Thursday, April 12, 2018

Mr. Majestyk

You’re making sounds like a mean little ass-kicker, but I ain’t convinced.”

This lean 1975 novel from Elmore Leonard catches Dutch in his transition from primarily a Western author to a crime author. It is, in essence, a modern day Western, with our melon-farmer hero facing many of the same crises that stood in the way of Leonard’s pure western heroes. [Leave it to Elmore Leonard to make melon-farmers cool.]

It is a laconic western oozing with testosterone and cool and a fine way to spend an afternoon.

BTW-The 1974 flick with Charles Bronson as Mr. Majestyk and a script by Dutch is also mighty tight fare.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Sea Wolf

Let’s reverse the usual review method today. We’ll start with the opinion and end with the extract as I have chosen a lengthy one.

Jack London wrote the Sea Wolf in 1904, the year after his also classic The Call of the Wild [also reviewed on this blog.] Some may scratch their heads at this sea-faring tale being classed as a Western, but I see this hard-bitten frontier tale of overcoming hardships and forging spirit as kin to the pioneer stories of the eastern woodlands or the tales of overland prairie travels or survival tales of the southwestern desert.

This book is hailed as a classic, which can mean it’s “boring but important” or that it’s actually quite good and a touchstone. My take on this one, is the first half works beautifully. I loved Wolf Larsen’s observations delivered robustly here and there, but as it wore on it seems to sink into a bit of melodrama that is less Larsen focused. To my tastes, the novel needs Larsen to keep its heart beating.

With that said, I enjoyed it quite a bit. I’ll allow the lengthy extract to cement the theme of bootstrapping self-reliance.

"What do you do for a living?"

I confess I had never had such a question asked me before, nor had I ever canvassed it. I was quite taken aback, and before I could find myself had sillily stammered, "I am a gentleman."

His lip curled in a swift sneer.

"I have worked, I do work," I cried impetuously, as though he were my judge and I required vindication, and at the same time very much aware of my arrant idiocy in discussing the subject at all.

"For your living?"

There was something so imperative and masterful about him that I was quite beside myself -- "rattled," as Furuseth would have termed it, like a quaking child before a stern schoolmaster.

"Who feeds you?" was his next question.

"I have an income," I answered stoutly, and could have bitten my tongue the next instant. "All of which, you will pardon my observing, has nothing whatsoever to do with what I wish to see you about."

But he disregarded my protest.

"Who earned it? Eh? I thought so. Your father. You stand on dead men's legs. You've never had any of your own. You couldn't walk alone between two sunrises and hustle the meat for your belly for three meals. Let me see your hand."

His tremendous, dormant strength must have stirred, swiftly and accurately, or I must have slept a moment, for before I knew it he had stepped two paces forward, gripped my right hand in his, and held it up for inspection. I tried to withdraw it, but his fingers tightened, without visible effort, till I thought mine would be crushed. It is hard to maintain one's dignity under such circumstances. I could not squirm or struggle like a schoolboy. Nor could I attack such a creature who had but to twist my arm to break it. Nothing remained but to stand still and accept the indignity. I had time to notice that the pockets of the dead man had been emptied on the deck, and that his body and his grin had been wrapped from view in canvas, the folds of which the sailor, Johansen, was sewing together with coarse white twine, shoving the needle through with a leather contrivance fitted on the palm of his hand.

Wolf Larsen dropped my hand with a flirt of disdain.

"Dead men's hands have kept it soft. Good for little else than dish-washing and scullion work."

"I wish to be put ashore," I said firmly, for I now had myself in control. "I shall pay you whatever you judge your delay and trouble to be worth."

He looked at me curiously. Mockery shone in his eyes.

"I have a counter proposition to make, and for the good of your soul. My mate's gone, and there'll be a lot of promotion. A sailor comes aft to take mate's place, cabin-boy goes for'ard to take sailor's place, and you take the cabin-boy's place, sign the articles for the cruise, twenty dollars per month and found. Now what do you say? And mind you, it's for your own soul's sake. It will be the making of you. You might learn in time to stand on your own legs and perhaps to toddle along a bit."

Thursday, April 5, 2018

A Killing in Kiowa

This brief 1972 novel by Lewis B. Patten touches on a familiar theme for this author--a frontier outrage and the aftermath of passion skewed justice.

Here, we have the aftermath of a rape which occurs on page one that sets events in motion. This short novel is mature and treats nothing as black and white. It follows a formulary path but there is a maturity and wisdom here that had me enjoying the ride.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Spaghetti Westerns

The entire title is actually Spaghetti Westerns: The Good, the Bad and the Violent a Comprehensive Illustrated Filmography of 558 Films.

This mammoth work by Thomas Weisser receives not much love from Italian Western aficionados. Those in the know say it is rife with mistakes, and those in the know may know best, but to this reader, a minor fan of the genre, I have not encountered any discrepancies in the titles I’ve viewed. Keep in mind, Spaghettis aren’t my main viewing choice, but I do watch a few a month and thus far haven’t been steered wrong by this volume.

Make of the reservations what you will, I have found the Top Ten Lists in the back of the book interesting viewing.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Vanquished

“But remember one thing—the greatest failure of all is failure for the want of trying.”


“Keep hold on the truth. You’re the master of your world, Charley, as long as you live by and for your own life. There’s a lot of time in the day. Cover it at a steady pace, boy, and use it like a tool. Don’t lose it—don’t squeeze yourself flat. When you see a chance, take it.”

Another fine lean novel from the reliable Brian Garfield. Here the author uses an actual filibustering expedition South of the Border as the backdrop of placing men under pressure to see who and what shakes out in the end.

A long grim desert trek is the centerpiece of the tale and one can feel the harsh parched climate leeching the moisture from the skin with each miserable step taken.

Fans of Leonard and Sheriffs will find much to admire here.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Quote of the Week

He regretted the occasional necessity of giving one man authority over another because some people enjoyed that authority too much to be entrusted with it. They tended to be easily misled into an over-appraisal of their importance. It seemed to him that when a man was too thick-headed and too low-down trifling to hold an honest job, he was usually able to find some other damn fool willing to hand him a measure of jurisdiction over the lives of his betters.”—T. C. Lewellen

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Whispering Smith

“Meantime, McCloud stuck to the mine, and insensibly replaced his Eastern tissue with Western. In New England he had been carefully moulded by several generations of gentlemen, but never baked hard. The mountains put the crust on him. For one thing, the sun and wind, best of all hemlocks, tanned his white skin into a tough all American leather, seasoned his muscles into rawhide sinews, and, without burdening him with an extra ounce of flesh, sprinkled the red through his blood till, though thin, he looked apoplectic.”

This novel from 1906 is a landmark of the genre known as the Railroad tale, novels and stories that told of adventure, romance, and mystery in, on, and around railroads.

Here, novelist Frank Spearman offers us what is perhaps THE textbook example of the genre and the often-filmed tale of the railroad detective Whispering Smith. It is a novel of its time and requires patience here and there as melodrama abounds, but I found more than enough pith within the pages to get a good deal of enjoyment from it.

Mr. Majestyk

“ You’re making sounds like a mean little ass-kicker, but I ain’t convinced.” This lean 1975 novel from Elmore Leonard catches Dutch ...