A few years back, I became obsessed with reading self-published Neo-Noir and Southern Noir stories. These short stories and novellas were the backbone of my reading for a few years and the gritty, minimalist writing style really appealed to me. The stories didn’t waste time with too much world building nor exposition instead they just told the story they wanted to tell in the quickest and simplest method.
As I began researching Noir as a genre, I ran across a small byline that mentioned a Noir Western booked titled .44. It was described as dark, brooding, and even featured a downbeat ending which seemed uncharacteristic of most Western books written around 1953 when .44 was published. I as able to locate a Kindle copy for just a few dollars and I decided to give it a read.
.44 tells the story of Dan Harland, a reluctant hired gun whose latest contract is for a man named Lancaster. Upon approaching Lancaster, Harland is outdrawed, yet Lancaster allows Harland to gun him down. Harland is unable to shake the image of being outdrawn so he begins an investigation to find out who Lancaster was and why he would possibly let him kill him.
It’s not an overly complex story and you could easily see this same story being used for a upset hit man in modern times or a detective down on his luck. The story is short and follows the same beats a typical detective story from the time may have, with various twists and turns as information is uncovered.
Our protagonist is not an honorable man, nor necessary a likeable man. He’s flawed as is everyone in the entire story, a common trait of Noir. Lambert seems to have a way to make up for all the bad that he has done in his life by getting to the bottom of why Lancaster wanted to die and who hired him to kill him. Something is obviously off in the arrangement and Lambert feels like maybe figuring out this mystery might resolve him of some of his guilt for the life that he’s led.
Of course, I won’t ruin where the book goes, but Dan’s quest leads him to a few Western towns where Lancaster was from and by people who knew him. Dan’s reputation proceeds him and that causes him some difficulties along the way.
I enjoyed my time reading .44, but had it been longer I doubt I would have finished it. It’s one of those easy books to read, but you just need to be in the mood for a depressing story. There’s nothing to cheer or celebrate in this tale.
Don’t ever let me hear you say again that you want to kill. I know what it’s like. It isn’t the killings that you detest that are bad. It’s the ones that you enjoy.