Thursday, November 20, 2014

Robert J. Conley, Quitting Time (1989)

This short novel is a curious cross between a standard western and an Agatha Christie murder mystery. The central character, Oliver Colfax, is something of a range detective, with a license to kill, should he be so inclined. But he’s grown weary of the work that has been his livelihood and is looking to retire from being a gunman for hire. It is, as he says, “quitting time.”

Considering a job for a Colorado cattleman who believes he is the victim of rustlers, Colfax travels to a small frontier town, drawn in part by the opportunity to see a touring theater company perform Shakespeare’s bloody tragedy, Titus Andronicus. Agreeing with the cattleman to find out who, if anybody, is rustling his stock, Colfax gets to work and determines before long that a gang of cowboys at a nearby camp are the only likely suspects.

But matters take a sudden turn when the traveling actors begin being brutally murdered. One mystery solved, Colfax begins tying to figure out who has reason to be knocking off thespians. The resolution, though a bit implausible, is an interesting one and calls to mind accounts recorded elsewhere during this period of unexpected behavior from theater patrons not used to stage illusion.

Scene from Titus Andronicus
Colfax is an enjoyably urbane character, if you can get past his history as a contract killer. Having changed his ways, he no longer wishes to be a gun for hire for men wealthy and powerful enough to simply exterminate others who get in their way. 

He likes good whiskey and a hot bath poured for him in his hotel room. He knows how to do business and can skillfully handle an awkward client. Socially progressive, he demands that a black actor be served at a hotel with the same consideration as whites. Meanwhile, his apparent appeal to the opposite sex wins him the welcome interest of one of the actresses in the touring company.

Quitting Time is currently available in paper, audio, and ebook formats at amazon, Barnes&Noble, and AbeBooks. For more of Friday’s Forgotten Books, click on over to Patti Abbott’s blog.

Further reading/viewing:
BITS reviews of Robert J. Conleys novels
The Saga of Henry Starr (1989) with interview

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

Coming up: Western movie themes


  1. Hi Ron,

    Thank you again for all of your reviews which give me big pointers about "something to read next".

    I seem to have lost all of my own picking and choosing 'terms' and at the moment, though I am in the middle of reading two biographies of a Scotsman from the Northern Isles (Orkney) - George Mackay Brown - I also need some lighter reading in the hours when my sleep is constantly broken.

    I tell you what, I just received "Andy Adams' Campfire Tales" through the mail, a book you mentioned not too long ago and your notes sent me searching for it. I bought it through Amazon UK at a real bargain price from a bookseller in Atlanta. I only opened it last night and was immediately lost in another world.

    I have bought many, many books over the past dozen or so years using Amazon, and many of them after reading your reviews and recommendations. I really do appreciate the US booksellers who put their books up there at virtually no more than shipping cost. It is often the only way I can find such books. Many thanks to them, *and* to you for pointing me to the titles.

    Please keep up your good work. Your own striving on as you do, helps maybe weaker persons like myself to try and "come along for the ride". Your posts really do pick me up on many down days.

    Best wishes.

    1. Many years ago I got fascinated with the offshore islands around Britain and came upon George Mackay Brown. His writings made me want to visit the Orkneys, but I had to settle for Guernsey, Coll, and Islay. Glad to hear you are enjoying Andy Adams' Campfire Tales.

  2. This sounds like something I would like, another nice review.

  3. I've always thought Western and mystery stories were a nice mix.

  4. Sounds like a very interesting setting with the actor group. I liked the Bowdrie Mysteries of L'Amour pretty well.

  5. I've heard that mixing a mystery with a western appeals to more people than just a straight western tale. Another nice review, Ron.

  6. Ron, this is a contemporary work of fiction and I seem to have missed it completely. Thanks for the review.