This is an anthology with some of the top writers in the mystery field telling stories about the old west in the noir tradition. I was thrilled to be included in this book. It is out of print at the publisher’s, but some copies are still available at Amazon. Because of the other famous writers included, this may become a collector’s item. Here’s the official “product description” from the publisher:
For generations raised on the Saturday afternoon thrills of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, the appearance of the so-called “psychological westerns” of the Forties, Fifties and Sixties came as a surprise. And, to some who didn’t care for them, a shock.
With such films as “Blood on the Moon, Winchester `73,” and “The Naked Spur,” audiences saw characters very much like themselves emotionally. Critics argued the authenticity of some of the history in these films but there was no denying their power. Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch” confirmed, once and for all, that the western had changed forever, psychologically and sometimes politically relevant to our own times.
“On Dangerous Ground” features stories of every kind, all with a western setting, all with darkness at their core. And all with the kind of edge that demonstrates how timeless the form is when used well.
My story “Going Where the Wind Blows” starts on page 97. Be warned, this is, like the others in the anthology, a very dark story.
Excerpt from Going Where the Wind Blows
It wasn’t that she liked whoring. But what else could a gal do? She’d come to San Francisco with a man who promised to marry her right after they arrived. He had the temerity to be shot dead in the lobby of the Occidental Hotel where they were staying, quite properly, in separate rooms.
She’d watched it happen, and the scene ran through her mind over and over again. They’d just descended the grand staircase when a man stepped from behind a pillar in the lobby. He was crouched low, so it was hard to see how tall he was. He wore a red bandana across his nose and mouth. He’d shot Bill twice–once in the stomach, and once in the head–then ran out the front door. The only other person in the lobby was the room clerk. She’d known right away that Bill was dead, but she pretended to try to help him while she checked his pockets. All empty. The clerk stood in shock. No one chased the gunman.
Soon the sheriff arrived, bent over Bill and pronounced him dead. He’d straightened up slowly, looked her up and down, then led her over to a corner of the lobby were they sat facing each other while he questioned her.
He was one of those skinny men who grows a paunch as they get older. She thought he was perhaps forty. He wore scuffed boots, tan pants with gun holster on his worn belt, a blue shirt with no collar, a navy vest, and a cowboy hat rimmed with sweat which he held on his knee as they talked.
“Rita Mae Wilson.”
“You’re new in town. Where you from?”
“Name of the victim was Bill Reynolds. You came to San Francisco with him?”
“Yes. We were going to get married next week.” Rita Mae took an embroidered handkerchief from the cuff of her sleeve and dabbed her eyes. She noticed the sheriff wore a gold wedding band.
He gave her a skeptical look. “What was Mr. Reynolds planning to do in San Francisco?”
ON DANGEROUS GROUND mixes western and noir to perfection. This collection brings together some of the top writers in the field and each one is an adventure into the darkest side of our wild west history as well as the twisted and nasty crevases of the human mind. Whether you’re a fan of westerns or prefer noir for your main course, these stories won’t disappoint you. This book definitely deserves its place on your bookshelf.
I’m a sucker for great first lines, and Jan Christensen’s “Going Where the Wind Blows” begins with this stellar hook: “It wasn’t that she liked whoring. But what else could a gal do?” The voice of her main character, Rita Mae Wilson, is immediately apparent, as are the qualities that will guide her through the story: street-smart resourcefulness, world-weary resilience, and a complete absence of sentimentality—not to mention a sense of humor about the bad hand of cards that life sometimes deals you.
Nothing says Western Noir more than a female bank robber-turned-prostitute, and that’s exactly who Rita Mae is. She came to San Francisco with her man, Bill, to knock over some banks, when he was suddenly shot dead in the lobby of their hotel. He had all their money, and whoever killed him also robbed him. So, the penniless Rita Mae took to turning tricks until she could locate the killer, and their bankroll. But, as in all noir—even out West—finding the truth comes at a price that might not be worth paying.
“Going Where the Wind Blows” is a strong story with a fittingly noir twist waiting for Rita Mae at the end of her journey. What makes the story so compelling is Rita Mae’s voice, which is so clearly defined straight from the get-go. One of my favorite lines is her description of Bill’s unfortunate fate: “He had the temerity to be shot dead in the lobby of the Occidental Hotel where they were staying, quite properly, in separate rooms.” Rita Mae may recognize how bleak her situation is, but she’s never without an appreciation for irony. The narrative is tight and well-constructed, and it’s a sign of the story’s skill that when I finished I wished it had been longer. The plot and character elements are strong enough to support a longer piece or to expand into novella (or more). Here’s hoping that Christensen revisits the life of Rita Mae in the near future.
You may purchase this book here: