Thursday, October 12, 2023

Summer's Favorite Reads

 Old Bill Miner, Frank Anderson. Brief biography of one of the last of the Western train robbers. Miner was known as a gentleman bandit, always polite and deferential. Also not always the sharpest knife in the drawer. The film The Grey Fox is a depiction of Miner’s life.


We Pointed Them North, E.C. "Teddy Blue" Abbott and Helena Huntington Smith. Delightful memoir of a man who worked cattle his entire adult life. Helena Smith did a wonderful job keeping Teddy’s voice as much like his spoken dialog as possible. (At least I’m told she did.) It’s funny, it’s sad, and it’s a master class in what it was like to be a cowboy, both on the frontier and after.


Hombre, Elmore Leonard. This was the third or fourth time I’ve read this book and I still think it may be Leonard’s best. When people say Out of Sight and Get Shorty were the first movies to do Leonard justice, they mean the crime novels; the movie version of Hombre is pitch perfect. The character changes made by Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank, Jr. are true to the tone of the book, and they did well to keep as much of Leonard’s dialog as possible.


Last Stand at Saber River, Elmore Leonard. The least of the three Leonard Westerns I read over the summer, but still good enough for inclusion. Written in the mid-1950s, his style was still forming, and there’s too much internal monologue, but the story and characters are top-notch. (The TV movie with Tom Selleck and the Carradine brothers is eminently missable. Just to give an idea, you get to see a dead man start to stand just before a commercial break. Apparently he didn’t wait for “Cut!” and the error was missed in editing.)


Law at Randado, Elmore Leonard. Much better than Saber River, and much more like an Elmore Leonard novel. The dialog is better and the action flows more naturally. Kirby Frye is a character who could have carried a couple of books.


The Bandit & Others - The Best Western Stories of Loren D. Estleman, Loren Estleman. Collections of stories by a single writer are typically more consistent in quality than anthologies by multiple authors. Even so, it’s rare to find a collection where every story is as good as in this one. (Stop me if you’ve heard this before.) People have been after me for years to read Estleman, either for PI or Westerns. I finally listened. Now I must read as much of him as possible.


Her Perfect Life¸ Hank Phillippi Ryan. I don’t typically read psychological thrillers; I like more overt criminal activity. This was in a swag bag from a conference and HPR is a big deal, so I figured what the hell. I’m glad I did. In the interest of full disclosure, I thought there was a little too much time spent in characters’ heads, but that’s a personal preference. The characters are well-drawn and believable, and the story is complicated enough to hold one’s interest without becoming so convoluted you don’t care anymore. The twist at the end is killer.


California Fire and Life, Don Winslow. This book was primed to be a disappointment after the high expectations created by my first trip into Winslow’s oeuvre, The Dawn Patrol. Nope. I enjoyed CF&L at least as much. All the things I liked about The Dawn Patrol were there, with the depth made possible through the use of multiple points of view. Winslow has a unique gift for providing detail in an entertaining manner that would come across as information dumps at the hands of most authors. Highest recommendation.


And Silent Left the Place, Elizabeth Bruce. I will confess, this one is personal. Elizabeth Bruce and I have been friends since we met at a writing workshop twenty years ago. This was her first novel, a literary effort with fascinating characters and a well-crafted story. No navel-gazing here, and no use of language just to show the author has command of it. She displays her talents in an understated yet lyrical manner that made it a pleasure to re-read after all these years.



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