Crow 6: The Sisters by James W. Marvin (Piccadilly Publishing, 2014. Originally Corgi, 1981)
Time was when Crow found himself in the small town of Howell’s Leap, pursued by a lynch mob angry for his blood. A time when shots rang out from the church tower, and the panic-stricken townspeople sent in the shootist… But the story doesn’t end when Crow discovers crazy Alice and is forced to blow her head off, for she has two sisters - Olga and Marianna. Beautiful and innocent in appearance, the sisters will torture and mutilate for their pleasure. Now they have a motive - to avenge Alice - they’re deadly.
I picked up this PC western on Kindle and read it in a couple of sittings. The print version is not easy to find at a good price, so the 99p Amazon was charging was well worth it.
After arriving in the small town of Howell's Leap, Crow is accused of abducting 14-year old Alice and is almost lynched. Someone begins shooting into the street from a church tower and Crow is given the task of stopping them, the townsfolk assuming that the shooter has Alice as hostage. Crow manages to gain access to the tower and is shocked to discover that it is Alice who is the shooter and is forced to kill her. Alice's death begins her two older sisters quest for revenge against Crow and the priest whom they blame for hiring Crow.
The Crow series was written by Laurence James, and anyone familiar with his work will recognise his style in this fairly routine entry. The violence is graphic and characters verge on the edge of madness, both typical in books by LJ. The local priest is accused by the surviving sisters of sexual abuse, but as they are highly manipulative and sadistic, it is not really clear if he is guilty or not. Alice's shooting from the tower is obviously a veiled reference to real-life shooter Brenda Spencer, and LJ even brings the Boomtown Rats song 'I Don't Like Mondays' into it. I get the feeling that LJ knew someone called Howell, and Howell's Leap was a nod to them....maybe they worked for NEL? There are passing references to Jed Herne and even Elsie Tanner from Coronation Street. Probably there are others that have passed over my head. The sisters Olga and Marianna don't get that much page time, but LJ really does a good job of depicting their savagery hiding behind a veneer of teenage innocence. We don't get to find out what has made them into killers, only the accusation of abuse against the priest. They are, however, memorable characters, perfectly willing to use their feminine charms to manipulate men, then turn against them when the time is right. The setting is unusual for a western as it is the transition of winter into spring, but with lots of snow still on the ground and storms threatening. One of the book's highlights is a fight between Crow and a bear he literally bumps into while on the track of the sisters, with another being the description of Crow finding the ravaged body of the priest. Not a bad entry in the Crow series. It certainly kept my interest right up to the end, and it is short enough to keep a fast pace and not outstay its welcome.