THE SILVER ALIBI by James Reasoner
Years ago, James Reasoner created the character Judge Earl Stark, a U. S. Circuit Judge roaming the Old West who dispensed justice with a courtroom gavel and a rather large LeMat pistol, which fired a shotgun blast as well as nine bullets. Reasoner wrote three well-received books about the judge, the Stark appeared to vanish from the courtroom.
Now Stark is back in a new original novella called The Silver Alibi, and it’s a solid entry in the series. Reasoner starts the story off with an ambush in the middle of the river and quickly learns about two feuding families (the Barretts and the Fryes) and a pair of star-crossed lovers. Things get tense early on, and a murder takes place turn turns the whole situation into a powder keg.
Stark is a likeable character, a real blue collar guy with a solid work ethic. He does due diligence in ferreting out the information on the court case he’s been sent to preside over. The Barretts and the Fryes are battling in the bar rooms and in the court room over a rich silver strike that each mining team uncovered at the same time. They’re currently working the silver vein from each end of the mountain and are due to meet in the middle at some point, at which time everyone in Jackhammer is expecting tensions to go ballistic.
Reasoner keeps the story a full throttle, throwing in just enough historical reference and legal legerdemain to flavor this Western actioner. The plot feels familiar and regular Western readers will settle in quickly with this one, but Reasoner has a few curves to throw as well.
I always enjoy Reasoner’s stories, but now I’m hankering to see another Judge Earl story. The character was made for these episodic adventures with a hint of mystery, and the idea of a judge riding around all over the Old West is a great premise.