Running the law in the small Wyoming town of Govan usually meant collecting taxes and rounding up a few drunks. So Sheriff Darrow and his seemingly ineffectual deputy Hugh Keating might well have been pleased when newcomer Hyde Fetcher announced he was running for sheriff.
But Darrow hated to lose and with the rich and charming Isabel Montague backing Fletcher, the sheriff's back was truly against the wall. Matters were made worse, too, by a spate of unsolved burglaries and unusal violence.
If Darrow were to uphold the law and hang onto his sheriff's badge, he was going to have to fight. But was there enough steel in the man to enable him to win through ?
This was my second go at writing a novel in two months. Unlike The Horseshoe Feud I had an idea about the characters I wanted to
use before I started planning the book itself. I've been a fan of the BBC TV series 'Blakes 7' for many years now. I first started
writing stories about the characters back in about 1980 and I now occasionally write (rather better) fan fiction - more details in the
fan fiction section. One of the stars of the series, Paul Darrow, is a big film fan and once said that
he'd love to appear in a western. I don't make films but I do write books, and westerns at that, so I decided to write one for him. I based
the two main characters on two from the TV Series, Avon and Vila, and gave each the surname of the actor who had played him. I'm not the
first author to openly borrow from other sources, nor even the first to use 'Blakes 7' as inspiration. For more information on the
TV series and on other authors who've used it, see Judith Proctor's excellent website.
I wanted to write a novel set in a town, rather than on the range, so I made the characters into lawmen. I also moved away from Texas settings for the first time, and chose Wyoming instead. In the best traditions of 'Blakes 7', I decided to use a determined and ruthless female villan, and gave her a male sidekick to do most of the actual dirty work. It isn't obvious from movies that many western lawmen were actually elected to their jobs in much the same way as council members but I thought this would make a good background for a novel. The challenge to Darrow's position as sheriff became part of Isabel Montague's plans for controlling the whole town.
In 'Blakes 7', the main characters are on the run from the law. Although Blake is a freedom fighter, most of the others, including
Avon and Vila, are just plain criminal. I had to take two anti-authority characters and make them into lawmen, while still keeping the basic
flavour of the characters. Both Darrow and Keating are rather reluctant lawmen. Darrow has lost his family fortune in the civil war and has
the job simply to earn a living even though he openly refers to the little rail town as a 'God-forsaken backwoods town'. Hugh Keating's
reasons for being deputy are even less clear, as he had an independent income from his family and is a lazy coward. On the other hand, he
has inherited the family sense of duty, which keeps him more or less doing his job.
The publishers were less than keen on a main character who is lazy, has a weakness for alcohol and who is more cowardly than manly, although Hugh always comes through when absolutely necessary. He is certainly an unconvential hero for any action fiction, but his original, Vila, is one of the most popular characters in 'Blakes 7'. Hugh is great fun to write about and certainly brings humour into the book
"Take your time. I'll write you a letter whenever you're ready," Hugh said to the miner.
"Ain't got no paper."
"There's plenty in the office. I think a tax-payer like you is entitled to a sheet and envelope now and again," Hugh smiled.
"Ain't paid no taxes, neither."
"Who cares ?"
"That's a mighty poor way o' thinking fer a man in office," Ole Chip remarked.
Hugh grinned brightly. "If you don't pay taxes for my wages, I don't see that you get any say in how I run things."
"That's plum fair," the prospector agreed. "You gonna play poker tonight ?"
Although the character of Vila is definitely from the wrong side of the tracks, I made Hugh Keating into an upper-class Englishman. There were more than a few of these in the west. Some had come to seek adventure or to see the new world; others wanted to improve their family fortunes. A few were remittance men, like Hugh. They were often the black sheep of the family, sent abroad for a variety of reasons but generally adding up to a family desire for them to commit their indescretions as far away from polite society as possible. For more on the subject, I recommend a book in my western bibliography. Hugh/Vila's traits made him a natural for the kind of character who would be an embarrassment to his family.
For Darrow's Law I created the little railroad town of Govan, named both in reality and within the book for the district of Glasgow. For the town's lawyer and mayor, I created Robinson, a short and determined man, based roughly on the appearance of the great actor Edward G Robinson, best remembered for his classic gangster roles. I added a Dutch merchant and a German blacksmith as well as an English store keeper and a Chinese cook, to give the town a suitably mixed collection of folk. Again I borrowed details of small-town life from Laura Ingalls Wilder's books to create the right atmosphere. The description of the Thanksgiving Supper and the community Christmas tree are from her books. There's also a brief anecdote from a rather different source. When discussing the town drunks, Hugh tells Darrow about his great uncle who lived only for drinking and hunting. He tells how Great-Uncle Toby is discussing the day's run over brandy and goes out in the pouring rain to measure a hedge he had jumped, then dies of pneumonia two weeks later. I first read this little story in Prince Among Ponies by Josephine Pullein-Thompson, where the protagonist is a great uncle of the heroes' mother. There's something about the story which gives it the air of a family legend and it seemed to fit Hugh Keating and his family so well that I couldn't resist using it.
I enjoyed writing the female villian of the piece, Isabel Montague. As I say above, she was based loosely on Servalan, the major villian in 'Blakes 7'. Both are ruthless and manipulative, using their charm and sexuality to further their own hunger for power. Both are drawn to Avon/Darrow, finding him attractive and sensing his moral ambiguity. However, both males, while finding Isabel/Servalan attractive in return, have sense enough to know that a relationship would be dangerous:
Darrow tightened his grip on the back of her neck and flung her away from him. Taken by surprise, Isabel staggered and fell, landing hard on the board floor.
"Partner with you ?" Darrow said harshly. "What about Fletcher, your current partner ? How long before you abandon me like you want to drop him now ?"
Isabel gazed up at him, her eyes alight. "I'll never get bored with you," she said breathlessly.
Darrow snorted. "I'd be too much competition. And you're not the sort to lose with good grace."
Avon treats Servalan in much the same way in 'Blakes 7'. It's rather fun to write breathtakingly selfish characters. Admittedly
Isabel doesn't compare with Servalan, who deliberately wipes out virtually the entire population of a planet for her own ends (episode: Children
of Auron), Isabel orders a meeting place to be blown up regardless of how many townfolk are inside. On the other hand, she makes sure
that her staff and the cowhands who are not gunfighters are paid and sent away before the fight at the end.
Isabel and Darrow have much in common apart from mutual attraction. Both are from the South and have lost money and position in the War Between the States. Isabel's name is a direct reflection of her status as a Southern belle. Both are rather resentful of the loss and consider themselves better than most of the folk in Govan. The important difference is that Isabel is prepared to use whatever means necessary to restore her fortunes, never an easy task but especially so for a woman of her times. Darrow has kept his own personal sense of honour which requires him to do his job well, in spite of some petty chicanery involving fines.
Darrow's Law was completed within my two-month deadline, including revisions. I only made minor changes with the biggest problem being to include enough in the way of brawls and fights along the way until the big confrontation at the end. I used the setpiece of a fire again, which I had done before in The Paducah War. Having a major character who tends to avoid confrontation didn't help; Hugh tries to try and talk his way out of trouble, rather than reaching for his gun. I must have got the balance about right because it was accepted, although the publishers expressed reservations about Hugh, and about the amount of humour in the book.
The cover of Darrow's Law is a dramatic composition, much closer to scenes in the actual book than any of its predecessors. Shortly after its publication, the worldwide large print rights were sold, and this version came out about 18 months later, in paperback. Darrow's Law is the first of my works to go into any kind of a second edition, and I was delighted.
There seemed to be plenty of milage in the characters still, and I have since written two sequels: Darrow's Word which was published in April 2001, and Darrow's Badge, published June 2005.