Review by Ian Keogh
Because we don’t really want our Western heroes to stray too far from the familiar form, Yves Swolfs’ lead character is a tall, capable man of action, righteous in sticking to his path. The one unusual departure is that he can hold someone and visualise what they’re thinking, but how he does it wasn’t explained during the course of The Preacher’s Trail.
What was is that our hero is riding the borderlands of Kansas and Missouri just before the outbreak of the American Civil War. The area exemplifies the heated national debate about the validity of slavery, and he has personal reasons for tracking down a loathsome preacher named Markham. Markham, though, is a well protected man, and has some heavyweight contacts.
A tense opening sequence resolves the situation that ended the previous book, leaving our hero free to continue his mission of vengeance. However, Swolfs takes an interesting path by muddying the moral waters. The malignant Markham promotes the abolition of slavery, while those who recognise his evil are racist and will happily continue slavery. Swolfs gives them dialogue unpleasantly reflecting their views, which makes for uncomfortable reading when attempting to decide which of the two is the lesser evil.
Swolfs is one hell of an artistic talent who brings people and locations to life, but what’s noticeable about The Ruffians is that the colouring of Julie Swolfs has a greater subtlety than before. It takes greater account of lighting, and restricting many pages to shades of light brown and dark blue is very effective.
In this outing we learn the reason our nameless hero’s hunting Markham down, along with some hints as to why he’s able to look into the minds of others, but not the whole truth. As things stand, it’s not enough. What is enough is a question the hero has to consider, as not many horsemen who’re seen at the start of the proceedings live to see the end of the book. It seems there’s a bigger question that needs settling, and the final pages lead into the third part, not yet available in English. The squirming ethics make for a slightly stronger story than the first outing, which is always a good sign.