Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weider

 


Word got around after a while, and others began to approach me, asking to help them get some justice. Sometimes they called it revenge, but I guess that depended on your point of view. At first, I only took a few jobs, ones where I was really angry over the circumstances, like the case where a guy forced his young niece to perform sex acts on him. But over time I became less picky, and I took almost any job. I didn’t think too much about it—after all, if the cops wouldn’t do anything, what was wrong with a private enforcer taking action?

The author, a citizen of the Sicangu Lakota Nation brings us this Neo-Noir tale of a “private enforcer” as described in the offered quote.

This reader is of two minds regarding this novel. The depictions of Rez-Life, encounters with prejudice on and off the reservation, walking the line between being “Indian” and being an “Apple” [red on the outside but white on the inside] and a myriad of other alien points of view are deeply fascinating.

But…to my mind, having this meaty subject placed over the familiar scaffolding of “Noir Crime” tale takes it down a notch. The crime aspect strikes as formulary and as this reader ages I find it harder and harder to read such noir tales no matter how touted the author without thinking this is just comic book fodder for big kids without four-color panels.

Of course, I am generalizing, sometimes these tales can be something more, but if we are honest with ourselves, it is the repetition and familiar that seems to attract many. I find that I am increasingly jaundiced to this repetitive “been-there, read-that” experience.

The author is clearly skilled, but I wanted it to hew closer to the meat and bones human story that he relates and less with the Lee Child punch-by-numbers manner of tale-weaving.

If you enjoy films such as Taylor Sheridan’s excellent “Wind River” and do not suffer from the reviewer’s impatience you will likely find much to enjoy in this first novel.

With all that said, I look forward to the author’s next novel with fingers crossed that he skips the Saturday Afternoon shoot-em-up and tells the captivating stories he clearly has inside him.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Incident at Twenty-Mile by Trevanian

 


The man in the waistcoat slipped down from the mule and stepped forward, grinning. “That we did friend! Couple of hours back. The poor beast just balked and wouldn’t go another step. I tried reasoning with it, but we were on a narrow cut with sheer rock on one side and a whole lot of nothing on the other---a real awkward place for a mule to go onery. Well, I gave that mule a tug or two, sort of inviting it to have second thoughts about its uncooperative behavior. But, no. The poor old beast had made up its mind that it was going no further. So I did what any reasonable man would do when friendly persuasion fails. I sent a slug into his stubborn head and pushed him off into the ravine. He made a fair splat when he hit the bottom, I got to give him credit for that. As a comfortable ride and a willing companion, that mule was no great shakes, but when it comes to splatting…! Well, that just goes to show that all God’s creatures has their special gifts. Some are strong; some are wise; some possess the ability to comfort and console. And that mule? He was a natural born splatter.” Lieder grinned, and B.J. could tell that he took pleasure in his ability to turn a colorful phrase.

The sole Western penned by the single-named nom de plume Trevanian. The author was more known for two well-written spy satires in the 70’s, The Eiger Sanction and The Loo Sanction. [One of which was turned into a Clint Eastwood film that the author felt missed the point of the satire.]

Those novels are well done, but this is a different breed of cat altogether. It is sly, wise, confoundingly unpredictable and is inhabited by an antagonist of bondafide evil.

It some ways it reminds me of an extended stay in the aptly named town of E. L. Doctorow’s also superb Welcome to Hard Times.

The opening passage may lead one to believe it is a novel that wallows in the less-than-savory side of life as one expects in a work by S. Craig Zahler, but the “evil” aspect is but one of the novels many moving parts. [For the record, I adore Mr. Zahler’s two Westerns.]

It is rife with observation.

B.J. made a dry three-note laugh. “Delanny doesn’t care about people. Dying is a selfish business, Matthew. Ask anyone who’s cared for an aging parent. And Jeff Calder is no one’s friend. He’s a man of prejudices, rather than values; of appetites, rather than tastes; of opinions, rather than ideas. He doesn’t care who’s right, only who wins. There are millions of Calders out there. They elect our Presidents, they fill our church pews, they decide our---”

As I said rife with observation. Observations that resonated in the 1800s, that resonated at the time of the novel’s writing, and that resonate now.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Blue-Eyed Devil by Robert B. Parker

 


“Wants it too bad,” I said.

We walked out of the gleaming new office and down the broad corridor.

“Wants everything too bad,” Virgil said.

“Wants to be more than he is,” I said.

“Not the key to happiness, I’m thinking,” Virgil said.

“You’d settle for being what you are,” I said to Virgil.

“I have,” Virgil said.

Another of the late Robert Parker’s dialogue driven marvels.

His style distills the Western essence to laconic exchanges that tell all the tale replete bells and whistles without ever feeling like the clumsy expository writing of many one could name.

Terse and succinct.

It’s as if Parker sought to outdo Elmore Leonard in the “Leave all the parts out that people don’t read” dictum.

This novel also resonates. The stark observations come often and are always welcome.

Pony looked at the dark sky.

“Apache man warrior,” he said. “Apache woman proud.”

“I know,” I said.

Pony grinned.

“In land of Blue-Eyed Devil, not so simple,” he said. “Man can’t always be warrior. Man gets to be cowboy and store man and saloon man. And man who sit in office. Not warrior, I just man who saddle horse. Pitch hay. Pick up horse shit. But I go with you and Virgil, I warrior.”

“Not everybody wants to be a warrior,” I said.

“No. But nobody wants to be pick-up horse shit man, either,” Pony said.

“Some people like it ‘cause it’s safe, I guess.”

“Life not lived to be safe. Safe makes you weak,” Pony said. “Make you slow. Make you tired.”

Superlative!

A Frontier Phrase/Philosophy Worth Resurrecting by Mark Hatmaker

 


[Some kind folk have mentioned how much they dig this bit of bloviating and aim to apply it—Thank you and good on them for that! I’ve tightened the wheels a bit and tacked on a new tail at the end from Arthur Chapman that seems apt and holds with the Warrior-Poet Spirit we’ve been discussing]

Circa, 1830s-1880s, if a friendly [or merely polite sort] asked one “How’re doin’?” You might hear from gregarious hombres,

Well, I’m livin’ in the shade of the wagon.”

To declare that one is “livin’ in the shade of the wagon” is to say, “Life is all right by me, no matter which way she bucks.”

If we pull this gregarious little phrase apart and have a look at the context it reveals more than a quaint colloquialism.

Crossing “The Great American Desert” [The Great Plains] and actual deserts was no easy feat. The Oregon Trail, the Bozeman, the Santé Fe, the Applegate, the Gila, the Upper and Lower Roads of Texas, and all the other lesser known routes for the adventurous, determined, or downright foolish and unprepared to cross were rife with dangers.

All of these early trails were peppered with the graves of the hopeful and the discarded belongings of people who continually lightened their loads jettisoning what they thought they “couldn’t live without” to what they really needed to survive and thrive.

Dangers were incessant. The elements, the indigenous folks, the non-indigenous that had gone rogue, disease, the never-ending struggle for food, potable water, and hardships a bit beyond the grasp of we pampered folk reading this on a screen.

Such challenges and privations spawned a philosophy all its own. A creed with its own informal chapters and verses.

The Texas Proverb [a rendering of a Kit Carson expression] being one of them…

“Cowards Never Started,

The Weak never Got Here, &

The Unfit Don’t Stay.”

Lest one thinks hard people were hard-hearted, often the early journals are full of robust humor, honest evaluations, and admirable unflagging “stick-to-it-iveness.”

Moving on to our shady phrase.

Many of these terrains had zero trees, bluffs, hills, anything to block the sun.

The wise walked on the shady side of the wagon when travelling.

The wise walked on the shady side of the horse when afoot.

The wise slacked against a wheel in the shade or stretched out under the wagon to provide relief from the sun.

“Livin’ in the shade of the wagon” meant that “Sure, there may not be a shade tree in sight, but I got my own shade right here and she’s just as good.”

It meant, that you were amenable and adaptable.

It meant you kept your sunny-but-shaded disposition wherever you went because you knew how to enjoy what was at hand no matter the circumstances.

The shade was both the actual wagon and the metaphorical cool spirit of the individual who displayed coolness under duress.

Hemingway’s “grace under pressure,” waay before Hemingway. The rough ‘n’ ready embodiment of the sprezzatura of Castiglione’s Courtier.

To be a shade enjoying sort also meant that you were a shade provider.

Your calmness of spirit and Yankee Ingenuity demonstrating how to “use what you got at hand” in turn acted as a sort of calming shade for others around you.

The man and woman who was able to stand tall and stay cool no matter what was valued by all.

Livin’ in the shade of the wagon” was not a mere colorful retort.

It was a declaration of intent.

It was a philosophy.

It was a valued goal to shoot for.

May we all live in the shade of the wagon!

Arthur Chapman concludes his poem, “Out Where the West Begins” with these lines…

Where there’s more of singing and less of sighing,

Where there’s more of giving and less of buying,

And a man makes friends without half trying---

That’s where the West being.”

Chapman’s West may be mythical and metaphorical but…seems a worthy goal to sigh less, sing more, buy less and give more gladhanding, and who wouldn’t love to make friends with a singing gladhanding sort?

May we all know such folk, hell, may we all be such Giants.

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 ...