Nice Guys Finish Dead (Old Cowboys Never Die)

Image of Nice Guys Finish Dead (Old Cowboys Never Die)
Release Date: 
October 24, 2023
Reviewed by: 

“lighthearted Western with a Butch Cassidy-Sundance Kid vibe, featuring two very likable protagonists and an equally amiable young U.S. Marshal pursuing them.”

After years of working for others, old cowhands Casey Tubbs and Eli Doolin finally have a ranch of their own—the D & T Cattle Company—and they’re doing fine. They’re a likable pair, friendly to everyone, from their own ranch hands to the proprietors of the local banks, and everyone in between, especially at restaurants and saloons.

Then, abruptly, they find themselves doing something else on the side.

When they learn that smaller ranchers are being cheated out of their land by unscrupulous bankers, they decide to something about it, and who cares if it happens to be just a tad illegal? Though neither may have heard of Robin Hood, the two cowpokes easily fit themselves into that mythic do-gooder’s boots.

They rob the offending bank and make a gift of the money to the suffering rancher to pay off his note and save his property.

Not as themselves, of course. No, the bank robbers are disguised as two old codgers named Elmer and Oscar.

Realistically, both expect that sooner or later they’ll get caught.

“Eli continued, ‘When we started this business, we said we would most likely get caught pretty quick and then we’d just retire in prison and talk about the good times we had.’

‘Yep,’ Casey laughed. ‘And now, we’ll be famous when they do catch us. Maybe that Huntsville Unit has some special rooms for famous folks. That wouldn’t be too bad, would it?’”

Pretty soon, those two are so well-known in the Texas area, that the Texas U.S. Marshals put one of their best men on the case.

Colton Gray is young, but he’s smart and known for his dogged pursuit. He investigates and a chance meeting puts him on Casey and Eli’s trail. Several times. The only problem is, he likes the two and they like him. It’s just that they keep popping up in the wrong places.

“Colton shook his head violently, in an effort to get his brain straight. He almost felt guilty for trying to connect Casey and Eli to the old men robbing the banks.”
Casey and Eli think they’re been pretty cagey about their dealings with Colton but they don’t get over-confident.

“There were too many signs that he suspected the two of them as potential candidates for the roles of Elmer and Oscar. On first thought, they felt secure in knowing they couldn’t be suspected of anything unlawful in Texas, but on second thought, it might be worse for them when there were no robberies while they were absent. ‘Damned if we do and damned if we don’t,’ Eli had voiced it.”

When Casey saves his life, Colton is more perplexed than ever, because now he’s owed a big debt, one he’s not certain he can repay.

“He found himself at sea, mentally, with the conflicting facts and emotions that picked away at his common sense . . . he owed his life to them, for Casey shot Buck Garner to save his life. If he had been the victim, instead of Buck, the only person suspicious of Eli and Casey would have been eliminated. ‘And yet, Casey saved my life.’”

Casey and Eli like the young lawman, too, but Eli is a little more pragmatic about the whole thing.

“’I swear, Casey, we’re bumping into that young man everywhere we go. I’m afraid he’s liable to get lucky one day to catch us.’ He paused for a few seconds while he considered what he just said. ‘And I like that young fella, so when he does catch us, you’re going to have to shoot him.’

“‘We’ll flip a coin for it,’ Casey said.”

The three are on a collision course and no matter what comes next, it doesn’t look good for someone.

This is a very enjoyable, mostly lighthearted Western with a Butch Cassidy-Sundance Kid vibe, featuring two very likable protagonists and an equally amiable young U.S. Marshal pursuing them.

Told in a way that illustrates how Casey and Eli make themselves liked by everyone they meet, there’s very little violence in the story—though lots of riding long distances from one state to another—but when the shootin’ starts, it’s quick and over just as quickly, with no lingering on blood and gore. It’s simply done, and over, and that’s that.

If there’s one thing not to like about this novel, it’s that it doesn’t really end.

Anyone who is a Johnstone fan will be hoping they manage a “happy ending” for all involved.