The Guns of Retribution by Icy Sedgwick

25th Oct 2011


While those other staples continue to flourish, westerns have faded in recent decades, though literary authors like Larry McMurtry and Cormac McCarthy have helped to redefine the genre, and films like No Country for Old Men have signalled a modest revival.

Brighton’s Pulp Press publishes pocket-sized novellas, designed like paperbacks of old. Their website promises escapist fun, ‘free of intellectual snobbery…featuring vengeance and comeuppance, the more extreme the better.’

The Guns of Retribution is a newly-published western from Pulp Press. Its author, Icy Sedgwick, lives in Newcastle. She is a prolific, web-savvy, cross-genre writer who is also featured in the upcoming For Books’ Sake pulp fiction anthology, Short Stack.

The story is narrated by Sedgwick’s hero, Grey O’Donnell – a gruff bounty hunter with a heart of gold. He is defined by his job, both in his world-view (‘It’s amazin’ what people will you if they think there’s money in it’) and in how others perceive him (‘I kept telling them that I didn’t bring the outlaws to them, that I was trying to take them away, but they always blamed the bounty hunters first’).

Grey returns to his hometown of Retribution, Arizona, in search of an escaped killer – but is thwarted by an old enemy, Jasper Roberts, now a corrupt sheriff.

‘I ain’t crooked,’ Roberts jeers. ‘I’m the law.’ He is vicious, ignorant and immoral, with a sordid past. ‘He didn’t want people to know we had any history,’ Grey comments.

But it is the cowardice of others – ‘the weak men of Retribution’, who turn a blind eye to wrongdoing – which enables dishonest men to flourish.

And for Grey, temptation arrives in the comely form of the state governor’s wife, Madeline Beaufontaine. ‘She couldn’t have been much of a lady,’ he retorts, after she confronts him in a bath-house.

Madeline’s sister, Miss Violet, embodies another western archetype – the modest, demure heroine. However, Sedgwick adds some much-needed grit to her character. ‘I can’t remember the last time I’d seen a girl reading,’ Grey reflects after their first meeting. Violet is smart and spirited, with a strong sense of justice.

The Guns of Retribution is an entertainment, not a revisionist western. Sedgwick is faithful to her genre, adding humour and a subtly modern perspective. This is most notable in the subplot involving Grey’s Apache friend, Mahko. ‘That boy had more honour…than most men,’ Grey comments, ‘and yet he was the one they called a savage.’

Even Grey has his moments of vulnerability. ‘I didn’t mind breaking down,’ he admits, at his lowest ebb. Our hero’s adventures culminate in a grisly showdown, leaving room for a sequel. Sedgwick keeps her eye on the action, but her writing is the real deal, steeped in the legends of the wild, wild west.

A perfect Christmas stocking-filler for the cowgirl (or boy) in your life, The Guns of Retribution is available in paperback for £7.19 or on Kindle at £2.29. For more from Pulp Press and Icy Sedgwick, keep an eye out for our forthcoming pulp fiction collection, Short Stack, coming soon.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended for: Lovers of pulp fiction with an afternoon to spare.

Other recommended reading: Marilyn Durham’s The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing; True Grit by Charles Portis; and another western from Pulp Press, Charles Jackson’s Death of A Dude.

Tara Hanks