Last of the Breed, a novel

A small figure faces the sun in a vast, empty wilderness
Joe holds a bow he made

Louis L’Amour’s Last of the Breed is a western set in the Siberian wilderness. Its hero contends, not with Indians, but with the Soviet army, KGB, and black marketeers who will sell anything or anyone for a price.

U.S. Air Force Major Joseph Makatozi, called Joe Mack by friends, has been picked up by the Soviets after the experimental aircraft he was testing over the Bering Sea failed.

He’s been taken to an isolated prison camp where kidnapped foreigner experts with technical know-how Russia wants are interrogated and killed.

Colonel Zamatev expects Joe will willingly reveal military secrets: Joe is an American Indian.

Russians know from American films that Indians hate the white men who stole their land.

With days of his capture, Joe pole-vaults over the prison fence and into the wild.

Joe spent his boyhood in the American wilderness, getting his food, clothes, and shelter from what he found there.

novelist Louis L'Amour in warm winter attire
Louis L’Amour dressed for Siberia?

Zamatev’s city-reared soldiers are no match for Joe. However, Alekhim, a Siberian native tracker may be.

The adventure unfolds in an unfamiliar setting that in L’Amour’s hands become one its protagonists.

L’Amour’s characters don’t develop, but they don’t need to. L’Amour gives them sufficient depth that readers are carried away on the strength of the story line.

Last of the Breed  by Louis L’Amour
Bantam Books. ©1986. 358 p.
1986 bestseller #8; my grade: B+

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Jubal Sackett moves predictably

Jubal and Keokotah view an Indian camp across the river
Inspired by the Romantic artists

Jubal Sackett is Louis L’Amour’s 1985 offering in what it’s the dust jacket informs me is a series of 17 books about the Sacketts.

Jubal includes TV-guide sized summary of those volumes: Fugitive Barnabas Sackett immigrated from England to America, settling without official sanction in the Tennessee River Valley, where he raised three sons and a daughter.

In Jubal Sackett, anticipating his own death, Barnabas sends Jubal west to find a place where common people like the Sacketts can own land.

Jubal would probably have gone without his father’s commission:  He has the wanderlust.

Jubal is scarcely out of the yard when he falls in with a Kickapoo named Keokotah, who has west a smattering of English and a wanderlust equal to his own.

Together they meet an old Natchee Indian who asks Jubal to find the daughter of the Sun, their tribe’s ruling order, who has gone to find a less dangerous place for her people to live.

Jubal can’t refuse a request made in his father’s name.

The rest of the novel is predictable.

There are wild animals, wild Indians, wild Spanish, wild blizzards.

The intrepid hero and his equally intrepid sidekick end up happily in a place with lots to explore, at least until L’Amour’s next Sackett novel.

Jubal Sackett by Louis L’Amour
Bantam Books, ©1985. 375 p.
1985 bestseller #10; my grade: B-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

I Heard the Owl Call My Name: A Novel

Owl flying across the moon is image on I Heard the Own Call My Name
Cover art has a fantasy feel.

Doubleday says I Heard the Owl Call My Name is Margaret Craven’s her first novel, but that description is a bit overblown. Owl is really a longish short story. All the narrative bones are in place without the flesh and guts to make it a novel.

A Catholic Bishop sends a young, newly-ordained priest to a remote Native American community in British Columbia where running water means a river. There are no roads, no electricity, no telephone, no doctor.

Young Mark Brian has to adjust to a new role in an unfamiliar culture among people whose language he doesn’t know in a rural village miles from anyone he knows.

Mark is quickly captivated by the setting: the sea, rivers, fish, animals, and landscape enthrall him. The children are next to win his heart.

Mark is blessed with ability to listen and empathize, not forcing his ways on his congregation. Unlike most outsiders, Mark realizes the value of the traditional native traditions.

He is as torn as many of his parishioners are at the realization that the community is doomed to extinction.

I wish another writer had attempted to turn this story into a novel. A novel of this sort requires the author get inside the characters. Craven doesn’t do that.

I Heard the Owl Call My Name
by Margaret Craven
Doubleday, [1973] 166 p.
1974 bestseller #8. My grade: B

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Centennial tops history with prophesy

map of Centennial from the novel's endpapers
The town’s map was laid out in straight lines, its history was less straightforward.

Readers familiar with Hawaii, Caravans, and The Source, will find Centennial is another of the place-based novels covering centuries of history for which James A. Michener is famous.

Through the lens of a fictional town in what is now Colorado, Centennial tells America’s history from the age of the dinosaurs up until the early 1970s, warts and all.

The first people who appear in Michener’s narrative are Native Americans whose nomadic lives bring them through the area along the South Platte River hunting buffalo.

An Arapaho named Lame Beaver and his family become the thread holding Michener’s tale together for generations.

Beaver trappers come to land, followed by farmers.

Centennial's first edition dust jacket
The story’s too complex for an image.

The vast prairie next tempts cattlemen whose livelihoods are soon threatened by sheep farmers.

Sugar beets mark the next phase of settlement.

No matter their occupations, the people of the plains are at the mercy of the weather. They and their animals require water, which by 1970 is already a rapidly disappearing resource.

Centennial is vintage Michener: Passionate, precise, picturesque, never glossing over the despicable, never wallowing in the salacious.

And as always Michener brings into his story historical facts that are more bizarre than any fiction readers could imagine.

Centennial by James A. Michener
Random House [1974] p. 909
1974 bestseller #1. My grade: A-

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Barrier contains prejudice, romance, adventure

John Gale watches soldiers building a military post on the Yukon River and thinks, “The trail ends here!”

Necia Gale, his daughter, sees Lieutenant Burrell and thinks her trail is just beginning.

old photo shows Fort Yukon from vantage point in excavated pit
                        Old Fort Yukon

The Barrier by Rex Beach
[Harper’s, 310 pp.] 1908. 1908 bestseller #2.
Project Gutenberg ebook #4082. My grade: B.

In its first chapter, The Barrier prepares readers for a romance in which the Kentuckian’s bias against non-whites will have to be overcome.

Predictably, the young people fall in love.

But prejudice is trivial compared John Gale’s problem.

Gale’s difficulties are revealed slowly while readers see the kind of man he is and speculate on what he might have done in his early years.

Stark, a saloon-keeper, and his rascally companion, Runnion, arrive in Flambeau just as “No Creek” Lee finds gold. Stark puts up a tent and by nightfall is in business taking money from those who aim to strike it rich.

photograph of gold mining operation sluices
                            Mining for gold in the Yukon

Poleon Doret, who has loved Necia for years, gets only sisterly love and a commission to find out if Burrell means to marry her.

I won’t reveal the ending which is as quarter-turn left of predictable.

Aside from Necia, the characters, too, are just unusual enough to keep readers’ full attention.

Necia, sad to say, is just a pretty face with nothing between the ears.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Forest and the Fort more history than story

The Forest and the Fort is a historical novel about America’s prerevolutionary western frontier.

Salathiel Albine was raised as the son of a childless Indian chief who had murdered Sal’s family. An itinerant preacher befriends the young Sal, help him relearn English, teaches him to read and write, and brings him to the attention of Fort Pitt’s acting commander, Captain Ecuyer.

Ecuyer’s orderly trains Sal as his replacement. When Ecuyer is assigned to visit all the frontier forts, Sal accompanies him in a dual role of orderly and scout. Sal can scalp an enemy and powder a wig with equal efficiency.

Hervey Allen’s publishers brought out The Forest and the Fort  as the first of a trilogy intended to be read as a set. Much of the novel reads as a set-up to events that will happen in future books.

Allen slips all sorts of interesting period details into the novel, such as Ecuyer’s giving Indians handkerchiefs and blankets from the smallpox hospital. However, the plot is totally forgettable and none of the characters is memorable.

You will find the novel a palatable way to learn about the political conflicts of the 1700s, but you will find little entertainment in its pages.

The Forest and the Fort
By Hervey Allen
Farrar & Rinhart, 1943
344 pages
1943 bestseller # 9
My grade: C+
 

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni