By Tom Walker
Denver Post Books Editor
INCIDENT AT TWENTY-MILE
St. Martin's, $24.95
Oct. 11 - In the early 1980s an author writing under the name of Trevanian had an uncanny run of success. His "Shibumi,'' "The Eiger Sanction'' and "The Loo Sanction'' were runaway best sellers. Along with a couple of other titles, they sold more than 5 million copies. Then nothing, at least under that name.
After 15 years of writing under other assumed names, Trevanian is back, this time with a western, "Incident at Twenty-Mile.'' Maybe he needs the money.
While the story is taut, with fine characterizations and a page-turning story line, as a western novel it won't take anyone's mind off "Lonesome Dove.'' The scope just isn't there.
But that's not to say the book is bad. On the contrary, it's a fun read. It's peopled with a solid cast of characters - the kid who is too good to be true; the hooker with a heart of gold; the sickly pimp; the lovable old shopkeeper and his daughter; two curmudgeons who run the livery stable; a very, very bad guy who spouts phony Bible verses; and the villain's two slimy henchmen. Oh, and let's not forget the hypocritical preacher who is too fond of demon rum and fallen women.
It's at the turn of the century in Twenty-Mile, a small Wyoming town just down the hill from a silver mine. During the week there are only a handful of residents, but on the weekends all hell breaks loose when the miners come down from the mine to drink and cavort with "painted ladies.''
A kid wanders into town looking for work. With so few full-time residents, work is scarce, but Matthew insinuates himself into nearly everyone else's lives by performing thankless chores for little money. He's something of a mystery, showing up out of nowhere with a massive shotgun, a glib tongue and a penchant for dime novels.
While Matthew is settling into Twenty-Mile, a creepy murderer named Lieder has escaped from territorial prison and is working his way toward Twenty-Mile with an eye toward robbing the silver mine.
Lieder is one nasty guy. He considers himself a patriot whose duty is to foment revolution against the hordes of immigrants coming to America. He's a smooth-talker who likes to make up Bible verses, like "... for he who tempts a man to violence is himself guilty of that violence ... Paul to the Chippe was: 7,13. I'm sure you're familiar with the passage.''
When he's not making up these verses, he's devising ways to kill or torture people. He's quite ingenious.
After Lieder spends some time terrorizing the town and killing several people, there's a climax, which, while it doesn't quite live up to the book's billing as "one of the greatest showdowns in literature,'' is tense and ultimately fulfilling.
What Trevanian has done with "Incident at Twenty-Mile'' is turn in another solid thriller like his earlier "Sanction'' books, only this one is set in the Wild West. The book has his trademark wit and lively writing, but the genre of the western hasn't found a new, exciting voice.
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