There are things that friends should never have to say to one another. "Have you betrayed me ?" is one of those things.
Pat Williams and Robson Hyde were a successul partnership, owning a silver mine down in south-west Texas, but when bandits started to ambush the loads of silver bullion, things started to change.
The bandits' knowledge of the route was so precise they had to have inside information. Hyde was acting strangely, and Williams began to doubt his friend.
Unchecked, suspicion turns to fear and the pair's friendship is severely tested amid several violent deaths at the silver mine.
After reading Cullen's Quest, I realized there was a sequel to written about the characters, so I wrote Hyde's Honour. After reading that, I realized that I still hadn't quite finished with the characters. Having found a lovely women for Williams, I wondered who Hyde might fall in love with. Well, Williams has sisters, so the idea of Hyde falling for one of his friend's younger sisters just appealed to me. Of course, I was writing a western, not a romantic novel, so I needed more and again the mine was the obvious focus. I began thinking about the characters again, trying them out in different scenes.
If you've been reading about my Darrow westerns, you'll know that I'm a fan of the TV series Blakes 7. The series is remembered for its shocking final episode, where the two main heroes, Blake and Avon, meet again after a long separation. Both men have changed in that time, there's a misunderstanding, and the reunion does not go well. Avon, showing an unusual degree of emotion, asks Blake rather urgently; "Have you betrayed me ? Have you betrayed me ?"
Remebering this scene, I visualized a misunderstanding between Hyde and Williams, leading to a scene with one saying those same words to the other. As Hyde is the gunman, it seemed more interesting for Williams to be the one holding the gun on his friend, as it would be less expected, and would call for greater courage. Once I'd played through the confrontation in my mind, I knew I wanted it in the book. I therefore had to work out why Williams thought he'd been betrayed.
Last time, Hyde very nearly did betray Williams, wanting the mine for himself. So this time, Hyde would be loyal, but someone would convince Williams that Hyde was plotting against him and so turn the two against one another. And why would someone do that ? To get the mine for himself, was the logical answer. A classic 'divide and conquer' technique.
In Hyde's Honour, Williams began his romance with Conchita. In The Judas Metal, they are engaged and Pat Williams is spending more time with her wealthy, long-established family. Although Don Pedro, Conchita's father, has welcomed him, Williams is aware that more traditionally-minded family members don't really approve of him. He is a gringo, and of an undistinguished background. He's not used to the wealth and gracious living that they enjoy, and doesn't have the ingrained polish that they do.
...he wanted a suitable income of his own, not least because it smoothed over the social differences between them. The money from the silver mine gave him a social status he'd never have otherwise. The recent robberies threatened not only himself and his ability to look after his mother and sisters, Williams also felt that it threatened his future with Conchita... He couldn't help feeling that if he lost the mine, he might also lose Conchita. And that thought frightened him.
Williams is also aware that Conchita's family accept Hyde as one of their own, recognising Hyde's background as a member of a wealthy, land-owning family. It doesn't occur to him to suspect Hyde of collaborating in the robberies; once the possibility is suggested to him though, he can't quite shake the thought. He begins thinking along the same lines that Hyde himself had been plotting the year before. Hyde had lost everything in the Civil War, and ownership of a silver mine could be a powerful temptation to a man who is struggling to recover what he once took for granted. Williams' fear of losing Conchita is the weakness that allows his fear to override his common sense.
Williams is quite right to believe that Conchita's family don't approve of him. The one who decides to do something about it is her cousin, Ramon. Last time, the bad guy was Conchita's brother, Marco. He wanted the silver mine, and to prove his maschismo to his father; he also became jealous of Hyde, who was the kind of skilled and admired fighter that Marco longed to be. I did feel that it was cheating, or rather lazy, to have the bad guy be a member of Conchita's family again. Then again, feuding isn't an uncommon theme in westerns. I gave Ramon a different reason for his actions. He's not primarily interested in the silver for its own sake. Ramon is very proud of his family and their heritage. His family home was taken away and sold to a Texan, which left him with a lingering grudge against non-Mexicans. He is genuinely appalled at the idea of Conchita marrying an undistinguished gringo. Unlike Don Pedro, he cannot bring himself to see Williams' good points.
When I was thinking about Hyde falling for one of Williams' sisters, I imagined them meeting, and almost falling in love at first sight. There would be a very strong attraction between them, which would encourage Hyde to perservere, even though I'd already established that he must be considerably older than any of Williams' sisters. Rather than simply describing a conventional beauty, I wanted to find a real-life person to model the sister, Queenie, on. I chose the actor Marcia Cross, whom I'd seen in Desparate Housewives.
Thinking about the story, I knew Williams would become suspicious of Hyde. This would be easier if Hyde had something to feel guilty about. It came to me that I could use Hyde's feelings for Queenie as something which could lead the men to being at cross-purposes, ending in misunderstanding and accusations. Hyde worries about the fact that he's 14 years older than Queenie. It doesn't matter to Queenie, but Hyde worries that Williams might object. He doesn't like to raise the question in case the answer is 'no'. Instead, he hides his feelings from Williams and tends to looks awkward and guilty when Williams talks about his sisters. Hyde also feels guilty about not stopping the robbieries, which Williams begins to interpret as guilt because of involvement in them.
When considering action scenes for the book, I thought about doing a chase on horseback. To make it interesting, I wanted Hyde to perform some feat of horsemanship which would allow him to catch the bad guy. Now, one of the greatest and most spectacular challenges in showjumping is the bank at the Hickstead Derby. This permanent obstacle is 10ft 6in high; in the Derby, the horses approach up a moderate slope, jump a 3ft 5in rail that's barely one galloping stride from the edge, then slow right down to ride over a near-vertical drop to the ground. And just two strides from the bottom is a 5ft 3in fence to clear.
The correct way to take the descent is not for the rider to lean back, as you might think. Instead, the rider must lean forward slightly; he maintains his balance better, and is in a better position to help the horse than if leaning back. The horses start by sliding, almost sitting on their tails. About five feet from the ground, they tend to jump out and away from the slope. A rider who is leaning forward can go with the movement and stay balanced. A rider leaning back would find it very difficult to stay in the saddle as the horse leaps forward. Hyde, being a good horseman, does the right things, and successfully rides down the side of an arroyo to catch up with the man he is chasing.
The ground below seemed to rush up at them. Cob's forelegs were extended straight in front of him, his back legs tucked underneath himself so he was almost sitting on his tail as he slid down the arroyo wall. Hyde's stomach swooped as they plummeted down, loose stones and dirt cascading around them as Cob's hoofs tore strips of earth away. It was frightening and exhilarating at the same time.
For once, I actually had the title before the book was finished, and it is a title I'm very pleased with too. Judas betrays Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, and silver is the metal that Williams believes is causing Hyde to betray him. I had some kind of writing sprint, which is unusual for me now, as it was sent to the publisher just four months after the previous book, Silver Express. When I sent the book in, there was the usual very quick response from the publishers. I had been a little worried that there might not be enough action, but Mr Hale's letter said that it 'starts off low key and then becomes extremely dramatic'. That's pretty much what I was hoping for, so I was very pleased with that.
The first two books about Hyde and Williams both had lovely covers - my favourites out of all my books. However, I didn't much like the covers of the last two books I'd had published, Silver Ezpress and Two-Gun Trouble. Fortunately, The Judas Metal was a return to form.
The picture doesn't obviously have anything much to do with either the story, or the characters. However, it's a very striking painting, well executed, so I'm pleased to have it on the cover of my book.
The Judas Metal was also taken up for a reprint in a large print edition by Thorpe. It's a smart-looking book, and I like the striking colour combination used. The picture itself is well done, just rather unexciting. I'm not too keen on the montage picture for a cover. I'd rather have a straightforward scene, suggesting something specific happening. However, I don't have any choice in the matter, and it certainly could be a lot worse.
I'm fairly certain that the Williams/Hyde story has finished now. After all, they spent one book acquiring the mine, and two more defending it from people trying to take it from them. I really don't want to write a third book about someone trying to get the mine - I think that's been pretty well covered by now. Naturally, the characters are pretty well tied to this location, so that rather limits their possible adventures. I believe that from now on, they all live happily ever after.
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