This is a novel about Superman playing Santa Claus dressed as Josey Wales in the Old West. It ranged from mildly entertaining to borderline frustrating for over 500 pages, then came to an anti-climactic ending.
As I’ve stated before, I break Western novels into three categories: 1) Shoot-em-ups that are just plot, virtually no character development, 2) Stories set in the Old West that have some character development and at least one theme and a sub-plot or two, and 3) Epics with deep character development and multiple themes and subplots.
Dusty Rhodes started off pretty much in the first category, as Matt Henry went seeking revenge against the gang that raped and murdered his wife and cut the throat of his son … no, wait, we learn later it’s a step-son. It just so happens, though, that this feller Matt, who is about 27 years old and spent eight years as an Apache captive followed by five in federal prison, just happens to be the best gun hand America has ever seen. He’s also an excellent tracker and a shrewd businessman, generous to a fault, and despite absolutely no experience, the best boss a cow puncher could ever hope to work for.
This was my problem with the book. At no time did I ever feel that Matt was in a dire situation. Sure, he was thrown into a silver mine to work as a slave. He was shot on two occasions, and dragged behind a horse once. But there was never a real sense of danger because his fast draw, his indescribable wit, or unbelievable luck was always there to get him out.
On top of that, Rhodes had some pet phrases he trotted out just a few too many times. I gritted my teeth over the times somebody would “scrape out” a chair and “fold himself” into it.
And then there’s the fact he threw in every stereotypical plot device anyone has ever used in a Western novel or movie and put them all in this one story. The gang of killers, corrupt Mexican soldiers, hostile Indians, corrupt businessmen, town bullies, a storm on the prairie, stampede … you name it, it was here.
That said, you might wonder why I even gave the book two stars instead of just one. Well … as aggravating as it was, I never wanted to just stop. It wasn’t horrible. It was just predictable.
So, it’s probably a great book for someone new to the Western genre. To people who were alive when John Wayne was making movies, there’s nothing new here.