Lead Poisoning by Gary Lovisi from On Dangerous Ground: Stories of Western Noir

On Dangerous Ground Ed Gorman Dave Zeltserman Martin H. Greenberg Cemetery DanceReviewed by Cullen Gallagher

If anyone is carrying the pulp torch today, it is Gary Lovisi. Like a modern day Frank Gruber or Richard Sale (I hope he likes Gruber and Sale, as I mean this as a great compliment), Lovisi can not only write it all, but already has—and in spades! Author, historian, and publisher of Gryphon Books, Lovisi is a triple threat—but also a triple threat to readers everywhere. “Lead Poisoning” shows Lovisi flexing with Western muscles and having a great time spinning a mythological yarn about outlaws, corrupt lawmen, and Indian mystics.

Johnny Blood was just supposed to wait outside and guard the horses while his partners, Tommy Harroway and Big Ride Jenkins, went inside and robbed the bank. But, in true noir fashion, “everything went wrong and I found myself surrounded by angry, scowling, gun-toting town-folk.” It’s been said that in noir, things start bad and only get worse—a lesson that Johnny Blood learns all too well after he get shot in the gut after surrendering to the sheriff. Left for dead, an old Indian rescues Johnny and begins nursing him back to health. At what price, Johnny wonders, an answer he is afraid to find out.

Lovisi has the classic pulp pacing down perfectly—start with guns drawn and blood spilled and go from there, but without ever relinquishing the force and drive of that opening scene. Lovisi packs a lot into 8 pages, including an unexpected twist at the end that exchanges the action-adventure of the opening for a more elegiac finale that reflects upon the mythological foundations of Western lore. “Lead Poisoning” is a terrific story, and a great way to get to know Lovisi’s work if you’re not already familiar with him. And if you are, then you won’t need me to tell you to be sure and check this story out.

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