The thing is, I really quite liked this book until the last chapter ruined everything. You've got a coming of age story where a guy called Rye starts out as a boy, and life is really hard because he loses both his parents young and in miserable ways, but he gets through that with the help of a nice guy named Logan who mentors him and kind of semi-adopts him until he's old enough to go out and be his own man.
And Rye does, he goes out and lives a full life on the frontier and does what he needs to survive, and he falls in love with a girl. And he eventually gets a pretty steady job as a lawman and wants to go back and find that girl and see if she'll marry him.
All well and good. I was 100% on board. Good stuff. Lovely character development. Nice story arc. Very episodic, but I like episodic. Kind of ramble-y, especially for a L'Amour, but I like ramble-y.
And then, that last chapter.
SPOILER ALERT: I am discussing the ending here and I am not going to pull punches and I am going to be crabby about it.
Yeah. That last chapter. When it turns out that -- surprise! -- the big crime boss that our hero has to go up against, the one that's been leading all the baddest of bad criminals in the area for a few years, and who has now kidnapped the woman Rye loves... is his old mentor, Logan. Which, you know, that's a thing -- boy grows up and has to face the fact that the guy who raised him is not as heroic and wonderful as he remembered. It's not a trope I generally like unless it's done just right, but it's a thing. Oedipus and all that. Whatever.
Except it didn't make any sense. Like, at all. This mentor he had? Logan? Was a nice guy? Yeah, he had to leave home back east fast after a duel, but he was clearly a good guy? And got married to a really nice lady, and settled down, and was all set to continue being a good guy. Only, unbeknownst to anyone until Logan tells Rye this at the end, his wife died a few years ago, in childbirth, and then, obviously, he turned to evil and became an outlaw kingpin because that completely makes sense. Very logical. Much natural reactionness occurring here.
WHAT THE HECKITY HECK HECK HECK?
I mean, if his wife had died in a train wreck, and so he started robbing trains because he thought the train company had been at fault, that would make sense. Or if his wife died during a bank robbery and the bankers cared more about the stolen money than her life, so he started robbing banks, yeah, okay.
She died in childbirth, y'all. It happens. Still today. It is not a reason to go become a crime boss.
Yeah. You can just see that L'Amour had this really great idea for a plot twist and he couldn't resist using it, and he tossed in the girl being wooed by both Rye and Logan to hammer the whole Oedipal thing home even harder, and... and I hate seeing the author working. I should not be able to do that. I should not, in the course of a book, see what the author is doing. They must be invisible. If I see them, they're doing it wrong. And L'Amour is too doggone good for this kind of thing to just get shrugged off as, "Well, you know, the idea was good..."
Nope. I'm not having it. Sorry, folks. I don't believe the character arc, I see the author tiptoeing around, and I am all kinds of disappointed.
The thing is, I realized after I'd finished the book that L'Amour had totally set up a different plot twist, and it would've been totally cool. Logan had left the east after killing a guy in a duel over this rich girl Logan loved, but her family didn't want her to marry him. And Rye's mom was a rich girl who married Rye's dad against her family's will and left them to be with him. So... what if that was the same girl? What if losing Logan made her determined not to let her family make her decisions for her anymore, and when she fell in love with another guy and her parents pulled that same stunt again, she just left? And what if Rye looked enough like his mom that Logan was reminded of her, and so on? I mean, Rye carries his mom's picture around with him forever, and Logan could even have seen it and known this was the son he almost had, and that's why he takes him in and everything, but he doesn't want to tell him until he's older, whatever.
(Happily, I read another L'Amour book right away and liked it heaps, so don't worry, I'm not going to quit reading him just because of one unsatisfactory ending.)
If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-10 for western violence and peril to women and stuff like that. And some low-level cussing.
This is my 37th book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2020.