Recently I reviewed Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage. In the interests of equal time, I recently got Louis L’Amour’s Silver Canyon, and read that. And I have to say, the two books are both westerns, by which I mean they both have guns and horses and cattle and strong men and beautiful women, but beyond that they have almost nothing in common.
Riders of the Purple Sage reads like a well-researched historical novel. The plot and dialog are rather melodramatic, I don’t quite buy all of the characters, and it’s absolutely lacking in any sense of fun, but the settings seem real and the sense of place is astounding. It’s like Blu-Ray for your imagination.
Silver Canyon, on the other hand, is precisely what I was expecting Riders of the Purple Sage to be: a Wild West shoot-em-up from the great era of the Western Movie. It’s great fun, don’t get me wrong—but an honest picture of cowboy days it ain’t.
Our hero is a young drifter with a steady eye and a fast draw. Inside of three pages he’s met the girl he intends to marry—and has told her so—and has pissed off both sides in the range war that’s currently dividing the town. Inside of six pages he’s been half beaten to death by the girl’s boyfriend, and inside of eight he’s signed up with the third rancher in town, the one whose ranch the other two are fighting over. During the course of the book he gets shot, of course, and recovers fully with no treatment but hot water and clean living (to be fair, this happens in Grey’s book, too), is nearly lynched, unites the town, and gives the bad guy his comeuppance. Oh, and naturally he gets the girl. The only things missing are a conflict between the cattlemen and the sheepherders, and between both and the railroad.
The book’s well-enough written, but there’s a kind of ramshackle feel to the whole thing, like a movie set where the buildings are all false fronts with nothing behind them. The whole thing kind of reminds me of an old movie called Rustler’s Rhapsody, in which there are supposed to be vast cattle herds, but you never actually see them, you just hear them offstage.
But it’s a rousing tale, and would be a grand thing to read at the beach or by the pool. You might want to get several, because it goes by really quick; I don’t think the whole book took me more than a couple of hours.