"ROBERT B. PARKER'S IRONHORSE," by Robert Knott, G.P. Putnam's Sons, $26.95, 371 pages (f)

It can't be easy stepping into the shoes of Robert B. Parker, but author, actor and producer Robert Knott does a decent job of it.

He breathes life back into the characters Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch without missing a beat.

He has the dialogue, the timing and the character of the two gunslingers-turned-marshals down.

He has a new story.

So it makes for a refreshing read.

It's also full of interesting detail about how the telegraph system worked in the frontier towns and how the steam engine trains were kept running.

It does seem to rain a lot throughout the book, and bad guys are routinely killed and dumped off the train without much concern but it is, after all, a Wild West novel.

Cole and Hitch have an entertaining relationship that relies on dry humor and a kind of "Code of the West" friendship. The give-and-take between them is vintage Parker.

Cole doesn't put up with any nonsense, and Hitch both respects and helps him as they root out the men trying to steal the train's payload and ultimately attempt to ransom the daughters of the governor of Texas.

On the way to resolving the crime, they have to stop runaway train cars, catch a horse thief, find the live telegraph wire used by the thieves and determine who can and cannot be trusted.

There's some rough cowboy language, plenty of shoot-em-up moments and the lifestyle of the Wild West included along the way (working women and the men who kept them working), but the main characters are decent men and the story has a satisfactory conclusion without Cole and Hitch betraying their core personalities.

Parker would approve.

Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with 35 years experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.

Email: haddoc@desnews.com