The locus of the skirmish was an oversize longhorn calf, its wild neck and shoulders straining against a wooden yoke. It was caught between a long hinged squeeze gate, partially broken and weighted down by the vaqueros, and the far side of the chute. One of the straw-hat cowboys swung a glowing iron back toward a caliche block firepit piled high with ash and glowing embers, and the animal’s hip smoked with a fresh brand. Lin smelled the singed fur and burnt flesh even as he noticed the former bull’s male parts, freshly removed, slick and glistening atop a pile on a canvas tarp. Naturally, they’d be saved for frying.
I’m gonna say a few words and then have you read that paragraph again. It is typical of most any I could have selected. It drips with detail without becoming an exercise in what the author discovered in research.
Many in the pursuit of authenticity turn a bit pedantic, a bit “Look what I read in a history book, now I put it in my fiction.” Such practices mar many a historical entertainment.
Bernard Cornwell educates you easily, painlessly and fascinatingly as we follow his Richard Sharpe throughout the Napoleonic Wars—this author does the same, as handily and effortlessly.
The details are offered in easy offhand observations that smack of authenticity, they “feel” as if the character lives where he is as opposed to simply “And then this happened,…and then this…”
In one paragraph we see the struggle, the straining wild neck.
We see and feel the glowing iron that came from the mighty specific and resonant caliche block firepit.
We smell flesh and fur.
We are even called upon to guess at taste as Lin offers the obvious “male parts” meal that is to come.
Have a read of that paragraph again. Notice that it is chockful of detail and yet it blows by like a breeze.
This is a superlative example of the genre.
If I have a quibble with it, it is this—the four words that follow the main title of Hellbenders.
Those words, “A Traditional Western Novel.”
Now as fans of the genre, we’d be liars if we didn’t admit that much of what can be classified as “traditional” is mere plotting and not crafting the world we are to inhabit as we read.
This novel is more than mere traditional, it’s a bit of a time machine.