Gunsmoke in Kansas (1988)
Author: H.J. Watson (Hazel Juanita Watson)
Bluejay and Knife (aka James Joseph Blue and Harry Blayde) are on their way to California after the Civil War to seek their fortunes. Both former soldiers in the Union army, Bluejay is a farm boy from Kansas, and Knife was a college-educated lawyer from Pennsylvania, which made their friendship unusual but also unusually strong. Their adventure West seems to be going well when they are in the wrong place at the wrong time—Swampus, Kansas—right after a bank is robbed. When the sheriff rounds up a posse to hunt the gang of robbers, Bluejay and Knife, who only wanted to find the nearest train station out of town, unwittingly end up pursuing the bad guys. The robbery turns out to be part of a more complex criminal plan by an unlikely mastermind who plans to blame it all on the slapdash Jinkins gang. Eventually Bluejay and Knife are made deputy US marshals who survive a fire, bar brawls, gunfights and numerous attempts on their lives to beat the bad guys and make Junction City a safe place once again.
Geographical Setting: Kansas
Time Period: 1867
This is a fast-paced, character-driven story of good guys vs. bad guys where, of course, the good guys win and get the girl. The story has qualities of a mystery set in the old west of the post-Civil War era: Bluejay and Knife must unravel the truth behind some unscrupulous bankers, sheriffs, soldiers and outlaws to foil an upcoming robbery of gold bars from the US Army. The story is told in first-person by Bluejay and has a lighthearted quality, made even more so by the vernacular language author Watson puts in his narrator’s mouth. There are minor love-interests in the form of Jenny Miles and Samantha Taylor, ladies that our heroes meet briefly in Junction City but these relationships are only in the heads of each character. One female character, Mrs. Bartles, wife of a sheriff, is portrayed as intelligent, sympathetic and wise. The significance of one key character is revealed through a flashback Bluejay has about a shocking incident he experiences in the Army. Though it deals with some serious themes, such as murder and Army desertion, it is an ideal book for patrons who want an entertaining read about the old West that is not at all heavy.
Similar Authors: Ernest Haycox, Charles Portis, Jack Curtis, Alan Morris.
Red Flags: None. No profanity, no sex, the usual violence (i.e. gunfighting, brawls) one would expect from a Western.