Louis L'Amour,
Dark Canyon
(Bantam, 1963)

Gaylord Riley was on a path to lawlessness, throwing in with a group of outlaws because it was convenient, and he liked them.

But the outlaws liked him, too, and they thought it a shame to see such a nice kid go down their path. So, staking Riley with a portion of their ill-gotten gains, they told him to walk the straight and narrow and set himself up on a ranch somewhere. Then, they said, they'd have a place to go someday when they needed sanctuary.

It almost sounds like a plan that might go off without a hitch, but of course that would make for a dull novel. Riley buys white-faced cattle, which irks the only other rancer in the region who has them. Riley buys his cows from a man who later turns up dead, which irks some suspicious townsfolk. Riley sparks on a girl, which irks the saloonkeeper who fancied himself her likely match. And Riley's face stirs a memory with the local sheriff, which -- actually, it doesn't irk him at all. The sheriff seems pretty cool with it.

On his side, Riley has a couple of good hands, including a drifter named Sackett (which should excite fans of the long-running Sackett series of novels although, let's be honest, Tell barely registers in the action here). He's got a couple of handy outlaws, which proves pretty useful on more than one occasion. And he's got the girl.

Louis L'Amour has written novels that have more punch to them than this one. But the tale has a nice, even tempo to it, and it makes for a pleasant read. Gaylord Riley is the sort of man you'd like to have ranching in your neighborhood -- assuming you live in a neighborhood where people punch a lot of cows.

book review by
Tom Knapp

12 November 2016

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