Thursday, October 31, 2019

Bitter Grass by T. V. Olsen


Each night saw an all-night dance where the younger people stomped and swayed barefoot (for shoes would not have survived a single such night) in superb rhythm kept by chanting hand-clappers on the sidelines. It was a wild and beautiful sight that Alex watched for hours on end and never tired of, a highly improvised, life-pulsing promenade somewhere between Africa and hoedown country, with the fireplay of red light on quick lithe bodies and shining black faces. 

This is a curious novel. It is so full of incident that it has enough story for a McMurtry length epic and yet the page count keeps it in standard novel range. Olsen, is a mighty capable writer but here he seems to wish to leave nothing out of his sprawling story and often we simply have crammed episodes “And then this happened, and then this, and then this…”

When he takes the time to pause and slow down and dig in on a scene, we get a view of what might have been, a deeply realized epic. Instead, what we have here is a bit rushed and perhaps too surface for a man with such obvious talents.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Alaskans by Keith Wheeler


The labor assigned to the Chinese was the foulest sort—“the kind of work” Hawthorne confessed, “we didn’t want to do ourselves.” They asked little in return. “All they expected to get out of life,” said Hawthorne, “was hard work and the promise that when they died their bones would be shipped back to the old country to be buried in the graves of their ancestors. And even that wasn’t done until they was buried over here long enough for the flesh to waste away. It saved expense and shipping space to dig them up, pack each man’s bones in a little metal box, and send them back home in a sizable consignment.”

Another stellar volume in the Time-Life series titled The Old West. Full of personal vignettes, curious detail, and inspiring stories. 

This volume will take you from cheechako to sourdough in no time flat.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

The Best of the West: The Horse Soldiers Edited by Bill Pronzini & Martin H. Greenberg


A volume in the multipart anthology series published by Fawcett. It is a mighty useful set of books allowing Western readers to dip into shorter works by beloved authors and less familiar scribes to see what strikes the individual fancy and what might be less to one’s palate.

This volume of cavalry tales includes…

Verse by Omar M. Barker.

Short stories by Frederic Remington, Jack Schaeffer, James Warner Bellah, Bill Gulick, Gil Brewer, Dorothy M. Johnson, Bryce Walton, Brian Garfield, Elmore Leonard, Clay Fisher, and a grueling excerpt from the Elmer Kelton novel The Wolf and the Buffalo. 

While not all gold, more than enough nuggets to merit a panning session or two.

Friday, October 11, 2019

The White Man’s Road by Clay Fisher


The Sioux gripped the old soldier’s rough hand, knowing from the squeeze of it and from the look in the other’s faded blue eyes, what all men know who have been there: that when the last raise has been made and called, all men are the same color.

This tale of horse soldiers and the Sioux has been called one of the 100 Best Western Short-Stories; I must admit that ranking eludes me. Fisher writes well, clearly knows his stuff and is no formulary hack, but I admit that, thus far, I lack the appreciation gene for his brand of presentation.

With that said, if you enjoy Fisher’s works then this well-regarded tale may do the trick for you.

Here’s to that!

Thursday, October 10, 2019

“The Colonel’s Lady” by Elmore Leonard


Learning to fight doesn’t come easy with most men. Learning to fight the Apache doesn’t come easy to anyone. You watch the veteran until your face takes on the same mask of impassiveness, then you make decisions.

One of Dutch’s superior tales of grit in the Southwest. Here we have a weary group of horse soldiers tracking a band of Apache that has raided a stagecoach and abducted a woman.

Formulaic stuff in many hands, in Dutch’s hands, it’s terse raw-bitten, and hard-edge.

A fine story.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

The North Water by Ian McGuire


Sumner crouches down and peers into the darkness of the cask. “This one might die of heartbreak before we get him home,” he says. Cavendish shrugs and pauses from his work. He looks back at Sumner and grins. His arms are dyed bright red up to the elbows and his waistcoat and trousers are stippled with gore. “He will forget the dead one soon enough,” he says. “Affection is a passing thing. A beast is no different from a person in that regard.”

A stunningly written novel. The prose is lush, vibrant, descriptive and never meandering and that means that the reader is in for one harrowing journey as this tale starts in some dark places and gets darker and darker as it goes.

Ostensibly a tale of a whaling ship headed to Northern waters in the dying days of the industry. Like Western historian and archivist Jeff C. Dykes, I view 18th & 19th-century whaling and sailing tales as kin to the Wild West tale. Rugged individualists against the elements and against each other. Often pitted in struggles with indigenous peoples. 

This novel is a whaling tale only on its surface. It is a tale of survival, the indifference of evil, and the precariousness of abstract notions of justice. 

I’ll stop there lest I make this novel sound too high-falutin’. 

Allow me to say this one is rough, rugged, extremely violent and may not be for all tastes in that regard. 

I can assure one and all that it is written with elegance. Gore-drenched perhaps, but elegant, nevertheless.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

“The Glory Riders” by Brian Garfield


Diamond crouched down and spoke in a voice calculated to reach no further than the Indian’s ears. “Hear me, Iron Feather, I’ll see you dead before I’m through with you. Remember that, Indian. I’ll teach you what it means to suffer.”

Iron Feather said quietly, “If you could teach me anything, you wouldn’t be wearing that uniform.”

A brisk stark tale of Horse Cavalry and the Indian Wars from a dependable author. I was struck by the theme embodied in the quote that characterizes the tension between the warring factions.

A rigid and organized way of life [the Cavalry] seems confining and wrong-headed to the Indian.

The loose and seemingly unstructured way of the Indian seems a non-progressive dead-end to the white man. 

It is a tale of action, but Garfield plays at a wee bit more here

Solid stuff.

Bitter Grass by T. V. Olsen

Each night saw an all-night dance where the younger people stomped and swayed barefoot (for shoes would not have survived a single such n...