Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Quote of the Day: Elfego Baca


Elfego Baca upon being asked his law enforcement philosophy.

“If there is one to be buried and one to be tried, I’m going to be the one to be tried.”

Monday, April 29, 2019

Resolution by Robert B. Parker


Rife with resonant observations

“I bet I’d feel a lot safer with a gun,” Billie said.
“And you’d have reason to,” Virgil said. “But you ain’t brave without a gun, you ain’t brave.”

Or this one…

“Or at least calm,” Virgil said. Calm’s probably better than quick, and scared don’t make you calm.”

Or this one…

“It’s funny you know? If you boys are right, then the way you know a guy’s not scared if he don’t start trouble. And the way you know if he is he does.”
“Some truth to it,” Virgil said. “You know what you can do, and you know that you’re willing to do it, and you don’t have to show anybody anything. It’s kind of calming.”

Or this…

Virgil sat alone near the back of the saloon sipping a beer, looking at nothing, and seeing everything, the way he did.

Or this…

Swann continued to meet Virgil’s stare. But it was a waste of his time. Virgil was probably unlike anyone Swann had ever seen. Virgil didn’t care if you met his stare or not. He didn’t care if he intimidated you or not. He was just gathering information.
“You got any plans, Cole?” Lujack asked.
Without taking his eyes off Swann, Virgil said, “I’m forumlatin’.”
“And you heard me,” Lujack said, “About not hanging around too long.”
“I did,” Virgil said.
“Hope you’ll keep it in mind,” Lujack said.
He continued to look at Swann.
“Would,” Swann said to Virgil, “I was you.”
“One of the things I’m real happy about,” Virgil said, “is you ain’t me.”

Those brief passages illustrate the tight compact nature of this narrative. What can’t be conveyed without reading is how beautifully the author conveys the power of silence, the strength of pregnant pauses in the midst of tension.

These sections often say more than words or actions themselves.

A beautiful work.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Mister St John by Loren Estleman


“You ever ride posse before, Mr. Rawlings?” asked St John, when a door had closed behind her at the end of the hall.

“This is my first one.”

“Then here’s your first lesson. Don’t ever make excuse for the man in charge. If he’s any good he won’t need them, and if he’s not, he doesn’t deserve them”

A rock-solid novel from Estleman with a lawman past his time forming a posse with an also aged Indian tracker, a legally-blind sharpshooter, a Sunday school teacher with less than saintly predictions, and two banditos with less than noble motives.

They are trailing the notorious Buckner gang, and the company of these brigands is equally intriguing.

Rife with flavor and observation.

“I remember him saying it was the cold weather that saved you. Ten degrees warmer and you’d have bled to death half way there.”

“And if that bullet had been rimfire instead of center-fire it would have flattened out against my hip bone and you’d have plucked her out with tweezers the same day and I wouldn’t be feeling it every time it rains. How things might have gone and how they went don’t have much to do with each other.”

You’ll even pick up some useful advice for on the scout.

“The area behind the rocks smelled of ammonia. He wondered idly if the woman used it too. Nodesty was an early casualty on the scout. His urine steamed in the cold clear air.”

“Woman Watching built a good Indian fire scarcely bigger than a man’s hand (‘white man make fire big, sit back, no good. Indian make fire small, stay close, get warm.)

All in all, a superlative effort.

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Man We Called Jones by T.V. Olsen


When he saw who it was hailed him, he looked ready to laugh. Almost. He peered sharp at Jones, and something seemed to shut it off in his throat before it started.

“Carradine,” Jones said. Carradine, you brag something fierce. Back it.”

The reliable T.V. Olsen takes a formulary tack in this familiar tale of a man failing to escape his past. It has been included in the roster of 100 Best Western Short Stories, and while I have had many fine reading experiences with the author, I fail to see why this one makes the cut.

It’s not bad, it’s just that it’s not a particular stand-out either.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Candles in the Bottom of the Pool by Max Evans


“Aleta, the world is strange. Mankind has forgotten what was always true—that a clean breath is worth more than the most elegant bank building. A new flower opening is more beautiful than a marble palace. All things rot. Michelangelo’s sculpture is even now slowly breaking apart. All empires vanish. The largest buildings in the world will turn back to sand. The great paintings are cracking, the negatives of the best films ever made are right now losing their color and becoming brittle. The tallest mountains are coming down a rock at a time. Only thoughts live. You are only what you think.”

This is one unusual story. It is beautifully written, rife with observations as the above will attest, and…well, the arc of the story literally shocked me. I can’t say I know what to make of the story as a whole; I am left with questions.

Usually such elliptical fare leaves me cold, but this bit of outre perspective and savage acts left me pondering its meaning. 

I don’t mean for that to sound pretentious, simply a fact. 

An unusual work of art.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Cottonwood by Scott Phillips


The screenwriter of The Ice Harvest provides this seriocomic tale of Cottonwood, Kansas that incorporates the true-life serial-killing “family” The Blood Benders.

The Benders are not the focal point of the story, but they do play and intriguing and significant part. It is well written Western tale and unfolds in an unexpected way. Well worth a read.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The Wind and the Snow of Winter by Walter Van Tilburg Clark


He mocked the airs with which the man rode, and his princely greetings. He mocked the man cleverly, and Armandy laughed and repeated what he said, and made him drink a little of her wine as a reward. Mike had been drinking whiskey, and he did not like wine anyway, but this was not the moment in which to refuse such an invitation.

The author of the acknowledged classic The Ox-Bow Incident provides this knowing tale of the land and the men and women in it. It is far from formulary, and likely made the 100 Best List by dint of its craft. 

It is melancholic, short and worth the time of thoughtful readers.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Court Day by Luke Short


“I just saw Comer,” Marty announced, his eyes hot, his voice contained. “He’s givin’ us till sundown to clear out of town.”

Nobody spoke for a minute. Ernie found them watching him, but he kept silent. There are times you can advise men, and times you can’t.

Luke Short wrote many a fine formulary Western. They are often Noir-ish in tone, but he always strived for that bit more than assembly-line feel. He was a great admirer of Ernest Haycox and wanted to infuse his stories with something a bit more, to render them beyond just disposable western fodder.

This story is the only Short tale that made the Top 100 Western Short Story list, but I must confess the brevity emphasizes Short’s formulary elements over his ability with tone and shading of events. 

It is not a bad tale, but comparing the author to himself, he has produced far better work.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Massacre by James Warner Bellah


Owen Thursday was a tall man, dried out to leather and bone and sinew. Whatever he was doing, he moved about incessantly, not with nerves, but with primeval restlessness; not with impatience, but with an echo of lost destiny.

Bellah’s elegiac story was adapted into John Ford’s excellent Fort Apache. It is rare that we have lighting strike twice where the beauty in print matches the beauty on screen. Here we have such magic.

I’ll not bother wasting time summarizing the familiar, suffice to say it still holds power.

Monday, April 15, 2019

The Return of Kid Cooper by Brad Smith


“I can see you’re busy,” Nate said.
“What do you intend to do with that cow?”
“Taking her back to the herd, if it’s any of your business.”
“It’s not,” Nate said.
“Where’s the herd?” The boy switched hands on the lariat, the better to jab a thumb vaguely to the north. “Back that way a piece. You happy now?”
”I was happy before,” Nate told him.

Nate “Kid” Cooper is no longer a Kid. He’s released from prison after a long stretch and enters a world quite different from the one he left behind. 

Along the way he rights old wrongs, reconnects with some old friends, and fails to connect with a few others.

Cooper is a delightful character to spend time with and the narrative sings when we are in his presence. Admittedly it is less compelling when he is not on stage, but that is not often.
Winner of a Spur Award, I look forward to more in the genre from this author.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Road to Reckoning by Robert Lautner


On this morning I had no opinion on Henry Stands. He was one of those rough-and-ready, fat men we tend to elect as presidents and senators when they were too old to do anything else and too ornery to lie down. He had that same military bearing and attitude of patience that they had seen it all and leaned on the seasons like fences and watch the rest of the world cluck and run around.

It is rather hard to believe this is a first novel, it is so assured of craft, deep in learning, and has the feel of an experienced hand who knows to wear that learning lightly. 

It has been compared to True Grit in both premise and composition. That is high praise, but this is one of those rare instances where high praise is more than mere bluster. 

A sincerely superlative work.

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...