Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry


Though he had always been a careful planner, life on the frontier had long ago convinced him of the fragility of plans. The truth was, most plans did fail, to one degree or another, for one reason or another. He had survived as a Ranger because he was quick to respond to what he had actually found, not because his planning was infallible.

What can be said of a book that is likely familiar to most?

It can be wagered that many know it by reputation or from viewing of many of its TV incarnations.
It would be a shame if that passing familiarity were all that were tasted as a deep dive into the hundreds of pages of this novel pays rewards in ways that the moving image cannot, no matter how well that image is limned.

Let’s take one scene, from both, one that likely most viewers are familiar with, the river crossing that ends in the tragic death of a young Irish cowboy by multiple snakebite.

Call knelt by the boy, helpless to do one thing for him. It was the worst luck — to come all the way from Ireland and then ride into a swarm of water moccasins. 

Call said nothing. The boy’s age had nothing to do with what had happened, of course; even an experienced man, riding into such a mess of snakes, wouldn’t have survived. He himself might not have, and he had never worried about snakes. It only went to show what he already knew, which was that there were more dangers in life than even the sharpest training could anticipate. Allen O’Brien should waste no time on guilt, for a boy could die in Ireland as readily as elsewhere, however safe it might appear.

‘It seems too quick,’ he said. ‘It seems very quick, just to ride off and leave the boy. He was the babe of our family,’ he added. 

‘If we was in town we’d have a fine funeral,’ Augustus said. ‘But as you can see, we ain’t in town. There’s nothing you can do but kick your horse.’ 

The novel has a depth that strikes one as more than mere entertainment. Truly one for the ages.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

City of Widows by Loren D. Estleman


I turned in time to see the last of perhaps a dozen women step off the boardwalk on the other side of the street and turn in the direction of the mission. They were dressed all in black from bonnets to shoes, their black hems dragging like crows’ wings in the dust of the street. One or two fingered rosaries; the rest clutched their shawls at the throat and stared straight ahead as they walked, moving with a kind of bicycling gait that raised a yellow plume in their wake. The group swept along like some low-hanging cloud and seemed to drain the life from everything it passed.

One of Estelman’s long-running Page Murdock series which, like Max Allan Collins’ PI Nate Heller series, places a fictional protagonist in the midst of well-researched actual events and personages.

Estleman has been around a long time and I’ll admit there is some of his work that strikes me cold while professional and at others, this being one of them, he strikes me as one of the best in the genre.
This is a mighty entertaining genre Western well above the standard formulaic fare.

I can offer no better praise than the blurb on the cover of the paperback copy from Elmore “Dutch” Leonard himself.

“I was going to see how City of Widows opens and read 55 pages. It’s a honey.”

It is indeed.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Missing by Sam Hawken


Gonzalo took a few desultory bites and then put his fork down. ‘I never saw this as a game, Jack. I did what I had to do because that is the way things are supposed to be carried out. We don’t live in the Wild West. Mexico has laws. Maybe they aren’t well enforced, but we have to at least try, otherwise there would be anarchy.’

Sam Hawken delivers a neo-noir south of the Border contemporary Western that is a riff on Alan LeMay’s The Searchers.

Here, we have an everyman type, a building contractor widower in Laredo, Texas who is attempting to do right by his job and in the raising of his two stepdaughters.

When one goes missing in a brief visit to Mexican relatives, our protagonist seeks every legal and just method to find the girl. We feel his heartache, his anguish, his sense of duty to both the girl and the promise he made to his late wife.

When these methods fail, we proceed to the final section of the book subtitled “Off the Chain” and that descriptor does little justice to what is done.

This is a well-done neo-Western that reminds one of Don Winslow but writ small. That smallness is not an indication of effect, simply that our attention is laser focused on one man and his burden of duty.

Exceptionally well done.

Story Spotlight: “The Test” by Rex Beach

  “ Out on the trail, nature equalizes the work to a great extent, and no man can shirk unduly, but in camp, inside the cramped confines of ...