Grit, outlaw-cowboy justice, and blood, lots of blood; these phrases come to mind when discussing Robert Dean’s novel The Red Seven, following the tale of a cowboy bounty hunter on a hunt for vengeance. After the brutal mutilation and murder of his family—the Masterson clan—the renegade known as “The Ghost” saddles his faithful mount and rides in search of the outlaw gang, The Red Seven, responsible for this tragedy. Across the Texas plains, through the hills of Arkansas, and the wild terrain of Colorado and New Mexico, The Ghost hunts the seven that have done him injustice and brings them to meet their maker.
Dean’s novel holds many of the typical traits that involve the cowboy persona: a rogue is wronged, so he sets off to right this wrong, and does it with the business end of a gun. However, it is these classic traits that seem lost on other modern Western fictions today. Dean brings these back with a flourish and a tip of his hat as a salute to traditional Western tales in this harrowing account of love, loss, and smoking gun barrels. It is truly refreshing to experience something so timeless. Dean’s work is not only an interesting tale but also a fight to keep the kindred spirit of the American cowboy alive for present and future generations.
One of the strongest points of the novel comes from the scenery and description of the landscapes that are represented throughout. We do not simply read The Red Seven: We travel back in time to the places where outlaws roamed, where drink was cheap and disputes were settled with bullets. We ride through the sprawling streets of the New Orleans’ French District, the mountainous Ozark foothills of Arkansas, and the dusty streets of Texas and New Mexico. The visuals within the work are clear and distinct. Dean is not only a writer, but also a painter with words. Description is rich and the colors are vibrant and gruesome from the first page to the last sentence of the epilogue.
Dean doesn’t wear out the same, tired settings many Old West novels do. Instead we see new areas such as Arkansas, New Orleans, or even some of the larger cities of the Midwest. This tactic brings a fresh light to these tales and keeps us entertained with new scenery that is just as, if not more so, vibrant than the typical Western. Likewise, The Ghost can be compared to the gunslingers portrayed by John Wayne and the brash, no nonsense attitude of characters such as Walter Longmire. The Ghost’s quest is similar of these known cowboys, yet refreshing. Dean shows both a dark side and a caring nature that truly makes the character believable while really making us sympathize with his plight and the hands he was dealt in life. The Ghost is not a mindless killer out for blood and money. He is a human being that, while famous for his kill-them-all attitude when it comes to bringing criminals, has a lighter, caring side. The Ghost is dark and mysterious, but holds to beliefs that ground him to his humanity. His edges are rough, but he is a character that sticks with you long after the book is closed.
Even the outlaw seven brim with a new light. The gang members of The Red Seven are diverse in their expertise and personalities. They each represent a different sort of evil and roll into one nasty group that is not to be trifled with. Dean invents these men with a purpose of hatred, while instilling some qualities that let us know they are villains, but they are still people. The redeeming qualities might be few and far between, but they operate independently within the story.
The Red Seven is a shining example as to why Western novels are still alive and well. The characters are relatable and fantastical all at once, and each page will take you on a trip across a grand American countryside. The language within is eloquent, but easy to read and moves you through the story with a quick ease that will leave you wanting more. If you enjoy strong tales of heroism, The Red Seven is a must-read that will have you laughing, cursing, and itching to saddle a horse and ride through the rolling plains of that untamed West.
The Red Seven, by Robert Dean. Weird West Books, January 2016. 210 pages. $9.95, paper.
C.F. Lindsey is an MA candidate in Fiction at Northern Michigan University. He hails from Arkansas and lives in Marquette with his wife and two dogs.