Thursday, July 23, 2020

Head of the Mountain by Ernest Haycox


“Pain is an awful thing,” she said.

“After it goes away a curtain comes down and you can’t bring back how bad it was. Otherwise we’d all be cowards.”

This slim novel from a master of the genre was originally serialized in 1950-51 in the pages of Esquire magazine. You’ll find Haycox’s usual full-blooded men, well-drawn women in this tale of theft along a stage line in the Pacific Northwest.

I’ve always been an admirer of Haycox and find his “man in the elements” passages particularly engaging. His blizzard sequence in the excellent Bugles in the Afternoon comes immediately to mind, only adventure-write Alistair MacLean seems to match the man for describing the harshness of cold weather.

As usual his literary scoutcraft is on hand…

“Rawson spotted the man’s tracks as soon as he came upon them for with him, as with any riding man, the day and its changes was a book of great interest, whose sometimes cryptic passages  challenged his ability to understand them.”

With all this praise for Haycox himself, I’ll admit I found this novel hard going even with the brief page count. In part that may be due to the decision by Bantam Paperbacks to format it without chapters or breaks between switches in time, locale, or scene. The reader is often flowing along nicely and then we must bring ourselves out of the story to settle ourselves into new terrain.

Likely a far better book if formatted with care.

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