Damnation Road

 
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Damnation Road

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Pinnacle Books, 2010

This is the third book in the award winning "Jacob Gamble" trilogy (Spur Awards). Yes, westerns also have series novels. The first two novels being Hellfire Canyon and Canyon Diablo. Whereas in Hellfire the reader met Jacob at thirteen-years-old, now it is 1898 and the main character is nearing fifty. The wild west is disappearing. As with many westerners, Jacob is on the wrong side of the law, sometimes on the fence, and sometimes his heart coerces him to do what's right. The reader is always hoping he will finally redeem himself and eventually go straight.

Since the author grew up in Kansas and teaches at Emporia, Kansas, it's no surprise the setting of his novels are Missouri, Kansas cowtowns, and Oklahoma Territory. Will his life end like the real Oklahoma outlaw, Bill Doolin? While in the Guthrie jail, his defense lawyer ends up being the historical and colorful character,Temple Houston--son of the legendary father Sam and the model for Ferber's Cimarron (1929)main character, Yancy Cravat. Not trusting the legal system, Jacob escapes and flees to Cuba with Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders. Might the Colonel give him a pardon?

On the other hand, there's this temptation of a big haul from a train robbery--no such luck. And there's a corrupt Pinkerton dogging his trail but also a "too good to be true" tale of a lost, Confederate treasure from the lips of a mysteries and seductive woman he can't resist. Could this be his last chance? Isn't that what the West was, a place for second chances or where one could erase the past and begin anew?

This is no candy coated cowboy story. Representative of the real West, there is some profanity and soiled doves do populate the novel although readers are assumed worldly enough so practicing details of their profession are unnecessary. The author's literary strengths are fascinating, rounded characters, convincing dialog, real gun play, and yes, humor. As a cat lover, I appreciated this exchange: ' "I'm a Pinkerton operative"..."Shush," the old man said, "You'll wake Killer." But the cat seemed far from disturbed. "What did the subject buy?"..."Don't recall." Don't you keep a record of sales or--" "Now why the hell would I do that?"..."How do you know if you've made a profit?" "If there's money left over at the end of the month to buy coffee and beans, I've made a profit....You chew or smoke?" "I avoid tobacco,...It's a filthy habit"..."Killer don't think so." "What Killer may or may not think is immaterial...Describe his [Jacob's] companions." "...a wicked hellcat of a girl...She was trouble, wasn't she, Killer?" The old man scratched the cat beneath the chin and the cat roused briefly and shook his head annoyed. "Sorry, Princess Killer. I'll let you sleep." "What kind of a name is that for a common cat?" Jaeger asked. "It doesn't even make sense." "My damned cat," the old man said. "I can name it what I damned well please." '

For those interested in the novel's setting, historical personalities, and books the author probably utilized, pick up Paul I. Wellman's A Dynasty Of Western Outlaws (1961), Draw: The Greatest Gunfights Of The American West (2003), Bill Doolin, Outlaw O.T (1980) by Hanes, and any Glenn Shirley books such asTemple Houston: Lawyer With a Gun (1980) & West Of Hell's Fringe (1978). I might also suggest you play the 1973 Eagles Desperado album while reading such literature:
Go down, Bill Doolin, dont' you wonder why
Sooner or later we all have to die?
Sooner or later, that's a stone--cold fact,
Four men ride out and only three ride back.

2011 winner of the Spur Award for best original paperback novel. 280 pages.

Recommended by Robert L. Hicks, high school librarian









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