I do not usually read Westerns but looked for Appaloosa after seeing the excellent movie starring Ed Harris (also the director) and Viggo Mortenson. I was surprised to find the book was written by Robert B. Parker, who I only know from the Spencer and Jesse Stone mysteries.
Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch clean up towns. The businessmen of Appaloosa hire them after the sheriff is murdered at Randall Bragg’s ranch when he goes out to arrest some of the hands. Bragg’s hands have been flagrantly breaking the law and terrorizing the town–taking merchandise without paying, assaulting women, and murdering men.
Cole works from a strict sense of law and duty, although he does it his way. He sets the laws in his towns and others must follow them or suffer the consequences. Hitch loyally backs up Cole.
Hitch and Cole get the town under control quickly, but the only witness to the sheriff’s murder, Deputy Whitfield, ran away after the shooting. However, under Cole and Hitch, the town feels safe enough for Whitfield to volunteer to testify against Bragg. Now Cole and Hitch must arrest Bragg and at the same time keep their witness safe.
In the meantime, an attractive widow named Mrs. French arrives in town and latches onto Cole, who is a bit naive when it comes to women. Hitch is skeptical of her, but after awhile, it looks like Cole may be planning to settle down.
The novel is full of action, but it stands out because of the friendship between Cole and Hitch and Parker’s ability to create distinctive characters using laconic dialogue and a bare minimum of description. And Parker has not omitted a twinkle of humor, such as when Cole marvels that Mrs. French takes a bath every single day. Although Appaloosa sounds like a traditional Western, it is unusual, especially in its denoument. I found it to be a quick, appealing read.