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.
BITS reviews of Robert J. Conley’s novels
The Saga of Henry Starr (1989) with interview
Image credits: Wikimedia Commons
Coming up: Western movie themes