Tag Archives: Louis L’Amour

Book Review: Valley of the Sun by Louis L’Amour

Valley of the Sun - A collection of short stories by Louis ...

Valley of the Sun is a collection of nine of Louis L’Amour’s short stories. As the title suggests, each pice included in the anthology is a Western. None of the entries are among the noir detective shorts or sailing tales he liked to tell. That does not make the assortment bad; it just means that if you want a little variety, Valley of the Sun has that for Westerns but nothing else.

The first story in the anthology is “We Shaped the Land with Our Guns” and it is one of the best installments in Sun. Tap Henry and Ryan “Rye” Tyler, two cow punchers nearing the end of a cattle drive, discover a quite a few strays have settled in a neat little valley a few miles from the town where they are to deliver the current herd. After finishing the drive, Tap and Rye draw their pay and move into a cabin near the stray beast. They begin to fix the place up in order to start their own cattle outfit.

As they soon learn, however, the local ranchers don’t like having to make room for new men staking their claim in prime grazing land. One of the cattlemen named Chet Bayless wants them gone, in no small part because their new ranch threatens his plan to take over the territory. Unknown to him, he and Rye have a history – one that Rye knows will eventually end with lead.

“We Shaped the Land with Our Guns” is fantastic. Compact and full of action, it manages to convey the characters’ personalities quickly and completely. Nothing is missing from this tale. Reading it is like reading a book, since the story feels longer than it actually is. That is no mean feat, even for a writer of L’Amour’s skill!

Next is “West of the Pilot Range.” Ward McQueen, from Arizona, comes upon a herd of cattle protected by four men. Since two men already quit, the group is short-handed and looking for more help. The leader of the outfit, Iver Hoyt, asks if he wants a job protecting the cattle. McQueen says he does and is hired on the spot….

But something about the entire situation does not sit well with him. Hoyt and his ramrod, Red Naify, both seem too harsh and hurried. The other two hands – Baldy Jackson and Bud Fox – are friendlier and honest, so McQueen has no concerns about them, something is definitely off about the other two. When he comes upon the body of a nice young man with a good horse the night after joining the outfit, his suspicions increase. Something is definitely wrong. McQueen begins investigating the situation more thoroughly, only to become mired in a deadly rustling conspiracy.

“When a Texan Takes Over” follows the exploits of Matt Ryan. Matt has been living in the Slumbering Hills for about three months, quietly mining gold. In order to keep away from prying eyes, Matt moves his camp and stays out of everyone’s view. This means that, while they know he is around, they do not see him until he comes out in the open. And he usually becomes visible only when he goes to Hanna’s Stage Station for the food. And the girl.

Kitty Hanna helps her father run the stage station, cooking meals for passengers and drifters alike. Though she does not yet know his name, she likes Matt Ryan and makes certain to show it. But when a known rustler and his hanger on, Fred Hitch, arrive at the station, the former tries to brace Ryan. In order to avoid a fight with them in the station, Matt does not rise to their bait – something Kitty does not appreciate.

Put out, Ryan considers leaving. However, despite not being invested in the area (beyond his interest in Kitty), he respects the man who brought law and order to the Slumbering Hills. That man is Tom Hitch, the adopted father of Fred Hitch.

Tom is dying. He is also being robbed blind. His adopted son, who has very little strength of character, has been forced to go along with the stealing by the rustler he hired as a ramrod. Knowing this, Ryan makes a decision to tell Tom what is going on, only for the thieves to push Matt out. They’re just a bit late, however. Before they murder him in cold blood, Tom leaves a message for Ryan: Take over. By any means necessary.

Valley of the Sun: Stories eBook: Louis L'Amour: Amazon.ca ...

The next story is “No Man’s Mesa.” Matt Calou bought the Rafter H, a ranch situated near Black Mesa, and has arrived to settle his claim. But he soon finds that the locals are opposed to his moving into the abandoned farm. Whenever cattle go missing, crops fail, or unseasonable weather moves in, they blame Black Mesa for the trouble. Convinced it is cursed and spreads bad luck to those who live near it, they want no one to move within the rock’s shadow and spread the evil around.

Amused by their fallacy, Matt goes to the ranch and begins settling in. He soon finds he has some pretty company; Sue Reid, the daughter of an archaeologist who lives nearby, likes to drop into the Rafter H from time to time. Visiting with Matt, she tells him that the townspeople take their superstitions about Black Mesa very seriously. Having given him a week to leave of his own accord, they plan to run him off the farm if he does not go willingly.

Knowing there must be something going on for the cattle to continuously disappear without a trace, Matt begins investigating. What he finds makes the whole picture clear. It also gives him the high card when the townsfolk inevitably come to chase him off the Rafter H.

“Gila Crossing” is one of the longer stories in the collection. Texas Ranger Jim Sartain arrives in the town of Gila Crossing, which is simmering with resentment. A fire recently burned off several acres of good grazing land. It nearly burned out a group of nesters, who purposely moved into an area that they believed would be out of the cattlemen’s way.

Despite their efforts to avoid trouble, it has arrived. One of the nesters was murdered, his animals driven off, and his house set ablaze. Coupled with the fire that destroyed the range, things look suspicious. Both sides blame the other, but neither has anything to gain in a range war. They all lose if they set the country alight with their anger. So who benefits in such a despicable situation?

Jim Sartain aims to find out – preferably before more people die.

“Medicine Ground,” the following story in the anthology, is a Cactus Kid tale. It is a bit formulaic and dry in its presentation of events, much like a Zorro or Lone Ranger story would be when it was written by someone who was not totally invested in the character. I do not know if Mr. L’Amour created the Cactus Kid – I think he was a protagonist created by someone else, but whom many writers used in various stories in order to make a sale.

While L’Amour’s tale is strong and he does put effort into it, to me, there is some genuine heart missing from the piece. It feels like something he did simply to earn a few dollars and fill space in a magazine. There is nothing wrong with that; everyone has to eat, and L’Amour was as human as anyone else. But in my opinion “Medicine Ground” is not a particularly interesting story, despite the craftsmanship that went into it.

Anyway, the Kid is heading out to a date with Bess O’Neal, a local Irish girl from a ranching family. Having missed two dates with her already, he has been warned that to miss a third will be the end of their acquaintance. To avoid that fate the Kid has dressed accordingly. Riding a piebald horse with one blue eye, he heads off to the dance at the nearby school to meet his sweetheart.

Unfortunately, his trip is interrupted. While playing poker earlier in the day, the Cactus Kid happened to notice that one of the players was not dealing fairly. Ace Fernandez, the card sharp in question, got a little greedy and missed the Kid slip his sleeve cuff over a nail. When Fernandez reached to collect the pot, his sleeve tore and the sleeve holdout he had been using was revealed. On being thus discovered, Ace reached for his iron. He was slower than one of the other players, who shot him dead.

Ace’s brothers, Lobo and Miguel, have decided that the Kid is primarily to blame for these events. Thus they lie in wait for him between the town and the school. Being a scientific as well as a betting man, the Kid knows better than to argue with two unwavering guns. However, he also knows he has to live and make the dance with Bess. With that thought in mind, he begins trying to escape…

…Only to overhear the brothers say something about a senorita.

Valley of the Sun - Short Story | The Official Louis L ...

Following this installment we have the titular “Valley of the Sun,” which begins with Brett Larane waking slowly. Wounded and left to die in the desert, his memory takes time to return. But when it does, he realizes he has to get home – fast. Having accepted a job as Marta Malone’s foreman at the Hidden Valley Ranch, he worked there even after her other hands quit, making him foreman in name only.

Deeply in love with Marta, he had hoped to start a life with her at the ranch. Now that future is in serious jeopardy. Brett knows the men who shot him will go back to the Hidden Valley Ranch. One of the men wants Marta, the others want the ranch. They already have the money he had received upon selling her horses. It will be the easiest thing in the world for them to say that he ran off with the cash and left her.

Brett does not want to die. He does not want to leave Marta. But a wounded man afoot in the desert has to be careful if he wishes to survive. For Brett to make it back to Hidden Valley Ranch, he will have to cross the Valley of the Sun. And if he doesn’t do it right, he is a dead man.

Next we have “That Slash Seven Kid,” a rip-roaring good yarn if there ever was one. Johnny Lyle is the nephew of Tom West, the owner of the Slash Seven Ranch, and his uncle loves him dearly. However, he does consider the boy a guest and a greenhorn, an opinion shared by most of the hands.

More than a little tired of their babying, Johnny sets out to find a local rustler named Hook Lacey in order to win the respect of the hands. Though free with his talk, there is nothing wrong with his hearing, and Johnny has heard that Lacey seems to like Tierra Blanca Canyon, which is near the town of Victorio. While there, he discovers three disguised Slash Seven hides at the butcher’s shop. The butcher tries to chase him off, only to be given the beating of his life.

After telling the townsfolk that he intends to deal with Hook if he rustles another Slash Seven steer, Johnny makes the outlaw angrier by falling for the girl Lacey likes. Setting out the next morning, the so-called tenderfoot knows he has to make good on his brags to a degree if he wants to be considered a hand. The problem, of course, is to do it without dying in the process.

This is a very good story, one of the best in the volume. It’s got all the heart and style L’Amour is known for, as well as a good plot and strong characters. “That Slash Seven Kid” is a tale to ride the river with. 😉

The same can be said of the final story in the collection. “In Victorio’s Country” is a fantastic piece that follows the exploits of a set of bank robbers. Red Clanahan and his men successfully rob the bank in the town of Cholla. Red’s old friend Bill Gleason, who stayed on the right side of the law as the West was won, is the sheriff of Cholla. Having set out in pursuit of Apaches, he is not present when Red and his gang make their play.

While heading for the border, Red and his three companions find a set of tracks that makes them pause. The Apaches are indeed active in the area, but the four men know how to avoid being seen by them. However, it appears there is someone else out here as well: a couple of kids, boy and girl.

Identifying their tracks leaves the outlaws in a quandary. They have more than enough money to make them very rich, at least until they spend it on gambling, drinking, and women. And although they are well ahead of Gleason, the sheriff and his posse are even now tracking them down to bring them to justice. So the question before the thieves is: do they continue south as they had planned, or do they go help these two kids?

9780786205875: Valley of the Sun: Frontier Stories ...

This has to be one of the best short pieces L’Amour ever wrote. If I had to recommend Valley of the Sun on the basis of a single story, this would be it. The other tales in this anthology are worth reading, but “In Victorio’s Country” is the real prize. It epitomizes the Western ethos along with everything fans love about the genre. And it makes Valley of the Sun more than worth the purchase price.

But you do not need to take my word for it, readers! Pick up Valley of the Sun at your earliest opportunity. You won’t regret it! 😀

‘Til next time!

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review: Last Stand at Papago Wells by Louis L’Amour

Last Stand at Papago Wells - Louis L'Amour Wiki

Here we are, readers – the first post of a new year! Today’s topic is a Louis L’Amour novel, one of my favorites. Last Stand at Papago Wells was one of the first two or three L’Amour books that I read, and it has a special place in my heart because of that.

This tale is a beauty. Full of suspense, action, intrigue, and tension, L’Amour poured a great deal into this story. It would make a fantastic film, and I hope someone gets the rights to it one of these days. This is a Western that deserves to be on the silver screen!

Okay, enough of the fan-ranting. It’s time to describe the story!

Logan Cates is drifting through the desert when he picks up a trail going toward Yuma. At roughly the same time, he spots a cloud of dust moving in the same general direction. It could be nothing more than a posse or a few travelers headed West….

But with Churupati, a half-Apache, half-Yaqui Indian raiding, pillaging, and murdering small farms and settlements throughout this section of Arizona, those explanations are not entirely satisfactory. Either set of trails Logan has seen and is following could belong to the renegade’s men. It is hard to make sure at a distance, though one trail definitely seems to have been made by white men and not Indians.

Worried by the flurry of activity in what should be a fairly empty desert, Logan pushes forward. This portion of the Territory is largely waterless; only a few tanks up ahead hold out any hope of water. Known as Papago Wells, these particular tanks fill up with water inch by inch over the desert months. Catch them at the right time and you will find enough water to help you along. Come upon them at the wrong time, and you are dead. Logan needs water, and so he is headed to the Wells to refill his canteens….

Last Stand at Papago Wells by Louis L'Amour ...

…And that’s the same place everyone else he has noticed seems to be heading as well.

Up ahead, Jennifer Fair and her fiancé, Grant Kimbrough, are on their way to Yuma to marry. Pursuing them is Jennifer’s father, Jim Fair, a well-known and well-respected cattleman. Having been to school back East for the last few years, Jennifer has come to hate her father and Arizona. This hatred has been fed to greater heights by the fact that she saw her father gun down a young man her ten or eleven year old self had a crush on. She is determined to leave the country by any means available or necessary.

Taking advantage of all this, Kimbrough proposed to her. When her father absolutely refused to accept him as a prospective son-in-law, he suggested they run away to marry, which Jennifer was all too happy to do. On the way toward Yuma they happen across the remains of two cowpunchers the Apaches killed and mutilated.

Lonnie Foreman, the only survivor of the attack, pops up from the rocks and explains what happened. Hitching a ride with the couple, they continue on to Papago Wells. There they meet an old buffalo hunter and his Pima Indian companion, who were pursued to Papago Wells by a posse from Yuma after they killed a young man intent on making a name for himself by murdering one or both of them.

Elsewhere, Junie Hatchet is taken captive by a band of marauding Indians. She escapes them temporarily, only to be chased into an outcropping of rock over the course of the following day. A cavalry patrol which was absorbed into the posse finds and rescues her before heading into Papago Wells, too.

Prior to their arrival Logan pulls into the tanks and mentions the Apaches are watching and waiting to strike at those who will congregate at the Wells. Not long after the gang is all together, Churupati puts them under siege. Elected leader of the group, Logan Cates must find a way to keep them all alive until search parties from Yuma, a nearby fort, or Jim Fair reaches them. Otherwise they are doomed to die at the hands of the Apache.

This book is a tense, action packed little novel that will keep you on the edge of your seat, readers. Part horror, part Treasure of the Sierra Madre, L’Amour’s Last Stand at Papago Wells is a worthy addition to any library. It is one of the best stories the man ever wrote. I recommend you pick it up and enjoy it at your earliest opportunity, because you won’t be disappointed by it. 😉

‘Til next time!

Flickriver: Photoset 'The Western Novels of Louis L'Amour ...

Book Review: Off the Mangrove Coast by Louis L’Amour

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Louis L’Amour is a household name due to his wonderful tales of the men and women who made the West. But he would not have gotten there if he had not started his career as an author writing short stories for magazines. Since his father’s death Mr. L’Amour’s son has been going through the author’s archives to collect the short stories which the publishers did not have. Those he finds are put into collections such as the one we will look at today.

Off the Mangrove Coast, while the title story, is not the first piece which we encounter on opening the book. That is “Fighters Should Be Hungry,” which focuses on one Tandy Moore, a young man with boxing potential who is currently a hobo. Entering a hobo jungle outside Astoria, Oregon, one of the fellas his own age makes a comment which irritates Tandy. He shakes the guy a little, only to be told by one of the other tramps to let the kid alone. Tandy rounds on the older man and gets socked in the mouth after trying to start a fight with him.

Friendships have many strange beginnings, and the camaraderie between Tandy Moore, Gus Coe, and Briggs is no exception. Realizing that Tandy can really fight, the two fellas take him under their wing and teach him some moves before they put him in the ring. But it isn’t just money these men want; they’re intent on taking down a criminal and the boxer who works for him. Tandy especially wants a crack at the other fighter for something that happened a long time ago….

Next we have “It’s Your Move,” a short story set somewhere on the Northwest Coast. It’s about a dock worker who likes to play checkers and is good enough to whip everybody else who works there.

So what do you think happens when he meets a guy who can beat him?

After this comes “Off the Mangrove Coast,” a straight-up treasure hunting story. It focuses on four men who go in search of a sunken ship in the South China Sea. This ship was carrying a gold shipment when it went down and, when there is gold involved, trust becomes scarce. The young hero of this story is not close to any of the men he sails with, and two of them look less than friendly when they talk of the prize they seek. The third, a black man named Smoke Bassett from Port au Prince, seems much nicer. But when the chips are down, who will stand beside their friends, and who will end up shark bait?

I liked these first three stories a fair bit. Smoke Bassett is one of the L’Amour characters I think the most of, even though he only appears in this story. He was a good fella and a strong friend – and yes, I am dropping a veiled spoiler on you here. Therefore, we will go to the next story, which didn’t entertain me near as much as these three did. This would be “The Cross and the Candle,” which is set not long after World War II in France. Here the unnamed hero meets a fellow American who lived and worked in the country before WW II broke out. He had a girl who worked for the Resistance during the Nazi occupation, but she was killed by a traitor. Ever since, this man has been searching for her murderer – and he thinks our unnamed protagonist can help him catch the guy.

“The Diamond of Jeru” is the next story in this collection. It is funny; when I was a child, my father would mention “The Diamond of Jeru” on occasion. So when I saw the title in Off the Mangrove Coast, it rang a bell that took some time to bring back the memories from my youth. For some reason, this title always made me think of an Indiana Jones adventure someone had written up but which I had never seen.

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To be fair, “The Diamond of Jeru” does have some Indiana Jones flair to it. This tale is about Mr. Kardec, a man who went to Borneo in search of diamonds. He found – and lost – a fortune of them, which left him stranded in the country. With no money to pay his way home he has guided others up the Baram River in search of the gems. It means he can meet his bills while keeping body and soul together… but it does not earn him enough to buy a ticket home.

So when a Mr. and Mrs. Lacklan arrive and offer to pay him to be their guide, things begin looking up. Until two problems arise: one, Mrs. Helen Lacklan is younger than her husband, being nearer in age to Kardec than to her man. She is also strong, able, intelligent, and courageous as well as physically attractive. Two, Mr. Lacklan wants to take her up the river with Kardec and himself, which could attract the attention of the natives. But since Kardec desperately wants to go home, he works out a deal with the two despite these problems. Then, a few days before they are to go, the Lacklans return so that Mr. Lacklan can tell Kardec they have found someone who will take them up river much cheaper.

Kardec is angry at first, mostly because everything had been set up and this cancellation is on very short notice. Then he figures out that the Lacklans are being set up by an old head hunter who lives up the Baram – Jeru. Using an enormous diamond, Jeru has lured other treasure hunters up the river, none of whom have ever returned. Kardec tries to warn the two about this but, since it was one of Jeru’s followers with the diamond and not the old man himself, Lacklan decides Kardec is just making trouble. Further angered, Kardec says it’s their funeral and lets them go…

However, the thought of Helen’s head being added to Jeru’s collection finally gets to him, and he packs up to follow the couple upriver.

While this was a riveting story, I cannot say it was one of my favorites. It is much darker than L’Amour’s normal fare – and Indiana Jones’ stories, for that matter. Also, L’Amour rarely had this type of love triangle go on in his stories, but when he did do it, I always found it annoying. So though “The Diamond of Jeru” was well done and relatively interesting, it isn’t a story I like to reread much.

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This means that the piece following this one, “Secret of Silver Springs,” was a breath of fresh air when I picked up the book first. As the title suggests, this is a Western; four men meet on a stage route and, being short on cash, they decide to rob the next coach coming down the line. Instead, they end up saving it from men who want to kill the passengers on said stage. The story starts with this intriguing reversal and, though it gets a bit dark, it is in general the type of Western I have come to expect from L’Amour, making it well worth the read.

Following this we have “The Unexpected Corpse,” a detective piece about a PI who gets a call from an old friend who is now an actress. Having found a dead man in her home, she calls our hero to “hush…up” the mess, but he calls the cops instead. Though he knows the woman has the ability to kill, our detective is ninety percent sure she didn’t commit this crime. But it all comes down to proving that – before the police put her behind bars.

While this story was a little dark, it is not as sinister as “Jeru.” Nevertheless the next tale, “The Rounds Don’t Matter,” was a much better installment. Patty Brennan, an up and coming boxer engaged to the daughter of a police chief, is trying to help the cops catch a mobster who works as a boxing manager. This mobster likes to have the other boxers throw the fight so his man wins the match; those who won’t take the money get taken out. One of those honorable fighters was Patty’s best friend, and he intends to see this guy pay for murdering his pal.

After this we come to the final story in the book, which is called “Time of Terror.” This has to be the darkest story L’Amour ever wrote – it is certainly the most frightening one of his that I have ever read. While having a drink at a bar one night, the hero of this tale sees a man walk into the bar – a man who should be dead. Turns out that this old friend isn’t so friendly; he made a fortune faking his demise, but there are a few loose ends he has to wrap up before he can feel safe enough to live on his ill-gotten gains.

One of those loose ends is our hero.

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In all, Off the Mangrove Coast was not a bad read, though “Jeru” and “Terror” both creeped me out. None of that blights the other tales in this collection, however, which is why I recommend it. Off the Mangrove Coast would be worth the read for the title story alone, but add “Silver Springs,” “The Rounds Don’t Matter,” “It’s Your Move,” and “Fighters Should Be Hungry” into the mix, and you can pass a good evening with this collection.

Despite my criticisms, “Jeru” and a couple of the other stories here were interesting for their historical accuracy. (Plus, the husband in “Jeru” proves that the rotten professor isn’t a recent development, so L’Amour gets points for that.) The only piece in this book that I wish I had not read is “Time of Terror.” THAT was a spooky read. *Shivers.*

These are my opinions, of course; if dark tales are to your taste, you may like the stories I hate and hate the ones I like. All this blogger has done is praise the pieces in the collection which she found most enjoyable. “Terror” and “Jeru” might be right up your alley, readers.

But you won’t know that for sure until you check this book out! 😉 Have fun looking up Off the Mangrove Coast, readers – and feel free to come back with a comment telling me which stories you liked best!

‘Til next time!

Responsibility

She remembered so well what her father had said, “Don’t waste time worrying about the mistakes of yesterday. Each morning is a beginning. Start from there.” – The Cherokee Trail by Louis L’Amour

“One day,” her father had often said, “this will all be yours, so you must learn how it functions. Never trust your affairs to anyone else. If you have a foreman or a super intendant, that’s fine, but be sure you know what is going on. You give the orders, you check to make sure your wishes are carried out.” – The Cherokee Trail by Louis L’Amour

Book Review: The Virginian by Owen Wister

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Most followers of Thoughts on the Edge of Forever probably know by now that I enjoy Westerns. A lot. Films, books, TV shows – whatever the medium, I will happily devour tales set in the Old West.

In many ways, the men in the Old West were the American equivalent of Old World knights. They were our gallant heroes on horseback who defeated the villains, saved the fair damsel, and destroyed evil so good people might thrive on the unimaginable wealth of the American West. Have Gun, Will Travel even references this perception of the Western man in the theme song about its hero, Paladin: “A knight without armor in a savage land.”

I have reviewed some books about the Old West by one of my favorite authors, Louis L’Amour, here on this blog several times. But a little while back, I got to read a classic western that was, in many ways, the progenitor of the archetypes we recognize in the genre today. This was none other than Owen Wister’s The Virginian.

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This book has been made into a film several times. It also gave us the television series led by James Drury and Doug McClure. I began watching reruns of the show ages ago, so I knew something of the book’s characters and plot from research I did on the series.

But I have to say, studying the details really does not do the novel justice. It is something of a slow read, in the beginning. This book was written at the turn of the twentieth century, after all, when there was a certain form expected of a novel. The author used these forms liberally.

Of special interest to me is the fact that Wister dedicated his book to Theodore Roosevelt, even changing one page in the story because the President implied it was not well done or accurate. If that is not a stamp of approval, then I do not know what is!

The Virginian is told largely from the point of view of an unnamed Narrator. Due to poor health, our Narrator is invited west to get better by a friend named Judge Henry. The Judge sends his most “trustworthy man” to collect the Narrator at the train station. In case you have not guessed who this is yet, we know him throughout the story as the Virginian.

If you thought you knew the Virginian in James Drury’s portrayal of the character, readers, you have not seen anything yet! From start to finish he pulls surprise after surprise on you. Whether he is playing a devilishly brilliant prank on someone; dealing with his archenemy, Trampas, or expounding upon the equality of men, the Virginian is never still or dull.

Over time, the Narrator becomes a lovable character, too. Honorable mention goes to his and the Virginian’s mutual friend, Scipio le Moyne, who is absolutely wonderful. The Judge is an amicable character, and when you run into the preacher, Dr. MacBride – Holy cow! Do not read that section in the library. You will be laughing or choking so loud, people will have to shush you right out of the building!

There is only one thing about The Virginian which bothers me, and that is the damsel our lead falls in love with. Having been fed off of Louis L’Amour’s rich stories for so long, I expected Miss Molly Wood to have the same qualities as L’Amour’s women.

No such luck. Molly Wood is an absolute twit. More than once, I wanted to smack her upside the head and tell her how many buns make a dozen. I have never – not once – felt that way toward any of the women in L’Amour’s novels and stories, readers. It was a new and rather aggravating experience, which made reading this wonderful book a little trying at times.

Lest you think this was misogyny or sexism on Wister’s part, I will tell you that he characterizes two other women in the novel quite nicely. Mrs. Taylor and Mrs. Henry are fine, smart Western women. They know their men and understand the Virginian better than Molly Wood does. Mrs. Taylor even goes so far as to say that if she could, she would marry him herself, and that she does not think Molly Wood is good enough for him. (I agree with her wholeheartedly on that.) I do not doubt that both these women also know how to handle guns, just like L’Amour’s women.

Another magnificently characterized woman in the story is Molly Wood’s great aunt. She is wise and capable, not to mention a deep thinker who knows her grandniece’s heart better than the girl’s mother, who is twice as irritating as Molly. So Wister did not think all women were airheads, readers. He respected women in general and treated three of them well in the book.

But this makes his decision to have Molly Wood be such a dense cluck more puzzling than before. I cannot help but wonder why he wrote her the way he did. Maybe she was based off of a real woman he knew; maybe she just walked into his head and he could not expel her. I do not know.

What I do know is that she drove me crazy enough to wish the Virginian had not selected her as his bride. To pair someone that amazing, that wonderful, off with a woman so stubbornly stupid seems pretty unfair to him and to readers like me.

Other than this quibble, I enjoyed reading The Virginian. I hope that you will, too, readers, in spite of all my griping. It really is a wonderful story that should be read more often than it is.

‘Til next time!

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Book Review: The Proving Trail by Louis L’Amour

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Kearney McRaven comes down from the mountains, where he has been punching cows all winter, to find his father dead. According to several people, Mr. McRaven committed suicide after losing a poker game.

Except, as Kearney McRaven knows, his father was not a quitter. He had been gambling for several years now, and losing every time. Yet never before did he ever consider killing himself after losing a game. So why the sudden change?

Then Kearney overhears men in the tavern talking, and he learns that his father did not lose said card game. Actually, he won nine to ten thousand dollars that night. So if that is the case, then he could not have killed himself. He had won his first poker game, and he had won it big. He had no reason to commit suicide.

But whoever he was playing against had thousands of reasons to murder him.

Kearney goes to the town judge to get his father’s belongings, and the judge sticks to the story he was first told: his father lost the game and committed suicide. But Kearney is not having it. Keeping his father’s pistol on the judge, he tells him to take out the money – and the deed – that his father won in the poker game.

The judge does not like it, especially since Kearney is so young. He is not even eighteen. But he is in no position to argue with the pistol that Kearney is holding, despite having a gun of his own in his safe. He hands over the money and the deed, but not without trying to sweet talk Kearney into entrusting it to him.

Kearney would rather light it on fire and watch it burn. He gets out of town, heading back for the cabin where he lived while he kept watch over the cattle. He stashes the money and the deed along the way, just in case. This turns out to be fortuitous when, in the cabin where he lived for the last few months, he meets the judge and some thugs. They beat him up and demand that he tell them where he hid the money.

But Kearney knows that if he tells them where he hid it, they will kill him. So he lies and says it was stolen, in order to buy himself some time to make a plan. Eventually, he manages to escape the judge and his cronies. But he is so banged up that he would not survive if he did not run into a group of friendly Indians. The Indians take care of him until he is well enough to ride off.

Doing this, Kearney comes to another town. There he meets a man who, from behind, strongly resembles his father. He is so taken aback that he calls the man “Pa,” startling the man and making him turn.

He really, really should not have said anything to the man. Why?

Let’s just say the money Mr. McRaven won in that card game is not the only reason someone would want him dead. It turns out that Mr. McRaven came from somewhere in the American south. He went west to escape a family feud that has been tearing his clan apart for generations. They wanted him out of the way so they could claim sole possession of the land Mr. McRaven held through inheritance. Thinking the senior McRaven had no heirs, this branch of the family now believes they are in the clear because of his death….

Until Kearney calls this man “Pa.”

The Proving Trail is a fast paced, thrilling tale of murder and intrigue. It was the second L’Amour novel that I read, the first being The Cherokee Trail. The historical accuracy is, as usual, superb. Mr. L’Amour shows he is a knowledgeable man in this story. The McCoys and the Hatfields have nothing on the McRavens and the Yants. But you do not need to take my word for it, readers! Pick up The Proving Trail and find out for yourselves how good a story it is!

Book Review: Flint by Louis L’Amour

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Welcome back to the Wild, Wild West, readers! Here is yet another review for a Louis L’Amour novel that you may peruse at your pleasure. I am making up for lost time on this, am I not?

Well, it cannot be helped. I have reviewed lots of other books, and left one of my favorite authors on the shelf. That should not have happened. So now this blogger intends to see to it that a great man’s work is exposed to a good bit of daylight. This time, the focus is another western of Mr. L’Amour’s: Flint.

Jim Flint, under the alias of James T. Kettleman, is headed back west. Having come east to disappear, he is now headed west to do the same. See, Jim Flint is a big, powerful man. He has been strong since boyhood. Who his parents were he has no idea, for he was found and raised by a wandering gunman who only went by the name Flint.

Well, Flint met the end which was the doom of many a gun hand. Jim did not take this too well, and he had a lot to say about it – mostly with his own six-shooter. That is why he disappeared east, taking the name Kettleman when he did, a play on “cattleman.”

Now he is going back. Diagnosed with cancer, Jim Flint is headed back west to die.

His wife, whom he married simply because he wanted company, does not want to wait for the cancer to run its course. While he was back east, Flint made a fortune in the stock market and on many other business ventures. He is one of the wealthiest men in the nation, getting wealthier all the time. So, with her father’s help, Mrs. Kettleman planned to kill Jim.

But she does not know her husband very well, since Flint is a man of sparse speech and very reticent about his past. This meant that she and her father had no idea Jim was good with a gun – and better than the man they sent to kill him at a gambler’s table on a ferry.

They are also initially unaware of the fact that Jim knows they want his money. And he has no intention that they should see a penny more than he wishes to leave them (i.e., he will leave his wife enough to live on, but not in the way she wants to live on it). With his lawyer’s help, he sets up all his assets to be liquidated as he sees fit, making sure his wife and father-in-law will not get his fortune.

Now, on the train west, Flint spots a man who is definitely trouble. This man is Buckdun, a hired killer. Jim does not know his name yet, but he knows his type; dangerous as you can find. Jim Flint also spots a very pretty young woman on the train whose name he overhears: Nancy Kerrigan.

Now Nancy Kerrigan, owner of the Kaybar Ranch, has her own problems. Settlers are streaming west, and a former political animal – now styling himself a businessman – has come to the locale of her ranch from back east to make his fortune in the unimaginable wealth of the west. Port Baldwin is trying to become a power in the area. This concerns Nancy because her ranch, the Kaybar, is a land claim. She has no title, no deed, for it. Her father purchased some of the ranch land from the Indians, but Indians do not give out titles or deeds. What is more, one Indian can always claim that those Indians who sold the land had no right to sell it.

This puts her ranch and livelihood in serious jeopardy. Her father and her uncle built the ranch up over the years, held it against Indian attacks (which she lived through), and she does not want to lose it. The Kaybar is her home, and she intends to hold it no matter what.

The biggest, most immediate problem with this is that Port Baldwin has started to brew a range war. Range wars are ugly, violent affairs that can end very badly for those involved. And when Nancy sends one of her hands out to file a claim on the Kaybar so she can later buy the rights back from him, along with several others, the man is ambushed and left for dead.

Enter Jim Flint, who has no intention of getting caught up in a range war but who also does not care if he lives through it or dies in it, since he is going to die anyway. And a man who has nothing to lose is a one big bag of terrifying. With no fear of his own death, Flint cannot be forced to simply back down. If you want him out of your way, you will have to kill him. And he is a hard man to kill.

Flint is one of L’Amour’s more complex stories. Jim Flint does not fit the type of the western hero with which we are all familiar; even among L’Amour’s own stock of protagonists, he stands out. He is different, harsher, because he is going to die…

Or is he?

From here, you will have to break your own trail, readers. Have fun reading Flint, and may you find many more L’Amour stories to interest you as time goes by!

May there be a road!

The Mithril Guardian

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