Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Chip of the Flying U

This 1906 novel by B. M. Bower [Bertha Muzzy] was the first in a long line of novels to feature the “Happy Family” a loose collective of ranch hands in Montana.

Bower’s work can be declared “ranch romances” but that being said the ranch life is depicted fairly realistically.

This introductory novel follows a romance between the titular Chip and the newly arrived female doctor, Della. The take is old-fashioned but well-told and not a bad read for fans of the early years of the genre.

Side-Note: Our fictional Chip is a bit of an artist and is said to be modeled on renowned artist Charles M. Russell, who illustrated the novel.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Hawkline Monster: A Gothic Western

"I count a lot of things that there's no need to count," Cameron said. "Just because that's the way I am. But I count all the things that need to be counted."

This 1974 novel from counter-culture author Richard Brautigan will surely divide audiences.

On the surface we have a novel about two unusual gunmen, Cameron and Greer, who are on a killing job in Hawaii. After an unusual episode there they wind up back in California and things just get weirder [and more absurd] from there.

Make no mistake, this is no standard western, it isn’t standard for any genre. It is rife with nonsensical episodes, whimsical flights of fancy and yet, it is mighty well written.

Cameron and Greer are suspiciously reminiscent of the titular Sisters Brothers in Patrick deWitt’s excellent novel. Some find The Sisters Brothers to be an eccentric work, well, this one tops that eccentricity in spades.

With that said, I enjoyed this brief novel immensely but recognize it is not for all tastes.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Chatham Killing

I try to show things as they were, warts and all, but the physical descriptions are accurate. I’ve ridden and hunted the land and I can tell you that the Grand Tetons are snow-covered in August. But the snow is too dirty to eat or boil down for coffee, and I’ve tried to paint these things as they are.”

That quote is not from the book, but from an interview given by the author Jack Ehrlich on his approach. That is a mighty fine descriptor of what we find in this hard-bitten 1976 novel.

A young woman has been raped and murdered and our town marshal protagonist attempts to ferret out the culprit and finds out some mighty unpleasant things along the way.

Malignant revelations regarding the girl, those who knew her, the nature of justice, and the nature of the law itself which does not always coincide.

The novel is written as Ehrlich describes his work, truthfully. It may not be pretty, but it is some mighty fine reading.

Friday, June 29, 2018

The Rough Guide to Westerns

Paul Simpson offers this handy little reference guide to the genre. Not only does it contain a core list of 50 Western films, “The Canon”, but numerous side-bars and support chapters offer even more films and film books for exploration.
It may be small in size, but it packs a lot of informational punch.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Hardcase for Hire

Clay Randall, pseudonym for the prolific and reliable Clifton Adams, delivers this 1964 novel starring his series protagonist Amos Flagg.

In this outing, we are asked to ponder what compels a remote ramshackle town in Indian Territory to build an ornate brick opera house in an environment where all live in tents or lean-tos.

It is a terrific opener and the ride to discover “why” is a bit of fun.

I prefer Adams when he writes under his own name as he seems to tackle heavier more serious themes, but this novel is a fine afternoon whiler.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Western Expression of the Week: "Tied Dog"

“Tied Dog” is a Caddo Indian term for a fighter who runs snarling toward a fight but stops before he gets there. Like a dog at the end of a rope.
Tied Dogs are all bark and no bite. All bluster with nothing behind it.
I wager we all know more than a few Tied Dogs. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The Fourth Horseman

For a little while he will sit his horse feeling behind him all the lost yesterdays, seeing ahead of him all the empty tomorrows. He will realize then, that for him there is no yesterday and no tomorrow, but only what little is left of today. When he feels that, he will no longer suspect where he is. He will know.

He is at the end of the trail.”

That gorgeous bit of writing can be found on page one of Will Henry’s 1954 novel and there are other such expressive gems to be found within.

But…I’d be less than honest to say that this was a completely satisfying book for me. Where Henry, in this volume at least, shows a perceptive eye his characters felt a bit removed to me. I never quite felt sure why our protagonists or antagonists felt as passionately as they did about certain actions. They seemed to leap and cavort to satisfy plot points in between bouts of beautifully expressive writing.

With that said, it is a well-written novel that seems to walk the tightrope between by-the-numbers formulary tropes and learned observations.

A bit of a puzzler for me.

Chip of the Flying U

This 1906 novel by B. M. Bower [Bertha Muzzy] was the first in a long line of novels to feature the “Happy Family” a loose collective of...