Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.
Cash McLendon, or CM as his friends know him, has a problem. Actually, he’s got several. Not only did he choose to marry the wrong woman back in Saint Louis, which led to his true love, Gabriella, leaving for the Arizona territory, but the woman he wed committed suicide, and her father, the ruthless businessman Rupert Douglas, has sent a hit man, the appropriately nicknamed “Killer Boots” after him. So now, if he wants his skull to remain intact, Cash must track down Gabriella, make amends, and escape to some place where Killer Boots can’t find him. But what will Cash do when he learns that Gabriella has fallen for another man? Go on several rip-roaring adventures, involving everything from silver mining, to buffalo hunting, to gun fighting, that’s what.
Glorious, Buffalo Trail and Silver City are old-fashioned novels, in every sense of the word. Not only are they Westerns, a genre that is rarely touched these days, but the narratives and themes are also very much what you’d expect to see in a classic, John Wayne movie. The divisions between good and evil are clear and distinct, the Native Americans are shown as hostile and savage, the main dramatic thrust is a man trying to win the love of a woman; the list goes on. There’s nothing ironic, or deconstructive about these novels. They’re not trying to prove that the heroic Western is a myth. If anything, they’re trying to revitalize it. Now for some, that will be refreshing. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I have a deep fondness for the Western genre, and am sad that we very rarely see it anymore, either in film or in literature. So I was happy to read a trilogy of books, which, in addition to being, for the most part, historically accurate, are sweeping Westerns, set in the 1870s, and that touch upon all the classic Western themes. At the same time, however, I can see how these novels’ unabashed nostalgia for the Western, including its racist and misogynistic trappings, could rub people the wrong way. It certainly rubbed me the wrong way, especially when you consider that these are not old books. The last in this trilogy, Silver City, came out in 2017. This makes the fact that the Natives are so clearly and un-ironically the villains, and the female characters are pretty much just there to be won like trophies, kind of uncomfortable. Doesn’t Jeff Guinn, the author, know that this sort of thing doesn’t really go over very well anymore? Granted, one could make the argument that this is more historically authentic, but still. These are modern novels, for modern audiences. You have to address modern sensibilities.
But setting that aside, and just looking at the writing itself, the trilogy is entertaining enough. The prose is simple and direct, there’s a lot of dialogue, and the characters, while one-note, are charming in their own way. Each book takes place in a different location, the first, Glorious, is set in a silver-mining town of the same name, the second, Buffalo Trail, unfolds in the Texas pan-handle, and the third, Silver City, switches back and forth between Saint Louis, Missouri, and Mountain View, Arizona. Each book introduces new characters, and new threats. In Glorious, the villain is a ranch owner who wants to scare all the townies away. In Buffalo Trail, it’s a Comanche war-chief, the real-life founder of the Native American Church, Quanah Parker. And in Silver City, it’s Killer Boots, come to take vengeance on Cash. In terms of quality, the books are about the same. They’ve all got similar pacing, level of characterization and structure. And with the exception of Silver City, all of them have cliffhanger endings, so they really do need to be read as a whole, and not separate entities. My least favorite is probably Buffalo Trail, primarily because it feels the most detached from the other two. The main thrust of this trilogy is the relationship between Cash and Gabriella, and the need to avoid Killer Boots. None of that is present in Buffalo Trail. It focuses on Cash by himself, and relates to the larger story in the most tenuous manner possible; he’s hunting Buffalo to make money to see Gabriella again. She never appears in the book, and is only referenced a few times. As a result, the whole story feels like padding. The one thing that does make Buffalo Trail somewhat interesting is the fact that it tells the true story of the Battle of Adobe Walls, which took place in 1874, and, with the exception of Cash, every single person in the novel really did exist. I was honestly kind of surprised at how much detail concerning the battle, and the people involved, Jeff Guinn used in the book. That shows a true commitment to historical authenticity, and I’ve got to give him props for that. But, like I said, historical authenticity doesn’t necessarily make for good storytelling, and this trilogy suffers from slow pacing and excessive detail. Guinn also makes a habit of introducing characters who you think will be important, but then never show up again. The most notable is Doc Chow, a Chinese-American woman whom Cash meets in Glorious. By this point, it has been revealed that Gabriella is with another man, and when Cash meets Doc Chow, there is a mutual attraction, and you see a future where maybe Cash could learn to let Gabriella go and find happiness with someone new. I was hoping Guinn would go that direction. It’d be both progressive, a White man in a Western accepting a woman’s refusal and falling in love with a person of color, and unexpected. But, alas, Doc Chow never appears again in the trilogy, and you’re left wondering why she was even included in the story at all.
So, in the end, if you want to read something simple, entertaining, and old-fashioned, give these books a look. They’re not great, but they’re also not half bad either. They’re good summer reading, and it’s always nice to hunker down with a book this time of year.