Legendary Western writer Luke Short once gave an up-and-coming Brian Garfield the following advice: “Take out all the Western trappings. Your story should depend on characters and behavior. If it still works after you get rid of the clichés, it’s a story.” Judging from this, I’d wager that Luke Short would have greatly enjoyed Edward A. Grainger’s Adventures of Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles. Grainger’s West isn’t cobbled together from a thesaurus, it doesn’t rely on landscape jargon like “arroyo,” and it certainly doesn’t perpetuate the outdated, one-dimensional mythology that has weighed down the genre for decades and given its true artists an unwarranted bad rep. Grainger writes Westerns the way they were meant to be written: where the sagebrush scenery is a backdrop for hard-hitting human drama; where characters are driven by recognizable—timeless—motivations; where bullets are fired for real reasons, and real people intercept them. There’s nothing coy or clever about Grainger’s West—it’s the real deal, and this collection marks the debut of a powerful new voice.
Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles, the two recurring characters in these seven stories, are US Marshals who stalk the morally ambiguous Old West. As much as they administer justice, they also question it, looking deeper into the violence that people inflict upon one another. In “Miles to Go,” Grainger tackles the issue of racism. Gideon Miles—a black Marshal—risks his life to track down a vicious outlaw while also grappling with his dedication to a law system that values him less because of the color of his skin. He risks his life the same as his white colleagues, but still he isn’t paid as much as them. In “Melanie,” Cash Laramie tries to save a little girl from being physically abused by her father, but discovers that the law is better suited to punishing criminals rather than preventing crimes. Here, Grainger investigates one of the foundational themes of the West: the conflict between a literal written law and a greater moral law that offers no clear right or wrong answers. In both of these stories—the strongest in the collection—Grainger is addressing crimes that exist outside the scope of one man. These are larger societal issues and, in both cases, the single “villain” is far less dangerous than the world that created him and allowed him to exist. There is a futility to Cash and Miles’ efforts that breaks with the old fashioned tradition of the Western gunman that makes the world right with a quick draw and a solid punch. One gets the feeling they aren’t setting the world right so much as revealing just how corrupt it really is.
If some of the stories in Adventures of Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles seem to blend Western and Noir sensibilities, that’s because Edward A. Grainger is really David Cranmer, the editor behind Beat to a Pulp. Cranmer is following in the footsteps of writers like Ed Gorman, James Reasoner, Harry Whittington, Clifton Adams, and Gil Brewer, who wrote both Western and Noir stories, and were able to seamlessly fuse them together. Those are big steps for a writer to fill, and Cranmer/Grainger proves fully up to the challenge with this, his first book-length collection. There are more Cash and Miles stories already written (some available online, others in print anthologies), and Cranmer has promised that there are more forthcoming. I, for one, am looking forward to the day when Cranmer announces the first full-length Cash and Miles novel. With these stories, he’s already proven himself a unique voice in the Western genre with a fresh, modern perspective on the past, and who can carry on the best aspects of the genre’s tradition without repeating what has already been accomplished. But, as these stories show, there is much more about the past that has yet to be written.