Wednesday, January 6, 2021

The Comancheros by Paul I. Wellman


The Casa Blanca, alone of all the houses in the Paso Duro, boasted glazed windows. In this she found an illogical comfort: illogical because she knew it was unwarranted. Glass is easily shattered—really no protection at all—but all women come to think of glass as a barrier and a safeguard, because in a civilized world glass is respected as such.

It was, Eloise considered, like the law. One comes to depend on the law with the same illogic that one depends on window glass, for the law is as flimsy as glass, and as easily shattered.

Wellman, an author I am fond of, offers this sweeping tale of good, evil, and valor that ranges from New Orleans through the harsh terrain of Texas while encountering the bandit tradesmen of the title.

It is a big bold tale, but I must admit it was a bit too squared off, too calculated to bring me further than a surface enjoyment. It reads as a comfortable 1950’s Western film that hits all the beats but possesses no surprises.

Likely the fault of this reader and not an author whom I usually find in fine form.

Friday, December 11, 2020

The Wanderer’s Havamal by Jackson Crawford


People’s approval ain’t nothin’ you need.

Half the time it ain’t true.

Just be sure you think you’re right;

and that you’re comfortable in your own skin;

you’re all you can count on.

Well, here we have a gorgeous change of pace. Nordic scholar, Jackson Crawford, provides a bracing translation of the Old Norse poem, The Havamal.

He has titled his translation, “The Wanderer’s Havamal” and on each facing page of the English translation we can view the Old Norse text directly from the Codex Regius manuscript.

For those not in the know, The Havamal, is a sort of short “Code of Conduct” for Vikings. It is idiosyncratic in places but still has a vast amount of common-sense wisdom to convey.

I have read many an Old Saga in my time, but I include this one here as Mr. Crawford concludes with another iteration of The Havamal that he has limned in rangehand colloquial English in honor of his plain-spoken grandfather, June Crawford.

This translation is titled The Cowboy Havamal and reads as if drawled from the lips of The Duke himself.

A short read, a fine read, and, what’s more, possibly a vitally important read.

Friday, December 4, 2020

What Western Do I Read Next by Wayne Barton


Actually the full title reads: What Western Do I Read Next-A Reader’s Guide to Recent Western Fiction.

This large volume [my copy is 545 pages] is less a book of reviews than a “If you liked this book or that author here are five more titles you may enjoy.”

The book also provides appendices that break novels down according to theme.

·         Time Period Index

·         Geographic Index

·         Story Type Index

·         Character Name Index

·         Character Description Index

·         Author Index

·         Title Index

So, if you ever say to yourself, “I’d love to read a novel set in 1830’s East Texas about a main character who happens to be a doctor” now you have a resource to lead you aright.

If there is a weakness to the volume [and it is no weakness as the range of novels covered is described in the title] it is this very narrow range itself.

The chosen volume skews hard to novels published in the late70s to early 90s period.

While useful for this time period it leaves one wishing there was a second volume that encompassed the prolific decades prior.

Beyond that advertised quibble it is a mighty useful browsing reference for hardcore fans of the genre.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

The Bravados by Frank O’ Rourke


Evening sunset was a magic time when peace grew actual shape and substance, as sweet as sugar to the sense. Only in the courthouse, the bastion of blindfolded justice on the plaza, was the sense of peace destroyed.

Another of O’Rourke’s spare, hard-edged but downright poetic efforts.

A formula tale of three desperadoes and the woman they take as hostage on one side.

On the other, a determined man and a strong-willed woman give pursuit.

Familiar in many regards but rendered a cut above by the talented author.

It is a good read, but I admit I am always comparing O’Rourke to himself. His novel, The Last Chance [also reviewed in this blog] is easily one of my favorite Western novels.

This work is no Last Chance, but it’s a fine afternoon all the same.

Friday, October 30, 2020

The Hard Homesteader by Clayton Fox


“There is always country like that,” he said. “The old-timers come in and grab the best land. They fight the Indians and the country until they get the country the way they want it. Then they try to keep it from changing. Just as the Indians tried to keep it from changing. Change is bound to come, but it has to be fought over.”

My first experience with this author but it won’t be my last.

It is, on one hand, a formulaic tale of Stranger in town butting heads with the powers that be, but on the other hand, there are many less than formulaic choices made by the characters that keep one interested.

The people are rich and full-blooded and Fox not allowing them to follow an ABC mode of action makes for a richer than standard reading experience.

It is no classic, but it is also not dispensable fare.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The Adventurers by Ernest Haycox


A rock-solid later work from a master of the genre.

Haycox’s later novels mark a break with the formulaic tales and settings of the West and see the author exploring less than usual terrain, both geographical and internally. Here we have shipwrecks, logging in the Pacific Northwest, the economics and dynamics of running a sawmill, but…

Where many authors allow such details to be an info dump where they use their research as proof of authenticity, Haycox always places character first.

To my mind he is one of THE top male western authors when it comes to limning female character.

A gorgeous addition to the man’s legacy.

Monday, October 26, 2020

The White Rhino Hotel by Bartle Bull


Your boots carry fresh red dust. Your foolish English trousers are torn. From the British only one thing I have learned: always in Africa to wear shorts. All the rest they have learned from me. In shorts, the thorns do not stop you, and there is less noise when you stalk. Your skin is not important. It will mend itself.”

Not strictly a Western, but most definitely a novel of the Frontier, in this case The African Frontier.

The novel is first in a trilogy set in East Africa spanning from the end of the First World war into the Second Global conflict.

The reader can not help but notice the numerous parallels with novels of the American Westward expansion, the encounters with wildlife, the hazards and blessings of indigenous people’s interactions, the “good men” and the outlaw.

The novel may have a stiff-upper lip tone in places but the intimate knowledge of the land and people as well as the sweep of story, in turns majestic in others outright kinky, the reader is easily swept along with the epic.

The Comancheros by Paul I. Wellman

  The Casa Blanca, alone of all the houses in the Paso Duro, boasted glazed windows. In this she found an illogical comfort: illogical becau...