The Gallows Land
By Bill Pronzini
I could understand now why my father had always called this kind of country “the gallows land,” unless you met it with strength, and on its own terms, it would kill you just as sure as a hangman’s rope.
Four months after the death of his young wife, Roy Boone drifts west, alone, into the parched and barren desert of the Arizona Territory. Having sold his farm and virtually all his possessions, Roy is a man desperately escaping his own grief. With no real destination, he wanders aimlessly, desiring only solitude and contemplation.
Roy is forced to put aside his sorrow when he stops to beg some water from a lone woman at a beaten-up old ranch house. But Jennifer Todd’s home is not the only thing that is bruised and scarred: Roy’s sympathy is quickly aroused by the black-and-blue marks on her beautiful face, and the seething hatred in her voice when she utters her absent husband’s name.
Not long after he leaves Jennifer’s home, Roy finds that his spare pistol is missing, and when he goes back to retrieve it, he finds Jennifer gone and a man’s body lying face down in the dust.
So begins a kaleidoscopic odyssey across Arizona, as Roy chases down the fleeing Jennifer. But a couple of murderous hoodlums at his own heels put Roy’s life in constant jeopardy. When he finally catches up with Jennifer, and resolves to be her protector, their clashing natures get them into more than one life-and-death scrape. This mysterious woman, who is most certainly a liar, and quite possibly a murderess, rekindles long-buried emotions in Roy, and he vows to stick by her side, whether she wants him there or not.
Bill Pronzini’s story—a disarmingly sophisticated and often moving tale—is full of carefully evoked Western detail, and plenty of high-spirited action. The tumultuous finale aboard a California-bound steamer proves Pronzini to be a welcome addition to the Western-writers’ fold.