Tag Archives: Louis L’Amour

The Quick and the Dead

Louis L'Amour THE QUICK AND THE DEAD book cover scans

“That man…the one who had coffee here.   He killed the man in the loft.”

“You’re alive, Duncan.  It’s all right.”

“A man is dead.  He was killed because of me.”

“He was killed because he was a thief.  When a man takes a gun in his hand against other men he must expect to be killed.  He becomes the enemy of all men when he breaks the laws of society.”

Exchange between Duncan and Susanna McKaskel in The Quick and the Dead by Louis L’Amour

The Quick and the Dead: Louis L'Amour: 9780553280845 ...

“You got no time to study out here.  You see, and you act.  Only you don’t shoot at movement.  You never squeeze off your shot until you know exactly what you’re shootin’ at.  Tenderfeet, they shoot anything that moves.  They kill cows, horses, dogs an’ each other.

“Out here we kill just what we need to live, just like a wolf does, or a bear.  Not to say they won’t kill once in a while just to be killin’, but they’re animals, boy, you’re a man…or about to be one.” – Con Vallian speaking to Tom McKaskel in The Quick and the Dead by Louis L’Amour

Book Review – Forgotten Destiny: A Western Trio by Peter Dawson

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Well, I said no more anthology reviews for a while. But a while has passed, and here we are again. I am just glad there are only three stories in this collection. The idea of writing about more than three tales is daunting!

Peter Dawson – real name Jonathan Glidden – was a pulp western writer in the 1930s and ‘40s. Though he was no Louis L’Amour, the three stories in this compilation prove the man could write. Each of the three novellas within this tome has a different cast of characters and a relatively unique plot. Yes, there are recognizable tropes or archetypes in these pieces, but that is part of what makes them appealing. Dawson did not fail to make his characters interesting or his plots intriguing. While I think L’Amour tends to do this better, the fact is that his stronger grasp of the Western might be due to his transcendental view of the Old West.

By this I mean that Louis L’Amour believed the Old West never died. No, we do not have gunslingers and greedy land-grabbers like those in the West of yesteryear. Yes, we cross the country in vehicles rather than by horse or horse and carriage. So what? The values that made the West such an exciting place still exist. In many places, the original settlers’ descendants continue to live and work on the land their ancestors’ paid for with cash, blood, sweat, and tears. How can such a legacy ever be truly erased?

Mr. Dawson’s writings lack this eternal view of the West. While not a detriment per se, they do make his stories feel…different. Speaking as a diehard Louis L’Amour fan, I know that I am always expecting that sense of the transcendental when I pick up Forgotten Destiny: A Western Trio. Not finding it is disappointing and tends to lower my enjoyment factor somewhat.

Nevertheless, A Western Trio is well worth reading. If ever this blogger stumbles upon some more works by Mr. Dawson, she will not be averse to picking them up. The man could write well and tell a darn good story. What more could a reader ask for?

All right, with those caveats out of the way it is time to get down to business. The first piece in this anthology is called “Brand of Luck.” Standing in front of his cabin, Hugh Conner glares down at the two men who have come to call. Having moved into the deserted building three months prior, Conner has worked hard to make the formerly desolate property his own.

The two men in front of him intend to change that fact. One of these two bullies is Wyatt Keyes, a man of ambition who has been buying up property in the area for reasons unknown. Just recently he bluffed the Chain Link outfit, the biggest in the area, into giving ten sections of good grazing ground over to him. Now he has come for Conner’s much smaller parcel of land, having already made offers on the land owned by the newcomer’s neighbors.

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With Keyes is his sheriff, Mace Dow. Formerly the ramrod of Keyes’ Key-Bar ranch, the man is a lean, mean hombre who has been enforcing his boss’ will throughout the territory. Although Dow has clearly been drinking, this does not mean he is not dangerous – perhaps as treacherous as Keyes.

Watching the two settle their hands on their gun belts, Conner realizes they have ridden in to shoot it out. As a newcomer and, essentially, a squatter on this property, they believe they can get rid of him without too much trouble. It will be their word against his dead body, and who can ask a corpse which man shot first?

Luckily for Conner, at that moment a wild dog races past the cabin in pursuit of a jack rabbit. Seizing the opportunity to make the men back off, Conner kills the creature before it can catch the rabbit. He is so quick that Dow is left gaping and Keyes’ cannot hide his surprise. But while the two men are convinced that leaving is in their best interests, Conner knows they will return. He also knows that they will bring reinforcements. Dodging trouble on his back trail, Hugh figures his best bet is to cut his losses and leave the territory – now.

But he doesn’t intend to let Keyes’ have the satisfaction of knowing he drove him off his property. After packing his belongings, Conner sets his own house on fire moments before he leaves. On his way out, he meets the daughter of George Baird, owner of the Chain Link outfit. Disappointed that he would leave without helping them, she admits that she came out to convince his neighbors to vote for a new sheriff to replace Dow. Seeing her so depressed and wanting to help the woman who has been such a good friend to him, Conner comes up with a plan…

“Brand of Luck” is probably my favorite piece in this book. It has just enough twists and turns to be interesting, while still feeling like a traditional Western that the style doesn’t jar the reader out of the story. Even if the other novellas were bad, I think I could recommend the collection based on this installment alone.

Fortunately, the next two tales are also good. “Death Brings in the Ophir” starts in court. Nick Treacher is ordered by Judge Byron Morgan to close down the Ophir Mine until he can make the property conform to regulation standards.

Nick Treacher’s response is for the regulations and their enforcers to go pound sand.

The “representative” for the minority stockholders in the Ophir Mine, Sam Poole, instantly jumps to his feet. He claims that Treacher is in contempt of court. Nick corrects him, saying he has no contempt for the law or the court. He has contempt for Poole, who bought the judge and has finagled the owner of the Ophir into this mess.

Although he doesn’t want to do it, Judge Morgan orders Nick’s arrest and the sheriff moves to do so. But since he is fat and out of shape, while Treacher is young and in shape, the owner of the mine is able to outmaneuver him easily. Jumping through the court’s window before he can be grasped, he fires a warning shot through the aperture when Poole jogs up to it and tries to fire after him.

Outside Nick meets up with his old friend, a cowpuncher named Ed Wright, who has been guarding his horse while waiting on his own steed. As the two head back to the mine Nick explains that he has put every penny he has into the Ophir. Many believed it to be played out, but he has discovered that there is still an active vein of silver ore in the rock. He is hoping to make back his money and more on by carefully mining this vein.

Poole knows all of this. And he wants the potential millions it could deliver for himself. With Judge Morgan on his side, he now has the means of getting it.

Nick then springs a surprise on his friend, offering Ed a share in the mine if he will stay and help him keep the property. Surprised, gratified, and excited, Ed is quick to agree. The two reach the mine and alert the men to what has happened. Having hired as many of the roughest, toughest, but honest miners he could find, Nick has a small army guarding the Ophir.

These men are also working the mine, however. And since they cannot increase their numbers, they have to be canny and careful. Poole has resources and can hire as many gunhands as he wants to get the Ophir. With his subversion of the law giving him cover, he can attack the mine at any time in any way he deems fit and – probably – get away with it.

So Treacher, Wright, and the miners settle in for the long haul. When the sheriff trundles up to the Ophir that evening to serve a warrant on Treacher, everyone is ready for him. Nick, Ed, and the men capture him (an easy thing to do) and they decide to holdthe sheriff for a ransom of five thousand dollars. Nick believes he can use that money to stall Poole’s legal beagles long enough to beat the other man at his own game.

Thus Treacher gives Ed the ransom note as the sheriff is hustled off to a cabin, where he can be held until the cash is delivered. In town, Ed posts the ransom note and stays to judge the reaction. While waiting for the townsfolk to notice the poster, however, he comes up with a corollary to Nick’s plan that should help put Poole on defense – if it works…

“Death Brings in the Ophir” is a good entry. It is more convoluted than “Brand of Luck,” but remains an enjoyable yarn nonetheless. The action ramps up quickly, keeping the tension without sacrificing the believability of the tale. For some reason, the ending never ceases to make me think of the film The Unsinkable Molly Brown. (If you have seen that film – shhh! No spoilers! 😉 )

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Finally, we have “Forgotten Destiny,” the story which gave this collection its title. Bill Duncan sets up camp in the desert a few miles from Halfway Springs. Four days ago he received a request for monetary aid from an old friend of his father. Though they have never met, Bill remembers his father speaking highly of one Tom Bostwick. And any friend of his father’s is a friend of Bill Duncan.

So he withdrew five thousand dollars from the bank and hightailed it for Halfway Springs. Now, less than a day away, he ponders what kind of trouble could force a man like Bostwick to ask for help. It would have to be big for him to request aid from his best friend and partner’s son. Worried, Bill stares into the fire, feeling the weight of the money belt around his waist.

Before he can turn in for the night, though, a shot rings out. Bill falls, apparently dead. A man walks up to him, taking the money belt and the horse. Then he leaves Bill for the vultures.

The next day, when Sheriff Ben Alcott is riding back into Halfway Springs, someone shoots at him. Diving for cover, Alcott finds himself face-to-face with a fevered, dehydrated stranger. The man passes out and collapses before he can fire again, giving the sheriff the opportunity to study him more closely. He has a head wound, one that isn’t deep but which has bled profusely.

Alcott brings the man in and sends for the doctor. Simultaneously, he tells someone to let his brother know he is back and wants to speak with him. During the brothers’ conversation, it is revealed that the two Alcotts are secretly trying to run Tom Bostwick off his property. They know Bill Duncan was bringing financial aid and, unbeknownst to his brother, Ben has seen to it that the money will not come through in time.

Or so he thinks. Not long after the doctor leaves, Ben’s deputy arrives with the cash. The younger man starts upon seeing the injured stranger in the jail. Frightened, he explains that the wounded man Sheriff Alcott brought in is the same one he wanted dead!

Things look bad for all concerned, until Bill wakes up with amnesia. Seeing an opportunity to get what he wants and keep Bill out of the way, Alcott decides to use him to capture Bostwick. Grateful for the help, Duncan is only too happy to oblige…

What follows is a rip-roaring good story that will leave a reader turning the pages. But you don’t need to take my word for it. Pick up Forgotten Destiny: A Western Trio, at your earliest convenience and see for yourself. Peter Dawson was not on L’Amour’s level, but he was a darn good writer. For that, he deserves to be remembered, readers.

‘Til next time, partners!

The Mithril Guardian

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Coming West….

Everybody who came West was coming to build, some to build in the West, some merely to get rich and get out, but all were intending to do great things, to grow, to achieve.  She heard the talk of the stage passengers while they were eating.  None of them seemed to have any doubts; none of them seemed worried by Indians, by deserts, mountains, or the wilderness.

This was their land of Canaan, the land where dreams came true, but here there was a difference, for each one of them seemed sure that he had to make the dreams come true, that it would be the result of something he did. – The Cherokee Trail by 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!

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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