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Red Sky Lament by Edward Wright
Review by Ernest Lilley
Orion Publishing Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 0752878190
Date: 01 April, 2007 List Price $12.50 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Gumshoe Interview: Edward Wright / Show Official Info /

The third book in John Ray Horn's saga finds him at odds with the politics of the day when the "Red Scare" in Washington reaches Hollywood and anyone with a taint of Communism finds themselves on a blacklist. Blacklist's are nothing new to Horn, who found himself on one after throwing some righteous punches at a studio owner's son who'd lamed the horse he rode to Western B-Movie stardom. Since then he's found odd jobs collecting cash for his ex-sidekick turned gambler and looking into the occasional murder when needed. He's not anxious to get involved in anyone else's troubles, especially political ones, which are alien to his cowboy ways.

About the closest John comes to being a Communist is having a red skinned best friend in Mad Crow, but when Owen Bruder an intellectual scriptwriter is smeared with the red mark, he agrees to look into who might have called in the tip. He doesn't like Owen, an Ayn Randian sort of brooding intellectual, but he doesn't like the fact that Owen was most likely framed either. That might not be quite enough to take the job, but when, Maggie O'Dare, once "Queen of the Serials" and once his gal, asks him he can't refuse.

So, for openers, John has to clear a man he doesn't like in an atmosphere charged with paranoia in a town where scandal is the meat of the media and the bane of studios. As the story unwinds, he finds himself in deeper and deeper as his feelings for Maggie grow stronger, and the man he's supposed to clear is found dead by in a pool, the water stained red with his blood, if not his convictions.

The author rights with the insight and knowledge of human drama that comes naturally to a newspaperman, which he was, and with the understanding of this town, born of his time on the LA Times. I found that confusing at first, since his books have all been published first in the UK, and we're only now getting to read them in the US, and even felt vaguely resentful that a Brit could reveal our political dirty laundry with such keen insight. Of course, when I decided to interview him for Gumshoe (Interview: Edward Wright - John Horn Mysteries) I had to correct those wrong assumptions, but regardless of where he comes from, his stories still have that nagging ring of relevance to today's political climate.

John Ray Horn may be a cowboy at heart, driven by faith in right and wrong, by Hollywood, and life is a complicated place, where it's easy to lose your way. There won't be any simple answers here, and no sunset to ride off into, because this is one of those stories where someone has to take a stand.

My only complaint is that Red Sky Lament is over all too soon, and we'll have to wait until after the author's next book, Damnation Falls, set in the contemporary south, to get back to see what's in store for John Ray Horn.

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