Wednesday, February 21, 2024

The Belen Breakout - Orrin Russell

The protagonist of this short Western novel is a young man named Balum. I assume that’s his first name; we don’t ever get another. He’s an orphan, and I get the feeling his parents died of some illness. But that’s another assumption because the author doesn’t fill in that detail, either. What we know is that he’s 16 years old, he’s alone in the world except for a horse, the bank has taken the family ranch in West Texas, and he’s heading into Mexico to start a new life.

Things do not go well for Balum.

For a while, it looks like things may work out all right. He gets a job as a vaquero on a ranch and does well at it. But he runs afoul of the foreman and makes things worse by falling in love with the ranch owner’s beautiful granddaughter. Not surprisingly, Balum winds up in trouble and is taken to Mexico City where he’s thrown into a notorious prison known as Belen. That begins a years-long ordeal of violence and survival, an ordeal that Balum might not survive without the help of a fellow prisoner, an old Irish prizefighter.

Finally, Balum receives some news that makes him realize he has to get out of Belen—and the only way to do that is to break out. Hence the title of this novel.

I don’t know much about the author. Orrin Russell sounds like a pseudonym to me, but it may not be. That may be the author’s real name. He’s written and self-published several Western series, including ten more books about Balum. THE BELEN BREAKOUT is a prequel to that series, and as far as I can tell, it’s only available (for free) by signing up for the author’s mailing list on his website.

I’m glad that I did so because I have to say, THE BELEN BREAKOUT took me completely by surprise. While the plot may be pretty traditional, this book is very well-written and reads more like the work of a seasoned author, one who’s turned out hundreds of Westerns. It reminded me very much of the sort of paperback Western series published in the Seventies such as Lassiter, Fargo, and Sundance, with a Piccadilly Cowboys influence as well. In fact, there were several times when I suspected that Orrin Russell might actually be British. The action is very well done, especially Balum’s spectacular escape from Belen Prison.

If you’re a fan of gritty Westerns with a tough, hardboiled protagonist, I give THE BELEN BREAKOUT a high recommendation. It’s not a book you’re likely to run across by accident, but I think it’s well worth seeking out.

No comments: