Tuesday, January 30, 2024

The Killing Hills by Chris Offutt


Tucker was the same generation as Mick’s grandfather with all the complicated contradictions of the old culture deep in the hills. Forthright but not forthcoming. Honest but reticent. Watchful but friendly.

A fine literary author’s first foray into a series crime/action character. Offutt gives us Mick Hardin, an AWOL Army investigator who returns to his Kentucky back hills home to aid his sister-sheriff in a murder investigation.

If that description sounds a bit close to parody of many a current formulaic “action” character, well…

Offutt is clearly a talented writer, but it seems this “entertainment” vehicle he has chosen is so familiar that, for this reader at least, it rings hollow and too on-the-nose.

Rather than the first novel in a series, it feels as if we have joined a long-running series already in progress at the stage where a bit of steam has left the engine due to the repetitive tracks that must be followed.

I admired Offutt’s dollops of authentic scout craft but there are better back hills crime novels to be had.

Again, it is wise to assume my opinion is egregious as Offutt has chops and I failed as an intelligent reader.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

A Voice Crying in the Wilderness by Edward Abbey


The fear of death follows from fear of life. The man who lives fully is prepared to die at anytime.

This is Abbey’s last work.

Albeit not fiction, this author of a few mighty fine Westerns, The Brave Cowboy and The Monkey-Wrench Gang among them, he was also a fearlessly insightful chronicler of nature and man-in-nature as we find in Desert Solitaire.

The subtitle of this work is “Notes From a Secret Journal.”

It is said Abbey offered this manuscript two weeks before his demise.

Broken into sections we find Abbey at his “worst” in places—the curmudgeonly quasi-misanthrope. Debatable if this is true.

And we find him at his absolute best.

The section titled, “Life, Death and All That” is golden.

We have thoughts from a man looking down the barrel of the mortality gun and giving his rawest, honest, life-affirming thoughts.

I absolutely adored this section.

In closing I will offer a few crumbs from this fine table.

We live in the kind of world where courage is the most essential of virtues; Without courage, the other virtues are useless.

Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul. One brave deed is worth 1000 books.

In the modern technoindustrial culture, it is possible to proceed from infancy into senility without ever knowing manhood.

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

“USFS 1919: The Ranger, the Cook & a Hole in the Sky” by Norman MacLean


Nowadays you can scarcely be a lookout without a uniform and a college degree, but in 1919 not a man on our outfit, least of all the Ranger himself, had been to college. They still picked Rangers for the Forest Service by picking the toughest guy in town. Hours, Bill Bell, was the toughest in the Bitterroot Valley, and we thought he was the best Ranger in the Forest Service. We were strengthened in this belief by the rumor that Bill had killed a sheep herder. We were a little disappointed that he had been acquitted of the charges, but nobody held it against him, for we all knew that being acquitted of killing a sheepherder in Montana isn't the same as being innocent.

The author of the highly touted “A River Runs Through It” [reviewed on this blog] brings us this tale of early Rangering with the US Forest Service.

It is not an action tale, but rather a tale of grit, gumption, hard work and the type of men it attracts and repels.

It smacks of experience and its currency is legitimacy.

I enjoyed the hell out of it and if that opening quote moves you, well, you’re in for a fine ride.

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Shock Wave by John Sandford


Virgil had a degree in ecological science, he was a committed green. But he met quite a few people over the years who'd come into the green movement from other, more ideologically violent movements-- people who’d start as anti-globalization protesters, or tree spikers as opposed to tree sitters, who thought that trashing a McDonald's was a good day's work, people who talked about Marx and Greenpeace in the same sentence.

The greenest people Virgil knew were hunters and fishermen, with Ducks Unlimited and Trout Unlimited and Pheasants Forever and the Ruffled Grouse Society, and the Conservancy and the National Wildlife Federation and all the rest, people who put their money and their time where their mouths were; but these others…

Another volume in Sandford’s seemingly effortlessly written Virgil Flowers series.

Flowers is a good ol’ boy investigator who always finds time to fish or hit the woods. It is in the vein of many recent outdoorsy thrillers, C.J. Box and Craig Johnson come to mind.

But…for my money, Sandford’s Flowers has them beat hands-down. There is a perpetual forward momentum in these novels coupled with Virgil’s lazy female-appreciating charm.

Strikes me as a Walton Goggins’ Netflix series waiting to happen.

Not classics of literature, but a masterclass nevertheless in how to entertain and make 400 some odd pages fly.

No mean feat, that.

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...