.
To these he has added a story of his own, plus the yarns of two women writers who may be new to some readers: Christine Matthews and Lori Van Pelt.
My favorites of the bunch include Ms. Matthews’ “Odds on a Lawman,” which tells of a succession of sheriffs who each assumes a tenure of service to a frontier town, before dying or disappearing for various reasons, on which the townsmen place bets until the turn of events claims one of them the winner. It’s an amusing and well-written tale that brings its Dickensian cast of characters to entertaining life, while we wait to see the fate that befalls each of the town’s series of sheriffs.
For a colorful portrayal of the daily life and business of a riverboat gambler, Nik Morton brings that world vividly to life in his story, “Hazard.” In “Acey-Deucey,” John D. Nesbitt’s central character is hired by a woman to retrieve an emerald pendant once given to her by a paramour. Finally locating the current owner of the gem, he has to win a game of cards before he can take possession of it.
Randisi’s story, “Horseshoes and Pistols” is so quirky, I kept thinking that it qualified as Twilight Zone material. In it, two men are forced to bet their lives on a game of horseshoes. Matthew Mayo’s “Pay the Ferryman” veers off in another direction, as a man on the run escapes into what might well be called “the heart of darkness.”
My favorite story in the collection was penned by a favorite storyteller, Chuck Tyrell. His “Great Missouri River Steamship Race” evokes a period of river travel from the point of view of a youngster working as a fireman aboard a steamship with a regular route between St. Louis and Fort Benton. Tyrell brings his gifts for characterization, dialogue, and suspense to this story with its echoes of Huckleberry Finn.
Shamelsss plug: For an in-depth survey of early writers of frontier fiction, read How the West Was Written (to obtain acopy, click here).
Image credits: fantasticfiction.co.uk
Coming up: Illustrators of frontier fiction, Frank E. Schoonover