CriminOlly thinks: More ambitious than the previous books, the sixth in the Edge series mixes western, war and detective fiction tropes to great effect. 4/5
Title: The Blue, the Grey and the Red | Author: George G Gilman | Series: Edge #6 | Publisher: New English Library | Pages: 128 | Publication date: 1973 | Source: Self-purchased | Content warnings: Yes | Tolerance warning: Yes
The Blue, the Grey and the Red’, book six in the Edge series, is a semi-sequel to the fourth book ‘Killer’s Edge’. Like its predecessor, it splits the action between modern day (for Edge at least) and our anti-hero’s time as a captain in the Union army during the American Civil War. Interestingly, the book had a different title in the US – ‘Red River’. I’ve been scratching my head as to why that might be and the only thing I can think of is that western fans from the southern states might not like being reminded of the Confederacy’s defeat.
It feels a more ambitious book than previous ones, mixing the normal western troops (poker games and saloon shoot outs), with the continuation of Edge’s war story, and a fairly satisfying detective story. In the present day narrative, Edge is arrested for a murder he didn’t commit by a corrupt San Franciscan sheriff and has to rely on the assistance of an honest deputy to get him out of trouble. There’s a bit of 19th century police procedural and an enjoyable courtroom scenes to spice things up a little.
The war story is where most of the series’ trademark brutality is located, with Captain Josiah Hedges and his men up against a ruthless gang of pillaging confederates. Massacres, kidnappings, and an excellent train hijack keep the story moving at breakneck speed.
There’s also the usual does of humour, with it straying into the comically absurd in this book. Gilman delights in throwing in subtle references that make no sense in the context of a western. He covers World War 2, pop songs about San Francisco and even mentions noted feminist Germaine Greer. Spotting these little gags makes the book even more entertaining than it might have been otherwise and displays a playfulness in Gilman’s writing that is quite endearing. His treatment of female and gay characters is far less acceptable, but probably par for the course in this kind of thing.
Jailed for a killing he didn’t commit, Edge’s memory is jogged by the prisoner in the next cell. Where had he met him? Was it after Shiloh?
Travelling back to the bloody days of the Civil War, Edge’s mind takes him to the horrors of Andersonville prison camp, where thousands of Union soldiers died in conditions of indescribable squalor – died of disease, cruelty and starvation.
A follow-up to Edge: Killer’s Breed, this new adventure has all the well-known ingredients of authenticity, action, violence and gallows humour. When the armies in blue meet the armies in grey, the land is tainted with red!
Tolerance Warning: Sexist, homophobic
Content Warning: Racism, homophobia, sexual violence