Friday, December 10, 2021

Renegade Westerns by Kevin Grant & Clark Hodgkiss


The full title of this gorgeous volume is Renegade Westerns: Movies That Shot Down Frontier Myths.

The volume is an intelligent guide to “adult” westerns that sought to break from standard fare, starting with a detailed look at 1943’s The Ox-Bow Incident and ending with 2017’s Hostiles.

The authors delve into 100 films over decades, many of which are favorites of this author so the high regard should be no surprise.

It also has two Appendixes of Additional Films well worth a delve:

Shadow West: Noir Westerns & Gunning for Peggy Castle: Female Fronted Westerns.

A superlative resource for those who prefer a bit of grit in their Westerns.

Story Spotlight: “First Kill” by Will C. Brown


Louise, when a man gets thrown off a horse he’s breaking, the first thing he ought to do is get up and get back on and ride that horse. It’s not the horse he’s got to master—it’s his own opinion of himself. The horse that bucked him, it just represents something. He’s got to do it then and there, not the next day or the next week. A man’s got to get on top of his trouble, or it’ll get on top of him.”

Oh, this 1959 honey from Mr. Brown stacks so much good work in its brief page-count. He inverts the romanticism of the gunfight, and gets the ear-ringing and remorseful trembling feelings right.

If I had a complaint, and I don’t, it’s that I don’t have enough of Mr. Brown on my shelf.

Solid fare for readers who enjoy a moral compass in their leisure reading.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Rio Grande Death Ride by Terrell L. Bowers


“You have come to die?"

"No. I've come to kill a sleazy snake, a yellow rat that hasn't got one grain of sand in his craw. You wanted me-well, you sniveling butcher, here I am!"

I was led to this by a recommendation from a Good Man who as a source for good reads fits me well 90% of the time, well, this is one of those 10%ers.

It is a serviceable if formulaic read, a less-skilled “Josey Wales” and ragtag crew tale. My tolerance for such things can be higher but……and this may just be me, but our protagonist displays a casual violence to women that is seemingly portrayed as admirable that I find hard to stomach or justify with “heroic.”

Readers of this blog know that my taste can lean to well-limned violence and this negative reaction is less about the violence and more the admiration of “This is how you court a lady, a little slap here and there and call her brat.”

If the level of the opening prose works for you and this reader’s qualms with “Women love to be slapped” does not worry you, well, you may find something here, but honestly, there is simply better fare up and down the line.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Ragtime Cowboys by Loren D. Estleman

That’s the danger of living alone. You get a dumb idea, nobody calls you on it, you get a dumber one later, nobody calls you on it, and before you know it you got a head full of dumb ideas and you run around like a blind horse till you smack up against the side of a barn.”

Reliable teller of tales, Mr. Estleman gives an historical what-if? He takes two former real-life Pinkerton agents, Charlie Siringo and Dashiell Hammett and puts them on a case involving the estate of the late Jack London, with a visit with Wyatt Earp and Joseph Kennedy thrown in to boot.

A crackerjack idea, the marriage of the western with the early hard-boiled.

It is full of such clash of ages/cultures exchanges as…

I hope you’re right and he follows me instead of you.”

“I know a trick or two if he don’t. The Agency didn’t start when you joined.”

“It didn’t stop when you quit.”

Estleman is an author I have enjoyed a good deal, much of his work is superlative, but it may be the fault of this reader in that I found much of what was between the covers a bit, well, rote. Oh, it is skillfully rendered, but I did not settle in easily for the ride.

Now, that may just be me, if the premise sounds aces to you, I would heartily encourage you to make your own estimation.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Plumb Drillin’ [aka Gold Fever] by David Case


Sure, things like bravery. It’s normal, you see a brave man, you reckon him to possess character. And maybe so. Then again, maybe he’s just afraid to be a coward, if you see what I mean?”

Horror writer David Case wrote a trio of Westerns in the mid-70’s. I have enjoyed his horror work, so I tracked down one of this trio—reportedly it was optioned by Steve McQueen but never made it to the screen.

A brief look at the premise reveals why McQueen was likely so interested. A man returning from a stint in territorial prison is sought to lead a blind man and his wife in search of a lost gold seam.

The plot summary, which might be a bit generic, does not do justice to Case’s work. He takes his time with languid character building, and one is all the more sure why McQueen wanted to embrace this role.

It has a wise yet cynical edge that reminds me of upper-tier Frank O’Rourke, which is a good thing indeed.

Well worth a read and a ponder of the film that might have been.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Seven Devils Road by Richard Prosch


Tom Baldwin’s card table was nothing, but rough-hewn planks of weathered pine wood nailed together, and it balanced on two wobbly saw-horse legs. In the center, a pot of fifty double-eagles, a silver pocket-watch, and a German meerschaum pipe waited for a winner.

That is the opening paragraph for the second volume of The Hellbenders Trilogy.

[See this blog for the estimation of the first volume.]

But…I surmise that you’re ahead of the game. Why would I dip into Volume 2 if I didn’t already enjoy what I encountered in the first outing?

I did, and I do.

That opening is precursor of all the cinematic turns I could have cherry-picked throughout the volume.

Where many authors seem to rest on, “And then this happened, and then this and then…” at the expense of the wood smoke smells, the textures of the wood, the creak of leather, the squeak of a hasp—the living breathing details that set a scene in the mind’s eye. This author puts us in the middle.

Now some can overdo the scene setting I just praised, spending pages to limn seemingly every detail of a panorama.

Not Mr. Prosch. He’s our sommelier of the senses. He narrows down the details to the redolent few and then gets each scene going in the midst of the sparse vibrancy.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

A Dorothy M. Johnson Twofer


The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance by Dorothy M. Johnson

The swamper’s job at the Prairie Belle was not disgraceful until Rance Foster made it so.

This brief tale was the inspiration for the film. I’ll admit the film is one of the few Ford/Wayne team-ups that leaves me a little cold. Likely my fault.

I always found Jimmy Stewart’s resentment hard to reconcile, but the source story has no such issues. Interior motivations are clear, adult, unromantic and make for fine reading.

If you’d asked me,” Barricune mused, I could’ve helped you. But you didn’t want no helping. A man shouldn’t be ashamed to ask somebody that knows better than him.”

Sparse writing from a keen observer.

The Hanging Tree by Dorothy M. Johnson

Now I wonder who got strung up on that tree,” remarked his partner. Wonder Rusell was Joe Frail’s age—thirty—but not of his disposition. Russell was never moody, and he required little from the world he lived in. He wondered aloud about a thousand things but did not require answers to his questions.

A wonderful novella full of human truth and the brooding uncertainties inside the facades most of us assemble each morning for the world.

The ending may be a bit pat and abrupt, but it works.

What works even better, the ride along the way inside the skulls of real-life humans uncertain in their own skins no matter what they present to the world.

Renegade Westerns by Kevin Grant & Clark Hodgkiss

  The full title of this gorgeous volume is Renegade Westerns: Movies That Shot Down Frontier Myths. The volume is an intelligent guide to...