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Book Reviews

Spotlight on: Louis L'Amour

Short Stories:
Bowdrie by Louis L'Amour
Bowdrie's Law by Louis L'Amour
The Hills of Homicide by Louis L'Amour

Sackett Novels:
Sacketts #1: Sackett's Land by Louis L'Amour
Sacketts #5: Ride the River by Louis L'Amour
Sacketts #7: The Daybreakers by Louis L'Amour
Sacketts #8: Lando by Louis L'Amour
Sacketts #13: Treasure Mountain by Louis L'Amour
Sacketts #14: Lonely on the Mountain by Louis L'Amour

Education of a Wandering Man by Louis L'Amour

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Louis L'Amour, Education of a Wandering Man

This is the best story author Louis L'Amour has ever written: his own life story. In Education of a Wandering Man, L'Amour relates how he has been a reader and a writer all his life. No matter where he was, or what he was doing, he retained a love of books and words in general.

This love, of course, led to his writing career. But, more importantly, his voracious reading gave him an education that he would have been missing otherwise. To stretch whatever money he had, he would live on a sandwich a day so he could afford to buy more books.

Education of a Wandering Man is a compelling story from one of the world's most compelling storytellers. Not only L'Amour's fan will find this engrossing. Anyone who loves to read will find much to identify with, especially those of us who keep logs of what we read. It's so nice to find another person with similar idiosyncrasies.

After reading this, I wanted to go out and find more of Louis L'Amour's books to read, especially The Walking Drum, which gets a specific mention because it concerns reading. In fact, my reading has led me to discover that L'Amour often gives his protagonist a love of books, which always gives me one more reason to sympathize with him or her. Education of a Wandering Man has become my new favorite autobiography. It is most definitely the one-of-a-kind story of a one-of-a-kind writer.

Short Stories

Louis L'Amour, Bowdrie
Louis L'Amour, Bowdrie's Law

Chick Bowdrie is a Texas Ranger, and he is a typical Western hero: tough as leather and fast with a gun. And he takes no lip from nobody. Bowdrie and Bowdrie's Law are collections of short stories from L'Amour starring this great character. These were the first L'Amour books I read (short stories are easier to experiment with), and they kicked off my fandom. Bowdrie is always on the right side of the law, but he doesn't hesitate to do what's necessary to keep justice served. In one story, he even acts as an ad hoc defense attorney.

An extra layer is presented in the stories of Bowdrie and Bowdrie's Law in what a solitary life this offers Bowdrie. Most stories find him meeting a young woman, but unable to settle down because of his job. Invariably, he ruminates over this as the story ends. Bowdrie is a lonely man with nothing but a horse to depend on.

If you like a good adventure story about the frontier, or if you are simply interested in the Texas Ranger modus operandi (L'Amour is famous for his historical accuracy and the amount of research that goes into his books), you can do no better than beginning with the tales of Chick Bowdrie. There is a good level of humor to go along with the gunfighting, so sit back and enjoy the stories in Bowdrie and Bowdrie's Law.

Louis L'Amour, The Hills of Homicide

Never one to rest on the Western laurels that his fans would have been more than happy to let him get away with, frontier author Louis L'Amour also wrote a plethora of stories with a hard-boiled noir feel to them. Some of these are available in a paperback collection called The Hills of Homicide, but have now been published in the much fuller sixth volume of The Complete Short Stories of Louis L'Amour: The Crime Stories.

The detectives and other heroes he portrays in these stories are every bit as tough as his famous Western heroes. The title story is definitely the best of the bunch, but they are all worth multiple reads. I recommend The Hills of Homicide to my friends who like crime fiction, and they are always surprised to learn that L'Amour wrote in the genre -- even the ones who are well aware of the financial straits experienced by most pulp-era authors. Namely, that everybody wrote for whoever would pay them. In any case, the excitement contained within is as palpable as any of the frontier fiction L'Amour has written, even his venerable Sackett saga.

(And is it just me, or is that George Hamilton on the cover?)

The Sacketts
For the full list, click here

Louis L'Amour, The Sacketts #1: Sackett's Land

In what is chronologically the first book of the Sackett saga (but was not the first one written), Sackett's Land, we meet the first ancestor of the future Sackett clan to be immortalized in narrative. Englishman Barnabas Sackett gets in a bit of trouble (sort of deserved, sort of not) in his homeland and sets off toward the West to make a new home.

Sackett's Land is not a traditional Western by any means, not least because it takes place in the early 1600s. But L'Amour was really all about the frontier and not "the Wild West." The discovery of new lands and finding a life in the wide open spaces always interested him. (L'Amour said he wrote a later book, Jubal Sackett, because if he couldn't be one of the first to see the new frontier, he would write about a man who was.)

Barnabas sails over the ocean and lands in what will become, almost two hundred years later, the United States of America. His trials and struggles make for highly interesting reading, and L'Amour's sense for detail gives one a true feeling for what it must have been like back then. Sackett's Land is a most compelling read and a fine introduction to the First Family of frontier fiction. (Barnabas's story continues in To the Far Blue Mountains.)

Louis L'Amour, The Sacketts #5: Ride the River

Women in the Sackett family are equals to the men, and Echo Sackett is no exception. She is young, but she is a better shot than her brothers. Author Louis L'Amour has also written Echo as a strong female character. She aspires to be ladylike and not masculinized. Ride the River is her story.

Echo finds she is due an inheritance and travels alone to retrieve it. But she still knows to "expect Higginses." (This means to expect trouble, as the Sacketts and Higginses have a long-running feud.) Fortunately, being a strong woman is an advantage in this case, as she travels in a world of men who will underestimate her abilities.

I admire L'Amour for writing such a strong, young female character. Any readers looking for a way to interest their daughters in Westerns, or any girls looking for something to read after finishing Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House saga may find Ride the River to be just the thing. A strong female like Echo Sackett cannot fail to be an inspiration to young women of any stripe.

Louis L'Amour, The Sacketts #7: The Daybreakers

This is the story of Sackett brothers Orrin and Tyrel. But The Daybreakers is really Tye's story and tells how he became the sheriff of Mora, while Orrin pursued his own political ambitions. Tom Sunday also plays a large role in Tyrel's story and is the catalyst for the major action in the climax. Meanwhile, Tye discovers love for the daughter of a Mexican.

The Daybreakers represents a couple of firsts in author Louis L'Amour's Sackett saga. It was the first story written about the frontier family, published in 1960. Also, chronologically, it is the first one that takes place during the traditional Western time period: after the Civil War. This makes it an ideal starting point for any Western fan interested in easing into the epic story of the Sackett clan.

That said, The Daybreakers was a slow starter. But somewhere around the middle, it really took off and ended with a bang. It has a moving finale that includes a major decision that Tye makes. It is perhaps not one of the best of the novels (I'm sure there are many who would disagree), but Tyrel is definitely one of the more interesting characters of the series.

Louis L'Amour, The Sacketts #8: Lando

Of all the novels I've read so far in author Louis L'Amour's saga of the Sackett family, Lando is the one that has made the least impression on me. Even now, just a few days after finishing it, I am having trouble remembering specific details about it.

Lando (short for Orlando, and often written with a beginning apostrophe -- 'Lando) has spent some good portion of his life in a Mexican jail, where he learned to fight. This skill comes in handy at the end of Lando when he is required to fight in order to save his life. Along the way, he discovers new information about his father, Falcon, and falls in love with a childhood friend.

Not everything turns out roses in Lando, but that does not make it a less engrossing read. Perhaps the plot is a little thin to carry a whole book (I would have liked more description of Lando's time in prison, as it seems to have shaped him as a man), but this is a good installment in the series. Even if it isn't one of the best or particularly memorable, I certainly had no trouble getting through it.

Louis L'Amour, The Sacketts #13: Treasure Mountain

In Treasure Mountain, Orrin and Tell Sackett set off to find their father, who has been missing for twenty years. Their mother is near the end of her life and wants to know if he'll be waiting for her at the end of the road.

During their search, the brothers split up and both run into the Baston family--who are just about as nasty as the Higginses--who seem to have information about their father, but who aren't about to let it be known. Andre is the seemingly more dangerous due to his bulk, but sister Fanny is the more insidious, using her charming ways to lure both Orrin and Tell into trouble.

Eventually Tell finds the daybook left behind by his father that tells that side of the story. This lends a level of suspense to Treasure Mountain that isn't usually present in other Sackett novels. We, as well as Tell, want to know what happened and the knowledge is revealed piece by piece. Due to unforeseen circumstances, Tell has to face the final showdown on his own, which shows both him and us what he is truly made of.

Treasure Mountain is likely the best Sackett novel I have read since Sackett's Land. William Tell Sackett is definitely my favorite Sackett and I look forward to reading more in this later part of the series featuring the brothers.

(Trivia: Flagan and Galloway Sackett from the previous novel in the series, Galloway, also make a short appearance here.)

Louis L'Amour, The Sacketts #14: Lonely on the Mountain

Sackett brothers Orrin, Tyrel, and Tell team up with old sidewinder Cap Rountree to help out cousin Logan by driving a herd of cattle up north. One of the later entries in author Louis L'Amour's venerable Sackett saga, Lonely on the Mountain is full of terrific characterizations and lots of adventure (even though the cattle drive doesn't start until halfway into the book).

Of course, not everybody is so nice as to allow a bunch of Sacketts to get away with doing their family a favor, so the boys know to "expect Higginses," as they say (meaning to expect trouble).

Lonely on the Mountain is not a terrific entry in the series, but certainly worthy of the L'Amour brand.

  • ...more to come...