Trail of the Reaper is the seventh in a series of books that charts the life of bounty hunter Jonathan Grimm from the early 1860s up to the turn of the century. As the story goes, it was a fanciful journalist in the early days writing of his exploits and no-nonsense ruthlessness who first referred to him as The Grim Reaper and, somewhat to Grimms chagrin, the tag stuck and gave me a running theme for the titles.
I actually began the series in the middle of Grimms life (at the time having no idea it would develop into a continuous chronicle) and only backtracked when readers asked me what happened before. So, as the series was not written in sequence, it might be useful here to list them in order of story chronology.
(1) COMES THE REAPER (Hale, 1995; Linford, 1998)
The saga begins as we first meet the youthful Scotsman Jonathan Grimm optimistically emigrating to the U.S. to start a new life with his young bride. After journeying inland from Seattle, the couples attempts to settle are disrupted when they find themselves in the middle of an Indian war (The Yakima Uprising). Following an unhappy ending to the episode, Grimm soon finds himself embroiled in the War Between the States. We follow his participation in the conflict, culminating at the end of hostilities with his being enrolled by President Lincoln as a bodyguard. One doesnt have to be an expert in history to guess that that posting is not smooth and leads to a whole new set of problems.
(2) VIVA REAPER! (Hale, 1996)
As a result of events at the end of the first book, Grimm finds himself journeying south of the border and is quickly swept up in an adventure chasing no-goods in Mexico.
(3) GUNS OF THE REAPER (Hale,1983)
Back in the States and now an experienced bounty chaser with a reputation, Grimm is hired by the Governor of Arizona to help clear the Territory of its desperadoes.
(4) DOLLARS FOR THE REAPER (Hale, 1990; Linford, 1992)
On to the 1880s, when we find Grimm journeying to Kansas for this episode which charts his involvement in the pursuit of Jesse James. I cant improve on the blurb which runs: the confrontation between the most effective bounty-hunter in American history and the Wests most notorious outlaw could only have one outcome an unquestioned finality for one or the other!
(5) BLOOD ON THE REAPER (Hale, 1992; Ulverscroft, 1995)
Attracted by the bounties offered by Hanging Judge Parker, Grimm is now working out of Fort Smith, Arkansas. The story takes a twist when Grimm guns down one of the desperadoes he is chasing only to find the villain had his young daughter in tow as a ploy to avoid suspicion. In the middle of nowhere, Grimm finds his task of pursuing other hardcases now hampered by his unexpected role as temporary parent. Furthermore, the situation is not helped by the girls understandable hostility towards him. The feeling is mutual but, after various adventures together, they are reconciled and the book ends with them having developed some feeling for each other. (As a grown woman Sarah features in a later book.)
(6) COFFIN FOR THE REAPER (Hale, 1994)
Ever since seeing One-Eyed Jacks I had hankered to write a seaside western and the opportunity arose when Grimm found himself adventuring out on the Californian coast. To be honest, I never found out how readers reacted to this little number. Rather cheekily, I played a trick on the reader a trick that would be impossible to pull off in a film. (Shucks, yet another reason why my stuff is unlikely to reach the big screen.) So, for me, Coffin stands out as a bit of an oddball in the series. But I do remember at the time finally taking advantage of having a series on my hands and deliberately setting up the start of a new adventure in the closing pages. This was the first time I had consciously done so but, ironically, it was another ten years before I picked up the loose thread in Book 7. So much for looking ahead.
(7) TRAIL OF THE REAPER (Hale, 2004)
And so to the latest which takes Grimm into the 20th century, finding him non-plussed with advancing technology ranging from new weaponry to the automobile. It begins with him finishing off a particular job (the loose thread at the end of Book 6) and, now very long in the tooth, we find him considering giving up the bounty-hunting game. The girl from Book 5 (in a sense his adopted daughter) is now a grown woman and invites him to her wedding. Of course, things do not run smoothly and he soon finds himself embroiled with no-goods not to mention having to rescue her from kidnappers.
Just released, Trail of the Reaper is readily available but if there are any readers keen to catch up on early books in the series, I guess they will have to trawl the second-hand stalls.
In retrospect Im quite happy with the series as a whole. Following the life of one man from his youth to old age has allowed me to paint a picture of the sweep of American history, an intriguing and enjoyable task; and its been fun sharing in his adventures along the way.
Will the Reaper continue to ride? Well, Ive been in his company for nearly twenty years and really dont know whether there will be any more. Like arthritic Grimm himself, Im not the man I used to be. (On the other hand
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.