Louis L'Amour,
The First Fast Draw
(Bantam, 1959)

The quick draw is an iconic piece of the Wild West stereotype. But where did it come from, and who did it first?

Louis L'Amour gives his version of the story in The First Fast Draw, another of his early western novels. It's just after the end of the Civil War, and Cullen Baker -- who spent most of the war drifting out west, beyond the reach of North and South squabbling -- is returning home to the swamplands of eastern Texas, where he hopes to do some quiet farming and raise some horses on the land his parents left him.

But Baker doesn't have a lot of friends in Texas, and he has plenty of enemies. And when he steps up to save an attractive young widow from a band of uncouth men, he finds himself in very real danger.

In the past, men fought with muskets or rifles, or they dueled with pistols in a measured, almost stately manner. Now Baker thinks he needs to figure out how to get a sidearm into action more quickly, and he spends hours each day practicing the quick draw, something no one has tried before. Meanwhile, bands of men are scouring the swamps to find him.

It's another good volume in the L'Amour collection. I enjoyed the tale very much, although Baker's self-pitying assessment of his friendless lifestyle does get a little repetitive and tiresome by the end. And the conclusion, too, is a little dissatisfying -- but, overall, it's a great tale.

(Oddly, L'Amour includes in the novel two characters from history: Bob Lee and Bill Longley. Although they act on the side of the angels in L'Amour's book, both were historically less angelic; Longley in particular was a known murderer and racist who was later hanged for his crimes, while Lee was involved in a violent feud with the Peacock family, which ended his life as well. Both are peculiar choices for the roles they play in this book.)

book review by
Tom Knapp

3 September 2016

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