The Cartoonist by Jon L. Breen from On Dangerous Ground: Stories of Western Noir

On Dangerous Ground Ed Gorman Dave Zeltserman Martin H. Greenberg Cemetery DanceReviewed by Chris Rhatigan

When portrait photographer Terrence Webb goes to talk with the editor of the Adcock City Clarion, he’s there to do more than discuss an ad that was printed upside down. Webb pitches his fiercely satirical cartoons to the editor, which portray Adcock City’s founding father as a greedy and corrupt tyrant.

The editor agrees to print the cartoons. He probably would’ve regretted this decision, as he’s murdered two months later. Many suspect that Benjamin Adcock himself ordered the hit to send a message, but Sheriff Cliff Wimbush doesn’t think so and starts an investigation.

The story reads like a play, with five scenes of dialogue connected by occasional beats of action. Each character possesses a distinct voice and the conversations read naturally. Breen is clearly a consummate professional, and this is balanced, well-executed storytelling.

But this piece never grabbed me. The conflict is understated—probably because not much happens. Most of the story consists of two characters sitting, talking to each other, often launching into monologue. That plus the frequent scene breaks never allowed me to get lost in the fictional dream.

The Cartoonist is a classic, whodunit mystery with an interesting solution and plenty of Western atmosphere. But Breen plays it a bit too conservative for my tastes.

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