Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Land of Little Rain


Man is a great blunderer going about in the woods, and there is no other except the bear makes so much noise. Being so well warned beforehand, it is a very stupid animal, or a very bold one, that cannot keep safely hid. The cunningest hunter is hunted in turn, and what he leaves of his kill is meat for some other. That is the economy of nature, but with it all there is not sufficient account taken of the works of man. There is no scavenger that eats tin cans, and no wild thing leaves a like disfigurement on the forest floor.”

This 1903 work from Mary Hunter Austin can be thought of as a South-westerner’s poetic agreement with Thoreau. In a series of observational walks Austin reveals the beauty of the desert that she sees so ably. She offers evocative expressions of the landscape, insightful commentary regarding the flora and fauna and how to “see” as they do and ends the volume with a few choice comments on the difference between those who live on or close to the land and those who don’t.

While not Western fiction it is a landmark record and love-letter to the environment of the genre.

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.

Sierra Showdown by John Reese

“ Bobby, men is the cheapest thing in the world! I can buy all the men I need. It’s like buying nails—by the pound or by the keg, whic...