THE LONER by J. A. Johnson
J. A. Johnstone’s series The Loner has been around for a while, and has even been on my radar enough that I picked up a couple of books and never got around to reading them. Westerns are one of those genres of choice when I want to simply vege and forget about the world. And maybe every now and again I like to ride off into the Old West that I grew up fantasizing about.
I picked up the first Loner book and settled in for a read, dropping comfortably into the hands of a season writer and an action-filled cantina shootout. At that point, I was pretty much solidly hook, but I have to admit that I initially resented the backtracking to set the story up more solidly. I wanted to keep moving forward.
However, Conrad Browning (who ultimately ends up going by Kid Morgan and the hero of the series) proved pretty interesting on his own. Since I knew what was going to happen to his wife and him, I was glad to see that the pages turned readily and got to that event instead of delaying it.
After the death of his wife, Browning fakes his death, shucks his name, and goes by Kid Morgan, the son of the Drifter, Frank Morgan. Conrad had starred in his father’s Western series as well, so there’s more history to uncover for anyone who hasn’t read those books.
The characters Conrad runs into while pursuing his vengeance tend to be stock characters. Philip Bearpaw is at once mentor, confidant, and comic relief and is a pleasant diversion. Then there’s the doctor’s daughter and the soiled dove, Tamsin, both of whom Conrad seems to develop feelings for in spite of the loss of his wife. Those events seemed kind of confusing to me, because the Loner doesn’t seem to be the typical “adult” Western, and it isn’t the kind of romance driven novel that Louis L’Amour used to write.
But I was happy turning pages and chasing bad guys, ultimately leading up to the showdown with the murderers. I have to admit, I was surprised that the story about who ordered the men to kill Conrad’s wife and leave him alive hasn’t quite been answered in this novel. And, so far, I haven’t found any clues about who that person is. So the book offers a little bit more than the typical Western, and I’m looking forward to getting deeper into the mystery.