During the course of the past year and a half or thereabouts, Iâ€™ve become happily reacquainted with one of the joys of my childhood, the western. It began when Turner Classic Movies ran a Roy Rogers movie marathon. This in turn prompted me to rent Hopalong Cassidy films from Netflix, and to buy some from Amazon.com. I also rented movies, primarily the kind of B-westerns I grew up watching on TV in the early 1950s, featuring other cowboy stars: Buck Jones, Bob Steele, Allan â€œRockyâ€ Lane, Lash LaRue, â€œWild Billâ€ Elliott, Tim Holt, Dick Foran, Charles Starrett as the Durango Kid, and Bob Livingston, Ray â€œCrashâ€ Corrigan, and Max Terhune as the Three Mesquiteers. My Netflix queue is loaded with others yet to come.
For all that I enjoy watching westerns, Iâ€™d read very few. Except for a handful of short stories (mostly found at the Online Pulps website), the only novel Iâ€™d read was Cormac McCarthyâ€™s All the Pretty Horses. I remembered the name Louis Lâ€™Amour from his instant best-seller status years ago. When a neighborâ€™s yard sale made his Son of a Wanted Man available, I bought it.
In it we meet Mike Bastian, who has been raised from childhood by his adoptive father, Ben Curry, for the life of a successful outlaw. As one of his â€œtrainers,â€ a man named Roundy, says:
â€œâ€¦You can track like an Apache. In the woods youâ€™re a ghost, and I doubt if old Ben Curry himself can throw a gun as fast and accurate as you. You can ride anything that wears hair, anâ€™ what you donâ€™t know about cards, dice, roulette, and all the rest of it, nobody knows. You can handle a knife, fight with your fists, and open anything made in the way of safes and locks.
â€œAlong with that heâ€™s seen you got a good education, soâ€™s you can handle yourself in any kind of company. I doubt if any boy ever got the education and training youâ€™ve had, and now Ben is ready to step back anâ€™ let you take over.â€
Ben Curry has never been caught because heâ€™s smart, heâ€™s a careful planner, and unlike other outlaws, he doesnâ€™t want a â€œreputation.â€ His wife and daughters, who live back east, donâ€™t know anything about this aspect of his life. They think heâ€™s a rancher named Ben Ragan whose business transactions keep him traveling a great deal of the time. Curry has been highly selective about the men he uses to pull off the robberies he plans. He wants men who also donâ€™t seek to advertise themselves as tough criminals.
What he doesnâ€™t know is that two tough lawmen, Borden Chantry and Tyrel Sackett, have begun to detect a pattern in his modus operandi, and are closing in.
Mike Bastianâ€™s problem? Deciding whether he wants to lead an outlawâ€™s life or stick to the straight path.
As events unfold, the matter is largely decided when Curryâ€™s life and the life of one of his daughters, Juliana, is threatened by a band of men Curry recruited and who have, for years, benefited by his recruitment. Harrowing circumstances compel Bastian and others loyal to Curry to try to hunt down these renegades. Among the hunters is Curryâ€™s other daughter, Drusilla, to whom Bastian is strongly attractedâ€”and vice versa.
Since this is the first novel Iâ€™ve read by the late Louis Lâ€™Amour, I can only assume itâ€™s representative of the way he wrote his many other novels. He was clearly a storyteller, and a man who wrote in a style free of any verbal furbelows and flourishes. The story itself is compelling, even if there are passages here and there that are repetitious, and despite the intimacy between Mike Bastian and Drusilla Ragan that strikes me as abrupt and false as the almost instant, unlikely attractions seen in many B-western films.
Lâ€™Amour has one mannerismâ€”in this book, at leastâ€”thatâ€™s annoying in its misuse. Heâ€™s fond of sentences that open with participial phrases, sentences meant to describe simultaneous actions. All too often, the simultaneities he describes are impossible. If I write, for example, â€œStriding across the floor of the bunkhouse, he unbuckled his holster,â€ the reader can picture someone walking and unbuckling at the same time. Now consider a line from Lâ€™Amour. After telling us that Borden Chantry â€œwent to the stove for the coffeepot,â€ implying that he had to rise from his seat, move across the room, and then fill his and Sackettâ€™s cups, he writes, â€œReturning the pot to the stovetop, he sat down, straddling his chair,â€ suggesting that Chantry is the Old Westâ€™s equivalent of Plastic Man. Hereâ€™s a â€œtwoferâ€: â€œWalking back to the table Dru took the chimney from the lamp, struck a match, and touched it to the wick. Replacing the lamp globe she drew back a chair.â€ This is a flexible, multi-talented multi-tasker!
In both examples, the addition of the word “after” at the beginning of each sentence would have corrected the errors.
You may have also noted that the second Lâ€™Amour example could stand some commas. Which is to say that Bantam Books, the publisher, could have used a good copy editor. Then again, considering the general quality of book editing for years now, along with the way English is taught, Iâ€™m not sure the majority of readers will notice the grammatical nits Iâ€™ve picked.
Nits notwithstanding, Son of a Wanted Man is a fast-paced, exciting piece of entertainment. It may not be a masterpiece, but itâ€™s a lot better than a Tex Ritter movie.