Thursday, March 08, 2007

Bitter Ground -- W. R. Burnett

Once upon a time, long, long ago (1958), Knopf published western novels. And they were reviewed in the New York Times, which called Bitter Ground the "best western of the year," according to the blurb on the back of the Bantam paperback edition.

Don't get the idea that Bitter Ground is a "novel of the west" or anything like that. It's a pure powder-burner. A man named Doc and his two cronies ride into San Ygnacio with the idea of taking over the town. The sheriff is Ben Gann, a fast gun, but over the hill, or so Doc believes. The only obstacle to Doc's plan is William Stafford, a young man who's in San Ygnacio to escape from his past, when he was known as "Brazos" and was faster with a gun than anybody. He's hung up his guns, however, and vowed never to strap on a pistol again.

So what do you think? Will Brazos be forced to wear guns again? Will he and Doc have a showdown in the middle of Main Street? You're durned tootin'. This is the good old stuff. Check it out if you ever get the chance.


  1. One of my favorite western movies is Yellow Sky based on a Burnett novel. I've never understood why he is generally regarded as a second-rater. My God his influence on pop culture has been enormous. And he wrote some damned good books. Ed Gorman

  2. This one sounds like the kind I like to relax with. I'll have to see if there's a copy in a paperback store around here.

  3. This one would make a good movie, too, but I don't think it's ever been filmed.

    One of Burnett's last screenwriting jobs was on The Great Escape, a big favorite of mine.

  4. To Benjie, Try I found a copy for 70 cents, plus a few dollars shipping & handling.

  5. Anonymous6:48 PM

    Burnett's great gift was to make each character in his novels unexpected, sympathetic and individual, no matter how trite the plot might seem. Burnett makes Doc, the bad guy in Bitter Ground, admirable and interesting while at the same time reveals him as a man who does not hesitate to have his enemies murdered. We could use more such wordsmiths.