Monday, September 06, 2004

Solid Story from Old Pro

Gateway House by Wayne D. Overholser
Leisure Books,

There is a shock in Gateway House that has nothing to do with the plot. Written in 1953 for Better Publications, and appearing in Giant Western’s February issue, this is a redemption story. Ed Morgan’s brother is dead but his last request was that Ed return to Gateway House, find a hidden cache of $50,000, and give it to his fiance, Honey Travers. But Ed is warned: one look at Honey and he’ll never want another woman. This proves true and after some fisticuffs, gunplay, and chases, the bad guys die and Ed and Honey ride off into the sunset.

It’s a fast-moving story filled with uncharacteristic emotional angst, for a western. Ed rarely knows the right course to take, always doubting Honey and just about everyone else. The writing is excellent, as you would expect from Overholser.

What you don’t expect are two very strong words, words you would not expect from Overholser or from a pulp story. He uses the B word several times referring to women in the story, and once he uses the F word. This is quite shocking and sent me scrambling to figure out how these words got into the final manuscript. A notation at the front of the book, however, held the answer to the mystery. It says "An earlier version, ‘shorter’ [sic] of this novel ….", and the copyright was renewed in 1980. Apparently, Mr. Overholser revised his novel to more reflect modern sensibilities, or perhaps he returned to his original manuscript. Regardless, the addition of these words is jarring and totally unnecessary. Still, they don’t really detract from the enjoyment of this excellent western novel.

Enjoyment Factor (out of 10) - 8

Wilderness Offers History, Excitement

Wilderness: King of the Mountain by David Thompson
Leisure Books, 1990

This is a quiet little series that comes out pretty much when it feels like it. Wilderness has been around since 1990 but as of next month there will be only 40 entries into the series. Thompson (aka David Robbins) is one of the myriad of writers who steps into Mack Bolan’s shoes every once in a while. According to some reviews, this is the best-researched mountain man series in existence.

I’ve never read William Johnstone’s series (a more well-known "Mountain Man" series) so I don’t know if Thompson’s work compares favorably. What I do know is that this first book in the series (just reprinted by Leisure along with other entries), is an okay read.

Thompson starts out in territory mined by Max Brand nearly a century ago. His hero, young Nate King, is a neophyte and a cosmopolitan, living in New York City in 1828. He yearns for adventure but his fiance wants wealth and position. A mysterious letter from an estranged uncle gives Nate the chance to fulfill both needs. He heads out west to meet his uncle in St. Louis where the two trek into the Rockies ostensibly for the uncle to show Nate a treasure beyond measure. Along the way they share many adventures and Nate grows.

While the writing is pretty good, it is also very obvious. The adventures are cliched: proud or murderous Indians, grizzly bears, that sort of thing. This would be forgivable if there weren’t a couple of large problems. The first is that Nate shows absolutely no aptitude for the life he ultimately chooses. He stumbles into success. There’s nothing that he inherently knows or can do that helps him along the way. The second is that he makes a life choice in an instant.

Throughout the entire novel he has only one desire and that’s for gold. But at the end he decides to stay in a hostile environment and leave behind the only world he knows. This should have been built up better. The last problem is that he is so damned gullible. He falls for the same ruse several times without ever learning.

Frankly, after reading this first volume I’m surprised Nate King (an historic figure) actually survived long enough to have 40 books written about him.

Enjoyment Factor (out of 10) - 7