Friday, July 29, 2022

Finding Nevada by Frank Roderus


Now he thought that the position in the bank was a nice position for a man to have. He enjoyed the work and he enjoyed the people, and if the officers of the bank did not really understand that Harrison’s popularity with the patrons came not from his efficiency but from his genuine liking for them, well, that was the bank’s problem. Harrison did not truly care all that greatly how they perceived him. The fact was that he thoroughly enjoyed what he was doing.

This novel is a fine example of what I can enjoy about the genre—despite the pictured gunfight on the cover [my cover, at least], there is not a gunfight to be found within.

It is a novel of amiable, loping charm. Most genres exist for the mere sake of the plot itself no matter how skillful people maybe limned along the way. A crime novel with no crime is no crime novel. A mystery with nothing to solve is no mystery. A horror with no shudder is, well…

The Western can be rife with gunfights [and I’ve enjoyed many of that variety.] It can also be one of seeming slightly plotted nothingness and yet still survive because of the caliber of the people we spend time with.

This novel is no rafter-shaker but I am mighty refreshed by having spent a few hours in such amiable unargumentative company.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Leaving Cheyenne by Bill Brooks


“I counted the graves of my friends and it was like ticking off time, each one representing a memory, a good time, a shared glass of liquor, a laugh, a sense of indescribable loss.”

The above is a gorgeous representation of what one finds between these covers. It is part of the Quint McCannon series, and I’ll be honest, series usually rate low for me as the very fact that something is a series means that absolute jeopardy is not on the table. The author must continue the character to maintain the income. That foregone conclusion often leads me to never fully involve.

Don’t get me wrong, there are many fine reads within series tales; I simply point out that we all kinda, sorta know the end before we start.

With all that said, this novel has the heft and beauty of a single piece of literature. Mr. Brooks peppers the tale in the fashion of the late Mr. McMurtry where we come across actual historical personages, which allows McCannon/Brooks to proffer his judgment of the figure in question.

A gorgeous tale I enjoyed thoroughly save for the foregone conclusion of “All will be right in the end” before I even left the first page.

I shall return to Mr. Brooks and Mr. McCannon.

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Branded West, Edited by Don Ward


Here we have a 1955 anthology sanctioned by the Western Writers of America.

We are treated to 14 solid tales from the pens of men as able as Elmore Leonard, Stephen Payne, Kenneth Fowler and other practitioners from the early ‘50s.

The volume opens with “The Builder of Murderer’s Bar” by Todhunter Ballard, a story that was selected as one of the 100 Best Western Stories of all time by Jon Lewis.

Usually I concur with Mr. Lewis’ opinion, but I’ll split here—it struck me slight. Likely my error and not Mr. Ballard or Mr. Lewis.

The remainder of the fare is solid, with one easily taking high honors to my taste, that tale being “The Marshal and the Mob” by Will C. Brown—stick to your ribs stuff.

While not essential, I am a sucker for anthologies as it gives one a chance to sample bite-size appetizers of many authors to see if you’d like to delve deeper into their longer works.

Friday, May 6, 2022

Murphy by Gary Paulsen


Murphy edged in the saddle so his gun was handier. He hated shooting off a horse. One of the times he’d been hit he’d been on a horse; he’d fired a shot and the damn horse had gone hog-wild on him. While he was trying to stop it and get another shot off, the man he had been shooting at used a rifle and put a .44-40 bullet through his right thigh. The bullet had gone on through and killed the horse—broke his back. Even though Murphy had been able to get a shot into the man’s pump and put him down, he still hated shooting off a horse.

Primarily known for his Award-Winning young adult novels, Hatchet being a notable example, Paulsen turned in a string of mature Westerns featuring a character by the name of Murphy, this novel being the first in that series.

So, how does a “children’s author” fare in this adult world?

Mighty damn good.

Murphy is a real flesh and blood human being. He is no cardboard cutout hero. He has doubts, unacted upon desires, he suffers the pangs of everyday living and yet he still rises to the job of being a lawman in a small mining town.

Here Murphy is confronted with the rape and murder of a young child, adult fare indeed.

The outrage is handled well, as is the stab at early crime scene investigation.

Handled even better, and the heart of the novel, is Murphy’s affairs of the heart with a local widow.

This is all done with easy assurance.

But…what makes this novel less than an A [for this reader] is the plot resolution. It feels hurried. It feels as if Paulsen enjoyed the widow and Murphy and the time with them so well that he rushed to get past the incident that set the entire novel in motion.

I get Paulsen’s rush, I too, wanted more of Murphy and the time spent inside his experienced skull is akin to spending time around a fire with an old hand wise to many ways and honest to those he does not know.

The shoot ‘em up ending feels out of place in such an assured work.

Still, I look forward to spending more time with Murphy in the next volume.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Guide to Life and Literature of the Southwest, with a Few Observations by Frank Dobie


Nobody should specialize on provincial writings before he has the perspective that only a good deal of good literature and wide history can give. I think it more important that a dweller in the Southwest read The Trial and Death of Socrates than all the books extant on killings by Billy the Kid. I think this dweller will fit his land better by understanding Thomas Jefferson's oath ("I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man") than by reading all the books that have been written on ranch lands and people. For any dweller of the Southwest who would have the land soak into him, Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey," "Ode: Intimations of Immortality," "The Solitary Reaper," "Expostulation and Reply," and a few other poems are more conducive to a "wise passiveness" than any native writing.

That title tells you right up front—This is a Reference Work.

What that title does not tell you is that it is beautifully written and full of pith and trenchant observation.

It is, essentially, a list of historical and non-fiction works on the West, with a heavy focus on the Southwest. There are fictional works sprinkled here and there.

Mr. Dobie has apparently read it all, has an opinion on all, and is a wise guide with an observation ever at hand.

Most books of this sort are meant for browsing, but this reader was charmed almost immediately, and I read it cover to cover as if it were hot-off-the-presses fiction.

The volume is manna for historians and researchers, or fiction writers looking to add authenticity to their tales, and simply those who love good writing and mature opinions voiced in a frank manner.

Easily one of the best reference works of its kind.

Friday, March 4, 2022

The Diezmo by Rick Bass


As it was, he died on the fifth day—in his last hours, he changed his mind and asked Sinnickson to remove the legs, though by that time he was too far gone and we had begun digging his grave even before he passed. We had him buried by that evening, still more bloody and fevered seed for that contested soil.

This brief novel of a godawful early expedition along and below the Border is rife with suffering all elegantly rendered by Mr. Bass.

There is much of the actual history intertwined with fleshing out from the author, and piquant observations such as the following abound.

 “Regardless of your beliefs in a hereafter, or a merciful God, we are flesh but once, and our choices must be made wisely.”

Or this example…

Charles McLaughlin was seated on one of the stone walls, sketching the scene before him quickly, and by the time Wallace and Cameron had the men and their stock rounded up, he had finished his sketch. Those of us who cared to look at it agreed that it was almost realistic, but we were a bit surprised that it had come from his hand, and from his eye. He had made the scene appear almost idyllic, with very little of the squalor. In that regard, the picture was false, but in the sense that it presented ourselves the way we would have liked to be seen, it was true.

Brief, well-observed, if a realistically unpleasant experience.

A superior work.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Wait for Signs by Craig Johnson


Too often I would hear men boast of the miles covered that day, rarely of what they had seen.—Louis L ’Amour

Usually, we open with a quote from the volume we are examining, but this L ‘Amour quote qualifies as it is the epigraph used by Mr. Johnson himself to open this anthology of short-stories.

To my mind, it sums up the strengths of this very talented craftsman.

He has an eye for people, places, and small acts that tell a character.

These strengths are in fine form here but…

And keep in mind, this is likely only for this reader, I have an impatience with crime stories these days. Between decades of having read primarily crime novels and where seemingly every other television show is a variation on Law & Order, the tropes of a crime story must be stuck to apparently, in most cases so closely there is little room for surprise or legroom for wider expanses of story.

In the case of Mr. Johnson, I find it a shame as his skill is extraordinary, so much so that I hate to see it run in the ruts of, “Now let’s figure out which meth addict held up the diner.”

The Longmire series is popular, and justly so, and I wager my quibble will do nothing to lower that estimation for fans [nor should it.]

It is just the observation of a man who would love to see this author really stretch his legs and surprise from top-to-bottom without having to provide a compulsory “Aha!” denouement.

In the spirit of the quote, he has clearly seen much, I would love to read more about sights I’ve not seen.

Finding Nevada by Frank Roderus

  Now he thought that the position in the bank was a nice position for a man to have. He enjoyed the work and he enjoyed the people, and if ...