Friday, December 9, 2016

Mount TBR #61

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.

Stamping Ground – Loren D. Estleman

This is the second of the Page Murdock series, published way back in 1980. Estleman , a professional writer down to his fingertips, has written for the western, crime, and mystery markets his whole career. This story offers the action adventure we like in westerns combined with noir elements of his own Amos Walker PI stories.

In the late 1870s, Union veteran of the Civil War and ex-cowboy, Murdock finds himself as a lawman since long days and nights on the trail were taking their toll on his middle-aged body. His supervisor sends him to Dakota to bring in a rebel Cheyenne for hanging. Murdock goes on the mission with another middle-aged lawman and a meti guide. All the characters are sketched out briskly and clearly. The action never lets up. Estleman brilliantly describes landscape. He is vivid with sensory details involving hearing, texture, and smell. Like Cormac McCarthy, he has no illusions  about ethnic cleansing, but unlike with CM, we readers don’t need a week to recover from Estleman’s depictions of violence. The Cheyenne and tribe members are depicted as defiant, brutal, war-loving fighters, an image that I, being a brute, much prefer to the caring and sharing natural aristocrats living in harmony with nature stuff of which stereotypes are made.

I used to read a lot of westerns by notable writers in the genre, but gradually grew tired of them because the characters started to feel all the same: stoic, tight-lipped, amazingly quick-thinking, and never apologizing because it shows weakness - that hyper-masculine bullshit that never realizes if you don't say "I'm sorry" over screw-ups friends and relatives won't trust you. Also I grew weary of that constant theme, both latent and manifest, of the “inevitability” of the “vanishing” of the Red Man.

But in the last year or so I have made the exception for Loren D. Estleman. I’ve found his historical novel westerns to be well-written and clear eyed about the social and political context the time. Readers looking to stretch a little and get out of the comfort zone, I think, may want to consider these historical westerns by Estleman:  The Branch and the Scaffold and Port Hazard

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