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Literature / The Undertaker

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The Undertaker was the third series produced by prolific Western writer Terry Harknett under the pseudonym George G. Gilman. The central character, Barnaby Gold, a.k.a. The Undertaker, makes his first appearance in Black as Death (1980), when he kills the rancher who murdered his libidinous wife. In subsequent books, he finds himself hunted by relatives of the deceased, who constantly frustrate his plans to leave the United States for Europe. Gold appeared in six books altogether, and made a fleeting appearance in the final, ultra-rare Edge novel, The Rifle (1989).

As may be guessed from the series title, Gold was an undertaker before going on the run. One quirk that sets him apart from other gunslingers is that he insists on personally burying anyone he kills.

The books in The Undertaker series are:

  1. Black as Death
  2. Destined to Die
  3. Funeral by the Sea
  4. Three Graves to a Showdown
  5. Back From the Dead
  6. Death in the Desert

Tropes in The Undertaker novels include:

  • Adventure Towns: As is typical in Westerns of this ilk, Barnaby inevitably stumbles into trouble wherever he turns up.
  • Badass Longcoat: Gold dresses in a black caped great coat.
  • Couldn't Find a Lighter: Crossed with Money to Burn in Black as Death. Barnaby sets fire to the bag of cash the townsfolk gave to pay for burning down his business and uses the bag to light a cheroot. Of course, as he uses a match to set fire to the bag, he is doing it to make a point.
  • Creepy Mortician: Barnaby Gold was this before becoming a gunslinger. The folks of his hometown always regarded him as 'not right up top'; being cold and emotionally detached and not having normal emotional responses to events like his father's death.
  • The Drifter: Barnaby Gold. Originally planning on travelling to Europe following his father's death, he goes on the run after killing Floyd Channon in the first book. He roams the West after that, staying one step ahead of the bounty hunters who are after him.
  • Due to the Dead: It is a point of personal honour for Barnaby Gold—who was an undertaker before becoming a Gunslinger—that he personally buries the bodies of every person he kills.
  • The Gunslinger: Barnaby Gold. Primarily a quick draw.
  • Job Title
  • Meek Townsman: The citizens of Fairfax burn down Gold's undertaking business, and then pay him off to leave town because they don't want to face the trouble his killing of Floyd Channon will bring down on the town.
  • Money to Burn: Crossed with Couldn't Find a Lighter in Black as Death. When the townsfolk hand Barnaby a paper bag full of cash to pay for burning down his business, he sets fire to the bag and uses the burning bag to light a cheroot.
  • Mugging the Monster: Three outlaws attempt to rob Barnaby when he rides out of Fairfax in Black as Death. Barnaby is able to overpower one of them and take his gun. Although he he wins the subsequent gunfight partially by luck, this encounter is what causes him to discover his instinctive ability with firearms.
  • Outlaw Town: Gold finds himself trapped in an outlaw town in Funeral by the Sea.
  • Small Town Boredom: Barnaby Gold was born and raised in New York before being dragged out west to New Mexico town of Fairfax after his mother died. He was never happy there and planned to sell up and travel to Europe after his father died, but has to go on the run after killing Floyd Channon in the first book.
  • Undertaker: Barnaby's original profession (and that of his father). He continues to dress the part after taking up the gun.
  • Unorthodox Holstering: Barnaby Gold has a pistol on the lefthand side of his gunbelt mounted on a swivel. Having unpicked the seam of the left pocket of his longcoat, he can reach through the pocket and swivel the pistol to fire through his coat even while seated.
  • Walking the Earth: After killing the man who murdered his wife, Gold has his business burnt down and is driven out of town by the Meek Townsfolk who do not want the heat that the killing will bring down on the town. Gold becomes a drifter, roaming the West and staying one jump ahead of the bounty hunters who come after him.