Friday, July 19, 2013

Forgotten Books: Ride a Crooked Trail - Lewis B. Patten

I was in the mood for a Lewis B. Patten novel, not having read one for a while, and picked up a large print edition of this one at the library. It's not one of Patten's claustrophobic, town-set Western noirs, like so many of his books, but rather more of a sprawling, outdoor epic. Set in the days just after the Civil War, the story finds young Jason Willard setting off on the trail of the three discharged Union soldiers who murder his parents and leave him for dead on the family's Illinois farm.

The quest for vengeance is a classic Western plot, and Patten does a good job of it. This is also a rite of passage novel, as Jason, who narrates the story, falls in with a mysterious stranger, meets a pretty girl, learns how to use a gun, and just generally grows up in a hurry. It's also a bit of a kitchen-sink book, since we have outlaws, gunfighters, a trail drive, a buffalo stampede, and several battles with Indians.

The first-person narration and the episodic structure of RIDE A CROOKED TRAIL remind me quite a bit of Louis L'Amour's TO TAME A LAND, probably my favorite among L'Amour's novels. By this late stage of Patten's career his work could be pretty inconsistent, but this is an excellent book and doesn't have any of the continuity gaffes and plot holes that mar some of his other late novels. I really enjoyed it and think most readers of traditional Westerns would as well. (The scan is from the original Signet edition, not the large print hardback I read.)

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm pretty sure I read this one. I remember that title pretty well. I'll have to check my goodreads. that's what I do these days.