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Sunday, 26 July 2015

Comanche Moon by Larry Mcmurtry Book Review

This was the last book published in the Lonesome Dove series but in chronological terms is actually the second book, concentrating on the years between Dead Man's Walk and Lonesome Dove. It's also the most bitter sweet novel in the series and this time Gus and Woodrow are mere supporting characters in a richly layered myth busting story of the Old West - the first section of the book is dominated by Captain Inish Scull, a brilliantly eccentric creation, while the latter chapters mourn the passing of the time of the Comanche and bring the story of the legendary warrior, Buffalo Hump to a close.

 It is in the late chapters that the author seems to lose the way and the story feels rushed as we are brought towards the events detailed in Lonesome Dove - the civil war comes and goes, Maggie gives birth to Newt, the son Woodrow won't acknowledge, Long Bill does for himself and we learn that Matty - the Great Western -  that whore with a mean line in snapping turtles is running a whore house in Denver but is herself dying. Gus has also been married twice, both of his wives were fat women, and both went and died  and left Gus alone. Gus of course is still mooning over Clara but she has gone off and married a dumb horse trader.

The book opens with the rangers being led by Harvard educated, Captain Inish Scull as they pursue the legendary Comanche horse thief, Kicking Horse. However the Indian is too wily for them and after a time he manages to turn the tables and starts following the rangers with a view to stealing Scull's own horse, the large beast the Indians call Buffalo Horse. Kicking Horse does indeed steal Scull's horse, sneaking into camp one night while the rangers sleep and then vanishing again with the bulky horse and all without a sound. When the theft is discovered Scull orders the rangers back to Austin while he goes on alone, on foot with the Indian scout, Famous Shoes.

'Kicking Wolf-why the rascal!' Scull exclaimed. A few days ago I was following him. Why would the man we were chasing want to follow us?'

No sooner do the rangers return to town but they are once again sent out, this time with a mission to bring the foolhardy Scull back. During their time away Buffalo Hump forms a large band of warriors and starts raiding along the frontier - this includes a bloodthirsty strike on Austin itself - many of the towns people are killed (including Clara's parents) and Long Bill's wife is brutally raped by eight Comanches.

As soon as they hear of the raid the rangers give up their search for Scull and head back to Austin - Call is terrified that Maggie has been killed but is relieved to discover this wasn't the case, though he in his usual fashion doesn't display any real affection to Maggie. Gus is also relieve that Clara wasn't killed but it is scant relief since the only reason she wasn't killed is that she'd gone off to marry that dumb horse trader. Long Bill though is devastated to discover that his wife was violated by Comanche, while will eventually lead to him taking his own life.

Scull meanwhile has been captured by the sadistic bandit, Ahumado and this is one of the most interesting and captivating sections of the book - Scull is first hung in a cage over a canyon, forced to survive on passing pigeons that he manages to catch, and when that doesn't break the man he is brought back to ground while one of Ahumado's henchmen ( a man who likes to skin people alive) removes his eyelids. Scull is now effectively blinded during the sunlight hours and is then placed in a pit to die. This section of the book is astounding and the reader finds himself rooting for Scull and feeling each and every deprivation the man faces at the hands of the cruel bandit.

A nice touch is that we are introduced to the fledgling town of Lonesome Dove - it ain't really a town at this point but nothing more than a saloon without a roof.

The author doesn't romanticise the West and there is no flaming guns resolution to come out of all this, and instead the characters remains true to themselves and the book hold tight right up until Call and Gus bring the quite insane Scull back to Austin. At times Scull can function as usual but there are periods when he is prone to bouts of insane hopping and thinking himself to be a flea. It is at this point that things weaken a little for me and the author seems to thrown too much into the resolution of the book so that it seems nothing in handled in any depth, chapters often jump months, seemingly years. The death of Maggie, surely a momentous moment in Call's life, is done without any real depth of feeling. And Gus ambles from chapter to chapter, drunk, lost, as he comes to terms with the way his life has played out. In fact it would be nice if there were more books in the Lonesome Dove saga - there are at least ten years missing between the end of Dead Man's Walk and the start of this book. I for one would love to spend more time with the rangers.

The book gets back on track for its final section with Call and Gus and a small troop in pursuit of Blue Duck, the son of Buffalo Hump, who is causing chaos with settlers in the region. The author handles his Comanche characters with respect and the death of Buffalo Hump is handled with sensitivity. The author makes everything so real that the reader could be sitting there besides Buffalo Hump as he sings his death song.

And that folks takes us to Lonesome Dove. the Pulitizer Prize winning book that actually started the series. Lonesome Dove is the only book in the series that I've read before and will be re-reading for this series of reviews.

Comanche Moon mini-series - The TV mini series of the book and like the book is just a little weaker than Dead Man's Walk, but still essential veiwing for any fan of the western genre.  The casting is excellent - Val Kilmer is brilliant as the eccentric Scull and Steve Zahn really does capture something of Robert Duvall in his portrayal of Gus. Duvall of course was the actor who first brought Gus to life in the Lonesome Dove mini-series.

Comanche Moon then is another must read - simmers in places  but quite excellent.

1 comment:

Oscar said...

Thanks for reviewing Comanche Moon, Gary. It's been a while since I read it and you brought it back to life.