“The Trail to Peach Meadow Canyon” is a short Louis L’Amour novel (about 73 modern pages) that originally appeared in the October 1949 issue of “Giant Western” magazine. Since then, it has been reprinted several times in various L’Amour compilations. It’s also available as a Kindle eBook for three bucks.
The setup for this story is awesome. Mike Bastian is an orphan who was raised by enigmatic rancher Ben Curry as his own son. However, in addition to book smarts, Curry taught young Mike a unique set of skills including pistol marksmanship, quick draw, knife throwing, lock-picking, and safecracking. As Mike reaches adulthood at age 22, he learns the truth: his adopted father is an old-west crime lord who has personally engineered Mike to be the ultimate criminal mastermind who can take over as the new Godfather of the West.
The sheer scope of Curry’s criminal empire is staggering. He has over 100 men working for him - mostly executing Curry-planned heists far away from his base of operations in a giant mansion along the Colorado River where Curry lives like a feudal lord. However, Curry is getting old and wants to retire to his distant ranch with his estranged wife and children while enjoying his wealth for his remaining years. And he wants young Mike - who has never committed a crime in his life - to take over his underworld empire.
This creates a moral dilemma for Mike who loves Curry but is not immediately excited about immersing himself in the dark side and basically becoming Darth Vader on a horse. As an orientation to the life, Curry tasks Mike with handling the planning of an upcoming heist of a train transporting gold from the mines. What if Mike declines the offer? Will he accidentally force the hulking kingpin’s hand to wipe out his own adopted son?
All of this was shaping up to be a cross between The Godfather and Richard Stark’s Parker in the Wild West when the novel took an abrupt left turn. Mike meets a girl with whom he has a connection that presents our young hero with a new - and substantially lower-stakes - moral dilemma to solve. This causes the heist novel to quickly become a rescue-the-girl book - an exciting adventure as well, but not the book I was expecting after the great world-building L’Amour does in the story’s first half.
In any case, the author’s writing is top-notch and his descriptions of western settings and topography of the region are incredibly vivid. The book’s resolution was satisfying enough even if it wasn’t the bloodbath heist story I was expecting. In any case, “The Trail to Peach Meadow Canyon” is a quick read and an easy recommendation.