|But Lonny isn’t on the scene for long, as he runs into the hero of this story, Sam “Leaky” Winds, a boy who had a miraculous rescue from an Indian massacre and has been brought up lovingly by his foster family. Lonny insults Sam, and isn’t prepared for the violent encounter that dispatches Lonny by page 49 of this 284-page adventure.|
Sam is wounded badly in the encounter, and takes time to convalesce while pining after the local beauty, Jenny. As he’s on the mend, he’s informed there was a $10,000 reward on Lonny’s head, offered by the head of the railroad, who insists whoever killed Lonny must come and collect it in person.
Thus begins Sammy’s journey across the heartland. He takes along a fellow cowboy and the two of them save a group of women who’ve been kidnapped by Apaches, where Blaine sustains a near fatal wound. Sam is able to make it to Santa Fe alone, and later has a fling with Annie, a widower who runs her own saloon.
But a further test of Sam’s mettle comes in the form of a couple of bandits who overtake him, shoot his horse, steal all of his belongings and tie him to a tree. Through a stroke of luck, the bottle of medicine that was left from Blaine’s injury is mistaken as booze, and the thugs overdose on the drug. Sam is left tied to a tree, where he has to weather coyotes and buzzards before his wounded horse returns to his side. Finally, it’s a lone Apache who winds up saving his life. No words are exchanged, but Sam’s existence is owed to the Apache who decides to spare him.
Further surprises await, as news of his heroism has reached Denver, and the banker has set aside $50,000 in various banks for him. His life will never be the same.
The author has an excellent grasp of character, pace and story development. The characters are clearly defined and enjoyable to read. The attention to detail is wonderful, either through exhaustive research or a fine imagination, but the reader is immersed in the world of the wild west.
Reminiscent at times of “Lonesome Dove,” the author has a less-jaundiced view of life in those days, as if heroism and strength of character were honed by the events of the lives of those who lived then. It’s also reminiscent of the dime novels of the era, with characters like Deadwood Dick and others who fought Indians and stood for something other than personal gain.
On the positive side, the author has a mastery over his subject matter that makes the reader want to know more, want to see more and can easily see this character as someone who will live on in other novels.
On the flip side of that coin, there’s wonderful attention to detail. But at times, the conflict drains from the story during passages of convalescence. Larry McMurtry is fond of using “And in the spring,” to give the reader a rapid pace of development. It’s unique that the author gives us the verisimilitude of how a person recovers from a wound, and takes the time for us to experience it. Hwever, these are the kinds of details that might be eschewed for more action in each chapter. If not the adventure kind, then the emotional kind.
That being said, there’s the old saw about story structure; “in the first act, put your hero in a tree, in the second act throw stones at him, in the third get him out of the tree.” In this case, by making the bad guy Lonny so textured and evil, when he disappears at the end of the first act, we’ve lost a grand nemesis for Sammy. Certainly others appear and disappear, but one wonders what happened to Lonny’s partner, Bones. Or if the Apache that saved his life could be identified as being from the same tribe that took his mother and father, for example, so that there would be more synergy in the story.
As such, since the events aren’t intrinsically linked, they can feel more of a Candide-like story, where Sammy bounces from one disaster to the next. Authors like Dickens come to mind, where each chapter has a beginning, middle and end, and is filled with conflict that reflects the main theme of the story. Author might consider this for future installments.
It’s also important to know what each character wants so that we can follow whether or not they’ll achieve it. What does Sammy really want in light of the fact that his family was torn from him? What or who does he hate? And how will his new found fortune be reflected in that? These are questions to be answered in future episodes, as surely, the author should consider making the character into a heroic figure of the old West who goes through many adventures.