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Appaloosa by Robert B. Parker

Appaloosa (2005)

by Robert B. Parker

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch (1)

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Appaloosa is one of the best Western novels that I have read, and Robert Parker’s finest novel. The two principal characters, Virgil Cole and his deputy, Everett Hitch, who narrates the story, are two very well-rounded and likeable characters. Part of the reason that the novel really works is the presence of these two characters. In this story, Cole and Hitch arrive in a new town where the resident bad guy, Randall Bragg, killed the previous marshal and deputy. After they arrest Bragg, he is tried and sentenced to be hanged. This leads up to a climactic gun fight where hired guns are trying to free Bragg. Meanwhile Cole falls for a high maintenance woman that Hitch knows is no good for him. When Bragg returns to town this sets up for a climactic and surprise ending.

There are many things that make Apaloosa work, but what I liked most is the easy going narration style that really complements the mood and content of the novel. The prose is written professionally with few flaws. This is a quickly paced novel packed with plenty of action. Even if you are like me and don’t typically read Westerns, this one is well worth reading.

Carl Alves – author of Blood Street ( )
  Carl_Alves | Oct 9, 2015 |
Robert B. Parker's Appaloosa is the first book in the Cole-Hitch quadrilogy (it's followed by Resolution [2008], Brimstone [2009], and Blue-Eyed Devil [2010], which was published posthumously; a fifth book, Robert B. Parker's Bull River, published on 7 January 2014, was written by Robert Knott, who co-wrote the screenplay adaptation for the 2008 movie with actor / director Ed Harris); it's a western set in the early 1880s about a pair of itinerant lawmen-for-hire ("town tamers" is the term usually applied to them) named Virgil Cole (a borderline psychopath who adheres to written laws -- even if he writes them himself -- to rein in, more or less, his own murderous impulses as much as he does to restore some semblance of law and order to the towns whose sheriff or marshal he serves as) and Everett Hitch. In this installment, they are hired to defend a sleepy copper mining town in the New Mexico Territory named Appaloosa against the ravages of a rancher named Randall Bragg and his gunnies. Complications ensue with the arrival of a widow named Allie French, who secures employment as a piano-player in the saloon of the town's hotel, largely on the strength of her looks; she certainly doesn't obtain employment based on her piano-playing skill.

This is a cookie-cutter premise, but the interest lies in what Parker does with it. Parker's style here is spare and terse, almost laconic to a fault; people who dislike detailed descriptions of scenery, clothing, equipment, and characters' personal histories should rejoice, for they are wholly absent from Appaloosa. Parker's prose here puts one in mind of a bullion cube: everything is distilled down to its bare essence, such that one wishes for some water to thin it a bit in places. You may have to force yourself to slow down a bit so the whole thing doesn't fly by in a dreamlike blur; still, there is no grandiose bloviating about What it Means to be A Man, in the manner of Louis L'Amour, Zane Grey, or Owen Wister, which is a definite plus to my mind. That said, readers who are averse to too much "modernity" in their westerns may want to think twice before reading Appaloosa: though the prose and dialogue can in no way be described as florid (á la the dialogue in HBO's late, lamented Deadwood series), f-bombs (and c-bombs...) are lobbed, bodily functions and anatomical parts are described plainly, even bluntly, and women of easy virtue are not shielded with a variety of genteel euphemisms.

For the reader willing to surrender to Parker's rhythms, Appaloosa does offer better than pulp-fictional pleasures: Everett Hitch is an agreeable first person narrator who harbors few illusions about his own abilities or motives (he prefers work that will allow him the greatest scope for using his gun -- preferably a shotgun -- which is one reason why he resigned his commission in the U.S. Army) who recounts, in a brief flashback, how he met and was pulled into the orbit of Virgil Cole, an almost superhumanly gifted gunfighter who continually picks his way through books -- Clausewitz's On War is a particular favorite -- to improve himself; as a consequence, he is prone to uttering malapropisms as he attempts to use words he has recently learned (many of these pass unremarked by Hitch; it's left to the reader's discretion as to whether Hitch himself is aware of all of them or if, in the manner of one half of an old married couple, he simply elides over much of his partner's speech in the interest of continued accord). There is also some rather pungent and, ultimately, dispiriting symbolism regarding an Appaloosa stud, residing rather far afield from the breed's native range, and his harem of mares. And the climactic showdown in the final chapter is a jaw-dropping exercise sure to take its place in creative writing textbooks as an exemplar of how to write violence, right alongside Fitzgerald's scene of domestic violence in The Great Gatsby.

While I read Appaloosa five years after seeing the movie based on it in the theatre, the book is sufficiently different from the movie -- the points emphasized in the novel are different from those underlined in the film -- that it can be enjoyed on its own merits. The minor drawback of seeing the movie first is that the reader is apt to picture Ed Harris as Virgil Cole, Viggo Mortensen as Everett Hitch, Renée Zellweger as Allie French, and Jeremy Irons as Randall Bragg; this isn't entirely a bad thing, as the actors are mostly well-cast, although I could quibble with how Irons stacks up with the impression of Bragg given in the book, and one could wish for an actress a bit more alluring than Zellweger to play the femme fatale Allie French. (Although the biggest miscasting, to my mind, is of Lance Henriksen as one of Bragg's main gunnies, Ring Shelton: while Henriksen is by no means bad here, he's not a comfortable match for Parker's description of Ring.) The movie omits one instance of Virgil Cole's horrific propensity for violence that casts a long shadow over his character in the novel; I prefer the novel's portrait of Virgil, but the movie is a worthwhile way to spend two hours. (One way in which the movie trumps the book: the song that plays over the end credits, sung by Ed Harris in a style reminiscent of a tanked-to-the-eyeballs Unknown Hinson, "You'll Never Leave My Heart," which essentially sums up the events of the movie, in a salty cowboy fashion; Harris co-wrote this number with his composer, Jeff Beal.) ( )
  uvula_fr_b4 | Feb 2, 2014 |
Parker's writing is atmostpheric and spare. As usual, his male characters live by a code and tend towards introspection. I had a sense of impending doom throughout, perhaps because up to this point my main exposure to westerns was Shane. It was definitely interesting to listen to something in a genre I'm almost completely unfamiliar with, but I think I need to read or listen to more to get a better sense of whether this is more representative of Parker's style or the style of western's in general. Titus Welliver reading style suits both the genre and the book itself. ( )
  JenJ. | Mar 31, 2013 |
Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch are travelling lawmen: they move from town to town, establishing law and order in every place they visit and moving on once the town is ready to handle its marshalling on its own. In this book, they've arrived in the town of Appaloosa, where a rancher named Randall Bragg seemingly runs things with impunity after having killed the previous marshal and a deputy. Cole and Hitch are determined to right this wrong and bring the law back to Appaloosa.

This was a very easy, enjoyable read: exactly what I was looking for. Hitch narrates the story and consistently provides chuckles and shrewd observations. He and Cole are good partners, and their banter is the sort of easygoing, wry banter I come to expect from Westerns. For example, when new girl in town Allie French asks Hitch if Cole is married, he says he doesn't know. Then later, when he recounts the conversation to Cole, Cole asks "Have you ever seen a wife around?" "No." "Then why did you say you didn't know if I was married?" "Well, you might have had a wife in another town." That actually does kind of make sense, given the time period, but it's still amusing.

The story has very even pacing and there's always something happening, meaning you can read a fair amount even in short bursts while commuting. The chapters are short so it's easy to put down in a hurry, but not difficult to saddle up again. This is also the first book in a series of four, but it works very well as a stand-alone if you're not inclined to read the rest. Recommended if you like the sound of the story and want something quick and fun to read in the cowboy genre. ( )
  rabbitprincess | Jan 12, 2013 |


This is a beautifully written book. Its simplicity is astounding. Dialogue led, it is narrated through the words of Everett Hitch who met up with his gun slinging buddy Virgil Cole fifteen years earlier during a shoot out. And shooting it out with rogues, rascals and villains is how they made their living since. Depriving others of any living in order to make a living is for many the way of the world.

I am not a Western fan. I long opted to look down my nose at them. Even in jail as a 16 year old I would cast them to the side as I foraged through the bookshelf that sat in the middle of A Wing Crumlin Road Prison along the wall closest to the main road. Before I made it to my teens I would read Pocomoto but never found the storyline stimulating. In 1982 a jail friend, Pat Livingstone, told me to read JT Edson, but only for a laugh. Big Liv claimed Edson was an English postman who had never been to America in his life and wouldn’t know what a cowboy looked like. Yet, here he was, an accomplished novelist in the Western genre. Seemingly it didn’t take much to make the grade.

I don’t think I took his advice, so never went to the bother of finding anything out about Edson but recall at some point reading a brace of Louis L’Amour books. Apart from allowing me to while away an hour or two they failed to cut the mustard in any real sense. They were hardly books that would have me racing to the cell in anticipation of the night time lock up.

During the blanket protest had Westerns been available I would have read them. Any port in a storm as the saying goes, well apart from the port bible. That was one destination I was not bound for, regardless of the tedium induced by the otherwise total dearth of reading material. I guess the Christians who took such delight in torturing us must have felt that with a literally captive audience in their grasp we would have no option but to read their silly book and stupid mini comics with their graphic depictions of hell. I have succumbed to many wrongs in life but the bible is not amongst them.

In spite of my general aversion to the genre a Western remains one of my all time favourite books, Shane by Jack Schaefer. That remains the unsurpassed Western both on screen and in print.

I had already watched the film Appaloosa featuring Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen and was more than just impressed by it. It is normally reliable advice to never judge a book by its movie, so many films failing to live up to the promise of the book. This is an exception. When my wife suggested I read the book I didn’t hesitate. I began it at Drogheda on a bus on the way to Belfast. By the time I had arrived at Dublin Airport on my return journey I had it finished.

Some readers have cast doubt on the ability of an East Coast Bostonian to write Westerns. In this I am reminded of Michael Manley’s scathing criticism of a Caribbean writer describing snow falling in his face, something he had never experienced. Yet if JT Edson, Big Liv’s English postie, can try his hand then Parker has some claim.

Bragg is the typical bully of the western genre. The quintessential baddie he is to be found in every walk of life. His men shoot dead a townsman and rape the victim’s wife. The sheriff is shot dead by Bragg investigating. Cole and Hitch are hired to bring Bragg in. There is a sense that both Cole and Hitch fit one of Orwell’s characterisations of people: they want to be good but not too good and not all the time.

Cole, in love with the promiscuous Allie French, is concerned at her waywardness but never so concerned as to be distracted or have his deadly aim diverted. Bragg’s fatal mistake might have been less in shooting the sheriff but in jumping into Allie’s bed.

Even if the end is somewhat predictable the real joy of this is to be acquired from simply reading the plot.

Robert B Parker, 2010, Appaloosa. Corvus: UK. ISBN-13: 978-1848873438 ( )
  Susini | Jan 3, 2013 |
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Welliver, TitusNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0425204324, Mass Market Paperback)

When Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch arrive in Appaloosa, they find a town suffering at the hands of a renegade rancher who’s already left the city marshal and one of his deputies dead. Cole and Hitch are used to cleaning up after scavengers, but this one raises the stakes by playing not with the rules—but with emotion.

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When Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch arrive in Appaloosa, they find a small, dusty town suffering at the hands of renegade rancher Randall Bragg, a man who has so little regard for the law that he has taken supplies, horses, and women for his own and left the city marshal and one of his deputies for dead. Cole and Hitch, itinerant lawmen, are used to cleaning up after opportunistic thieves, but in Bragg they find an unusually wily adversary-one who raises the stakes by playing not with the rules, but with emotions.… (more)

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