Deemed as “America's Favorite Storyteller”, Louis L'Amour wrote 89 western novels in his lifetime. Many fans and genre enthusiasts have compiled lists documenting the author's most outstanding literary works. These lists vary depending on the creator, but nearly all of them contain one fixture – 1960's “Flint”.
The book introduces us to James T. Kettleman, a successful stockbroker from New York who has journeyed by train to New Mexico. Dying from an undisclosed illness (symptoms of cancer or tuberculosis), Kettleman plans to spend his dying days tucked away in a desert oasis reading his favorite books. We can imagine that Paperback Warrior readers are sympathetic to that impulse.
Through flashback sequences, we learn that Kettleman was snatched from a burning wagon train at the age of two by a man known as Flint. Passed around from family to family as an orphan, Kettleman became an exceptional student. Reuniting with Flint in his teen years, Kettleman learns how to fight and adapt in the hostile desert. These attributes eventually lead to Kettleman avenging the murder of Flint. Although that backstory alone would make for a great novel, again these are just flashback sequences that expand into a much broader narrative.
Kettleman's doomsday euphoria of peacefully dying in the desert surrounded by books is disrupted by Port Baldwin, the stereotypical land baron who desires the Kaybar ranch. Its owner is Nancy Kerrigan (not the figure skater), a strong-willed fighting woman who grew up on the ranch. Her property has no official deed, a common element found in real estate transactions with Indians. With land grabbers migrating from the east, her ownership is under heavy scrutiny.
As Kettleman finds himself an ally of the Kaybar ranch, he quickly finds he has feelings for Kerrigan. Using the moniker of “Flint,” Kettleman becomes the mysterious protector that engages in battle with Baldwin's faction. Utilizing numerous gun fights and the obligatory fistfight, L'Amour's portrait of the American west is a violent and gritty one. L'Amour thrives with the range war narrative and “Flint” doesn't disappoint.
It's easy to see why “Flint” ranks among L'Amour's best work. It is fundamentally the perfect western. Seasoned readers are very familiar with this type of story and the Western fiction tropes, yet “Flint” proves to be a remarkable story worth retelling again and again. It's a valuable cornerstone for not only L'Amour's work, but the western genre as a whole.
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