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Monday, 9 August 2010

Living on the Edge - Guest blogger Steve M, Western Fiction Review

Steve Mayall, who presides over Western Fiction Review, knows the western genre inside out, particularly the sub-genre of Brit Westerns. He boasts owning a full set of all the books written by that group of writers known as the Piccadilly Cowboys. And so to celebrate the return of the ultimate anti-hero Edge it seemed natural to ask Steve to pen a little appreciation of the character. And so for your entertainment and enlightenment I hand you over to Steve M.

The idealised Westerner lives clean, is respectful to ladies, courteous to his social inferiors and gives his enemies a sporting chance.

Edge is not an idealised Westerner – not in any way at all.

The above is the blurb from the back of the UK edition of the first Edge book, The Loner. For those of us who had grown tired of the black hat verses the white hat style of western, the words on the back of that first book promised something new. And the superb cover painting, with its slightly gritty textures, portraying a long-haired man dressed in black, buzzards circling, whilst a building burned, resembled a still from one of those stylised, violent, spaghetti westerns that this teenager felt offered new life to the western movie, so how could I resist buying this book?

Full of blood and guts this series offered a new and exciting reading experience. The anti-hero had definitely arrived in western fiction. A man who carried a secreted weapon behind his neck; a cutthroat razor he used to devastating effect. A man who enjoyed the thrill of killing, and he sure did a lot of it. But it wasn’t all violence, the savagery was lightened with moments of gallows-humour, usually in the form of one-liners uttered by Edge at the end of every chapter, that would have me laughing – or groaning – out loud.

So eager I became for these books that I’d find myself heading into bookshops at least once a week searching for the next edition to the series. Wanting to read more about this not easy to like, but thoroughly fascinating character who’d have me waiting with baited breath for him to voice the warning about having guns pointed at him.

As the series progressed so other characters made lasting impressions too, like the six troopers who rode with Edge, then known as Captain Josiah Hedges, throughout the Civil War. These stories told in flashbacks that have since proved to be favourites of many an Edge fan. And Elizabeth Day who appeared in three books (#s 9, 10 and 11), the latter of which usually turns up at the top of fans favourite lists, so powerfully shocking was the ending. Then there are the books that offered something that bit different to the western tale, such as a music festival (Edge 21: Rhapsody in Red), the re-birth of Jesus (Edge 28: Eve of Evil), and a man building an ark (Edge 37: Vengeance at Ventura), all this keeping the series fresh and surprising.

Not only did these books offer a new reading experience, then so did the covers, if my memory serves me right, for the Edge books were the first westerns to carry a recognizable hero on them.

Sadly in 1989 the series came to a finish. I remember reading the final conversation in #61: The Rifle, not believing I was understanding right, not ready to believe Edge wouldn’t ride again. Even knowing the series had ended I still found myself in the bookshops scanning the shelves, hoping I was wrong.