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Hot Lead, Cold Justice: A Caleb York Western

Review

Hot Lead, Cold Justice: A Caleb York Western

Readers of a certain age who are familiar with Mickey Spillane’s creation of hard-boiled detective Mike Hammer may not immediately think of him as being associated with the western genre. As co-author Max Allan Collins notes in the introduction to his latest release, Spillane created a western character for a screenplay intended for John Wayne. Following Spillane’s death, Collins brought that individual to literary life in THE LEGEND OF CALEB YORK. As with the other titles in the series, HOT LEAD, COLD JUSTICE, which is the fifth installment, is immensely readable and entertaining.

The setup here is that Caleb York is the sheriff of Trinidad, Colorado, a small but rapidly growing cattle town on the Santa Fe Trail. He had acquired quite a reputation before settling in Trinidad, and as a result his past occasionally either catches up with him or comes to town by happenstance. Luke “Burn ’Em” Burnham rides on the down-low with a group of outlaws intending to put York down for good as the first step in an audacious plan to rob a large bank in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and escape across the Mexican border.

"...immensely readable and entertaining.... Collins, who is a master of any theme he chooses to brand, demonstrates his considerable talents here in a manner that removes any doubt as to the continuing viability of frontier fiction."

The assassination of York has an element of the personal to it, as he was previously responsible for Burnham’s arrest and incarceration for a 10-year penitentiary stretch. Burnham ambushes York and puts him out of action, and the book ends. Actually, that isn’t what happens. He does effectuate an ambush but shoots the wrong man.

Thinking that York is gone forever, the crew executes their planned bank robbery with the reluctant support of a local merchant, but the heist isn’t all they had thought it would be. They return to Trinidad just as a major snowstorm sweeps across the area, bringing destruction and hampering travel and efforts on both sides of the law. Soon enough, York is aware of who and what he is up against, even as the always-present threat of violence is realized against himself and the citizens of Trinidad. He must battle Burnham and the elements if he is to see another sunrise and ensure that justice is done, even as the plot takes an unexpected turn and one of his most beloved people is put in terrible danger.

Collins has an enviable record as a journeyman author and knows more about creating a suspenseful and action-packed setting than many practitioners of the writing craft laboring in any genre. He uses the first third of this story to set up the pieces on the chessboard while setting it on fire and then describing the results in the remainder of the book. Thriller aficionados are aware that westerns are the granddaddies of the genre, and Collins, who is a master of any theme he chooses to brand, demonstrates his considerable talents here in a manner that removes any doubt as to the continuing viability of frontier fiction.

Those looking for something a bit different from their usual reading fare who want to keep the pages turning need look no further than HOT LEAD, COLD JUSTICE.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 5, 2020

Hot Lead, Cold Justice: A Caleb York Western
by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

  • Publication Date: May 26, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction, Western
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Kensington
  • ISBN-10: 1496716795
  • ISBN-13: 9781496716798