Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Silver Canyon

"Riders of the Dawn" originally appeared as a short story in Giant Western's June, 1951 issue. L'Amour expanded the story into a full-length novel, Silver Canyon, in 1956. I typically struggle with the old-fashioned range-war westerns, and this novel, like many of L'Amour's works, uses that same, well-worn plot device. I've always found the concept uninspiring and dull, but I was hopeful this one would surprise me. 

Silver Canyon lies near a fertile, plentiful range that is perfect for growing burgers and steaks. The issue is that it's divided three ways. The Two-Bar is a ranch on the eastern side. The Boxed M, and the CP brand make up two separate ranches on the west. In the middle is water, a place named Cottonwood Wash, which is almost completely controlled by the Two-Bar “good guy”. He wants peace and prosperity, but the other two need him out, thus they can continue their fight over what's left. The deciding factor could be a lanky, gun-fighting drifter named Matt Brennan.

L'Amour makes it clear that Brennan is a seasoned pro, a man's man that has worn many different hats over the years. He's been a gambler, lawman, gun-fighter, cowpoke, and a plain 'ole fighter for many years. So, another range-war isn't anything new. Brennan's name proceeds him, so when he arrives in town the ranges immediately want to hire his gun. Quickly, Brennan finds that the old man solely running the Two-Bar is an honest, hardworking rancher that just wants lines clearly defined between right and wrong. If there is any allegiance to be had, Brennan wants to back the Two-Bar. 

Brennan makes a deal with the old man. He can own a small piece of the Two-Bar, settle down, and raise some beef if he can assist in the ranch's defense. It all goes as planned until Brennan finds the old man a bloody heap full of holes. Surprisingly, the old-timer leaves Brennan the whole ranch as his dying wish. But, nothing has really changed other than Brennan is the new target for the rival ranches. Can he survive the onslaught? Further, can he successfully sway one of the rival rancher's daughters into marriage?

While not being innovative, or particularly fresh, Silver Canyon was still a lot of fun to read. The range-war stuff, while not my favorite dish, was still easily digestible. The reason is that L'Amour adds a murder mystery into the narrative, one that involves a murdered man prior to Brennan's arrival in town. This man apparently possessed clues that something beyond river water is what the ranches all want. It's no secret based on the book's title what the main objective is. It doesn't spoil any reading pleasure. Silver Canyon is recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

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