With over 19 pseudonyms and over 350 novels, few have rivaled James Reasoner's blueprint on men's adventure fiction. Along with penning a number of adult western titles like 'Longarm' and 'Trailsman', Reasoner wrote a number of short stories for magazines and compilations. One of those, “Down in the Valley”, first appeared in “Mike Shayne's Mystery Magazine” in September, 1979. In 1997 the story was included in the “American Pulp” compilation edited by Ed Gorman, Bill Pronzini and Martin Greenberg.
“Forty-three men huddled in the back of the truck, cold and afraid. There was no moon and the canvas flaps on the side cut out what little starlight there was. It was pitch black inside and none of the men knew where they were headed.”
Beginning any literary work with that opening paragraph just demands that your audience sit up and pay attention. I was actually thumbing through this compilation and was immediately roped in by simply glancing at those few lines. Who are the men? Where are they headed?
Reasoner's story features a truck driver named Flood driving a truckload of illegal aliens from Mexico to San Antonio. The backstory has Flood, a bitter blue collar laborer, leaving his wife and newborn baby to pursue better money, fancy women and tasty whiskey. While his illegal pipeline work as a human trafficker is lucrative, he's found the women are harder to come by.
The story's second character displays the same determination, yet reaches for a different goal – working anywhere other than hot fields. Ramon has a lover in Mexico named Elena and he's pursing the American dream – regardless of which color the collar is. Exhausted from laboring in the hot sun, Ramon wants to escape to America to achieve his own goals and has paid Flood hard-earned money to deliver him to San Antonio.
The night-time dash across the boarder evolves into hot-pursuit. Reasoner conveniently places a sting operation into the mix with state patrol officers coordinating a roadblock. Flood's off road driving will be put to the test as Ramon simply awaits his fate. As the story reaches a crescendo, we realize just how closely paralleled the two characters are and how far they will go to achieve success.
At under 10-pages, Reasoner orchestrates a quick and overly entertaining short story. “Down in the Valley” should appeal to action fans but the heart of the story is providing insight on both Flood and Ramon. The author proves that we all may be headed to the same destination, sometimes on the same path, but the measures we use to reach success varies substantially.
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