Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Dark of the Moon by John Sandford


The day looked like the day before, sunny, a touch of wind, about as nice a July day that you could hope for; four kids, two boys and two girls, were dancing along the sidewalk ahead of him, boys in dropped-crotch pants, girls with pierced ears and noses, but there was a small town innocence about it; testing their chops, sometimes, forgetting, they'd hold hands. They all looked back at him a couple of times, knowing him for a cop.

Nice a day as it was, there was too much humidity hanging around, and thunderstorms would be popping by late afternoon. If it got hot enough, some of them could be bad. Nothing to do about it.

Admittedly this is a contemporary crime novel, set in present-day rural Minnesota, yet this novel—the first in a series of Virgil Flowers novels strikes me akin to the Raylan Givens novels of Dutch Leonard and the Longmire novels of Craig Johnson.

And…what I’m going to say may strike some as anathema, as much as I enjoy those other two authors and characters, these just might be the best of the three.

Sandford, a former journalist brings a brisk pace to the proceedings, seems to get all the rural police procedural details eight where many others feel “made up.”

The character of Virgil Flowers is fine company, an affable man who loves hunting and fishing, and the lure of the chase.

Since I’ve found this series, I’ve been whirring through them—the titled volume, the first in the series is a fine one, some of the others I’ve encountered since are even better.

Fans of Raylan and Longmire might find much to admire here.

Thursday, July 13, 2023

“The Last Shot” by Frank O’Rourke


John Brandon stopped that night in a stand of pines on the last, long slope above the Shovel valley, eating two sandwiches and drinking cold, flat coffee from his canteen. Darkness had settled when he spread one blanket under the pines and lay back, with the soft, grass-sweetened wind stirring the treetops above him, shaking the first dead leaves over his bed. His horse cropped grass with tired dignity about the perimeter of its stake rope. John Brandon thought of his younger brother and replaced this sad memory with the face of another man--the man he hoped to find in the town up this valley and then, forcing body and mind into rest, he slept deeply through the early fall night.

A rare short story from one of my favorite authors in the genre. This story first appeared in a 1949 issue of Esquire magazine.

It is a formulaic tale of revenge, but it is always Mr. O’Rourke’s keen observational eye that elevates.

His feel of the land, his sense of place is reminiscent of Thoreau’s; senses that truly sense, an intellect that grasps these sensations and remembers.

His grasp and feel for people is equally acute.

One feels a craftsman that was alive in the world is at the helm.

Another quill in Mr. O’Rourke’s already full cap.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

The Sheepman starring Glenn Ford


One of Western writer Brian Garfield’s favorite Westerns, and, I gotta agree with him.

The comic pedigree is prime here. We have the director from Destry Rides Again, George Marshall, one of The Duke’s favorite scribes, James Edward Grant [along with William Bowers,] an able supporting cast of Shirley MacLaine, Leslie Nielsen and Edgar Buchannan, and, of course, a simply superlative Glenn Ford.

I am a dyed-in-the-wool Ford fan—he can play it comic and dramatic.

Here he plays it in the vein of an affable rogue much as we would see James Garner settle into so ably in his Support Your Local films.

A breezy charming film well worth one’s time.

Also note, Ford was an excellent horseman in real life-he sits a saddle well here.

Also, an able gunman, though light on the action we do see enough to remind us, yes, his draw is that smooth.

Thursday, July 6, 2023

“Sue Ellen Learns to Dance” by Judy Alter


Sue Ellen looked at her children, their faces wary and unsmiling, their clothes soiled with ground-in grime that would not come out no matter how hard she scrubbed, their feet bare and dirty. She sighed and turned back to stare sightlessly at the road before them.

This little heartbreaker won the Spur for Best Short-Story in 1998.

Set in the Depression Era this is a tale of an uncalibrated marriage, that is, one where dispositions do not quite match. When a marriage is well-calibrated, a couple not only endures facing hardship, they often come out the other end stronger and have had happiness along the way despite troubles.

When it is not calibrated, even the best of external circumstances can’t make up for the lack that is at the core of what the uniting was all about in the first place.

Sue Ellen’s marriage is poorly calibrated, and the circumstances are tough.

What is presented is bleak and we all have a taste that all was bleak before and will be bleak after our brief sojourn.

Honest portrayals such as these remind us to value what we have, or, perhaps for some, hold a mirror up to poor calibration and might raise a few questions about the lot of one’s life.

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...