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cavalry man: powder keg
13 November 2006
Ed Gorman's new novel Cavalry Man: Powder Keg beckoned to me off the shelf of my local supermarket, because the series title promised a weathered Civil War veteran sorting out bad men on the postwar frontier. And Gorman delivers. Noah Ford is both hard-bitten veteran and hard-boiled detective, and Powder Keg works creditably as both Western and mystery.
There are no powder kegs in the story, however, and the cover illustration of a shadowy cowboy running for cover from a healthy explosion matches no episode in the book. I guess you really can't judge 'em by the cover. Even metaphorically, the subtitle Powder Keg doesn't work all that well for this tale of a federal agent tracking down the killer of several colleagues. "Once the fuse is lit, the good will die along with the bad," says the cover tagline, but hero Noah Ford is one of the more discriminating of the violent lawmen in genre fiction.
Ford, who made his debut in 2005's Cavalry Man: The Killing Machine, returns in a second installment to mediate as vigorously as possible a feud among three primeval G-men, more intent on murdering one another than in discovering whether or not a wannabe Colorado Robin Hood is responsible for the death of yet another of their fraternity. Very few of these characters return alive, a revelation that, given the cover promise, doesn't seem like much of a spoiler to me.
The actual culprit is well-hidden, though, and Noah Ford makes an engaging first-person narrator. His one original feature is his job: Ford specializes "in weapons threats – new technology, better explosives, more modern delivery systems, things like that" (4). As it happens, in this tale (set in 1883), he meets no delivery system more modern than a repeating rifle. Nevertheless, Ford seems to be a 19th-century anti-terrorist expert, someone who at least potentially uses technology in addition to his fists and his manly charms to fight techno-threats to national security.
Noah Ford comes across as a hero who can defend the federal government and maintain a steely Western outsider persona at the same time. The 21st-century Department of Homeland Security needs just such heroes, but for the moment we must make do with anachronistic invented ones.
Gorman, Ed. Cavalry Man: Powder keg. New York: HarperTorch, 2006.