Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Wild Sky

The 1962 Ace Double featured Tom West's (Fred East) “Dead Man's Double Cross” and Harry Whittington's “Wild Sky”. Whittington, the king of the paperbacks, wrote about 30 westerns in his impressive career and proved he had a knack for the genre with another stellar outing in “Wild Sky”. 

The beginning of the novel introduces readers to Josh, his pregnant wife Fran and four-year old daughter Joanie. It's the young family's 33rd day of travel from the East coast, a long and perilous journey to Wyoming. Whittington paints this rather basic introduction with heightened tension, an impending doom that is evident with Josh's frequent glances over his shoulder. Soon, a young Native-American rides towards the wagon, non-pleasantries are exchanged and soon Josh and the family are riding away as the brave lies defeated with a broken arm. This brief exchange proves the validity of our protagonist – Josh is a fighter.

The family settles on a beautiful stretch of valley with Josh building a cabin and planting crops. I really enjoyed the author's descriptive narrative on hunting deer and tracking through the mountains. It's these scenes that are often ignored by western writers, something that L'Amour excelled at with his early Sackett frontier stories. Once settled, Josh reflects on why his family has retreated to the wilderness.

Back east, Josh ran a mercantile store with Fran and the two had a picturesque life together. One night while leaving work both Josh and Fran are attacked by a belligerent man named Can Kirby. It's a brief encounter, but Kirby strongly advises Josh that he will kill him soon and encourages him to start wearing a gun. Josh, at this point a pacifist, doesn't accept violence as the answer. But, this is the 1800s wild-west and Josh has a family to protect. Why has he sworn off violence? Why does he keep his pistol in a bag under the bed?

Ultimately, Whittington creates an interesting story that uses the “past catching up” theme to place Josh and his family in dire straits. We know that he can't run from his past, but it is interesting to see how it creeps up from behind. While only 103-pages, the author writes a propulsive narrative that incorporates another wilderness family to pad out the dialogue (and create alliances for the impending doom). Overall, a solid western tale worth pursuing.