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, …

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