Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Excellent Traditional Action-, Character-filled Western

Revenge of the Mountain Man
by William W. Johnstone
Pinnacle Books

This is the fourth in the long-running western-action series, The Last Mountain Man. Actually, there is a new "Last Mountain Man" series, released after Johnstone’s death, with the character Matt Jensen, the adopted son of the actual Last Mountain Man, Smoke Jensen. Be that as it may, Revenge is early in the first series when Johnstone was well and at the height of his writing prowess.

Revenge of the Mountain Man is a fun book. Full of action, gunplay, humor, bad guys that are really bad guys, and good guys that don’t put up with BS.

Among the better scenes are when Smoke’s wife Sally tries to explain to her New Hampshire born-and-bred parents, brothers, sisters, and other kin her love for the West and Smoke’s philosophy of justice and life. For those who haven’t read any of the books in this series, Smoke has a very simple philosophy – one akin to John Wayne’s character in The Shootist, J.B. Books – "I won’t be wronged, I won’t be insulted, and I won’t be laid a hand on. I do not do these things to others and require the same of them."

Smoke’s philosophy is in full bloom in this book. He is out for revenge, and makes no apologies. While away from his homestead, a number of outlaws arrive and nearly kill Sally. She recovers fairly quickly from her gunshot wounds, all the while watching her husband turn into a caged tiger, wanting to go after the attackers. Smoke knows that such violence will continue until either he is dead or the hardcases responsible for the attacks are six feet under. He gets word that one of the hardcases is named Rex Davidson, and that he has a grudge against Preacher, Smoke’s mentor. With the mountain man Preacher presumably dead, Davidson wants to take out his hate on Smoke. Shooting Sally was nothing more than a calling card to lead Smoke into a trap. Smoke realizes this but goes after Davidson none-the-less.

Pregnant, Sally packs up and leaves their home, the Sugarloaf, to return temporarily to her family in New Hampshire. She fully supports Smoke in what he must do, is proud of him, and understands that there will be a high body count by the time he’s through.

Davidson is holed up in a small valley town that he built and populated with other hardcases and psychopaths. The law has tried to rout the gang, but the valley and town are too well fortified. Smoke devises a plan where he plays a fop named Shirley DeBeers and then uses his natural artistic talents to set up an undercover identity that will put outlaws at ease. The plan works. He meets a tough hombre, stands for the man’s hazing, and is ultimately judged as a harmless sissy. In fact, outlaws enjoy having him around. Not only is he fun to pick on, but his sketch portraits of them become prized.

Unknown to the criminal band, however, Smoke has arranged with a band of Utes friendly to him, and a sheriff and his posse, to attack the criminal stronghold after Smoke has been accepted into the town. The plan works fairly well. Most of the criminals are killed. But Davidson and a handful of his faithful escape the hail of lead and disappear. It becomes clear that they are heading to New Hampshire to kill Sally and the baby.

Along with an old friend and ally, Louis Longmont – gambler, raconteur, and fast gun – and an Arizona Ranger named York, who had been undercover in the valley town, Smoke crosses the country to get to Sally in time.

Johnstone provides several climaxes in this story with many gunfights that produce a very high body count. He also turns his stuffy New England father-in-law into a western-style man who becomes quite capable of defending home and loved ones with fist and six-shooter without relying on an effete legal system.

Johnstone has fun with his characters, wild and unrealistic though they may be. While he may mean for them to be taken with a grain of salt, they illustrate his belief in strong, independent, self-reliant Americans who uphold the law and find true justice by taking the law into their own hands when the legal system either won't take a hand or lets them down.

The series is Strongly Recommended.

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