The Call of McCall (Five Star Western)

Written by Gregory J. Lalire
Review by K. M. Sandrick

“Call me McCall. No, not Jack McCall. Zach’s the name. Jack’s my younger half-brother… or was.” Thus begins Zach’s reminiscences of notorious Crooked Nose Jack McCall, the man who killed Wild Bill Hickok with a gunshot to the back of the head in Deadwood, Dakota Territory, in August, 1876.

The imaginary Zach (Jack had no brother, though he claimed to have one and blamed Hickok for killing him) is the bastard son of Fat Jack McCall and first learns about his legitimate younger brother at age 16.  Laying low after escaping from the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus with Confederate Col. John Hunt Morgan, Zach meets Jack and the rest of his father’s family. Not long after, Jack latches onto Zach as the two take their chances out West.

The Call of McCall retells the details of Hickok’s killing—the one time he sat with his back to the saloon door, holding his aces and eights dead man’s hand—adding historical depth about the Civil War’s lingering animosities and obstacles faced by men hankering for a new life west of the Mississippi.

Lalire paints a vivid picture of Crooked Nose Jack as a low-down dirty varmint. A veritable Iago, Jack pokes ill feelings and pits adversaries against one another. He steals from Zach, holds grudges, and picks at the psychic scabs from his busted flushes and lost pots at the poker table. Though there’s no love lost when the gallows trapdoor cranks open and the hangman’s noose snaps around Jack’s neck, readers are pulled along by the narrative and want to know what cussed Crooked Nose Jack does next.