I have to admit that the Wild West and Western books as a whole are not generally speaking my favorite genre. Most are badly written with a weak plot and lots of Gunfight At The OK Coral scenes. Occasionally though, one is released that breaks the mold and genuinely stands out as a great work of fiction. I put The Shopkeeper in that lofty position.

Yes, there is some gun play and killing but that is not at the core of the story. One could almost subtitle this book as The Dollar Mightier Than The Derringer?

James Best has carved out a great yarn, his main character and hero is Steve Dancy, a rich New York businessman who for personal reasons has decided to leave the safety of the big city in search of …? Well he is not quite sure, but he is one of those people that when he sees his quest he will know it.

His wanderings have brought him to Pickhandle Gulch, a ramshackle, rough and tough mining town in Nevada. Steve has no interest in mines nor mining, but it does not take him long to realize that there is big trouble in the town. A sleazy and powerful mine owner effectively owns the district, everyone is in his pocket, either through bribery, or more likely intimidation.  Sean Washburn is not a resident of Pickhandle Gulch but his tentacles are far reaching. It is easy to become rich when you can negotiate with claim owners by using guns and muscle.

Steve Darcy alas finds himself embroiled in the situation when two of Washburn’s henchmen, the Cutler brothers confront him. It is pure intimidation and it does not sit well with Steve Darcy. A second encounter results in the Cutler brothers seeking work somewhere other than in this life!

Of course dispatching the Cutler brothers now means that Washburn has Steve Darcy in his gun sights.

Steve Darcy is not so much a gun-slinger as a businessman man, can he and a half dozen Pinkerton security detail take on the man that runs most of the state? Can economics overcome brawn? Our hero is no-ones fool, the key to success is to hit Washburn where it hurts most, his pocket book. Is Washburn as flush as he seems, or is his empire stretched too thin? As the saying goes, is he stealing from Peter to pay Paul?

To share more of the plot would spoil it. I enjoyed this book a great deal. I do not know much about the author, James Best, but I do know that he has the ability to spin a great yarn. I will share this much, the tale involves banks, mortgages, corrupt politicians, Judges, and law enforcement personnel. In other words, nothing has changed since 1880!

The Wild West has been portrayed in many lights, most of which are pretty inaccurate, a lot like the guns! James Best has found a great balance between the obvious brutality of the times and the need for the west to be tamed. Commerce meets calamity.

The plot and characters are well developed, and the story flows. I started this review stating that Western was not my favorite genre, but The Shopkeeper is a different beast. The only aspect I am a little bothered by is the choice of ‘love interest’ in Jenny, I am not sure that I buy into it. I can understand the rationale of selecting a young girl, but I think it might have made for a stronger character if she had been in her late 20’s rather than 17.  Us damn critics always have to find something to gripe about 🙂

A great book, I do hope that The Shopkeeper gets the readership it richly deserves. I also will be seeking out James Best’s other books. Being a compulsive reader I can not stop at one! I wonder if there is such an organization as Readers Anonymous?

You can order your copy of The Shopkeeper from Amazon.

Simon Barrett

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