This Side of Hell (A Widowmaker Jones Western)

Written by Brett Cogburn
Review by Jean Huets

This Side of Hell is the fourth in Brett Cogburn’s Widowmaker Jones Series. Here, Newt “Widowmaker” Jones joins a posse (mostly good guys) racing another posse (all bad guys) to locate and claim a shipwreck full of treasure submerged, bizarrely, in the California desert.

Western genre lovers won’t have to go far to find a treasure trove of tropes: guns of just about every model and make, high-stakes poker in grungy saloons, horses able to go very, very far without much water let alone food, and a familiar cast: the Judge, the taciturn Native American, the Mexican outlaw, bad guys just itching to rape a woman, including the tough glamour-puss and the spoiled, virginal, Judge’s daughter. True-life artist Frederic Remington plays the role of cheerful, under-estimated Easterner. Our heroes are, as Cogburn puts it, “big men on good horses, violent men with their own strange codes of honor, loners and outcasts, as much by their own choosing as the will of the world.”

Clearly, Cogburn relishes his genre, and he’s as good a writer as his heroes are horsemen. Unlike many westerns, whose plot straight-lines from beginning to end, This Side of Hell takes us on generous detours into the backstories of the characters, good and bad, without getting redemptionist about it. The abundance of eccentric origin tales and Cogburn’s skillful evocation of setting give western lovers a lot more to chomp on than those poor horsies ever get.