Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Last Stand at Saber River/Elmore Leonard

I’m on record as preferring Elmore Leonard’s early Westerns to his later crime novels, and LAST STAND AT SABER RIVER is a good reason why I feel that way. The set-up is fairly traditional: a former Confederate soldier returns home to Arizona Territory after being wounded and finds that Union sympathizers have taken over his ranch. Fightin’ and shootin’ ensues. But what makes this such a fine book are the little touches. Instead of the usual hard-bitten loner who shows up so often in Westerns as the hero, Paul Cable is a family man with a wife (who is almost as tough as he is) and three small children. Several of the other characters aren’t really what they appear to be at first, or what the reader would expect. And the story is told in Leonard’s terse prose and wonderful dialogue. (I think Leonard’s prose is a little too terse now, but in this book he has it down just about perfect.) All in all, this is an excellent example of Leonard’s Westerns.

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