Louis L'Amour took a break from range wars and rustlers in 1972. “Callaghen” is a departure from his patented shtick, setting the action within the ranks of the Army. It features 34-year old Callaghen, an Irish soldier who has fought internationally, and at one point served as a Sergeant. His abrasive views of command have tarnished his career, demoting him repeatedly to lowly private and an assignment to a remote fort in the Mojave desert – in the heart of Indian country. This fort is essentially a security detail protecting the road to Las Vegas and Vegas Springs. Callaghen is 20-years in and discharge papers are arriving late, so this security detail and the inability to retire leaves the character disgruntled. While Callaghen isn't exactly the most interesting guy, the action intensifies just enough to keep me flipping the page...while checking the number at the bottom.
The plot is silky thin when our protagonist discovers a treasure map on a dead lieutenant. Apparently this leads to a river of gold and astonishingly a slew of outlaws convinced that Callaghen knows where this treasure is. Whether the map actually leads to anything remains to be seen, but L'Amour works with what he has – Indians, outlaws, speculative treasure, desert and the mandatory female characters that Callaghen is protecting. There's also some back story between the female lead, a despicable commander and the main character...but really no one cares. The most interesting aspect to the story is the lack of water in the desert. I found this struggle the most fascinating. Eventually, guns do catch fire and there's some action in the desert and cliffs.
I can't say anything overly negative or positive about this one. It was a western, it kept me company and L'Amour is a skilled writer (albeit one that elongates senseless scenes). Often I wonder if I really like L'Amour's writing or if all those years watching my father read him has planted some sort of nostalgic childhood reasoning that if Dad liked it...I do too. Maybe that's enough for anyone to like anything.