"Wild Rose City, Dakota Territory. Eliza and Lily Sowren ran the town with a fist of iron. Eliza tall and bony, Lily short and fat – both tough as nails. On the surface they were both pictures of elderly virtue but beneath something altogether different…As Jed Herne found out when the sisters called on his special talents to protect their silver mine from an unknown gang of thieves and murderers…"
Beautiful Chris Collingwood cover of Jed taking out a young punk.
Jed is skint, sat in a bar down to his last few cents. He's weighing up this telegram requesting his services. There's been a lot of robberies of silver ore at a town down in the Dakotas, and they want him to act as a guard and maybe try to get to the bottom of it all. He's hesitant, as it would mean being in the employ of a) a town council (too much bureaucracy and bullshit) and b) two women (irrational, temperamental etc...don't get him started). But he's broke so he takes the job. The Sowren sisters are the superficially prim and proper rulers of the town, one short and fat, one tall and skinny. They are broadly drawn, grotesque characters straight out a Grimm's fairy tale, and of course, all is not as it seems... Double-crossing, duplicity and sheer bloody murder abound, 'shards of bone', 'brain matter' etc.
Have read a few Hernes now, and I'm definitely a fan. He's not the most distinctive PC hero in some ways - his schtick is, he's a bit old and young wannabes constantly try and test him (and his one liners aren't quite as sharp as Edge's) - but the books read very well and are pretty gruesome, the Laurence James ones more so than the John Harvey's. And this here is an LJ...all the signs are there - a detached, somewhat knowing narrator, torture scenes and nihilstic attitude, exemplified by lines such as "Dying is very easy. The only basic qualification is being alive in the first place"! Perverted sexual obsession and nasty torture scenes could come straight from LJ's 'Witches' series. There's a nervous, heroin-addicted, curly haired mine manager called Robert Zimmerman, one of Laurence's cheeky music references. Herne also refers to Josiah C. Hedges, Caleb Thorn and 'the meanest and coldest son of a bitch Jedediah Herne had ever met', Crow!
This is a great little Western, full of tense and dramatic set-pieces, OTT characters and with no love interest to distract from the action. The finale is very filmic indeed. An excellent couple of hours, well-spent...
Good to read a PC western review here again . I have Herne 1 , 3 , 4 , 7 and 10 myself - in my non EDGE pile ! I wish I could add something to your comments about Herne .. guess I'd better read a few. Till then - you've got another reader of your reviews!
I'm so glad that Noah's got into the Piccadilly Cowboys in such a big way. I'm really looking forward to more reviews. I know there's a lot of respect for Laurence James on this board, much of it for his other work in, well... practically every genre of paperback fiction you can think of, but his westerns have always been special for me. And I know too that Terry Harknett has his own forum, along with the great Mike Linaker, but I've always felt like I should have done more to celebrate his work here (Mike L. will always hold a place of honour at Vault for the 'scorpion' books of course). I hope this section of Vault really comes to life now. Terry, LJ, Mike, the extraordinarily prolific Ken Bulmer, and the too often overlooked Angus Wells and John Harvey, made an incredible contribution between them.
I've got a few Hernes...number 3 is 'The Black Widow', a classic tale of Oedipal relations and heroin addiction. Another LJ but not quite so gruesome. Really filmic though. Also have 'Cross Draw', which is a John Harvey if I remember rightly - in this, Jed shows his compassion for a closeted gay man, seriously. That's one thing that's quite 'nice' about some of these books - there were some quite liberal social attitudes shown, as regards racism and prejudice. Indians are not neccessarily shown as monsters - the 'civilised' being the real animals etc. Saying that, I've only read one Caleb Thorn, and there's absolutely no socially redeeming features there whatsoever as far as I can tell!
The PC Western movement as a whole really does warrant an in-depth analysis, and would make a great book - you could write one just about the puns and cultural references alone. They were mass- market, really popular books that will have shaped a lot of readers' attitudes, in a crafty way. For instance, is there any connection between the punk ethos and the likes of Edge? These books started at the arse-end of 'flower power' and proliferated through the dark 70s and greedy early 80s - maybe the heroes reflected a more cynical society (or maybe I'm being all 'academic' and reading way too much into it...).
Case in point though - anyone remember the classic late 70s Judge Dredd epic (back when 2000AD was good), 'The Cursed Earth'? Looking back on it, it could well have been inspired by the likes of Josiah and them - amoral, hard-ass hero on a quest through the wasteland, picking up wanderers along the way, all of whom of course perish. Cultural nihilism as a backdrop for strikes, 3 day weeks and powercuts, increasing urban tensions etc? I think there's definitely something in all that...or maybe I'm an arty ponce???
Case in point though - anyone remember the classic late 70s Judge Dredd epic (back when 2000AD was good), 'The Cursed Earth'? Looking back on it, it could well have been inspired by the likes of Josiah and them - amoral, hard-ass hero on a quest through the wasteland, picking up wanderers along the way, all of whom of course perish.>.
Way I understand it - DAMNATION ALLEY was the inspiration for CURSED EARTH - but I certainly think that the cutural swing of the time - Punk for instance , fueled 2000AD ( ACTION being the template). It's no coincidence that Spikes Harvey Rotten was Johnny and Sid on a nicked Harley - grenade ear pin included!
2000 also had the series FLESH which had a huge western flavour - kinda VALLEY OF THE GWANGI without morals. In fact thinking back on CURSED EARTH - Satannus the T Rex battles it out at a western style church - *like* the finale of GWANGI - but equally Spaghetti in flavour!
The PC Western movement as a whole really does warrant an in-depth analysis, and would make a great book - you could write one just about the puns and cultural references alone. They were mass- market, really popular books that will have shaped a lot of readers' attitudes, in a crafty way. For instance, is there any connection between the punk ethos and the likes of Edge?
Way I understand it - DAMNATION ALLEY was the inspiration for CURSED EARTH - but I certainly think that the cutural swing of the time - Punk for instance , fueled 2000AD ( ACTION being the template).
Damnation Alley, yes, but there were loads of other references in there too. Like the 'Piccadilly Cowboys' books, 2000AD and Action drew heavily on the films, TV, music and fashions of the time. Even before them, Battle comic featured the unshaven, cheroot-chewing Major Eazy, who seemed to be a combination of the Clint Eastwood/Donald Sutherland characters from Kelly's Heroes (with added James Coburn thrown in), which itself drew on the atmosphere of the 'spaghetti westerns'. Later, Battle also ran a short-lived strip about the ponchoed El Mestizo, who looked like he'd stepped right out of a Sergio Leone film. But if Italian westerns were influencing British writers and comic artists in the seventies, conversely Tiziano Sclavi and Mario Cubbino produced an Edge comic strip in Italy at the same time.
My understanding is that a lot of the attitude found in the early Edge and the subsequent PC western protagonists, came from Laurence James. I think it's probably fair to say that much of this originates from the 60s 'counter-culture'. I don't know about punk but I can't see Lemmy without thinking of Edge (and vice versa).
A couple of years back I did think seriously about trying to write something along the lines of "The Piccadilly Cowboys Story", and Franklin used to post quite regularly with examples of the many cultural references Noah mentions. It'd be a shame if the PC's little bit of history went unrecorded. Back in the day there was even a thriving George G. Gilman Appreciation Society which produced its own magazine. It's easy to forget just how popular the likes of Edge and Adam Steele were.
as i say on the LJ thread, he was very influenced by the counter culture, going back to Beats, and I think that the 'punk' attitude is more about the things that birthed punk. guys like LJ and Jack Adrian were very similar in outlook and background (hell, they even looked a bit similar!). i mention JA because they both had a pulp background, although by the time we're talking about JA was at Fleetway, and writing for the likes of Action under Pat Mills - in fact, he wrote the first, unpublished, Judge Dredd strip.
there was a lot of distopian energy around at the time these books appeared. counter culture people coming to terms with the seventies selling out and getting grim. sci-fi and rock'n'roll crossed over (Moorcock and Hawkwind being prime examples). and even older guys like Terry Harknett, clued in by the likes of LJ and John Harvey, who were friends he worked with regularly, were hip to this.
so with disillusioned hippies sniffing the air in comics and pulp paperbacks, the attitudes coming through are pretty understandable.
Post by franklinmarsh on Sept 29, 2010 12:08:24 GMT
Just read Silver Threads and thoroughly enjoyed it - did you pass this on, Dem? If so, thanks! You've got to hand it to LJ, it's a weird and intriguing tale, almost another non-Western. The sisters are quite hilarious, seeming to communicate almost telepathically at times, and the less slim one's activities in her locked room...well. Horror cliche alert - although Noah mentioned the cellar torture scene, there's also a portrait with the eyes cut out so that Lily can keep an eye or two on Herne. There's comedy (Lily's singing), bloodletting and the incredible destruction of the entire town (straight out of High Plains Drifter?). Oh, and the story briefly features a Doctor called George G Hillman.
I read Silver Threads recently, the only other time being nearly two decades ago. An earlier poster credited it to Laurence James, and while I agree it has his style, I thought it was one of his milder efforts. I couldn't remember much at all about the book, but was a bit surprised it seemed tamer than I was expecting. The sisters are nasty pieces of work, but I thought there would have been more in the way of showing how corrupt and perverted they were beneath their masks of prim respectability. There is the torture scene, but for me LJ didn't take it quite far enough. It was satisfying to see them get their just desserts at the end, but this entry is not one of my favourites.