Louis L'Amour,
The Daybreakers
(Bantam, 1960)

I'm excited about this one.

Those who've been reading my recent bevy of Louis L'Amour reviews will know my reason for unearthing my long-buried collection of western novels. My brother, John, died unexpectedly in April, and re-reading these books takes me back to our teenage years, when we both devoured them with great enthusiasm. Our favorites among L'Amour's scores of books were, without question, the Sackett books, and The Daybreakers is the one that got us both started.

L'Amour's first family, the Sacketts, came from the hills of Tennessee and spread throughout the West, leaving their mark on the bad men they encountered there. The series of novels follow a diverse collection of brothers and cousins; later, L'Amour would look backward to tell stories about some of the earlier Sacketts who settled the American wilderness.

In The Daybreakers, Tyrel Sackett guns down a Higgins -- the last foe in a longstanding feud -- after Higgins attempts to shoot Tyrel's older brother, Orrin, and instead kills his bride-to-be. Although the shooting was just, Tyrel flees Tennessee and heads west; about the time he comes up on a bunch of cattle drivers, Orrin catches up with him and joins his westward trek.

Orrin -- by all accounts the better looking brother, an affable and well-spoken young man who is well liked by most who meet him -- begins to educate himself, with an eye toward law enforcement and politics in the New Mexico territory where they eventually settle. But this book is more about Tyrel, who sees through the pretty young woman who catches Orrin's eye, as well as her father who hopes to steal land held from an old Spanish land grant. Tyrel befriends the Spanish landowners -- as well as the old Don's beautiful young granddaughter -- and that puts him and Orrin at odds.

Their story is a deeply rich story that also focuses sharply on two side characters, Cap Rountree and Tom Sunday, who are the Sacketts' first friends in the West and who will play very different roles down the road.

Tyrel, who tells the story from a first-person perspective, is an immensely likable protagonist who has a strong conviction about what's right. His relationship with his brother, his mother and his friends are strongly written, and The Daybreakers is a great place to kick off the Sackett saga.

The next book, Sackett, picks off pretty much where this one leaves off and follows the adventures of Tyrel and Orrin's older brother, William Tell Sackett, who just might be even better than Tyrel with a gun.

book review by
Tom Knapp

20 August 2016

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