Book reviews are always difficult for me.
I read much, but do not finish everything I start. I have also found summarizing plots to be a tedious thing. I suppose it is because plot always seems secondary to me. I start a book because I like the first paragraph. I read the book as long as the writing remains as interesting as that first paragraph.
It is not as simple as that, of course. But style remains primary for me.
I have recently “inherited” a stack of Lewis B. Patten novels. As I read them, I will try to review them here. I make no promises. But will do my best.
Book: Guilt of a Killer Town, by Lewis B. Patten
Cover: A great Western paperback cover. You would pick up the book for the cover alone.
Plot: Frank Kailey returns to his hometown after two years in prison, only to find that not only is he not wanted, but that most of the people in the town feel so much guilt about what happened to Kailey that they want him dead. Mayhem ensues.
The very brief Wikipedia article about Patten says that he was born and died in Denver. There is in his writing a decidedly “western-ness” that Midwestern-based Western writers like H.A. De Rosso and Elmore Leonard just do not have. It the same kind of “quality of light” issue that separates a Remington painting for a C.M. Russell one.
In painting the difference shows up as tone on the canvass. A Russell painting and a Remington painting are usually easily distinguished by the quality of light. And by the place landscape occupies.
In writing, the difference between the Western-born writer and others is also one of light and landscape. Here is the opening paragraph of Guilt of a Killer Town:
At sundown, Frank Kailey halted his horse at the edge of the bluff and stared with somber eyes at Medicine Arrow, New Mexico, sprawling at his feet. Toward the west, a loop of river caught and reflected the gold of the dying sun.
These lines are pure Western… and pure Patten, when he is at his best: light and landscape. They are why I enjoy Patten and many of the Western writers I do.
A few more lines from Guilt of a Killer Town:
While still half a mile from the cabin, he felt the first drop of rain…. Ahead, now, he could see a curtain of rain rolling across the land.
* * * * * * * * * *
He turned and walked to the window. He stared down into the street. He looked at the bank, thinking that McCurdy was dead because of him. He looked at the Red Ram Saloon down beyond the livery stable, thinking Haploid was also dead. Because of him? He shook his head wearily. Neither man was dead because of him. They were dead because each had done something wrong. They were dead because they had helped kill Amos Kailey, as sure as if they had fired a bullet into him.