Richard Matheson is a remarkably talented writer who’s written novels , short stories, did television(Twilight Zone and a nifty little movie directed by a young Spielberg, Duel), there is no limit to his talents and he’s certainly not forgotten. He’s perhaps best known for his novels I Am Legend(made into three decidedly inferior movies) and The Incredible Shrinking Man(made into a decent fifties movie and I’ve heard scary rumors about an Eddie Murphy remake, though not recently). THE GUN FIGHT is a western and was recommended to me on the Goodreads website. I’d never read any of his westerns before, a fact I’m rectifying as quickly as possible.
John Denton is a retired Texas Ranger who hung up his guns after tracking down a gang of bank robbers who’d killed a teller and seriously wounded another, killing them all three in a shootout. Two of the three were the sons of the third, one hardly more than a boy. It got to Denton and he promised his wife he’d quit, buying a small ranch near Kellville, Texas.
Even after eight years, he’s still a legend to all the young in town.
It started oddly enough when Denton and a hand were working on the ranch and young Robby Coles arrives to confront the ex-ranger about bothering his fiance. Denton doesn’t have any idea what he’s going on about and ends up punching the young man to calm him down.
What had happened is the girl mentioned, sixteen year old Louisa Harper, was trying to make the boy jealous and said Denton had tried to arrange a meeting. That’s all. She DID have harmless fantasies about the handsome Ranger saving her from death on a runaway horse though.
Robby Coles took it all seriously and had the confrontation.
That’s when the gossiping started and, as gossip usually does, grows in the telling. Coles’ father, a proud old man, starts pushing his son to defend his fiance’s honor and Louisa’s old maid aunt wants something done. It seemed both of them were more worried about how it would reflect on them than how it might affect the lives of the two young people.
The more Denton tries to defuse things, the worse they become. Townspeople start to speculate he is a coward. Louisa is too scared of her domineering aunt to tell the truth until too late. Then it’s dismissed as “too late.”
Three days after it started the two men found themselves facing each other in the middle of town, Denton wondering how all this could be happening, Robby scared he was going to die, two really bitter old people watching the outcome.
Here is a tale of allowing vanity, on both sides, to prevail over reason. A really fine western and set to have a new paperback edition in early November(the cover pictured here is for the new book).
It’s quite clear looking at the slip cover how well Matheson is thought of by fellow writers. There are blurbs from the likes of Stephen King, Ed Gorman, Harlan Ellison, Joe R. Lansdale, and Loren D. Estleman. I’m sure he’s thought of as well by us readers.