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By Merle Constiner
Ace Books, 1966 

Fane was just a quiet storekeeper in a small Montana rangeland town who had a hobby. He was a gun collector and an amateur gunsmith. But he was no gunman. 

Nevertheless, when a call came from an old friend, Fane picked up one of his best shooting irons and joined up with a couple of gunslicks to clear up the trouble.

His killer companions didn’t think much of Fane. He was a deadshot, sure, but he had a real slow draw. And in their business, a slow draw was a ticket to Boot Hill.

But there were a lot of other professional gun throwers around who were to test their skill against this amateur – and came out second best, even with a gun out first.

Not having read any of Constiner’s work before, I really didn’t know what to expect from this short novel that is told in thirteen chapters over 112 pages. The reason I picked this particular book was that the blurb caught my imagination so I was a little disappointed that Fane’s hobby played a very small part in the tale.

At first the plot is a little confusing, intentionally so, as Fane and his two companions, Arapaho and Crezavent, try to find out who they’ve been hired by and for what purpose. Even when they know whose payroll they are on, they still have questions as to the reasons. Throughout their attempts to find the answers, gunmen come out of the shadows trying to kill them. 

Constiner throws more twists into the tale through new characters, one of whom gives Fane cryptic messages that could help save their lives and possibly reveal the answers to why they’ve been hired and who they’re expected to kill. 

The story moves forward well, although it is occasionally slowed down when the author includes lengthy descriptions of places or buildings that Fane finds himself at but most of the time Constiner doesn’t waste words and gets straight to the point, so much so, that if you don’t pay attention, you’ll find yourself wondering how the story has progressed from one point to another.

Summing up, I’d say this tale held my interest fairly well, although it didn’t grip me as much as I hoped it might as I found myself putting the book down to do other things rather than read it in one or two sittings. Will I read another Constiner book? Possibly, but having so many to choose from, I think it might be a while before I do so.

Rain of Fire is one half of an Ace Double and it is backed by Bitter Brand by Tom West and I hope to get around to reading that soon.

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