Sunday, 26 January 2014

Stranger With A Gun Review

By Bliss Lomax

Bliss Lomax is a non de plume of a bloke called Drago who wrote about 100 westerns under various names.  I'm not sure why you would need several non de plumes for the same sort of thing.  I mean, if he wrote westerns under one name, and Greek histories under another I could understand it, but all he did was write westerns, but, you know, as the kids say, whatevs. 

I love Westerns, and this one didn't disappoint.  I knew I'd like it when on page one, writing of a fella named Jep who owned the 'store', Lomax wrote: "He was well acquainted with the law that made it a criminal offence to sell whisky on Indian lands.  He violated it every day and thought nothing of it."  Ah, the lawlessness...

I hate book reviews that regurgitate the plot.  Any decent review should summarise the plot in no more that 20 words then get on with the review (or, as in my case, the 'reaction') so here's my 20 words or less plot:  Struggling cattle family forced to move north after government eviction.  They hire stranger with gun to help.  That'll do. 17 words. 

So what's in there?  Here's a checklist:

A tomboy heroine, holding her own against the rough and tumble of cowboys: check.
A stranger comes into town, full of mystery and danger: check.
A rich cattle breeder who thinks he's above the law and causes great trauma: check.
A repugnant, illiterate and violent thug that does the bidding of the rich bloke: check.
An honest, hard working old cowboy who's just trying to look after his family: check.
A good natured and wise 'negro': check.
An epic cattle run: check.
Shootouts: check.
Double-crosses: check
A 'dance' that all the townsfolk attend: check
Characters who intimately know their way around the epic open expanses of several states: Check
Total disregard for Indian sensitivities: check
Utter distrust of northerners, and the political system: check
Awesome meals: check (my favourite in this book was "Fried ham, hominy grits and black coffee.")

So it had everything I needed, and then, as a bonus, I got the extras that round out any decent story - the scenes and plots that differentiate it from its genre-cousins.  In this case, we had the baddie being motivated to do his evil solely out of unrequited lust for a woman.  We also got a description of that woman naked (you never see that in old Westerns).  There was an unambiguous attempted rape.  And of course, hominy grits. 

Democrat President Grover Cleveland also came under attack by the author (I'd never heard of him, so I did some research) and interestingly, he was criticised on two fronts, one being a left-leaning complaint (lack of care for the Indians) and one a right-leaning complaint (meddling in the common man's business). 

I listed in my True Grit review all the reasons that Westerns delight me, but after reading this book I can add one extra observation that tickles m'fancy - that roaming cowboys are sort of like hippies.  They don't mean to be.  They are certainly more manly than hippies.  But that acute awareness, enjoyment and respect for nature and animals is kind of hippy.  I just wish hippies were as hard working and as reliable as your average noble cowboy.  And as manly.  Androgynous is cool if you're urban and sassy, but if you're just a dirty hippy it's kind of rank.  Have a fucken shower and cut off those dreadlocks you wanker.  Androgynous hippies are just too lazy to have a gender identity. 

I recommend this book if you happen to like the things on my checklist.

I give it a B-minus. 

1 comment:

Cath said...

Can't say that I am interested in westerns, but the fact that there is a checklist of things that seems to be common in all Westerns, and Rom-Coms amuses me no end. But hey, sometimes predictability in a genre is comforting to read, when high-brow and wanky stories are just too much.