Read again? Maybe.
"The Loner" is the first in the Edge series.
It's June of 1885. The Civil War is over. Captain Josiah Hedges is a Union officer who comes back home to his Iowa farm to find his younger brother tortured and murdered. He takes the time for a proper burial and heads out to demolish the men who did it.
This is a straightforward revenge story, and man-o-man is it massive violent! The kid brother--Jamie--is the second to die (the dog was first). The bad guys tie him to an oak tree--all but his right arm, which they secure by long nails hammered between and then bent over the fingers. This brings us to a good line:
"You got four fingers and a thumb on that right hand, boy. You also got another hand and we got lots of nails."
Bad guy has already told Jamie that his big brother ain't comin' home, that he's dead and owed the bad guys money. They've already ransacked the house and barn, stolen most of the horses, and set Jamie up for a little talkin'.
He says there's no money. *BLAM* There goes his thumb.
Now he's too busy screaming to answer properly. *BLAM* there goes his index finger.
One of the other men takes a shot, making a cut on Jamie's cheek. Jamie wets himself.
Then the drunk one tosses his empty whiskey bottle aside, pulls out his pistol, shoots from the hip, and plugs Jamie right between the eyes.
The gang leader blows off the drunk's junk and leaves him there to die.
Then he and the remaining baddies burn the place and high-tail it out of there.
Josiah shows up the next day and buries his little brother. After a preamble about parents and religion, the eulogy is simple, straightforward:
"Rest easy, brother. I'll settle your score. Whoever they are and wherever they run, I'll find them and I'll kill them. I've learned some special ways of killin' people and I'll avenge you good."
They did leave their junkless drunk behind for Hedges to find; he knows these men. They served with him a 'way down South, kickin' Dixie's ass. And he knows pretty much where they're headed.
This sounds promising--you've got the senseless murder, greedy outlaws, and a reason for revenge. But much of the rest of the book seems to be written with an eye toward getting Edge into situations where he kills someone: a fake preacher, a nervous kid, a dancing girl. We find out he's half-Mexican when he educates a sheriff in race relations. He doesn't kill everyone he meets, but he spends so much time glowering that Clint Eastwood should sue for infringement.
Another great exchange:
"You wouldn't shoot an unarmed man!"
Edge: "They're the easiest kind to kill."
Gilman's style is adequate, if clunky and wordy and irritatingly passive in voice, but we're not talking Shakespearean sonnets or flowing streams of prose, here. This book and its brothers are about men who need killin', and the man who kills 'em. There's not really much character development. Edge is homicidal right out of the box and all the other people are just sketches from Central Casting. No twists in the plot, either--Edge goes to [blank], he encounters [blank], he kills [blank], he leaves [blank]. Then he travels a chapter or two to reach the next [blank]. Everything's a straight line, and it's not like that's a bad thing. I do hope that Gilman develops the character in the later books. If not, there's not really much point in writing more books.