Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Seven Ways from Sundown

Clair Huffaker (1926-1990) was a WW2 veteran, screenwriter and author. While writing in a number of literary genres, Huffaker's most prolific production was westerns. A number of his novels were adapted for film including 1958's “Badman”, which was re-titled “The War Wagon” starring John Wayne. A number of his readers cite two distinct novels as his best – 1973's “The Cowboy and the Cossack” and 1959's “Seven Ways from Sundown”, which was later adapted into a film starring Audie Murphy. Having a copy of “Seven Ways from Sundown” collecting shelf dust, I decided to give it a much needed evaluation.

Readers are introduced to Seven Smith in the novel's opening chapter. Smith, a young and inexperienced lawman, joins the illustrious Texas Rangers for his first assignment. After sparking a love interest with a young woman named Joy, Smith finds himself at odds with Lieutenant Herly. After learning that Herly has been pining for Joy for a number of months, it is only a matter of time before Smith's difficult assignment is revealed. Herly orders both Smith and Sergeant Henessey to track down a notorious outlaw named Jim Flood. The unlikely duo are on a death march – Flood's infamous history proves he is a cold-blooded killer and Hell with a gun.

Over the course of several weeks, Smith and Henessey track Flood through Texas, Mexico, Arizona and Utah. Along the way Henessey teaches Smith how to ride, shoot straight and speak the truth. It's the timeless coming-of-age story that finds a brutal ending in a Colorado snowbank. Forced to fend for himself, Smith tracks and captures Flood, but the return trail to the Rangers proves to be an extremely perilous mission.

At 120-pages, I read this novel in one sitting. Needless to say, “Seven Ways from Sundown” is an engaging, entertaining western novel authored by a talented storyteller. With my extensive experience with the genre, it is hard to find a refreshing, unique take on the western formula. Huffaker's narrative is a definitive, heartfelt journey that connects two characters – the inept and the skillful. Over time, the experienced Flood mentors young Smith into an ironic twist – Flood is keeping Smith alive on the hostile journey, yet realizes that by doing this he is inching one step closer to the inevitable noose. Smith is determined to bring Flood to justice, yet must rely on him to survive heavy snowfall, dusty deserts and throngs of cold-blooded bounty hunters.

“Seven Ways from Sundown” pulls at the heartstrings with a propelling narrative that produces humor, sadness, irony and excitement. In just 120-pages, Huffaker is able to do more with the western formula than what most authors can do over the course of a lifetime.  This is a mandatory read for any fan of the genre. Highly recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

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