Paperback Warrior recently covered Louis L'Amour's quartet of books focusing on the early days of the fictional Sackett family. The first two of these books, Sackett's Land and To the Far Blue Mountains, focused on Barnabas Sackett and his journey from Europe to America circa 1599-1620. The Warrior's Path featured Barnabas' sons Kin-Ring and Yance in the 1630s. The last of the four books took readers to America's far west with Barnabas' wayward son Jubal during the 1630s. Prior to L'Amour's passing in 1988, the author had hoped to tell more of these early origin stories, possibly bridging the gap between the 1600s and more dominant 1800s, where most of the Sackett series takes place.
Chronologically, the next installment in the Sackett series is Ride the River, originally published in 1983. While L'Amour's hopes of telling more of the Sacketts' origins never came to fruition, this novel is one of the only bridges in the series. The main character is Echo Sackett, a 16-year old young woman who becomes the aunt to three of L'Amour's most popular Sackett characters – Tell, Orrin and Tyrel. Echo is a fourth-generation Sackett living on the family's Tennessee home in 1840. After receiving a written notice of an inheritance, the book follows Echo's journey into Philadelphia and a subsequent frenzied trip back home.
L'Amour's novel is fairly basic in plotting and presentation. It’s a classic fish out of water story – the farm girl experiencing the hustle and bustle of city life. After a recent discovery of gold, a will proclaims that Barnabas has left the small fortune to his next of kin. This will is read and delivered to Echo by a shady attorney and his bully henchmen. On the precipice of being robbed of her inheritance, an aging attorney named Finian Chantry comes to Echo's aid. After assessing the situation and providing legal support, Echo gains the family funds and sets off for home. But, knowing that the wrongdoers and criminal cohorts will follow Echo, Finian sends his nephew Dorian to accompany Echo on the return trip.
Many readers may recognize the Chantry name. Like the Talons and Sacketts, Chantry was another family that L'Amour often covered with the first Chantry novel being Fair Blows the Wind taking place circa 1590. Combining an aging Chantry with a young Sackett was clever, including the small piece of action dedicated to Chantry's impressive fencing skills in a dockside skirmish. There are also a few other Sackett characters that make brief cameos throughout the narrative.
The end result makes Ride the River an adventurous road trip that combines country roads and urban streets with a coming of age story-line. While the quality falls well below L'Amour's stellar western storytelling, I found it to be a serviceable read that offered a unique female viewpoint.
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