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Archive for the ‘Western’ Category

cowboy boots and woman's high heels beside bed on cover of Lost Ecstasy

 

Mary Roberts Rinehart’s Lost Ecstasy turns the romance of the Old West on its head.

Handsome cowboy Tom McNeil can ride, rope, and sing baritone.


Lost Ecstasy by Mary Roberts Rinehart.
Doran, 1927. 372 pp. 1927 bestseller # 6. My Grade: B-.

His only flaws — binge drinking, womanizing, and using paper napkins— aren’t enough to put off pretty, Eastern heiress Kay Dowling.

She throws herself at Tom.

Kay leaves her fiance and family money for Tom, who at the time is working in a traveling Rodeo and Wild West Show .

When Tom is injured in the show and can no longer do cowboy stuff, Kay finagles a ranch for him to run by offering the local banker her pearls and a check from her aunt as security.

Tom is on the verge of making the ranch pay when Kay’s mother has a heart attack.

Kay goes home to care for her.

While she’s gone, a bad winter wipes out all Tom’s work. He ends up working the Wild West Show again.

When her mother dies, Kay must decide whether she loves Tom enough put up with his faults.

Kay and Tom are both stereotypes.

The plot is hackneyed.

Even the settings feel as if they were written on the back lot at Universal Studios.

The paper napkins, though, are a nice touch.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Set in a railroad town “almost within gunshot of the great continental divide,” Nan of Music Mountain is all action.

Nan and di Silva fight the bad guys from a rocky cliff on Music Mountain.

From a rocky cliff on Music Mountain, Nan and di Silva fight the bad guys.

At every juncture where he could have produced something other than a formula piece, author Frank H. Spearman backs out.


Nan of Music Mountain by Frank H. Spearman

N. C. Wyeth, Illus. Gross & Dunlap, 1916,.432 p. 1916 bestseller #8
Project Gutenberg ebook #29571.  My Grade: C+.


Gunman Henry de Spain, summoned to represent Sleepy Cat in a shooting contest, loses the contest—and his heart—to Nan, “the little Music Mountain skirt.”

So when William Jeffries asks de Spain to stay on to run the Thief River stage line, de Spain does.

Phone calls from the gambling hall and stagecoaches made by Studebaker hint at a cultural clash between Old and New West, but Spearman stops at hints.

By turns droll, dry, or ingratiating as a presidential candidate before the Iowa caucuses, de Spain could have been an interesting character. Unfortunately, readers can’t be sure which is the real Henry de Spain.

Di Silva goes hand-to-hand with thieves closed hotel killing two, wounding two others.

In a gunfight inside a closed hotel, Henry de Spain kills two of his assailants, wounds two others.

Spearman keeps de Spain on the gallop, with a blend of every plot line that was hackneyed by the time of the talkies except tying for the leading lady to the railroad tracks.

That’s fortunate.

Nan of Music Mountain has so little personality that tied to the tracks, she’d be mistaken for a cross tie.

©2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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When a Man’s a Man opens in sermonizing style.

Fortunately, ex-preacher Harold Bell Wright soon climbs down from his pulpit, the better to tell what his characters are up to.1916-02_when_a_man

Early in the 1900s, a stranger walks onto the Cross-Triangle Ranch near Prescott, Arizona, seeking work. The greenhorn, who gives “Honorable Patches” as a name, has no work experience, but he’s strong and willing to try anything.

He’s hired.

Phil Acton, the ranch’s second in command, undertakes Patches’ training.

It doesn’t take Patches long to learn to ride, rope, shoot, and become a part of the ranch family.

In return, Patches puts in a plug for Phil with Kitty Reid, who misses in Phil the culture she recalls from her three years of school in Cleveland.

Wright puts in the standard elements of Westerns—rustlers, wranglers, wild horses—and a few Eastern elements: a desiccated professor of aesthetics, a cowpoke with a reading habit, and an outlaw below average in the IQ department.

Wright achieves a plausible, unexpected ending that makes up for much of the hackneyed in the plot.

And along the way he tucks in enough information about ranch operations to allow readers who dislike westerns or fiction to feel their time’s not been wasted.


When A Man’s a Man by Harold Bell Wright

Grosset and Dunlap, 1916.  1916 bestseller #2. Project Gutenberg ebook #14367. 

My Grade: B-.


© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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In his father’s day, a gun-fighter worried only about better gunfighters. Since then the Rangers have been organized to bring law and order to Texas.

Buck Duane will be the last of his gun-fighting family.


The Lone Star Ranger by Zane Gray

Project Gutenberg eBook #1027. 1915 bestseller #9. My grade: B-.


After killing a man in a gunfight, Buck flees in the Rio Grande country. He lives among a gang of outlaws long enough to make enemies, then wanders alone for some two years.

Captain MacNelly of the Texas Rangers hears enough good of Buck to offer him a pardon if he’ll work undercover for him.

Buck accepts.

His task is to find and destroy the gang whose mastermind, Cheseldine, no one appears to have ever seen.

In Fairdale, in the heart of cattle rustling country, Buck is captivated by the mayor’s lovely daughter.

Most readers will guess how the plot resolves itself.

Why Buck feels drawn to kill is the story’s real interest. Zane Grey makes Buck’s first gunfight into what we’d call a virtual reality experience today—and we’d seek a label warning it isn’t suitable for all audiences.

Grey suggests some possible answers, but doesn’t come to any conclusion. Instead, he ruins the story by promising Buck will stop killing because of “the faith and love and beauty of [a] noble woman.”

The Lone Star Ranger isn’t a great novel, but it deserves a better ending than that.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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The Call of the Canyon starts out looking the standard western romance. Then Zane Grey gets caught up in the lives of his characters. Instead of finding romance, the novel’s leading lady finds herself. Pigs

Thunderation.

Carley Burch, 26, a young woman of Jazz Age Manhattan is engaged to Glenn Kilborne. Gassed and shell-shocked in France, Glenn has gone to Arizona recover. The war affected something more than just Glenn’s body.

A year later, Carley pays Glenn a surprise visit, intending to bring him home. She finds him recovered physically, raising hogs, determined never to go back East.

Dangnabbit.

Carley is sure Glenn loves her, but he admires a local girl who returns his admiration. Carley decides to show Glenn she can take western hardships as uncomplainingly as Flo does.

As always, Grey’s scene descriptions are vivid and poetic. Grey does an unusually good job developing Carley’s character. He draws the lecherous Haze Ruff perfectly in a few lines. The other characters are flat.

Let me give you a hunch: If only Grey had learned from Carley’s experience, the novel could have been wonderful. On the verge of letting the novel go to its logical conclusion, Grey jerks back into comfort of familiar formulas.

Now, don’t that take the rag off the bush?

The Call of the Canyon
By Zane Grey
1924 bestselleter # 6
Project Gutenberg ebook #1881
My grade: B-

Photo credit: Pigs by Btenow

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Death Valley Zane Grey fans expecting an upright hero fighting bad guys may be disappointed by The Wanderer of the Wasteland. This is a harsh, relentless story about a young man growing prematurely old wandering the American desert in a vain attempt to escape  his guilty past. Readers willing to take the novel on its own terms will be rewarded with astute musings on the meaning of life mingled with heart-stopping action.

Adam Larey worships, his older brother, who hates him. After Guerd steals the girl Adam had slept with the previous night, the brothers quarrel. Adam shoots Guerd in a saloon full of witnesses.

Terrified he will be hung for the murder, Adam runs into the desert.

Days later, a prospecter named Dismukes finds Adam barely alive. Dismukes teaches Adam enough to survive—just—until he learns desert ways. Dismukes predicts Adam will find God in the desert.

Adam wanders in the Death Valley area for 14 years. Grey always treats nature more as a character than just as a setting. In Wanderer, nature is a malevolent force, symbolic of all that’s selfish in human nature contending against God for Adam’s allegiance.

Often, it looks as if Adam won’t last another day. Thirst, starvation, poisoned water, poison gas, and desperadoes work him over.

At 26, when he looks 40, Adam meets a girl he’d like to marry. He has to decide whether to follow his natural instincts or do what he knows is right.

Readers will gasp for breath right along with Adam right down to the last page when they gasp at Grey’s perfectly plausible, but totally unexpected, ending.

The Wanderer of the Wasteland
By Zane Grey
1923 bestseller # 8
A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook

Photo Credit: Death Valley 2 by pr3vje

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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“Love ain’t no big deposit that a feller is allus hopin’ to find but mostly never does. Love is just a medium high-grade ore that you got to dig for.”

Harold Bell Wright’s The Mine with the Iron Door is an easy-reading western with a faint whiff of ideas clinging to it.

The story ‘s center is Marta Hillgrove and her “fathers,” Bob Hill and Thad Grove. She was a toddler when the prospectors rescued her from people who were clearly not her family. Unable to locate her real family, the men settled in the hills near Tuscon to raise her.

Seventeen years later, a handsome young stranger arrives. Hugh quickly wins Marta’s heart and buckles down to digging for gold enough to marry Marta and get out of the country before he is recaptured and sent back to jail.gp_mineopendoor

A secondary plot about Natachee, an educated Indian with a grudge against whites, temporarily overshadows the romance. Then Marta is abducted; Natachee joins Hugh in getting her back.

The orphaned toddler is a familiar romance plot; Wright himself used it elsewhere.

Marta and Hugh are also standard issue. You’ll have forgotten about them a few hours after you’ve closed the book covers.

The memorable bits of the book are in the minor characters. Natachee in particular is unforgettable in his resentment of the education that renders Indians unfit for either the Indian or the white world.

The Mine with the Iron Door
by Harold Bell Wright
D.Appleton and Company, 1923
339 pages
1923 bestseller # 7

Photo front piece of The Mine with the Iron Door. The illustrator is not identified.

 © 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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