Friday, May 14, 2010

Forgotten Books: Outlaw Canyon - Lewis B. Patten

This is another fine early novel by Lewis B. Patten. It opens in the middle of the action, as Matt Springer, the foreman of the vast Fortress Ranch, is about to lead his men into the dreaded Outlaw Canyon in an attempt to recover a herd of rustled cattle. What makes this even more difficult than it would be otherwise is the fact that the rustlers were led by Wes Knudson, the son of Fortress’s elderly owner Chris Knudson – who also happens to be like a father to Matt.

Other than Ed Gorman and H.A. DeRosso, no Western author puts his characters through more emotional torture and turmoil than Lewis B. Patten. In OUTLAW CANYON, after setting the scene Patten launches into a series of flashbacks that establish why Wes Knudson hates his father so much that he’ll lead a gang of outlaws against him. The plot, which involves adultery, murder, and general mayhem, is gritty to say the least, and as is often the case in a Patten novel, there are some sex scenes that are pretty graphic for the era, since OUTLAW CANYON was published in 1961. All of it leads up to the expected big showdown at the end.

Veteran Western readers probably won’t be surprised at any of the plot twists in this book, but odds are they’ll be entertained. Patten’s prose is tough and fast-paced and there’s plenty of action. Despite the fact that his books always have relatively positive endings, his vision of the West is a consistently bleak one, and the characters who manage to achieve happiness usually pay a high price to do so. Most of his books are well worth reading, and OUTLAW CANYON certainly falls into that category.

9 comments:

August West said...

James: You summed it up perfectly, Lewis B. Patten's Westerns do entertain. I've never been disppointed by any novel that I read of his. Great characters, outstanding vision of the old West, and a quick read. One of my favorite Western authors, I've been hooked early.

What a fabulous cover on that Berkley edition!

Anonymous said...

I read a Patten a couple years back (RED SABBATH, about Custer's Last Stand, IIRC). I'll add this title for a future read. Thanks.

Ed

David Cranmer said...

Another western author who is new to me and another introduced via ROUGH EDGES. Gracias.

George said...

I've had a stack of Lewis B. Patten's books here for years. Time to read a couple. Excellent review!

James Reasoner said...

Patten's work became inconsistent later in his career, so some of the books published after about 1965 aren't very good. I've liked everything of his I've read that was published before then. And some of the later books are still okay, so you just have to sort of pick and choose and don't be put off if you run across a bad one.

Richard R. said...

Thanks for another fine review, James.

"...his vision of the West is a consistently bleak one, and the characters who manage to achieve happiness usually pay a high price to do so."

That might just put me off enough to skip this one. I admit it: I'm a sappy old guy who likes happy endings, and I don't want to read something where the happy ending runs like "though he lost both legs, he had the love of a good horse". Not that this one ends that way, I hope!

Evan Lewis said...

Sounds good, and the cover alone makes me want to pick it up.

Chap O'Keefe said...

I probably don't need to repeat here that Patten is one of my favorites, too, though I don't have, and haven't read, Outlaw Canyon. The description here reminds me of similar elements in Giant on Horseback. More of James' (and my) take on Patten was included in the "western noir" article that can be found on the September 2008 page at blackhorsewesterns.com

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

You're right about RED SABBATH, Ed.