Friday, March 16, 2018

Quote of the Week

He regretted the occasional necessity of giving one man authority over another because some people enjoyed that authority too much to be entrusted with it. They tended to be easily misled into an over-appraisal of their importance. It seemed to him that when a man was too thick-headed and too low-down trifling to hold an honest job, he was usually able to find some other damn fool willing to hand him a measure of jurisdiction over the lives of his betters.”—T. C. Lewellen

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Whispering Smith

“Meantime, McCloud stuck to the mine, and insensibly replaced his Eastern tissue with Western. In New England he had been carefully moulded by several generations of gentlemen, but never baked hard. The mountains put the crust on him. For one thing, the sun and wind, best of all hemlocks, tanned his white skin into a tough all American leather, seasoned his muscles into rawhide sinews, and, without burdening him with an extra ounce of flesh, sprinkled the red through his blood till, though thin, he looked apoplectic.”

This novel from 1906 is a landmark of the genre known as the Railroad tale, novels and stories that told of adventure, romance, and mystery in, on, and around railroads.

Here, novelist Frank Spearman offers us what is perhaps THE textbook example of the genre and the often-filmed tale of the railroad detective Whispering Smith. It is a novel of its time and requires patience here and there as melodrama abounds, but I found more than enough pith within the pages to get a good deal of enjoyment from it.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Bendigo Shafter

“Going on would have been simple, for travel is an escape, and as long as our wagons moved our decisions could be postponed. When one moves, one is locked in the treadmill of travel, and all decisions must await a destination. By choosing to stop we had brought our refuge tumbling about us, and our problems could no longer be avoided.

“The promised land is always a distant land, aglow with golden fire. It is a land one never attains, for once attained one faces fulfillment and the knowledge that whatever a land may promise, it may also demand a payment of courage and strength.

“To destroy is easy, to build is hard. To scoff is also very easy, but to go on in the face of scoffing and to do what is right is the way of a man.”

A later period novel from Louis L ’Amour. I’ll be honest some of his novels can strike me as sloppy or not much better than formulary, but he will occasionally have a novel that feels so from the heart, it has a rib-sticking quality to it. This volume is one of those rib-sticking works.

This novel comes from a deeply informed place and on one-hand is straight-forward simplicity in story-telling with no-frills while on the other there are moral or practical asides that give one pause for contemplation. His knowledge of the terrain rings true, he drops little bits about survival in the mountains that gibes with reality, but, again, his moral asides resonate. They tread a balance between erudite and folksy pragmatic—most importantly these asides strike me as heartfelt.

A superlative L ‘Amour novel.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

A Man Named Yuma

He heard the moan plain enough but took another step. He wasn’t sure. An adobe shed had cut off his view above and from the front yard. Keeping well out from the shed, cutting around past its mud corner, he suddenly saw the man. He was staked out, naked and spread-eagled.”

This is the opening from A Man Named Yuma, written by the always reliable T. V. Olsen. This gritty tale of the southwest matches Elmore Leonard in its leanness of prose and its laconic testosterone infused-spirit.

While being a formulary Western, it is mighty well done and well-worth an afternoon on the front porch for fans of Leonard, Garfield, Shirreffs, and, hell, Olsen himself.

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Cold Dish

Billy, you say you saw this body?”

“Yeah, I did.”

“What’d it look like?”

Silence, for a moment. “Looked like a body.”

I thought about resting my head on my desk. “anybody we know?”

The first of the popular Longmire series by Craig Johnson. The characters are wonderful, and the man has a way with observation but, to this reader, at least…the “mystery” or crime elements are so familiar, and you’ve got to spend so much time on that genre-element it drops this a grade. But that drop is only a wee bit.

I think if the novel were about Sheriff Longmire and Henry Standing Bear going fishing and shooting the breeze I’d read the whole series, but alas, there are episodic cop tropes to make it through.

Please don’t read this impression as not enjoying the novel—I did, a good deal. It reminds me of noted Western author A. B. Guthrie’s Chick Charleston mysteries, which strike me the same. Wonderful characterization, maybe a little too familiar on the mystery element.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Wearing the Morning Star

Not enough
Never enough of her.
That one dancing there dancing
Never enough

Of the smell of her body
To me
Never enough
I cannot live without her breath.”

Here’s something a little different, an anthology of Native American Song Poems edited by Brian Swann.  Mr. Swann has culled through the anthropological record to provide this mix of staggering beauty, unadulterated humanity [including the finest love-poem I’ve ever read], and open-faced bawdiness.

Within you will find women singing of vaginas as large as canoes with clitorises as large as men-and these are compliments. The anthropologist’s notes showed that these were sung by old and young women alike with no sense of it being indecent or untoward—just as we sing about the “Old Rugged Cross” with a dying man on it and it does not strike us as grisly.

I will admit there are several in here that have such an otherworldly reference system I don’t know what to make of them [yet], but overall this is a gorgeous glimpse into an alternate perception of the world around us.

A glimpse that if studied assiduously may provide a deeper and wider view than the one we currently enjoy.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Hardcase for Hire

A short novel from 1963, Clay Randall was a penname for the prolific Clifton Adams, who wrote Westerns under his own name as well.

What we have here is a story of, why would a shantytown in the middle of Indian territory occupied by nothing but riff-raff go out of their way to build an ornate opera house.

Full of human observations and odd characters. Not a vital read as this genre is chockful of intriguing reads, but reminds me again why I keep returning to this literary area.

Solid if not essential.

Quote of the Week

He regretted the occasional necessity of giving one man authority over another because some people enjoyed that authority too much to be ent...