Louis L'Amour's name is synonymous with the glory days of the American West. Authoring over 100 novels and countless short stories, L'Amour's work is just as popular now as it was five decades ago. While the author's body of work is dedicated to frontier life of the 1800s, occasionally L'Amour crossed genres to write pulpy detective stories. With that in mind, I was pleasantly surprised to find a modern western in his catalog, “The Broken Gun”, published by Bantam in 1966.
The main character is a popular western writer named Dan Sheridan who has researched and examined dozens of manuscripts about frontier life in the 1800s. Throughout his writing career, Sheridan has been obsessed with a missing persons case from 1864. Two Alvarez brothers led a drive from Texas into a rural Arizona valley only to vanish with their 4,000 head of cattle. Over the decades the mystery has become folklore, but Sheridan hopes to author a non-fiction book about the case. On a research trip to the area, his arrival at a small Arizona town is met with murder.
An Arizona sheriff leads Sheridan to a murder victim with the last name Alvarez. After further research, Sheridan learns that the man's brother was also found murdered. Could they be linked to the 1864 disappearance? Why would someone keep these men from talking to Sheridan? Soon, a cattle baron named Colin Wells invites Sheridan to his ranch hoping to educate him on the modern cattle business. But once there, Sheridan realizes that Wells and his family may have a link to the murders and the 1864 missing persons case.
I was really excited to learn that L'Amour had written a crime-fiction novel. My expectations were rather high simply because the author has a new canvas for his art. Unfortunately, “The Broken Gun” is just another western. The 1966 setting is nearly interchangeable with 1866 with all the characters on horseback wearing six-guns. There's plenty of action and enough story to make it all plausible, but it never really feels like a modern endeavor. I did enjoy some of the backstory on Sheridan, particularly his military experiences in Korea and Vietnam. I just couldn't shake the feeling that L'Amour probably wrote this as a traditional western and simply changed a few key elements to modernize it (maybe a publisher request?).
Overall, “The Broken Gun” is a quality read from a master of the genre. If you manage your expectations of what L'Amour's modern novels resemble, you might find more joy than I did.
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