Tuesday, April 27, 2021

The Penrock Covenant by J. Lance Gilmer

 


You see, I have been forced to defend myself for no other reason than because of the color of my skin that the good Lord decided to wrap around these bones. I never sought trouble or asked for it. I have even backed down. But people see backing down as weak and that ain’t so. It takes more strength to walk away if it means someone losing his life. All I have ever asked is to be left alone and allowed to live free in this country. Nothing less and nothing more.”

This is exactly the sort of novel that makes exploratory reading a joy. The road to this title began with me reading the author’s 1976 crime novel, Hell Has No Exit.

I was tipped to that novel from the site https://blaxploitationpaperbacks.com/

I enjoyed the crime novel and then tracked down this sole western from the author and am only disappointed in the fact that Mr. Gilmer has penned no more in this genre.

It plays like a mash-up of two good takes on the genre: Quentin Tarantino’s westerns and the beautiful dialogue interplay and easy friendship of equals we find in Robert Parker’s Virgil & Cole novels.

The dialogue is easily on par with Parker’s and one can hear two experienced hands such as Kurt Russell and Samuel L. Jackson give voice to the conversations that range from the affable and laconic to the cold and necessary. [Try it yourself, re-read the opening passage with Mr. Jackson in mind and tell me that don’t cook.]

A delight to discover, and a joy to read.

One more from Mr. Gilmer to exit on.

Your skin is thin and your head is thick. Now that is a bad combination. Change the way you view life, boy, or it will be taken away.”

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Hopscotch by Brian Garfield

 


Living is something most of us postpone isn’t it? We sell the present for a chance at a future where we may do our living when we’re old and have lost the talent for it.

First things first, this novel it is not a Western, it is a novel of espionage. I have included it here as the author is a fine Western author [many of his titles are reviewed here] and this novel strikes me as a riff on his Western novel Tripwire.

In both, we have a lone protagonist take on a much larger force than himself. He does so with foresight, meticulous planning, and much cleverness along the way.

It strikes me the two could be read in tandem for a comparison, hence the inclusion here.

The novel is also rife with Garfield’s sardonic pragmatism. Small riffs on humanity.

Her laughter was mocking but not unkind. He didn’t respond but he couldn’t share in her contempt for Jayne’s compassion: he couldn’t deceive himself any longer into mocking anyone else’s convictions. He could only envy them.

Or this…

And he’d long since given up the athletic challenges. They’d all got to looking the same way---the way bowling had looked when he’d been a college freshman. As soon as he discovered that the object of bowling was to learn how to do exactly the same thing every time, he’d lost interest.

A beautiful reflection on formula living, hell, even formula reading—if the goal is simply to repeat what has been done, no matter how skillful the repetition, it strikes me, and perhaps the late Mr. Garfield, that there may be more to the world than wearing out the skillful groove.

A fine novel from a fine author—one redolent of his western sensibilities.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

 


When they rode out of the Yuma camp it was in the dark of early morning. Cancer, Virgo, Leo raced the ecliptic down the southern night and to the north the constellation of Cassiopeia burned like a witch’s signature on the black face of the firmament. In the nightlong parley they’d come to terms with the Yumas in conspiring to seize the ferry. They rode upriver among the floodstained trees talking quietly among themselves like men returning late from a social, from a wedding or a death.

Undeniably evocative writing. To claim this novel is not a work of art is a bit narrow-viewed.

But…the novel’s stylistic choices that make up a large part of its artistic merit seem to leave the reader at a bit of a remove. In many passages the writing itself is so much the “story” that the reader [this reader, at least] was left admiring the colors on the canvas and less taking in the canvas as a whole.

I am reminded of the noir excesses of James Ellroy, himself a bold stylist of whom I have read much and enjoyed much, but I would be a liar if I did not admit that there is a “learning curve” expected of the reader to settle into what the author has to say.

McCarthy and Ellroy both seem intent and content with “Look at how I do this” which seems to push one a bit out of the narrative.

I enjoyed the novel. I admire the novel. But as an entertainment, I feel it lacks a bit.

Personally, I find James Carlos Blake’s In the Rogue Blood, a similar nightmare-scape, the better novel. It is equally gorgeous in its prose but never loses sight of the fact that “the tale is the thing.”


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 ...