Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Mount TBR #44

I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2016. The challenge is to read books that you already own.

The Branch and the Scaffold: A Novel of Judge Parker – Loren D. Estlemann

This historical western examines Hanging Judge Isaac Parker. Serving on the federal bench for the western district of Arkansas and Indian territory from 1875 to 1896, Parker sentenced 160 people to the scaffold, 79 of whom were executed. Parker was the judge in the movie versions of the Charles Portis’ novel True Grit, a western to read even if a reader thinks she doesn’t like westerns.

Estleman uses the techniques of a novelist. He manufactures dialogue. He blends two real people into one fictional character. He adds business to make scenes more literary and compelling. He punctuates the exposition with action scenes that a guy would expect in a western. But all the characters are real historical characters; a reader can tell Estleman has read memoirs, transcripts, and newspaper accounts relevant to his subjects. He makes indirect critiques of journalists who portrayed depraved thieves and mean harlots into figures of romance for over-civilized readers in Eastern cities. In an afterward, Estelman clearly states the literary techniques he used to make history come alive.

I recommend this book to readers who as kids liked stories about figures I daresay kids don’t hear much anymore, such as the James Brothers, the Dalton Gang, Belle Starr, Cherokee Bill, Bill Doolin, and Heck Thomas. Any novel that features kind of sympathetic chapters to badass Cherokee Ned Christie gets three stars in my universe.

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