Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Heller With a Gun by Louis L’ Amour


“Out here a gun is a tool. Men use them when they have to. I know what King Mabry is like because my father was like that.” Dodie touched her hair lightly here and there. “Where there’s no law, all the strength can’t be left in the hands of the lawless, so good men use guns, too.”

I am grateful to Mr. L ’Amour as he was one of my earliest entries into the genre. Many of his tales are stick-to-the ribs affairs that hit the marks I most often look for in the Western.

Morality tales with a bit of heft to them, the environment [land and weather] as a strong character, and a bit of scoutcraft ladled in here and there.

One of Mr. L’Amour’s servings of scoutcraft.

“You never look into a fire, King,” she said curiously. “Don’t you like to?”

“It isn’t safe out here. A man should keep his eyes accustomed to darkness. If he suddenly leaves a fire after staring into it, he’s blind…and maybe dead.”

Here’s the author on his editorial horse [a horse I agree with btw.]

They tried to judge a wild, untamed country by the standards of elm-bordered streets and convention-bordered lives.

As I said, I am grateful to the author for being my starting point, but I’d be a liar if I didn’t say that with each subsequent novel of his I step into I feel that I am reading another draft of, say, Hondo.

Yes, drafts of a prior novel that I enjoyed, in some cases tremendously, but there is a marked sameness to much of Mr. L’Amour’s output. One gets the feelings that you could remove character names and find staggeringly similar passages as in the above quoted ones in a score of his novels.

None of this is to say that the author is unskilled. Good Lord, not that at all. I agree with his son, Beau, that there are works in his “Adventure Stories” volume that are remarkable, easily on par with a contemporary of Hemingway.

In these stories one gets the feeling that this is where the author really wanted to go, but found the Western market is what buttered his bread, so he turned an able hand to it.

An able hand that turned out many a fine tale, but…to this reader at least, the more I sample these wares the more I ask, “Have I read this one already?”

If you are a reader who doers not mind re-reading a favorite book [I am not that sort] you will find Heller With a Gun a solid performance.

If you like to see an author buck against the corral and try new things, well, …

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Brand of a Man by Thomas Thompson


The boy spun in his tracks. The sudden movement startled the horse and the animal shied. For a moment the boy and the man stared at each other, a smiling, unshaved stranger with a gun, and a wide-eyed kid, unmasked by surprise until his face was as easy to read as gathering weather. The boy was hurt and bewildered, too young to understand the adult world around him, too old to cry openly about it.

This paragraph appears on the first page of this 1958 novel from Thomas Thompson. Such facile observations of humanity and character limned in easy yet poetic expression [“as easy to read as gathering weather”] appear on practically every page.

This brief novel [128 pages] bears all the marks of being a mere formulary Western but Thompson is clearly not content with simply spinning an action-filled yarn [he does that here, too.] He is equally interested in seeing the world around him with wide-open eyes and aiding us in seeing that world, too.

Where we usually get “He rode into town,” we get this bit of laconic poetry.

The horse shied suddenly, and at the side of the road a laggard, earth-bound squirrel sat bolt upright on a rock and spit high-pitched, chattering accusations at the double-burdened horse as it passed. He’d spend the summer here, then the fall and the winter, and around the seasons again, raising a family, living his small orbit of existence, finally dying. A small animal, willing to challenge something a hundred times its own size for the privilege of sitting on a rock…Owen came back to the present.

If such clear-eyed observation written in clean brisk prose is your cup of tea, then you’ll be in heaven with this one.

I warn, though: Reading such philosophers of the west as a regular diet can ruin one’s appetite for lesser fare.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

The Comancheros by Paul I. Wellman


The Casa Blanca, alone of all the houses in the Paso Duro, boasted glazed windows. In this she found an illogical comfort: illogical because she knew it was unwarranted. Glass is easily shattered—really no protection at all—but all women come to think of glass as a barrier and a safeguard, because in a civilized world glass is respected as such.

It was, Eloise considered, like the law. One comes to depend on the law with the same illogic that one depends on window glass, for the law is as flimsy as glass, and as easily shattered.

Wellman, an author I am fond of, offers this sweeping tale of good, evil, and valor that ranges from New Orleans through the harsh terrain of Texas while encountering the bandit tradesmen of the title.

It is a big bold tale, but I must admit it was a bit too squared off, too calculated to bring me further than a surface enjoyment. It reads as a comfortable 1950’s Western film that hits all the beats but possesses no surprises.

Likely the fault of this reader and not an author whom I usually find in fine form.

A Frontier Phrase Worth Resurrecting: “He Bubbles Pure"

  [Excerpted from our book The Frontier Stoic: Life Lessons from Those Who Lived a Life.] “ He bubbles pure .” ·         Said of a man w...