Reading the West 11-8-10
I generally like to use this space to write about books that are new, or at least recently written by writers who are still “making a living” from their work. As a result I seldom include titles that are by “old masters.” But every once in a while it is good to go back into the past and read books/stories written by some of the classic writers.
Take Zane Grey, for example. He is known for his traditional Westerns, many of them still in print, and others being re-released in new forms (often with material restored that was edited out of the original publications. When Grey first visited the West, he became friends with Buffalo Jones, the “last of the plainsmen” as he once called him in the book that was subsequently written about Jones. The man had been witness to the great herds of buffalo that once ranged across the Great Plains, and he was a participant in the destruction of those herds.
In early 1923 Gray decided he would write the epic story of the buffalo, the great hunt that decimated them, and the battle between Plains Indians and buffalo hunters. Upon completion of the manuscript, he sent it to the Ladies Home Journal and the editor there agreed to buy it. However, before it was sold, Grey was asked to make extensive changes to the story structure and tone. The rewrite left the original story as decimated as the buffalo herds he had written about.
“Buffalo Stampede,” published by Five Star, is the original manuscript Grey wrote. This version is the story of the buffalo herds, their relentless pursuit by hunters across the Great Plains, and their eventual demise. This is a story that is a panorama of the war for the buffalo and a literary restoration of an original manuscript.
Historian and novelist A.B. Guthrie Jr., is best known for his Pulitzer Prize winning book, “The Way West.” The University of Nebraska Press/Bison Books has now released reprints of two of Guthrie’s lesser known, but equally compelling novels that are murder mysteries. In “No Second Wind,” Guthrie reintroduces readers to Sheriff Chick Charleston of Midbury, Mont., where the wolves are howling, the temperature is plummeting, and the debate over strip mining is moving into high gear. Charleston must try to calm hotheads on both sides of the mining issue, while enforcing the law.
Charleston is assisted by Jason Beard, who is instructed to find another deputy for the short-handed department, only to find the likeliest candidate is not really all that likely. And then there is a murder at the Chicken Shack, where the miners hang out, giving the sheriff and his sidekick an extra doze of trouble to figure out.
The prequel novels to “No Second Wind” are “Wild Pitch” and “The Genuine Article.” Bison Books has also put out a new edition of the sequel to the book, “Playing Catch-up.” In this title Jason Beard must help Sheriff Charleston solve the murder of a call girl. This puts Jase in an interview with the local madam, whose view of the town is extensive and unusual. An assortment of drifters, cranks, and the uncooperative police from the neighboring town of Overthurst, make Jase’s job that much more difficult. Guthrie has an unerring touch in creating story and most importantly place.
If you haven’t read anything by these classic Western writers for a spell, it’s time to find one of these novels and escape with them into the West.
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