Showing posts with label Louis L'Amour. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Louis L'Amour. Show all posts

Friday, August 4, 2023

Crossfire Trail

When I browse “best of” lists associated with the literary work of Louis L'Amour, a few books seem to always make the list – Hondo, Flint, The Sacket Brand, The Haunted Mesa, and Last of the Breed. Aside from those, every third or fourth list seems to incorporate his 1954 western novel Crossfire Trail (Ace). This could be due to the 12.5 million viewers that tuned into the 2001 made-for-cable television movie of the same name that featured Tom Selleck. I've always heard good things about the book, so I decided to finally give it a read.

The book begins with protagonist Rafe Caradec (last name Covington in the film), a soldier-of-fortune,gambler, journeyman, aboard a ship bound for San Francisco. His friend Charles Rodney has just been beaten nearly to death by the notorious ship captain. In his dying breath, Rodney reminds readers, and Caradec, that he paid a businessman named Barkow the money owed for his Wyoming ranch. Rodney has paperwork that he has left for Caradec to deliver to his widow, Ann. Then, Rodney dies, and Caradec and some fellow shipmates escape the vessel and head to Wyoming to deliver the news.

When Caradec arrives in the small Wyoming town of Painted Rock, he discovers that Ann has been fed a lie by a group of businessmen who all have a reason to own Rodney's ranch. First, they advise her that the ranch wasn't paid for. Second, they have explained to her that her husband was killed by a Sioux war party a year earlier. When Caradec attempts to explain the truth to Ann, she refuses to listen to his “lies”. 

The plot propels as Caradec, in a quest to uphold his promise to Rodney, must fight the businessmen responsible for the corruption and lies. There's Barkow, now Ann's fiance, along with another vile villain named Dan Shute and the obligatory hired gunmen that murder anyone disputing Painted Rock's form of justice. 

Crossfire Trail is an expanded version of a short-story called "The Trail to Crazy Man", originally published in the July, 1948 issue of West (under a pseudonym of Jim Mayo). There's plenty of action, fisticuffs, fast-draws, and a love interest that anchors the narrative firmly in the “traditional old-west formula”. While it was predictable with the familiar L'Amour trope of “gunman protects widow and ranch”, the writing was superb as always. There's nothing to dislike about Crossfire Trail and I thoroughly enjoyed the banter between Caradec and his friends. As an added bonus, there is a side-story of Caradec rescuing a young Sioux woman, a plot point that serves dividends later. 

If you love traditional western storytelling, chances are you've probably already read Crossfire Trail. If not, I recommend it as your next cowboy yarn. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, December 9, 2022

High Lonesome

High Lonesome, a 1962 stand-alone novel by Louis L'Amour is a “chase the chasers” western. It's a rarely used formula where a rider, or group of riders, is chasing after a group that is chasing after someone else. In this novel, L'Amour turns the concept on its head by including one more group of chasers. In essence, it's the posse chasing the chasers who are running down the chasers. I'll sort this out for you, and by the end you'll be wanting to read it. Trust me.

The novel, set in the American Southwest in 1881, begins with one of my favorite aspects of western storytelling, the old bank-robbing bit. Considine is the main character, a fast-draw specialist that's an outlaw. He has a four-man heist crew knocking over banks and cracking safes. The first few pages feature a robbery in progress that leads to just a few bucks. So, the foursome form a plan to head to Considine's former hometown to knock over the bank there and to even the score with an old friend that's become the sheriff. 

To balance out the criminal protagonist, L'Amour introduces an older outlaw named Dave Spanyer and his adult daughter Lennie. Spanyer has decided to become an honest man, and with his daughter the two plan to cross the barren desert wastelands to California to begin a new life. However, they run into the bank-robber group and Lennie immediately falls for Considine despite her father's disapproval. It's in this town that Considine's men rob the bank and head out of town with a ton of cash. A posse immediately gives chase, pushing Considine into an unusual mindset. 

Considine realizes that Spanyer and Lennie are surely going to be tracked and killed by an Apache war-party. So, he heads the group in that direction to contend with the Apache nation rather than fleeing over the border into Mexico. So, we circle back to the formula presented in my opener – the posse chasing Considine's crew while they pursue the Apache warriors who are chasing after Spanyer and Lennie. Got it?

Sometimes L'Amour's stories can be so basic that they border on complacency. But, High Lonesome is damn near perfect. There are so many stories weaved into this tale – the old outlaw (Spanyer) witnessing the next generation of outlaws (Considine's crew) commit to a life of crime, a life he wants to escape and forget. Lennie's attraction to Considine could be a realization of her love for her father, a need to be protected by a man with no laws. Considine's feud with his old friend is a story unto itself, which plays out nicely in the finale. Additionally, there's the question of Considine himself going honest after facing so many struggles as a criminal. 

In terms of action, it doesn't get much better than this. The last 40 pages are an absolute barnburner as Spanyer, Lennie, and Considine's gang make a final stand on top of High Lonesome, an old outlaw hideaway nestled in the steep rocky cliffs. Kudos to L'Amour for bringing in the rifles and allowing them to outweigh six-guns in the novel's final fight. I love a great six-gun showdown, but something about the long rifle always appeals to me in westerns. 

High Lonesome is one of the best vintage books I've read this year (2022) and an absolute must-read for any western fan. With its interesting blend of personal redemption, captivating life choices, gunfights, and assortment of heroes and anti-heroes, the narrative never becomes uninspiring or dull. It's a real treat when L'Amour is “on” and he was on fire for this one. Highest recommendation. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

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.

Monday, November 21, 2022

The Burning Hills

Louis L'Amour's fourteenth novel was The Burning Hills. It was published in 1956, sandwiched between the end of the innocence novel To Tame a Land (1955) and a range war tale in Silver Canyon (1956). The book's premise is a popular one, the traditional man-on-the-run story or, more often than not, a fugitive attempting to outrun justice. L'Amour typically does the concept well, so The Burning Hills seemed like an easy choice to read and review.

Trace Jordan and his partner began working together in the Texas plains rounding up unbranded horses. After compiling a sizable  herd, the duo branded the horses and prepared to sell. When Jordan returned from a trip to town, he discovered the campsite destroyed, his partner dead, and the horses gone. Tracking the thieves back to town, Jordan finds a man riding one of his branded horses. A scuffle ensues and Jordan shoots and kills the man. 

In an effort to prove the horses belonged to him, Jordan becomes a wanted man and is forced on the run from a mob led by a skeptical lawman. In a fight with the posse, Jordan receives two bullets, but is able to escape into the desert where he can simply lie down and die. Thankfully, a beautiful Mexican woman named Maria finds him and nurses him back to health in an outlaw hideaway in the rocks. But, the posse catches up to Maria and begins to bully both her and her brothers on their rural sheep farm. 

The narrative is a bit twisty as Jordan heals while watching the posse impose their will on Maria's family and home. He can continue to run, and hopefully escape the law, or come to Maria's aid. Considering he's the reason for her misfortune, it's pretty easy to see where the story will end. 

I thought The Burning Hills was slightly below average. I found Jordan to be a pompous jerk and a womanizer (even when considering this was a different era when the book was written). I didn't particularly care for the “hero” and I found Maria to be brave but very foolish. The other disappointment was her fast-draw brother, who seemed to have a larger role to play, but then is featured off page. While the story was constantly advancing forward, I found the plot itself just fragmented without a real groove. 

I'm glad I read it, but it isn't one of L'Amour's best. With his robust bibliography, they can't all be Hondo and Flint

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

The Iron Marshal

The Iron Marshal, L'Amour's 94th novel, was originally published by Bantam in 1979. It is the traditional L'Amour storytelling experience about the unlikely hero ascending from rock bottom to new, lofty heights based on overcoming grueling hardships and oppression. This sort of story is what L'Amour thrived on and this novel proves he was an absolute master of the craft. 

In the book's opening pages, readers are introduced to young Tom Shanaghy, still wet behind the ears as he grows accustomed to life in the big city of New York. It's the late 1800s, and the Irishman immediately finds a brawl on the docks before finding a lead on a job as a server and barkeep at a local pub. The dive is owned by a man named Clancy, and it isn't long before Tom is working his way through the businessman's ranks, from blacksmith to financial clerk on a journey that leads him rubbing shoulders with Clancy on his financial affairs. Eventually, the novel begins to resemble an early mob story with warring factions fighting over pubs and gambling. 

The narrative finds its rhythm when Shanaghy escapes the city by hopping a train. Exhausted, he sleeps his way to Kansas, where he is thrown from the train by a railroad detective. Oddly, when he lands on the hard ground, he finds that the detective has tossed a large backpack to him as well. Inside are supplies, clothes, a revolver and a shotgun. After Shanaghy runs right into a lynching, the man he helps free advises Shanaghy that the pack and shotgun belong to a lawman named Rig Barrett. He says that anyone carrying the famous shotgun is going to have a target on their back. Has Shanaghy assumed the identity of this Iron Marshal? 

L'Amour's novel turns into a remarkable crime-noir once Shanaghy arrives in the small Kansas town. The narrative threads a number of solid plot points together, but it all centers around the town choosing Shanaghy as their new marshal. His order of business is to make sure the train carrying a large payroll isn't robbed. But, after investigating, he learns the heist is happening, but doesn't know all of the players. It could be residents, retailers, criminals from out of town or the railroad men themselves. This is the magic of the story, like any hardboiled private-eye story of the mid-20th century. The mystery is both compelling as well as action-packed. 

The Iron Marshal is just a fantastic western with an extremely likable hero in Tom Shanaghy. I loved the side-stories and how L'Amour neatly tied it all together to deliver an extremely entertaining reading experience. Highly recommended for both fans of westerns and hardboiled procedural storytelling.

Note - The model for the cover pictured here is the "face of a thousand paperbacks", Jason Savas. We told his story in a 2020 article HERE

Get a copy of the book HERE.

Friday, October 1, 2021

To Tame a Land

From 1950 to 1987, Louis L'Amour produced some of the finest westerns of all time. Considered America's storyteller, L'Amour's novels and short stories have been transformed into audio books and successful films. A number of his first paperback books were published by Fawcett Gold Medal. I recently bought the first edition of To Tame a Land. It was published by Fawcett in 1955 and was L'Amour's 13th career novel.

After his mother died, Rye Tyler and his father join a wagon train journey across the harsh Midwest. During the trip, Rye's father is murdered by Native Americans after being abandoned. A savvy and experienced cowboy takes Rye under his wing and mentors him into manhood. Rye learns how to shoot, fast-draw, hunt, play poker and farm, all of the necessary skills a young man must possess to survive in the late 1800s. Eventually Rye meets a young girl named Liza and the two develop an enduring friendship.

After shooting a man in self-defense, Rye is forced into a life of solitude in the mountains. L'Amour's narrative allows readers to follow Rye's transformation from innocent boy to hardened frontiersman. Rye's fast-draw earns him a deadly reputation that he re-enforces in numerous towns. Rye's life becomes a prosperous one as he joins a cattle drive, becomes a cattle owner, and then later becomes a town marshall. But, his true quest is locating Liza's whereabouts. When he learns she has been taken by outlaws, Rye becomes a savage hunter.

At 143 pages, To Tame a Land feels more epic than its shorter length. In many ways it's the proverbial coming-of-age story, the traditional "make a man out of him" through violence and upheaval. I found that L'Amour's writing seemed misplaced with many storylines and outcomes packed into the propulsive plot. It's as if L'Amour didn't really know what the story was but had several ideas that intertwined. Because of that fragmented presentation, To Tame a Land is one of the rare L'Amour novels that I didn't care for. There's better westerns out there.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Sacketts #05 - Ride the River

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.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Sacketts #04 - Jubal Sackett

Deemed "America's Favorite Frontier Writer", Louis L'Amour's chronicle of the fictional Sackett family was a bestselling series. Beginning in 1960, the 17-book series is still held in high regard with fans of the western genre. While the novels focus on frontier life in the 1800s, the author began envisioning the Sackett family's early origins in England and America. Starting with 1974's "Sackett's Land", L'Amour wrote four novels that showcases the family's humble beginnings in the late 1500s through 1620. The fourth and final of these portfolio installments was "Jubal Sackett", published in 1985.

Both "Sackett's Land" and its successor, "To the Far Blue Mountains", feature Barnabas Sackett's expedition from England to eastern America. In "The Warrior's Path", Barnabas' sons Kin-Ring and Yance are the chief protagonists with much of the action taking place in America and the Caribbean Islands. While Barnabas' son Jubal is mentioned in these books, it is explained to readers that he was a loner and distanced himself from his family. Jubal was obsessed with exploring the far west and walking "where no white-man had ever wandered". It's only fitting that L'Amour dedicated a full-length novel to this fascinating character.

As the book opens, Jubal Sackett is hunting in an area that would later be called Tennessee. After a brief attack by an Indian, Jubal generously welcomes the brave to dine with him. The man introduces himself as Keokotah, a Kickapoo native. After learning Jubal's name, Keokotah informs him that his father Barnabas was killed in battle. The two become friends and decide to journey into the “Far Seeing Lands” west of the Mississippi River. On the journey, the two educate each other on hunting, rituals and their family history. L'Amour centers these exchanges as a focal point for much of the paperback’s first-half.

Later, the two journeymen meet a tribe of Natchee that ask Jubal for a favor. Their tribe's high priestess, Itchakomi, has left the fold and is desired by one of their chief warriors, an arrogant man named Kapata. The Natchee feel that if Jubal is headed further west, he will find Itchakomi and can ask her to return home to marry Kapata. Jubal eventually meets Itchakomi and the two fall in love. The author's second-half portrays Jubal's defense of Itchakomi from Kapata but also warring factions from Spain.

In a lot of ways, this novel's second-half resembles “To the Far Blue Mountains” in the way that Jubal and his allies build and defend a fort. As the waves of attacks descend on Jubal's home, it's reminiscent of the British pirates and warlike tribes that Barnabas fought that will seem a little familiar to the reader.

At 350+ pages, there's an epic feel to the novel as readers experience many seasons with Jubal, including hunting, expanding his circle of friends and allies, and contending with nature's harsh oppression in high altitudes. With exciting hand-to-hand skirmishes with Indians, blade duels with the Spanish and fierce combat with savage animals, “Jubal Sackett” is the quintessential wilderness tale. I highly recommend all four of these early Sackett adventures, but place this one just a little higher than “The Warrior's Path” in terms of epic escapism. In the book's closing notes, L'Amour explained to readers that more early Sackett adventures were to follow, including the family's participation in America's Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Sadly, L'Amour passed away in 1988 and was unable to continue his storytelling. What remains is a powerful testament to America's early exploration and strong independence.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Sacketts #03 - The Warrior's Path

Famed frontier storyteller Louis L'Amour had a successful series of westerns starring various members of the Sackett family. While positioning most of these novels in the 1800s, L'Amour's later installments presented the family's early history. Beginning in 1974, L'Amour released “Sackett's Land”, chronologically the first Sackett story. Set between 1599-1620, the book introduces readers to Barnabas Sackett and his early exploration into America. Continuing Barnabas' story, “To the Far Blue Mountains” was released in 1976 and slowly transforms the series emphasis from Barnabas to his sons. In 1980, “The Warrior's Path” was released with the primary focus on Barnabas' sons Kin-Ring and Yance circa 1630.

The opening chapters find Kin-Ring and Yance in northeastern America. The two have been summoned by a small village to track the whereabouts of two young women. Fearing the girls were kidnapped by Indians, Kin-Ring pairs up with longtime allies, the Catawba tribe, to search for the missing girls. Surprisingly, Kin-Ring discovers that Indians weren't behind the girls' disappearance.

After a skirmish with Joseph Pittingel, the Sacketts learn that he is behind a robust slave-trading enterprise that focuses on kidnapping young white women and then selling them in the Caribbean islands. This portion of the narrative provides an opportunity for L'Amour to revisit the swashbuckling adventure aspect that made the prior books so much fun. After traveling to Jamaica, Kin-Ring embarks on a quest to not only retrieve the girls but to find the buyers. While using swords, knives and black powder, Kin-Ring bravely attempts to stop the slave-trading business at its source.

It is unfair to compare this novel to “Sackett's Land” or “To the Far Blue Mountains”. Lightning struck twice for L'Amour as both of those are some of the best literary works you'll find – of any genre. But, that winning formula doesn't quite carry over to “The Warrior's Path”. Kin-Ring is written with the same basic attributes as Barnabas...but something is just missing. I didn't quite grasp a firm connection with the character. Despite the book's sprawling locations, it didn't have the epic feel that the prior books conveyed so well. Nevertheless, this is an entertaining adventure novel and would probably be held in higher regard if not for the prior novels. I'm looking forward to reading the fourth and final novel of the Sacketts' early history, “Jubal Sackett”, in hopes that the author finally places the frontier action west of the Mississippi River. As a fan of wilderness survival tales, I'm hoping that book excels and makes up for my lukewarm reception to “The Warrior's Path”.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, April 3, 2020

Sacketts #02 - To the Far Blue Mountains

After 80+ western novels of range-wars and quick-draw gunslingers, iconic author Louis L'Amour decided to branch out and try a different type of frontier storytelling. Beginning in 1974, L'Amour authored “Sackett's Land”,  the first of four novels that presented the origins of his critically-acclaimed 'Sacketts' family. The entire series encompasses 17 total works with 13 set in the mid to late 1800s. Using a time period of 1599-1620, L'Amour describes pioneer life in early America. “To the Far Blue Mountains”, published in 1976, is a direct continuation of the remarkable story told in “Sackett's Land,” a novel that set the bar at a nearly insurmountable height. Could this subsequent episode deliver the same stellar result?

In the novel's opening act, we once again find main character Barnabas Sackett in England. After defeating the Earl and his men in the prior novel, Barnabas is eager to set sail for America. However, the Queen still wants Barnabas in chains hoping that he will confess to discovering the Crown Jewels (an early mix-up in the first novel). In a crescendo of galloping horses, Barnabas avoids the law and eventually makes his way to Ireland before catching a ship to America.

In a wild chain of events, Barnabas is shanghaied at sea and taken back to a cold, brutal English prison called Newgate. Facing severe punishment and torture on the rack, Barnabas eventually escapes only to struggle reaching America. As the book's first half comes to a satisfying close, I could sense that the author's swashbuckling adventure writing had reached its finale.

The novel's second half is a portrait of survival in a hostile new land. Settling somewhere in what would eventually be central Virginia, Barnabas and his friends begin farming and trading goods with neighboring Indians. But the peace and serenity doesn't last long when Barnabas, and his family, are marked for death by numerous tribes. L'Amour's storytelling is at its absolute peak as wave after wave of Indians assault Barnabas. Will he ever make it to the “Far Blue Mountains”?

In a lot of ways, this book comes full circle. Not only does it continue the early adventures of Barnabas in both England and the New World, but it extends into his old age. The author utilizes this time period to begin branching off the family through Barnabas' sons Kin-Ring, Jubal, Yance and Brian. This isn't a surprise considering the next two installments focus on the mid-1600s, with the fourth and final chapter of this early saga simply titled “Jubal Sackett”.

As an exceptional storyteller, it's hard to imagine L'Amour improving beyond “Sackett's Land”. Yet, “To the Far Blue Mountains” is the gold standard. I've read this novel multiple times and still get goosebumps during the final pages. Adventure and western authors would be hard pressed to deliver another literary work this sweeping, compelling and satisfying. This epic presentation, from shore to shore, is a grand spectacle and an absolutely riveting experience for the reader. It simply doesn't get any better than this.  

Notes:

- The first Chantry character appears briefly in this book. His story would continue in 1978's “Fair Blows the Wind”. Later 'Chantry' books state that the Chantry and Sackett family fought side by side during the Revolutionary War.

- In the Bantam paperback edition of “Jubal Sackett”, L'Amour writes that his plans at the time were to explore the Sackett family history during America's Revolutionary and Civil War. Unfortunately, those novels never came to fruition as L'Amour would die afterwards in 1988.

- L'Amour would continue more adventure stories with his novel “The Walking Drum” (1984) set in 12th century Europe.

- There's some loose supernatural elements within “To the Far Blue Mountains”. In one scene Barnabas sees what he thinks is another city (or world) in the shoreline mist. L'Amour would experiment more with these elements in his science-fiction novel “Haunted Mesa” (1987).

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, March 6, 2020

Sacketts #01 - Sackett's Land

Louis L'Amour remains the most popular and mainstream western author with sales exceeding 300 million books. With over 100 original novels, most of which are still in print, the writer's prolific presentations of America's wild frontier have influenced or impacted countless authors, screenwriters and even U.S. Presidents. While most of his literary work was stand-alone westerns, L'Amour also created five specific series titles – 'Talon', 'Chantry', 'Kilkenny', 'Hopalong Cassidy' and the wildly successful 'Sacketts'.

The 'Sackett' series began in 1960, ten years into L'Amour's literary career of authoring full-length novels. Starting with “The Daybreakers”, the series ran for 17 total installments, finishing in 1985 with “Jubal Sackett”. L'Amour died in 1988, and I would imagine if he had lived longer he would have continued with more contributions to the series. While “The Daybreakers” was the first novel to feature members of the Sackett family (circa 1870), the series publishing order isn't parallel to the time periods L'Amour would explore. In fact, the family's origins weren't fully explained until 1974's “Sackett's Land”, which is the beginning of a four-book adventure series chronicling the family's history from 1599-1620. The remainder of the Sackett novels take place in the mid to late 1800s. Paperback Warrior typically indexes based on the chronology of the story, so essentially “Sackett's Land” is represented as the first novel.

The book begins in Cambridgeshire, England in 1599. Protagonist Barnabas Sackett is living a meager life in a marshy residence called The Fens. While never starving or destitute, Barnabas works in the quarries and lives off the acreage he inherited from his father Ivo, a career fighting man. While crossing an area called Devil's Dyke, Barnabas finds a large sum of old coins in the mud. With aspirations to buy an adjoining piece of property, Barnabas heads into town to appraise his riches. But his joy is short-lived when he becomes embroiled in a dispute with the Earl's nephew, Rupert.

Realizing that he can't remain in England, Barnabas decides that America, the New World, might be a fresh start. With his riches, he buys supplies that will allow him to trade and hunt for furs in America. Hoping to capitalize on the lucrative fur-trading business, he arranges to sail with a Captain who respected his father. After an early connection with the Captain's beautiful daughter Abigail, Rupert and thugs mug Barnabas and place him on a ship of pirates heading to the New World. It's here where he leans heavily on his survival skills, outwitting the pirates while enslaved. But, his joy is short-lived when he finally arrives in the mysterious New World. Contending with pirates, Native Americans, wildlife and the harsh weather, Barnabas realizes that his dreams of a new start may bring about his bitter end.

With “Sackett's Land”, L'Amour's writing prowess is clearly influenced by Robert Louis Stevenson and Johann David Wyss. This is an adventure story, complete with swords, muskets and cannonballs. While it is an alternate approach for L'Amour, it was evident that after 80+ novels of 1800s gunslingers, the author wanted to explore different eras of storytelling. The novel's epic presentation, with historical context, was a dynamic and welcome change. L'Amour emphasizes the numerous adversities many of our forefathers experienced as they entered a vast, mysterious land in North America. It was also clear that Barnabas' story would continue, with lots of foreshadowing inserted by the author. The book's next titles focus on the main character's dreams of going “to the far blue mountains”, a goal that Barnabas sets after viewing the far off peaks and ridges.

Overall, “Sackett's Land' is one of my favorite novels of any author. I've read it a couple of times and have encouraged many young people to explore the book as well. While American schools continue to heap Shakespeare plays on students, I wish they would incorporate this novel into their required reading curriculum. It is these novels that have become the new “classic literary tale”.

Note - If you enjoy this novel, "Fair Blows the Wind" (1978) is a similar tale focusing on the first Chantry member to arrive in America circa 1600s.

Buy a copy of this novel HERE

Monday, February 17, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 31

Saddle up for a wild ride as Paperback Warrior presents an All-Review Western Roundup. We discuss and review our favorite westerns including authors like Richard Matheson, Larry McMurtry, Louis L'Amour, Ralph Hayes and more! The hosts also discuss their favorites of the adult western genre including an epic crossover event featuring adult western heroes. Stream the episode below or your favorite streaming platform. Direct downloads are HERE.

Listen to "Episode 31: All-Review Western Roundup" on Spreaker.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Broken Gun

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.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Flint

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.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Hills of Homicide

Iconic American author Louis L'Amour is prominently associated with his western legacy. His short-stories and novels delighted western fans for decades. While known for his sweeping frontier sagas, L'Amour also wrote a number of novellas and short-stories for the pulps, including “Hills of Homicide”, which originally appeared in Detective Tales in May, 1949. A pulp themed short-story collection was released in 1983, entitled “Hills of Homicide”, which featured this story along with L'Amour's “I Hate to Tell his Widow”, “Collect from a Corpse”, “Stay Out of my Nightmare!” and “Street of Lost Corpses”. 

The story begins with a private investigator arriving in the desert town of Ranagat. Written in the first-person, the premise unfolds in a verbal exchange with a cab driver. A man named Bitner has been murdered in his cliff-side cabin. The main suspects are Johnny Holben, a feuding neighbor from the bottom of the ridge, Bitner's girlfriend Karen and a rowdy gambler named Blacky Caronna, who had been fighting with Bitner recently. 

The two interesting aspects to the case: 1) Bitner's house sits on it's cliff-side retreat completely free of any paths or roads aside from the one that passes directly by the Holben place. 2) Our main character, the investigator, has been hired by Blacky Caronna to find evidence that proves he is innocent. But, as the story evolves, all signs point to Caronna as being the prime suspect. Surely the killer wouldn't hire a private investigator for a murder he committed, right?

L'Amour's whodunit is 53 pages of standard 80s paperback. While novella length, it feels like a full-length novel. It's procedural, featuring an alliance with the town sheriff, and of course includes the obligatory fist-fight, well-scripted in the L'Amour boxing style. In some ways it's the locked room mystery with a handful of possible killers. The surprise is unveiled three-fourths in, delivering a quality payout for what is ultimately an entertaining read. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Utah Blaine

“Utah Blaine” is a 1954 western by genre heavyweight Louis L'Amour. It was originally released as part of an Ace double under the pseudonym Jim Mayo (the second book was “Desert Showdown” by Samuel A. Peeples as Brad Ward). In 1957, the novel was adapted for the silver screen by director Fred F. Sears and starred Rory Calhoun. 

The book, set in Arizona's Verde River Valley, introduces us to protagonist Utah Blaine in heroic fashion. Blaine, unarmed, listens closely as a vigilante army strings up rancher Joe Neal. Seemingly dead at the end of a noose, Blaine rescues Neal and learns he owns a large cattle outfit named The 46. After hiring a vigilant army to prevent cattle rustling, the valley's ranchers soon found the tables had turned – the army, greedy and chomping at the bit, selfishly wants the ranches. Blaine's reputation of slick gunfighter appeals to Neal, so the two come to an agreement to have Blaine run the 46 and fight Neal's battles for him. There's a large monetary reward and a head of 500 cattle if Blaine can get the job done.

This is traditional L'Amour at his finest. At a brisk 164-pages, the novel is absolutely loaded with gunfights. In what seems like a “Game of Thrones” chessboard of ranches, Blaine shakes out a dozen or more characters, each with their own agendas, skill-sets and history. It's these characters that each represent alliances and historical feuds involving money, land and...shockingly...even pretty women. While often I had to keep a scorecard on the dead and still-living, this book was  an exhilarating read. L'Amour's silver star shines bright with “Utah Blaine”. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE

Friday, December 28, 2018

Trail to Peach Meadow Canyon

“The Trail to Peach Meadow Canyon” is a short Louis L’Amour novel (about 73 modern pages) that originally appeared in the October 1949 issue of “Giant Western” magazine. Since then, it has been reprinted several times in various L’Amour compilations. It’s also available as a Kindle eBook for three bucks.

The setup for this story is awesome. Mike Bastian is an orphan who was raised by enigmatic rancher Ben Curry as his own son. However, in addition to book smarts, Curry taught young Mike a unique set of skills including pistol marksmanship, quick draw, knife throwing, lock-picking, and safecracking. As Mike reaches adulthood at age 22, he learns the truth: his adopted father is an old-west crime lord who has personally engineered Mike to be the ultimate criminal mastermind who can take over as the new Godfather of the West.

The sheer scope of Curry’s criminal empire is staggering. He has over 100 men working for him - mostly executing Curry-planned heists far away from his base of operations in a giant mansion along the Colorado River where Curry lives like a feudal lord. However, Curry is getting old and wants to retire to his distant ranch with his estranged wife and children while enjoying his wealth for his remaining years. And he wants young Mike - who has never committed a crime in his life - to take over his underworld empire.

This creates a moral dilemma for Mike who loves Curry but is not immediately excited about immersing himself in the dark side and basically becoming Darth Vader on a horse. As an orientation to the life, Curry tasks Mike with handling the planning of an upcoming heist of a train transporting gold from the mines. What if Mike declines the offer? Will he accidentally force the hulking kingpin’s hand to wipe out his own adopted son?

All of this was shaping up to be a cross between The Godfather and Richard Stark’s Parker in the Wild West when the novel took an abrupt left turn. Mike meets a girl with whom he has a connection that presents our young hero with a new - and substantially lower-stakes - moral dilemma to solve. This causes the heist novel to quickly become a rescue-the-girl book - an exciting adventure as well, but not the book I was expecting after the great world-building L’Amour does in the story’s first half.

In any case, the author’s writing is top-notch and his descriptions of western settings and topography of the region are incredibly vivid. The book’s resolution was satisfying enough even if it wasn’t the bloodbath heist story I was expecting. In any case, “The Trail to Peach Meadow Canyon” is a quick read and an easy recommendation.

Buy this story HERE

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Where There's Fighting

Louis L'Amour (1908-1988) is considered a cornerstone of western fiction. During his prolific career he penned 100 novels and around 400 short-stories. While the majority of his work focused on the western frontier, L'Amour also wrote detective, adventure and military fiction. One of those is the WW2 short “Where There's Fighting”, which was originally published by “Thrilling Adventures” in January, 1942 and reprinted for the compilation book “Yondering”. 

The story focuses on an American fighting man joining a four-man British patrol in the Greek mountains. It's set in April, 1941 at a time when Germany invaded Greece. The British landed 57,000 troops to halt the advancement, but after only eight fierce days of combat the British needed to evacuate. To do so, they left behind smaller battalions to use as rear guard action against the pursuing forces.

The British battalion ultimately chosen to die is Ryan, Benton, Pommy and Sackworth. Both Benton and Ryan are hardened combat vets and know that their mountainside .30-caliber and rifles won't be enough to hold off the German advancement. They realize it's just a stalling tactic, one emphasized as certain death by the emotional Pommy and Sackworth. However, they find a soldier has approached them carrying a .50-caliber. Who is this strange man? Friend or foe?

The solider is American Mike Horne, who's survived a brutal guerrilla campaign in Albania. As Horne is explaining his fighting career, the British troops are in disbelief. Thus L'Amour's short-tale comes alive, a fitting representation to fit the story title. Horne explains that he goes “where there's fighting” and begins to list off an impressive resume that featured battles in Sicily, China and Libya while learning to parachute in England. What's astonishing to the Brits is that Horne doesn't necessarily stick to commands, which comes in handy as he explains cutting and running to the foursome after initial heavy fire with the Germans that night. The narrative quickens to a firefight in the mountains with the five holding off waves of Germans with two machine guns and rifles. 

At only 13-pages, “Where There's Fighting” embodies the spirited adventure of L'Amour, a troubadour in his own right who wore many hats before becoming a full-time writer. I think this character – Mike Horne - is the definition of our genre's hero. He runs to the sounds of battle, actively engaging the enemy in jungles, mountains and at sea. His last words echo the essence of L'Amour's universal fighting man:

“Then Africa, Pommy, or Syria or Suez or Russia or England. They'll always be fighting them somewhere, an' that's where I want to be.”

Buy a copy of this story in "Yondering" HERE

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Callaghen

Louis L'Amour took a break from range wars and rustlers in 1972. “Callaghen” is a departure from his patented shtick, setting the action within the ranks of the Army. It features 34-year old Callaghen, an Irish soldier who has fought internationally, and at one point served as a Sergeant. His abrasive views of command have tarnished his career, demoting him repeatedly to lowly private and an assignment to a remote fort in the Mojave desert – in the heart of Indian country. This fort is essentially a security detail protecting the road to Las Vegas and Vegas Springs. Callaghen is 20-years in and discharge papers are arriving late, so this security detail and the inability to retire leaves the character disgruntled. While Callaghen isn't exactly the most interesting guy, the action intensifies just enough to keep me flipping the page...while checking the number at the bottom.

The plot is silky thin when our protagonist discovers a treasure map on a dead lieutenant. Apparently this leads to a river of gold and astonishingly a slew of outlaws convinced that Callaghen knows where this treasure is. Whether the map actually leads to anything remains to be seen, but L'Amour works with what he has – Indians, outlaws, speculative treasure, desert and the mandatory female characters that Callaghen is protecting. There's also some back story between the female lead, a despicable commander and the main character...but really no one cares. The most interesting aspect to the story is the lack of water in the desert. I found this struggle the most fascinating. Eventually, guns do catch fire and there's some action in the desert and cliffs. 

I can't say anything overly negative or positive about this one. It was a western, it kept me company and L'Amour is a skilled writer (albeit one that elongates senseless scenes). Often I wonder if I really like L'Amour's writing or if all those years watching my father read him has planted some sort of nostalgic childhood reasoning that if Dad liked it...I do too. Maybe that's enough for anyone to like anything.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Hanging Woman Creek

‘Hanging Woman Creek’ was released in 1964 by Bantam Books. For me, it’s considered one of L’Amour’s early books due to being released about 15 years into his writing career. At 150 pages, it fits snugly into the author’s “short but exceptional” western template. Set in frosty Montana, L’Amour introduces us to the rough and tough Pronto Pike. He’s a down on his luck journeyman who drifts from job to job all over the country. Like many paperback cowboys, Pronto is decent with his fists and Hell with a rifle. He’s a great cattle guy, a hard worker…but his temper has been the bane of his existence. So, it’s fitting that the book opens with Pronto being released from an overnight stay in jail along with a couple of other drifter types – Van Bokkelen (who may be wanted for murder) and an older African American boxer named Eddie Holt. 

After separating themselves from Bokkelen, both Eddie and Pronto team up to find work before the bulk of winter hits the Montana timbers. After asking around, the duo find a great stint punching cattle for a rancher named Bill Justin. It’s a good gig – warm cabin, plenty of wood, a few books and the calm day to day activities of babysitting cattle through the winter. Eddie, while not a skilled rancher, earns his keep by preparing good meals and teaching Pronto some boxing lessons. In turn, Pronto shows Eddie how to punch cattle. However, the good vibe at Hanging Woman Creek doesn’t last long.

L’Amour slowly envelopes the story with an impending sense of gloom, enhanced by the cold, rural landscape. After learning that cattle rustlers are among them, Pronto finds a murdered man in the snow (with a bit of mysterious horseprints). With tensions high and both men feeling watched and unsettled, Pronto rides into town to present the dead man and to make a sworn statement. There, he finds an Irish beauty named Ann Farley, the sister of a nester named Philo Farley, an old friend of Pronto’s. Ann explains that her brother could be in trouble and needs a ride out to his cabin just shy of Hanging Woman Creek.   

I am recommending this one to any action and western fans, and with that being said, I don’t want to elaborate too much further for fear of spoilers. The heart of the book is ultimately a classic western…but it’s loaded with atmosphere and mystery. Where’s the rustlers, who’s leading them and what’s behind the murders? How is Philo and Ann Farley tied to it? While the first third of the book develops great characters, the middle really expands on that and introduces mystery and intrigue. The last third is Hell bent for leather, matching the book’s cover perfectly.

L’Amour is a master storyteller and this one has all of his best ingredients. Action, mystery, interesting (and lovable) characters and a frantic sense of pacing. It’s a short read packed with atmosphere and firepower. ‘Hanging Woman Creek’ is highly recommended…and won’t let you down until that noose snaps tight.

Buy a copy of this book HERE