Pulp works truly fascinate me. Typically, they employ an economy of language to create a whole world fresh on the page, one where right and wrong are easily identified. Authors have no trouble serving up a hero to cheer and a villain worthy of our hissing at; but this doesn’t mean that every tale told is a tale worth telling … if you catch my drift. Origin tales in pulp can be particularly challenging if the lead character – be he a gambler, a drifter, an avenger – are not clearly drawn, clearly defined, and clearly worth being followed.
That said, WITHOUT MERCY is an acceptable first adventure that brings Morgan Kane (nearly) back from the dead; sadly, it just isn’t all that memorable.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Morgan Kane is not having the time of his life. He’s been shot. He’s been thrown from a train. He’s been left for dead. And now he’s understandably angry. Thankfully, he’s been found and nurtured back to good health. When the time is right, he’ll set out after those who did him wrong, and he’ll repay their transgressions against him … without mercy! (See how that works, folks?)
For clarity, WITHOUT MERCY was first published in 1966; and, according to current stats, the entire MORGAN KANE catalogue has become a bit of a reading sensation, apparently dominating the eBooks charts over at iTunes. I’ve also read that there’s some interest in a major motion picture, and, based on the story I read, I can certainly see how that might work to everyone’s benefit. As a product of the 1960’s, it bears a lot of similarities with other pulp-ish and/or hard-boiled titles, though I’d personally say it owes more to pulp reading than it does vintage crime. I’ve only read a handful of Westerns in my life; while this one isn’t my favorite, it’s certainly an entertaining adventure.
The chief struggle I had with WITHOUT MERCY is the overall blandness of its characters. At the start of the tale, Kane is ‘damaged goods’ – he falls prey to a beautiful woman and her dastardly companions – so it goes without saying that maybe he’d be a mind hard to get into. However, as the tale goes on and he recovers, he never rises to the level of ‘bookshelf hero’ that would put him alongside such other memorable creations as Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer or even Ian Fleming’s James Bond. He just isn’t all that interesting – he’s a Texas Ranger, and he doesn’t appear to be “out for blood” despite the fact that he was just left for dead, though Masterson would have you believe that Kane’s on his own mission for vengeance – and neither are those who shot him and threw him off a moving train.
To his credit, Kane starts to come alive as a character in the latter half – he’s well but still wounded by what he’s been through. There’s greater purpose to a man driven to see justice served than there ever is in the set-up for tragedy he suffers; and once Masterson delivers the motivation the book gets much better. Still, that’s a long way to go without much ‘gumption,’ as one of the regulars of Kane’s era might put it.
Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that this edition (dated 2013 on the back cover but might only be a reprinting of a 1971 version) has more than a few typographical errors in it. While I can be forgiving of a few, the more there are the more I am pulled out of the narrative as a reader … and that’s never a good thing. If it were my property, I’d certainly pay it a bit more time and give it more attention to clean up some of those matters first; then it might be worth re-launching an all-new printing in 2016 commemorating its 50th anniversary. But this current version left me a bit wanting.
MORGAN KANE: WITHOUT MERCY is written by Louis Masterson. The book is published by Velocity House Publishing, though Amazon.com lists that there’s a digital version available via WR Films Entertainment Group, Inc. at the low, low price of $3.99, a bargain (indeed) if you can get it.
RECOMMENDED. There’s nothing all that wrong with a quick read like WITHOUT MERCY; it’s just that – so far as this reader is concerned – there’s nothing all that memorable about it, either. The characters all feel a bit bland – even the hero! – and the situation and circumstances are not all that dissimilar to the origins of, say, the Lone Ranger, a true Texas Ranger if there ever was. Still, as a first story, it’s a solid set-up of the character of Morgan Kane and the world he inhabits; I’d definitely be inclined to watch for more down the road, but, based on this tale, I wouldn’t rush to pick one up any time soon.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Velocity House Publishing provided me with a complimentary copy of MORGAN KANE: WITHOUT MERCY by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
Louis Masterson’s Morgan Kane: Without Mercy is traditional Western adventure with Texas rangers, gunslingers, farmers protecting their daughters, railway tracks crossing the wide open spaces, violence, deception and romance. First in the series, it introduces a complex character through immediate action, avoiding long descriptions and backstories. The method works well. Readers are immediately pulled into the mystery of why and how Kane gets cheated at cards. We follow him onto the train … more