The Gunfight is a meager two-hundred forty seven pages but don't let that dissuade you. Matheson's books are all meat. You won't find any needless descriptions. If Matheson takes the time to describe something, you know it will be important later.
The plot of The Gunfight is fairly simple. A legendary gunfighter, John Benton, and his wife settle in a tiny town called Kellville to enjoy their retirement. Meanwhile, a teenage girl named Louisa Harper tries to make her boyfriend Robby Coles jealous by telling him Benton's expressed some interest in her. Soon the whole town is egging Robby on, saying he has to protect his girl's honor. So guess what Robby does? I'll give you a hint: the title of the book isn't "Knitting Contest."
The characters are fairly realistic. Benton's the guy who feels he has nothing left to prove and just wants to enjoy retirement. Robby's the testosterone-laden kid who just wants Louisa to treat him right. Sometimes you even feel sorry for the poor lug, getting pushed in way over his head. The townsfolk are like a lot of small town folk who get out of control once they smell blood.
One of the hallmarks of a Richard Matheson story is that he's an expert at misdirection, be it I am Legend, the Incredible Shrinking Man, or that Twilight Zone episode where there's a gremlin on the wing of the plane. The Gunfight is no exception.
This book should be a prerequisite for anyone who tries to write a suspense novel, because at its core, The Gunfight is more of a suspense novel than a western. The pacing is perfect and leaves you worn out by the end. Two-hundred forty seven pages is the perfect length. Any more would have thrown off the remarkable pace. I started reading this at lunchtime on a Sunday and finished a little after dark. It's really hard to put down.