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Sunday, 26 July 2015

Gary M. Dobbs

The Man is out there

My current western - available now

Tainted Stats

Weekly Stats Report: 20 Jul - 26 Jul 2015


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Unique Visits8552709466575948369
First Time Visits8345708961575245765
Returning Visits2705507264

Comanche Moon by Larry Mcmurtry Book Review

This was the last book published in the Lonesome Dove series but in chronological terms is actually the second book, concentrating on the years between Dead Man's Walk and Lonesome Dove. It's also the most bitter sweet novel in the series and this time Gus and Woodrow are mere supporting characters in a richly layered myth busting story of the Old West - the first section of the book is dominated by Captain Inish Scull, a brilliantly eccentric creation, while the latter chapters mourn the passing of the time of the Comanche and bring the story of the legendary warrior, Buffalo Hump to a close.

 It is in the late chapters that the author seems to lose the way and the story feels rushed as we are brought towards the events detailed in Lonesome Dove - the civil war comes and goes, Maggie gives birth to Newt, the son Woodrow won't acknowledge, Long Bill does for himself and we learn that Matty - the Great Western -  that whore with a mean line in snapping turtles is running a whore house in Denver but is herself dying. Gus has also been married twice, both of his wives were fat women, and both went and died  and left Gus alone. Gus of course is still mooning over Clara but she has gone off and married a dumb horse trader.

The book opens with the rangers being led by Harvard educated, Captain Inish Scull as they pursue the legendary Comanche horse thief, Kicking Horse. However the Indian is too wily for them and after a time he manages to turn the tables and starts following the rangers with a view to stealing Scull's own horse, the large beast the Indians call Buffalo Horse. Kicking Horse does indeed steal Scull's horse, sneaking into camp one night while the rangers sleep and then vanishing again with the bulky horse and all without a sound. When the theft is discovered Scull orders the rangers back to Austin while he goes on alone, on foot with the Indian scout, Famous Shoes.

'Kicking Wolf-why the rascal!' Scull exclaimed. A few days ago I was following him. Why would the man we were chasing want to follow us?'

No sooner do the rangers return to town but they are once again sent out, this time with a mission to bring the foolhardy Scull back. During their time away Buffalo Hump forms a large band of warriors and starts raiding along the frontier - this includes a bloodthirsty strike on Austin itself - many of the towns people are killed (including Clara's parents) and Long Bill's wife is brutally raped by eight Comanches.

As soon as they hear of the raid the rangers give up their search for Scull and head back to Austin - Call is terrified that Maggie has been killed but is relieved to discover this wasn't the case, though he in his usual fashion doesn't display any real affection to Maggie. Gus is also relieve that Clara wasn't killed but it is scant relief since the only reason she wasn't killed is that she'd gone off to marry that dumb horse trader. Long Bill though is devastated to discover that his wife was violated by Comanche, while will eventually lead to him taking his own life.

Scull meanwhile has been captured by the sadistic bandit, Ahumado and this is one of the most interesting and captivating sections of the book - Scull is first hung in a cage over a canyon, forced to survive on passing pigeons that he manages to catch, and when that doesn't break the man he is brought back to ground while one of Ahumado's henchmen ( a man who likes to skin people alive) removes his eyelids. Scull is now effectively blinded during the sunlight hours and is then placed in a pit to die. This section of the book is astounding and the reader finds himself rooting for Scull and feeling each and every deprivation the man faces at the hands of the cruel bandit.

A nice touch is that we are introduced to the fledgling town of Lonesome Dove - it ain't really a town at this point but nothing more than a saloon without a roof.

The author doesn't romanticise the West and there is no flaming guns resolution to come out of all this, and instead the characters remains true to themselves and the book hold tight right up until Call and Gus bring the quite insane Scull back to Austin. At times Scull can function as usual but there are periods when he is prone to bouts of insane hopping and thinking himself to be a flea. It is at this point that things weaken a little for me and the author seems to thrown too much into the resolution of the book so that it seems nothing in handled in any depth, chapters often jump months, seemingly years. The death of Maggie, surely a momentous moment in Call's life, is done without any real depth of feeling. And Gus ambles from chapter to chapter, drunk, lost, as he comes to terms with the way his life has played out. In fact it would be nice if there were more books in the Lonesome Dove saga - there are at least ten years missing between the end of Dead Man's Walk and the start of this book. I for one would love to spend more time with the rangers.

The book gets back on track for its final section with Call and Gus and a small troop in pursuit of Blue Duck, the son of Buffalo Hump, who is causing chaos with settlers in the region. The author handles his Comanche characters with respect and the death of Buffalo Hump is handled with sensitivity. The author makes everything so real that the reader could be sitting there besides Buffalo Hump as he sings his death song.

And that folks takes us to Lonesome Dove. the Pulitizer Prize winning book that actually started the series. Lonesome Dove is the only book in the series that I've read before and will be re-reading for this series of reviews.

Comanche Moon mini-series - The TV mini series of the book and like the book is just a little weaker than Dead Man's Walk, but still essential veiwing for any fan of the western genre.  The casting is excellent - Val Kilmer is brilliant as the eccentric Scull and Steve Zahn really does capture something of Robert Duvall in his portrayal of Gus. Duvall of course was the actor who first brought Gus to life in the Lonesome Dove mini-series.

Comanche Moon then is another must read - simmers in places  but quite excellent.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Tainted Stats

Weekly Stats Report: 13 Jul - 19 Jul 2015


  Mon Tues Wed Thur Fri Sat Sun Total Avg
Unique Visits16970688465376255579
First Time Visits15858638162355951674
Returning Visits111253323396

Monday, 13 July 2015

Dead Man's Walk by Larry McMurtry Book review

I've have decided to read the entire Lonesome Dove saga in chronological order which means I kick off with Dead Man's Walk which was actually the third book published following Lonesome Dove (chronologically the third book) and Streets of Laredo (a direct sequel to Lonesome Dove and chronologically the fourth and final book in the series) . I'd previously read the Pulitzer Prize winning, Lonesome Dove but the rest of the series were new to me, though I had seen all the TV movies based on the book. And to be honest now that I've read Dead Man's Walk I can say that the TV mini-series was pretty damn faithful with only a few cosmetic changes.

To clear things up the order of publication for the series:
Lonesome Dove  (1985)
Streets of Laredo  (1993)
Dead Man's Walk  (1995)
Comanche Moon  (1997)

Though in chronological order the series goes:
Dead Man' walk
Comanche Moon
Lonesome Dove
Streets of Laredo

Dead Man's Walk then gives us the very early years of Gus McCrea and Woodrow Call and depicts how the boys first became friends and of how they joined the Texas Rangers. The book starts with Gus and Woodrow signed on as rangers with a road scouting expedition led by the inept  Major Chevallier. During the expedition they are repeatedly attacked by Indians led by a deformed Comanche called Buffalo Hump.

 During this early section of the book we get to know the important characters, especially Gus and Woodrow - their personalities are sketched out over a number of brilliantly written set pieces, usually involving the war chief, Buffalo Hump. Gus is the talkative, whore-loving, easy to get along with type, which his best friend, Woodrow is solid, dependable, serious minded and not all together likable. When Gus visits a whore he is in love with her and treats her with genuine affection, while when Woodrow visits he gets his business done and then gets out of there without a wasted word. The two men are polar opposites but they live and breath  as real people on the page and the chemistry between them is excellent.

There are several other secondary characters who are equally well drawn - Matty, known as the Great Western, is the whore who throws snapping turtles at the men and generally allows them a poke till pay day, Bigfoot Wallace is a mountain man with a fine line in storytelling, Shadrach is another mountain man, an aged character in the final years of his life. And then we have Long Bill Coleman and Johnny Carthage, two everyman types who provide one or two moments of comic relief as well as several truly poignant scenes.

Gus and Woodrow make it back from the first expedition, regarding it a failure but no sooner are they in Austin than they sign up for an expedition to capture and annex Santa Fe. This expedition is led by the pirate and soldier of fortune, Celeb Cobb but unfortunately he proves to be just as useless a leader as Major Chevallier. Before they leave Austin though Gus has finds to meet and fall madly in love with a Clara Forsythe, a young lady who works in her father's general store.
Woodrow and Gus from the TV mini series based on Dead Man's Walk

"Why I believe I have smitten Mr. McCrae," Clara said with a laugh. "I doubt I could smite you though, Mr. Call- not unless I had a club."

Indeed Cal has to remind Gus that he's signed up for the expedition when he announces that he is remaining behind and plans to marry Clara Forsythe.

"Marry her - you ain't got a cent,"  Call said. "Anyway, why would she have you? You ain't known her ten minutes."

"Ten minutes is enough," Gus said. "I want to marry her and I aim to."

It is only the fact that leaving the expedition would be desertion and that he would be shot for the crime, that persuades Gus to go on with the expedition though he vows he will return and marry the young woman.

The storyline truly is epic and the doomed Santa Fe expedition makes for an incredible feat of storytelling in which the author keeps the reader glued to page after page of incredible prose. The period and people are brought vividly to life, and the author doesn't shy away from the cruelty of the times.

There is one scene that had me cringing as I tuned the pages, a scene in which Gus, Woodrow and Bigfoot Wallace savagely stab a buffalo they have already shot a couple of dozen times. The beast just won't die - this scene was altered significantly for the TV version. Strange that I should find this scene so distasteful when there are gruesome scalpings, tortures and shootings which I lapped up. Still the author is right in bringing the scene to such vivid, horrific life and he seems to be using the overkill of this single buffalo to highlight the wanton destruction of the species by the whites during the westward expansion. Much is made of the fact that the white's only seem interested in the liver and testicles of the Buffalo,considering them a luxury but will allow the rest of the beast to go to waste, while when the Indians kill one of the noble creatures nothing is wasted. The buffalo is given almost mythic status within the story and serves as a symbol of a way of life fast vanishing

In all 200 people left on the expedition but gradually they were whittled down until only a handful survive - one incredible scene sees the adventurers having to climb down a cliff to avoid a prairie fire started by the Comanches, but this is only one set piece amongst a string of ever more audacious events.

The author certainly knows how to carry a story and I, as a western writer, found myself amazed at how real the story became as I read. If I could only achieve something half as good in my own writing.

Overall I would say this book is a worthy start to an incredible saga - the author seeks to demythologise the West and show it as it must have really been, but at the same time in Gus and Woodrow he has created two characters who firmly belong in the myth of the western. Poetic, brutal, beautiful and above all compelling - I picked up the book every chance I got and thought nothing of sitting there reading for a couple of hours at a time.

Right's straight into Comanche Moon

Tainted stats

Weekly Stats Report: 6 Jul - 12 Jul 2015


  Mon Tues Wed Thur Fri Sat Sun Total Avg
Unique Visits10999611801425985735105
First Time Visits10097571751405780706101
Returning Visits9245225294