Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Rawhide Kid #1


“Always remember, Tommy--a gun is neither good nor bad! It depends on who is wearing it! In the hands of the Rawhide Kid, it is something wonderful!”

That echoing of a classic line in both the book and film version of Shane gives you the measure of this comic-book character. It’s akin to your 1950s TV Westerns for kids, or B-Western programmers aimed at the younger set.

With that said, there is still something charming about its “squareness.”

Issue #1 gives us two stories featuring the Kid, including his origin story—Rawhide refers to the town he’s from and not his apparel. There is also one stand-alone Western story, and to my surprise a short prose piece.

Again, the target was youths of a different time, but I still enjoyed this toe in the water to get a flavor for this character.

Monday, August 27, 2018

The Crossings


“While Hart was thinking it over Donaldson rolled himself a cigarette and drew the sack shut with the string held between his teeth and when he raised the match there it was, a jack of diamonds staring out at us between his ratty shirt and wool jacket. I saw it and Hart saw it and probably so did Heilberger. I guess that like me Hart simply couldn't believe what he was seeing.

 "Jesus and Mary on a broomstick," he said. "You could at least be a little careful, couldn't you?"

He didn't seem angry, only more or less annoyed with Donaldson, but he drew his gun out nevertheless — some huge grey antique of god knows what vintage — and set it on the table and when Donaldson saw this monstrosity pointed in his direction he began fumbling for his own gun and Hart said don't do that which stopped him for a moment but then he went back to fumbling again, just some fool in a panic and Hart said dammit, George, don't do that now but by then Donaldson had his own gun out so Hart had no choice but to pull the trigger.

Visceral horror author [and sweetheart of a human being], Jack Ketchum penned this brief western novel—his one and only. This is a fine novel, but it suffers having been read back-to-back with S. Craig Zahler’s similarly themed Wraiths of the Broken Land [also reviewed here.]

Ketchum’s laconic characters and their “small doings” are beautifully done and I’ll be honest I yearned a bit for more of this familiar but well-executed tack.

At some point it seems the author felt it was a duty to hew to his reputation or what his usual readers wanted and lay on the violence thick and heavy. Readers of this blog know that I have no problem with violence portrayed upon the page, but I must admit, read in tandem with Zahler, this seemed to pale a bit.

The violence, as over the top as it is, is still no match for Zahler’s brand of mayhem, but that is not the beef here. This violence seems to lack the emotional resonance and character gut-punch of Zahler’s work. This is odd in that Ketchum handles character affinities so well in the milder moments.

With all this said, this is a brief novel, I enjoyed reading it, and perhaps these nit-picks are merely unfair comparison with what was recently consumed.

Mr. Ketchum passed away recently and it is a shame that he did not return to the genre as there is much here that shows a good grasp of Western humanity.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Top Five from a Modern Master


S. Craig Zahler, author of the excellent, albeit intense novels A Congregation of Jackals and Wraiths of the Broken Land, and writer-director of one of the most memorable western films in recent years Bone Tomahawk will be offering his take on the genre and news about another of his Westerns in the works in an upcoming interview.

Ahead of that conversation he offers his own picks for Top 5 Reads in the genre.

1.      Beyond the Outposts Max Brand

2.      The Singing Guns Max Brand

3.      The Big Sky A.B. Guthrie

4.      Lonesome Dove Larry McMurtry

5.      The Ox-Bow Incident Walter Van Tilburg Clark

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Wraiths of the Broken Land


“Although the gentleman knew that he would be changed irrevocably by the act of killing another man, he admitted to himself that he was already different—aware of his mortality in a physical way and cognizant that his most cherished viewpoints did not in any way alter the world that happened violently around him. The scorpions had shown him that he was not immune to death.”

Friends, this is one gut-punch of a novel. S. Craig Zahler’s second Western [his first, A Congregation of Jackals is also reviewed on this blog] continues to display the author’s heady mixture of gorgeous prose, good grasp of the genre, and almost jaw-droppingly over-the-top set-pieces of violence ever presented on the printed page.

This ultra-violence is no mere effect or grab at exploitation. Some genres are founded almost entirely on the ability to push the limits but often these become exercises in one up-manship leaving any pretense of narrative ambitions in the dust in order to get to the grit, gore and grue to moisten that dust.

Not so with Zahler. This would be a mighty fine novel if it were not so tinged with red, but…I for one, find his violent visions fascinating.

It must be said, this may not be for all tastes. If you enjoyed his prior work, including his excellent films Bone Tomahawk and Brawl in Cell Block 99 you will find more to enjoy here.

A great toe in the water—if you read and survive the first chapter you’re in for a helluva ride.

If that chapter turns you off. Proceed no further—things get much worse from there.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Galveston


I've found that all weak people share a basic obsession - they fixate on the idea of satisfaction. Anywhere you go men and women are like crows drawn by shiny objects. For some folks, the shiny objects are other people, and you'd be better off developing a drug habit.”

This neo-Western by Nic Pizzolatto, the creator of HBOs True Detective series is big on bleak observation and long on heart. It is no spoiler to say that it is the saga of a Galveston loan shark enforcer called “Big Country” who on the same day he receives a fatal diagnosis has rumblings that his unsavory employers have less than ideal plans for his already truncated future.

There are big themes here, redemption being one of them. A very fine example of what can be done with old ingredients.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

David Crockett His Life and Adventures


Ere long he found it necessary to oppose some of Jackson's measures. We will let him tell the story in his own truthful words: "Soon after the commencement of this second term, I saw, or thought I did, that it was expected of me that I would bow to the name of Andrew Jackson, and follow him in all his motions, and windings, and turnings, even at the expense of my conscience and judgment. Such a thing was new to me, and a total stranger to my principles. I know'd well enough, though, that if I didn't 'hurrah' for his name, the hue and cry was to be raised against me, and I was to be sacrificed, if possible. His famous, or rather I should say his infamous Indian bill was brought forward, and I opposed it from the purest motives in the world. Several of my colleagues got around me, and told me how well they loved me, and that I was ruining myself. They said this was a favorite measure of the President, and I ought to go for it. I told them I believed it was a wicked, unjust measure, and that I should go against it, let the cost to myself be what it might; that I was willing to go with General Jackson in everything that I believed was honest and right; but, further than this, I wouldn't go for him or any other man in the whole creation.”

This 19th-century biography of Davy Crockett by historian John S. C. Abbott is a load of thoughtful fun. Crockett’s birthplace and stomping grounds are not far from my own homestead and I have to admit a bit of partiality when it comes to his exploits.

What struck me in this narrative was not so much the “adventures” but the political exploits which strike me as pertinent today.

I’ll let Mr. Crockett close out this musing.

“He said, 'I would as lieve be an old coondog as obliged to do what any man or set of men would tell me to do. I will support the present Administration as far as I would any other; that is, as far as I believe its views to be right. I will pledge myself to support no Administration. I had rather be politically damned than hypocritically immortalized.'"-David Crockett on withdrawing his support for Andrew Jackson

Ah, to see such courage and integrity in congressmen and voters/supporters of any and all stripes today…

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

"The Mountain Code"

Jim Webb, in his history Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America offers an interesting [if unprovable] premise on the foundations of the clannish honor, rebelliousness, and ornery combativeness of the people of early Appalachia and the Ozarks. It is a book well-worth reading and discussing [another day, perhaps.]

I find that you can see Webb's theme encapsulated in a few brief paragraphs in a work of fiction, the below is from Forrest Carter's The Vengeance Trail of Josey Wales. [BTW-A mighty fine book itself.]


The [Mountain] Code was as necessary to survival on the lean soil of mountains, as it had been on the rock ground of Scotland and Wales. Clannish people. Outside governments erected by people of kindlier land, of wealth, of power, made no allowance for the scrabbler.

“As a man had no coin, his coin was his word. His loyalty, his bond. He was the rebel of establishment, born in this environment. To injure one to whom he was obliged was personal; more, it was blasphemy. The Code, a religion without catechism, having no chronicler of words to explain or to offer apologia.

“Bone-deep feuds were the result. War to the knife. Seldom if ever over land, or money, or possessions. But injury to the Code meant---WAR!

“Marrowed in the bone, singing in the blood, the Code was brought to the mountains of Virginia and Tennessee and the Ozarks of Missouri. Instantaneously it could change a shy farm boy into a vicious killer, like a sailing hawk, quartering its wings in the death dive.

“It all was puzzling to those who lived within government cut from cloth to fit their comfort. Only those forced outside the pale could understand. The Indian—Cherokee, Comanche, Apache. The Jew.
“The unspoken nature of Josey Wales was the clannish code. No common interest of business, politics, land or profit bound his people to him. It was unseen and therefore stronger than any of these. Rooted in human beings’ most powerful urge—preservation. The unyielding, binding thong was loyalty. The trigger was obligation.”

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Quote of the Week


This is “The Cowboy Code of Ethics” as offered by James Owen in his book Cowboy Values: Recapturing What America Once Stood For.

I’ll admit I’m not the biggest fan of all that Mr. Owen has to say in his book as it seems a bit of historical cherry-picking to get at the best and the brightest, but that’s just me. I do think most will find it hard to quibble with his list of 10.



The Cowboy Code of Ethics

“Live each day with courage.

Take pride in your work.

Always finish what you start.

Do what has to be done.

Be tough, but fair.

When you make a promise, keep it.

Ride for the brand.

Talk less and say more.

Remember that some things aren’t for sale.

Know where to draw the line.”

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Short Story Short Take: "Gunman's Christmas"

We don’t judge a man by the blood he was borned with. We measure him by the blood he’s got in his veins now, ‘cause we figure he made it whatever it is—good or bad.”

I write of this Christmas tale in the month of August as it was my first encounter with the work of Caddo Cameron [the penname of Charles Beeler.] It's a quaint tale with heart, and has the feel of hard-earned authenticity.

That authenticity likely comes from Beeler's own experience working ranches and railroads in the late 1800s.

In this story no new roads are paved, but the old roads feel legit and with the backing of the Yuletide setting it resonates.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Words to Live By


Never double-cross a man. Never back down.”—Philosophy of Noble L. “Dude” Brown, Marshal of Leavenworth, Washington

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Quote of the Week


Dear Sir: I have a warrant here for your arrest. Please come in by Friday and give yourself up. If you don’t I’ll know that you intend on resisting arrest, and I will feel justified in shooting you on sight when I come after you. Yours truly, Elfego Baca, Sheriff of Socorro Country N.M.”—The form letter Sheriff Baca sent to all those indicted by a Grand Jury.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Creed of Violence


“It was God at his most blessed who gave you this.” He touched his head. “So you would know what is right. It was God at his most blessed who gave you this.” And he touched his heart. “So you could feel what is right. And it was God who gave you these,” he grabbed his crotch again, “so you would have the fuckin’ cojones to do what is right even if it means your own death. That is God’s holy trinity on earth. And if you do not live by that you are just useless pockets—”

A cynical, violent and gorgeously written novel positioned during the onset of the Mexican Revolution. Author, Boston Teran, gives us a father-son duo who also serve as the antagonist-protagonist—with the father “Rawbone” spouting some of the juiciest dialogue I’ve read in some time.

Teran draws parallels between the Mexican Revolution and who might really have been behind its inception and todays roil and turmoil in the world. Whether one agrees with the politics or not is irrelevant as the novel itself is a treat.

Fans of James Carlos Blake and Frank O’Rourke will find much to appreciate here.

Gentle Annie by MacKinlay Kantor

When we reached the place where Cotton had left his horse and buggy, we had a few moments’ conversation. The Goss brothers spoke with rar...