Reviewed by Elizabeth White
When a fellow lawman is murdered, Colorado Sheriff Jim Anderson turns to Caleb Dunne to run down the culprit. Caleb’s not a lawman, he’s not even a cowboy or a roustabout. He’s a preacher. And a Mormon one at that. But people seem to respect him, even if they don’t particularly like his Mormon ways, and so Anderson deputizes Caleb:
“Do you solemnly swear to uphold and administer the laws of the State of Colorado?” Anderson said.
“Up to a point,” Caleb said.
And therein lies the rub; man’s law versus God’s law.
Told through the eyes of a mute orphan boy in Caleb’s charge, “Canticle” unfolds as a series of interactions which give the boy the opportunity to contrast the behavior of his “savior” Caleb, who follows the law of God, with those of the people around him, who follow the law of man. From the giddyap you know the two will come into conflict at some point, but when they do it’s actually in a rather unexpected way.
Author Desmond Barry does a nice job setting the tone with a steady undercurrent of tension you know is going to lead nowhere good. He also paints a vivid picture of the western landscape and the people in it, especially when he juxtaposes the vibrant and healthy wives of Dunne with the whores the boy sees as he accompanies Caleb on his hunt for the lawman’s killer.
Having said that, I have to admit when all was said and done this story just didn’t do much for me. It was well written, just not quite what I was expecting from a volume subtitled “Stories of Western Noir.” It was plenty western, no doubt about that, I was just hoping for a little more grit to go with the dust.