When I was younger, Louis L’Amour was one of my favorite writers. But he dropped off the Top Ten list quite a while ago. I discovered writers like William Goldman, Larry McMurtry, and Stephen King who far surpassed him in style, characterization, and plot. I also read more in my younger days, too. Had more time. I still love a good novel though. A good, compelling novel with cool style and solid characters is better than a movie and I love movies. Anyway, my own writing is struggling at the moment (to say the least) and, after I finished my day-off chores I decided to read something. Anything. But I wanted to read. (I had one more item on my day-off something-fun list. See blog below for that adventure.) I went to a nearby used book store and found myself in the western section. I bought Hanging Woman Creek. I didn’t recall having read it before.
Barnabas “Pronto” Pike is a foot-loose cowboy who likes to get into fistfights for fun. Winter is coming on and Pike doesn’t have a job. He picks up a new partner, Eddie Holt, who is a black cowboy who once worked with Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Show. Pike and Holt get jobs working a line cabin on the Bar J cattle ranch’s far perimeter. They get the jobs because no one else will take it because a vicious gang of rustlers has been working that area. Soon they met their closest neighbors, Philo Farley, a homesteader who served in the British Army, and his sister, Ann. All goes well for a while then a full-out range war between cattlemen, homesteaders, and rustlers erupts and finds Pike square in the middle of it.
First, Pike is well drawn as a character and a narrator. Also the places L’Amour talks about and the daily ranching tasks he describes are solid. You know instantly that the author knows what he is talking about. You believe. On the downside, the novel is only 150 pages and should have been much longer. The other characters (there seems to be about a hundred) are quick-drawn shadows and the main villain finally appears at the halfway mark. You also wonder why a couple other villains were even included. And events happen quickly. Too quickly. Didn’t believe the spark between Pike and Ann. L’Amour is one of the best-selling authors of all-time. He has a lean sparse style that reads well. But. I guess if I was recommending L’Amour to a first-time reader I wouldn’t tell them to start with this one. Then again, perhaps, L’Amour hasn’t changed at all. Maybe I have.