Book: Deadman Canyon, by Louis Trimble
Style: Cardboard Western (see below)
Plot: On the evening that Clay Belden returns to the town he grew up in to reclaim his land after five years away, a sniper tries to kill him. All signs point to Belden’s old enemy who has struck it rich and has surrounded himself with hired guns. Belden refuses to back down or leave town. Mayhem ensues.
CLAY BELDEN came over the pass into the Wildhorse Valley shortly after sunset. He dropped out of the saddle and led his stocky dun pony out of sight of anyone who might be riding this way. Then he climbed up a big, honeycombed rock and positioned himself where he could watch without being seen.
Louis Preston Trimble (2 March 1917 – 9 March 1988) was an American writer and academic. He wrote westerns, mysteries, and science fiction. He is best known for the latter.
According to Wikipedia, “after working as a logger and a housepainter, he became an instructor and professor in humanities and social studies at the University of Washington.” Trimble’s work in applied linguistics examined the use of English in science and technology contexts.
Though Trimble lived in the west (Seattle, at least), landscape does not play a prominent role in this story. Westerns where landscape is not one of the main characters, if not the central character, are seldom satisfying.
The best Westerns are those with real western landscapes and real western people. This is Larry McMurtry and Elmer Kelton. I call that kind of Western a True Western.
Midwestern-bound, Noir-Western writers like H.A. De Rosso (my favorite of all Western writers) and Elmore Leonard get around their unfamiliarity with landscape by creating a “mythic West” and peopling it with archetypal characters. They do it so well that in the end, they are able create works of art. This is a Noir Western.
Louis L’Amour who was very familiar with the west, created real western landscapes peopled by cardboard characters, a L’Amour Western.
Trimble, the scientific linguist, in Deadman Canyon creates a cardboard landscape peopled by cardboard characters. The inevitable result is predictably flat. Cardboard Western.
[Note: I like these categories so much I am going to use them on all future Westerns reviewed here. For more information about Westerns reviewed at ClimbingSky, click here.]
Sample Lines from Deadman Canyon
The last of the evening light was fading to blackness over the Bitterroot Mountains to the west, and the stars were turning bright and hard and cold in the Montana sky. It was time to go.
* * * * *
“She should know me better than that!” Clay exclaimed. “How much does anybody really know anybody else?” Roddy retorted. “And anyway, most people don’t think with their heads. Most of the time they think with their feelings.