Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Posse from Poison Creek by Lewis B. Patten

Dolan was silent a moment before he spoke. He sensed that he was on uncertain ground, and he wanted what he said to be just right. “I won’t change. I guess I don’t know how to convince you—not with words. But I won’t change.”

She didn’t answer him. But the silence was companionable, and he knew that she had accepted his words at face value. At least for now.

This brief novel by the solid Patten, while saddled with a formulaic name, is a bit more than a mere action tale of “Go get ‘em and bring ‘em back.”

It is that action tale, but it is more than that—it reads as a posse-procedural where we are privy to the interior considerations of Sheriff Webb Dolan and his weighing this or that contingency. He is plagued with a form of on-the-trail bureaucracy and the varying logistical planning of a long haul not often given voice in formulaic fiction.

These mature considerations make this tale a cut above. A worthy afternoon whiler.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

“When the Children Cry” for Meat by Noel M. Loomis

Ikamosa drew a sudden deep breath. “I was raised a Kiowa,” he said, “but I have never lost the Comanche’s love of coming and going as he wishes.”

Mr. Loomis uses his deep knowledge of Indian ways to construct another tale akin to his award-winning effort “Grandfather Out of the Past.” [Also covered in this blog.]

This one follows a band of Kiowa led by their half-Comanche chief during a long lean time. 

Steeped in tribal politics and wise to Indian ways, it has this aspect of verisimilitude going for it, but I found it less successful than “Grandfather Out of the Past” as this one seems a little too respectful, a little too “Majestic Noble Savage” heavy to feel realistically immersive.

Undoubtedly a gifted taleteller, I merely express a preference for the other.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

“Red Sand” by Will C. Brown

Red sand whipped men’s faces and clogged their eyes and nostrils. The wind, the constant, yammering wind, battered the walls of lonely nester houses, and pried into every crevice to lay its gritty hand. And if a man was weak, not made for it, the red grit could grind itself into his reason, as well as into his clothes, his teeth, and his bed.

Brown was a force in the genre in the 50’s and 60’s and the prose here shows good atmosphere in the Caprock Country. A tale of redemption with the discovery of love thrown in. 

I’ll admit, while not a bad tale, it seems a bit too formulaic to merit a slot as one of the 100 Best Western Short-Stories. 

I look forward to sampling more of Mr. Brown. As I said, well written just a little bit predictable.

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.

Friday, October 4, 2019

“The Unbeliever” by Dorothy M. Johnson

That gorgeous and true line is found in Miss Johnson’s perceptive story of a white man living among the Crow.

Johnson also wrote the classic “A Man Called Horse” and ably shows that this is not a mere repeat of that story’s theme. It has its own breadth and depth.

Short but memorable.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

The Encyclopedia of Weird Westerns by Paul Green

Actually, the full title is The Encyclopedia of Weird Westerns: Supernatural and Science Fiction Elements in Novels, Pulps, Comics, Film, Television and Games.

That title really says it all. An absolutely staggering compendium of all that may be found in the Weird Western genre.
Not much more can be said than, if you have an affection for this aspect of the genre, then this thick book is your guide to hog heaven.

Monday, September 23, 2019

A Time in the Sun by Jane Barry

“How come you to swap horses?” Obre said. 

“It ain’ my nature to risk a good horse or a woman’s reputation,” Shafter said. “As a rule, you owe ‘em both too much.” He looked straight ahead now. “You ever have to throw your horse, Ob?” 

“Hell, mine continual gets shot under me,” Obre said. 

Shafter said, “Your horse gets shot under you, you’re exposed too long. You jump and throw him and tie his legs together you got a bulwark from the minute you bend to grab that off fetlock till the minute he’s down.” He bit contemplatively at his lower lip; the gesture flattened the tapered ends of the blond mustache. He thought of the warm struggling body jerking under bullet and arrow, and your head pressed against the doomed belly which rumbled and fought to expel the bowels. Most Indians did not aim for the horse because they wanted it. Then again, most men did not want to be afoot in the desert. But sometimes the horse, the living breastwork, was all there was.

Friends, this one was a complete surprise for me. I had never heard of the author let alone the 1962 novel. Barry spent time in the Southwest to absorb the background and also spent much time immersed in the history and the people at the time of the Apache Wars. These efforts pay off in spades.

Extremely well-written, well-informed while wearing that learning lightly, able at bouncing perspectives where each character lives and breathes. 

There are moments of adventure, heartbreak, yearning love, and a bit of soapbox concerning Indian Affairs, but I find myself agreeing with her perspective and found none of it intrusive.

Here’s more excerpts of her fine work.

Beside Shafter, Elias drew a long breath of relief. Kiernan was good with a gun, as good as any teamster on his run, and he knew a couple of fast tricks. Obre knew all the tricks, but he used only one. He had never filed the sights, as many did, so that they would not trip clearing leather, but he oiled the insides of his holsters. He liked to sight when he fired, and he was expert at angle sighting from any level he could set his eye. Within ten yards he would not have an opportunity to aim, and he figured Kiernan at six or six and a half yards from him. He never fanned his guns either, not even in practice; it tore them up and busted them apart too quickly, and it was show-off stuff and not his way. The first shot had to count; he never figured on another chance. Nor had he sliphammered the Dances, or any other gun, not since he was a kid, kicking a can along in the dust with a ripping barrage of shots. There was one thing: there weren’t any triggers on the Dances. He found long ago there was no sense doing in two hard motions, cocking, pulling, what you could do in a sole practiced one. It took a long time, a lot of training, to learn you didn’t need a trigger or a trigger finger, to master letting the hammer slide off the joint of the thumb so oiled and slick the aim didn’t flicker a fraction, to coordinate every individual specific move in a series of moves into a smooth cohesive whole. The skill did not, with him, rise particularly from speed in drawing. It lay rather in an uncanny ability to compute the error factor in another man, another man’s guns, a sixth sense like a built-in calculator, so automatic that it was like the flawless operation of a faultless machine. It had to do with the inherent, mostly overlooked thing which, coupled with speed and accuracy and perhaps more important than both, made the edge between the mere marksman and the valid gunfighter: the sheer gut to stand up to another gun.

Or this…

“The years go slowly by, Lorena,
The snow is on the grass again.
The suns go down the sky, Lorena,
The frost sleeps where the flowers have lain.” 

It was a sad song. He’d heard it all through the war, and yet he never tired of hearing it. He guessed there were times a man actually took a kind of pleasure in being sad. So what was he complaining about, that he’d done good deeds and bad, when he was loose on the country again with a friend who could sing and had a good gun and another who could make him smile now and then. He was getting to be a terrible complainer, in his soul.

Or this…

“The guts to beat down every obstacle in the way, not ever counting the cost, so’s to have some of the damn little happiness and peace granted to man in the span of his days. You think that doesn’t take courage? Most of us drift because that’s easiest....If a little of what’s happy comes our way we’ll take it, but we won’t work for it. Most of us don’t know what we want to make us happy; that’s part of the reason we sit tight, hoping whatever it is will show. And selfish. Strange partners, maybe, but there they are, courage and selfishness. I like people who know what they want, right off. I like you, but you don’t know what you want any more, do you?”

Or this…

Shafter only made a pretense at grinning. After they had gone he continued to rub the pup’s ear. He could feel, fully for the first time, the lines of wind, squint, years, pain tighten in his face, the slow dull ache of aging, of the body yielding to the persuasive stresses and tensions of decline, the muscles playing out like uncoiled rope, the heart asserting its increasing unwillingness to play the game. No sir, by God, he’d had enough, and it was time he thought of pushing on to where he could age a little slower, carry less in his mind, and unlearn himself how to meddle.

Hell, that’s enough. Read it and add it to the list of unsung classics.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

“When a Document is Official” by Frederic Remington

Men with the bark on do not say things in their lighter moods that go for much; but when these men were behind a sage-brush handling a Sharps, or skimming along the tailing buffaloes on a strong pony, what grunts were got out of them had meaning!

The artist Frederic Remington who so ably rendered what he saw into visual form also was quite handy with the written word. He lived in the midst of much of what was and this first hand observation fills his prose pieces with a verisimilitude that many others simply must infer via research.

This tale in the campaign against Sitting Bull is filled with such on-point observations.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Searchers Alan LeMay

He made a labored calculation, and decided Laurie was twenty-one. That explained why she seemed so lighted up; probably looked the best she ever would in her life. She was at an age when most girls light up, if they’re going to; Mexicans and Indians earlier. A look at their mothers, or their older sisters, reminded you of what you knew for certain. All that bright glow would soon go out again. But you couldn’t ever make yourself believe it.”

A summary of this classic is likely unnecessary as fans of the genre are already familiar with either the novel, or more likely the classic John Ford/John Wayne film.
In short, we have a ride to retrieve a young girl abducted during a Comanche raid. 

But the novel is more than the action sentence summary would suggest. The opening quote shows the author is steeped in the realities of the period, people, and places. He brings a poet’s eye to what is often in other books a mere revenge ride tale of gun smoke action.

Action does abound, but the mature reader is in for a treat of wise observation.

A classic.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The Book of Stock Car Wisdom Compiled & Edited by Criswell Freeman

Drivers are a breed apart. Ken Squier observed, “The stock car driver is the new American cowboy.” Like gunfighters at a showdown, racers face danger with a calm resignation that leaves the rest of us in awe.

A slim book that I stumbled across. A quick browse led me to the above excerpt, and I must say that I found much of what is within the pages remarkably akin to the Old West sentiment. 

With that said, not essential, but also not trivial.

Those who risk their lives in skin-in-the-game endeavors have something to say.

Monday, August 5, 2019

The Big Book of Biker Flicks by John Wooley and Michael H. Price

“I had gotten this idea in 1967 for a new kind of Western. We’d put these two hipsters on cycles in place of cowboys on horses, and turn ‘em loose in a lawless modern-day world.” Peter Fonda on Easy Rider

This book sports the full title The Big Book of Biker Flicks: 40 of the Best Motorcycle Movies of all Time, it is a large lavishly illustrated guide to the subject.
Plot synopses, behind-the-scenes takes on the making, and many comparisons to the Old School Western.

The authors seem to love all these films whether good or bad, but I wager if you have a fondness for a few biker flicks at all and can see Fonda’s parallels to the Western you might find this a fun browsing book.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Races, Chases & Crashes by Dave Mann and Ron Main

Actually, the complete title is Races, Chases & Crashes: A Complete Guide to Car Movies and Biker Flicks. In past entries I’ve been up front with my view that I see the drive-in carsploitation phenomenon of the 70’s as an off-shoot of the Modern Western. And a good argument can be made that the biker flick is an offshoot of Wild West Outlaw tales. As a matter of fact, more than a few bikers argue for that Wild West connection themselves. No less a personage than Dave Nichols does so in his interesting book The One-Percenter Code. Nicols being an editor at Easyriders magazine likely knows the connection inside-out, so who am I to dispute him?

This fantastic volume reviews over 500 films and the added attraction is that the authors sincerely love the genre and [this is unusual in a viewer/reviewer] they actually know the cars and bikes in the flicks. 
This inside knowledge goes a long way to inform how they see each film.

It has reminded me of old favorites, and led me to more than a few “Well, I’ve never even heard of that one” flicks. 

If the title moves you at all, then this volume is a safe bet for you. Easily the best of its kind on the subject.

Monday, July 29, 2019

The Outsider by Frank Roderus

His eyes dragged closed and he tried to let his body go loose and limp. Tightening up against pain was the worst thing you could do. If you could go loose, completely and absolutely loose, the body would float away from the mind where the pain was held, and the pain wouldn't be so bad. A gray-haired old private first class, a man whose past owners had not always been considerate, taught Leon that a very long time ago and the advice had been proven sound.

A simple Western tale of a black soldier cashiered out of the cavalry who heads to Arizona to work his own land. The town simply does not want a black man around.
On one hand this is a simple, straight-forward story and in the end no surprises but…be damned if this thing did not have heart to burn. While “simple” it is never really that—there are a few characters that I would love to know in real life. A heart-breaker.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The 100 Greatest Western of All Time

Actually, this is a large glossy magazine special edition produced by the Editors of Wild West magazine [a fine publication by the way.]

There are a few historical sidebars of interest peppered throughout.

But, the meat of such volumes lives or dies on the list itself and in that regard, it is an admirable list with a few unfamiliar choices that sent me scampering to queue up. 

A slim but superlative volume.

Friday, July 19, 2019

The Best of TV Westerns: The Critics' Choice : "Hopalong Cassidy" to "Have Gun, Will Travel," "Maverick," to "Bonanza" by John Javna

We continue on a theme.

This currently hard to obtain volume may be slim but there is much to appreciate. You will find many of the usual suspects here as the title suggests but a few hidden gems and insights are worth the time of the inveterate TV Western fan.

It was part of a series of “Best of TV” books that are all rather fun to browse. 

Disclosure: I have a "Mare's Leg." It sits above my desk. T'is a thing of beauty.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

52 Weeks 52 TV Westerns by Scott Harris, Paul Bishop, Rob Word & Contributors

Another fine volume in the authors’/packagers’ series of “52” where they delve into the “52 Best” books, films, TV shows etc. the genre has to offer.

[You’ll find the volume on Western fiction as well as interviews with Mr. Harris and Mr. Bishop on this very blog.]

Such “Best of” lists are rife with omissions and hurt feelings as invariably someone’s pet choice is overlooked. The opposite happens as well with the “Are you kidding me?! Who thinks that is any good?

Such things are the case with a listed endeavors, but the nature of such things is to act as a reminder for forgotten work, or as a finger pointing to undiscovered treasures, or at least sideways prompts to further enjoyments within the given subject.

With all the above in mind, the volume succeeds admirably.

I will provide not one sneak peek as to which shows did nor did not make the cut as that is the non-fiction equivalent of spoilers and less than kind to the authors’ incentives to continue to produce more good work.

It’s fine work, it will lead to much viewing entertainment. Pony up and pick up a volume.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton

“You expect everything to be easy because you are rich.” Lewis would chuckle watching him fumble and swear. “But the plate doesn’t care how rich you are. The chemicals don’t care how rich you are. The lens doesn’t care how rich you are. You must first learn patience, if you wish to learn anything at all.”

“Damn you,” Johnson would say, irritated. The man was nothing but an uneducated shopkeeper putting on airs.

“I am not the problem,” Lewis would reply, taking no offense. “You are the problem. Now come: try again.”

Here we have Michael Crichton’s only Western novel published posthumously. The timeline has it written perhaps in the 1970’s and it still has the mark of his trademark blending of science and narrative, here in the form of the Dinosaur Bone Wars of Professors Cope and Marsh, actual feuding personages.

Will follow our naïve young protagonist Westward and watch him mature and learn more than a good deal along the way.

It is not the most polished of Mr. Crichton’s several fascinating works [perhaps that is why he held it back] but it is still an intriguing look at his sole dip into the genre.

Note: The author was noted for his instructive asides where one feels the wiser for having read his fiction. I must admit his perspective on the American Indian titles “The Indian Village” found about halfway through the novel is mighty perceptive. Let us not forget that Mr. Crichton, among many things, was a skilled anthropologist. 

Essential? No.

Interesting? Oh, yes.

Monday, June 24, 2019

High Saddle by William Hopson

“You have come a long way, I think, senor,” she said.
“Yes, a very long way.”
“And you have far to go?”
“A bit further, I think. To Mexico.”
“My home was in Mexico, senor. I came he with my husband. He is buried out her behind the corral.”
He was sloshing water over his clean-shaven face, washing away the suds. He turned, towel in hand. “Then why do you not return?”
She shrugged as only a Mexican woman can shrug. “I have two children and no money, senor.”

This brief 1952 novel from Hopson has much going for it. The terse style, laconic fatalism embodied in shrugs and gestures, and a cold-eyed look on life reminds one of what was later to be found in the Westerns of Elmore Leonard. 

This novel may not be the finest in a genre that has much to offer but it does make this reader want to go back to the William Hopson well for another dip or two to see what else is there.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: A Novel by Quentin Tarantino

  It was sometime around fifteen years later that the reputation of a deadly half white/half Mexican gunfighter named Johnny Madrid reached ...