Author: Louis L’Amour
Reading Level: 13 & up
Star Rating: ★★★
Hi there! As of October 2013, I have upgraded to a new site – The Blithering Bookster – where I have posted all of my old reviews and continue to post new ones. Hoist yourself over to join the fun!
Although I’d picked up several Louis L’Amour books here and there for super cheap – read twenty cents or less – I hadn’t read any of them. I decided that it might be wise to actually read a few of them to see if they’re worth money before buying any more of ‘em…
Evie Teale’s husband, Jacob had just moved his family to a new home when he up and disappeared, along with the four hundred and twenty dollars that he was carrying with him to purchase stock. Evie is concerned – terrified even, but she is determined that if or whenever he returns, he will not find her idle. So she goes about cultivating their farm, earning money with her cooking, and defending her family from marauding Indians. Will her husband ever return? If he doesn’t, will she and the children be able to survive the harsh winter?
Conn Conagher is a tough man; his reputation isn’t one of picking fights, but once he lands in one, he is almost sure to win. And he’s just landed in one – the shady Ladder Five outfit is trying to steal cattle from his employer, and Conagher won’t stand for it! But can he convince his fellow ranch hands to join in the struggle, or must he fight this battle alone?
Romance wasn’t a problem in this book. When the story begins, Evie is married to Jacob Teale, a man whom she respects if she does not love. But Evie understands her role as his wife is that of a helper who gives him aid, not one of wanting more attention or affection from him. When he brings her to an unsophisticated claim on the western frontier she is disappointed. But instead of accusing or blaming him, she thinks,
Drab it might be, barren it was, but to Jacob, a middle-aged man with years of hard work behind him, it was home. She warned herself that she must never forget that, and that she must do what she could to help him. [pg. 2]
She said nothing, for she had never complained; she never would complain. Jacob had thought of this too long, and he would need help, not complaints or arguments. [pg. 3]
I think that what I appreciated most about the two main characters was their maturity. Both Evie and Conagher are individuals who understand their duties and work hard to fulfill them. They don’t spend their time belly-aching over their wishes, wants, and desires, or complaining that no one understands them. Mind you, they are both lonely – terribly lonely – and they each wish that they had someone who did understand them, but this does not distract them from their life’s work. Evie works hard to feed and protect her children, and Conagher pours himself into his job.
I was surprised by this sentiment expressed by Conagher.
“A boy should know his pa – he needs somebody to look up to. A boy or a girl, they learn how to be a man or a woman by watching their folk.” [pg. 51]
He also says,
“A man who kills when he can do otherwise is crazy . . . plumb crazy.” [pg. 52]
I also thought that this bit from Charlie McCloud was interesting.
“A man can get throwed by his horse out there on the plains and he can die of thirst before he can get anywhere. That’s why they hang horse thieves, ma’am, because out here if you take a man’s horse you may have taken his life along with it.” [pg. 37]
This caused me to stop and think. I had always thought that capital punishment for horse stealing was an unbiblical rule because it was harsher than what is found in the Scriptures. Now, understanding the reason behind the punishment, it makes a lot more sense.
After Evie’s husband has been missing for six months, a good friend advises her to marry again. She agrees to consider the idea. In the end it is proven that her husband did in fact die, and she chooses another man.
As is natural for a western, there are several fights of a varied nature – fistfights, gunfights, etc. This scene, which I would consider to be the most violently descriptive passage of the book, occurs when a man deliberately picks a fight with Conagher.
Outside he threw it into position behind his saddle and was about to hang the coil of rope over the horn when he heard a step behind him. “All right, Conagher. This time it won’t be fists.”
It was Staples’ voice, and Conn turned on one heel, swinging the tightly coiled rope in a sweeping blow that caught the gunman across the face. It was a brutal blow; the coiled rope was like iron and it caught Staples across the mouth and nose, knocking him staggering into the hitching rail.
Coolly, matter-of-factly, and without hurry, Conagher swung the coil again, smashing him across the mouth as Staples clawed for his gun.
The gunman never had a chance. He had expected a gun battle or an argument – anything but this. Conagher stood wide-legged in front of him and, backing the gunman against the rail, he proceeded to beat him unmercifully with the swinging coil of rope.
No matter how Staples tried to turn, the rope was there to meet him. His nose was broken, his lips smashed to pulp, his cheeks and ears bloody, and when he finally got his gun out a sweeping blow with the coiled rope struck it from his hand into the dust.
At no time did Conagher seem hurried. He whipped Staples coldly, almost casually, as though it were of no importance. The crowd that gathered watched silently and in awe.
When Kiowa went to his knees, Conagher struck him one more swinging blow that knocked him into the dust, and then he said, “You better ride out of here, Staples. An’ leave that gun alone. You ain’t fit to handle one. And don’t you cross my trail again. I don’t like bein’ braced by no tinhorn.” [pg. 21]
When asked if he ever thinks about the hereafter, Conagher responds by saying,
“Not much. I figure it’s like the Plains Indians say – a happy hunting ground. Leastaways, that’s how I’d like it to be. A place with mountains, springs, running streams, and some green, grassy banks where a man can lie with his hat over his eyes and let the bees buzz.” [pg. 71]
Although presented as hardened, evil men, when they have Conagher at their mercy, the Ladder Five gang does the honorable thing and allows him to live. While I realize that this was necessary for the story to turn out right, I don’t believe a group of morally depraved men would hesitate to take out their greatest enemy when given the chance, regardless of how much they might respect him as a person.
In one scene, a man asks a very discouraged Conagher what he plans to do next. Conagher responds,
“Charlie, I’m going to get drunk. I’m going to get mean drunk and then sleepy drunk, and when I wake up I’m going to ride clean to Montana or Oregon or somewhere far off.” [pg. 116]
He thereupon goes to a tavern, but before he can start drinking a fight breaks out between him and a Ladder Five man.
‘Damn’ is used thirty-one times, ‘hell’ eleven times, and God’s name is used flippantly twice. Most of this cursing occurs in rashes whenever there is an action scene.
Conclusion. What one might call stereotypical Western fiction, Conagher isn’t a book for the ‘top favorites’ shelf, but it doesn’t deserve to get thrown in the trash, either. Although stereotypical, the writing was good, if a little too generous with curse words.