Tell Cotten’s The Confessions of a Gunfighter is nearly pastiche, a well-crafted story not only in the tradition of Max Brand and Louis L’Amour, but one that could have been published in their era.
Rondo Landon is a good boy forced to go bad who is fighting to redeem himself. It started when he and his family were forced off their Texas farm by union soldiers during reconstruction. Rondo is driven into the arms of an outlaw gang by events I won’t go into here so as not to spoil the story for future readers. Suffice it to say he discovers he has extraordinary talents with a six-shooter. He works hard to hone his skills while he and his outlaw mentor lead their men into a number of robberies over the course of a several years.
What puts Rondo a cut above the other lawbreakers is his conscience. He has rules. He’ll rob the rich or a bank, but he won’t kill. The idea works for a long time, but it can’t go on forever. So, when his mentor turns more savage and a lawman is gunned down, Rondo decides to go straight. It’s not easy. His past follows him in the person of a gang member who hates him and a lawman who wants to jail and/or hang him.
Of course, there’s a girl. The daughter of a rancher with whom he’s taken a job in his effort to join the “straight” world.
It all adds up to a smashing adventure with more than a little philosophy about how codes of honor and morality develop in an environment where honest and stable law enforcement is skimpy and people are forced to formulate their own ad hoc legal systems. It’s also an interesting look at that tumultuous period just after the Civil War when many northerners were set on retribution and weren’t about to let notions of justice get in the way.
Tell Cotten (Such a great name for a western author, that no PR department could have thought it up) has given us a work that is candy and well as meat and potatoes for a fan of westerns (or any other genre), and I hope he’s got others on the way.