Louis L'Amour,
(Bantam, 1960)

He came west to die, alone.

James Kettleman has made a name for himself in the East as a man of business and industry. He has wealth and property, and a loveless marriage with a woman who tried to have him killed. Now, he has a diagnosis -- a lingering death from cancer -- and he chooses to die in his own way, in the West where he was born and raised by a mysterious gunman named Flint. He makes arrangements to disappear -- an easy task for a man of his resources -- and he adopts the name Jim Flint as he takes up residence in an old hideout in the malpais lava beds of New Mexico.

But his quiet end doesn't come as he expected. Immediately, Jim Flint finds himself embroiled in a range war, as an old business foe tries to drive the local cattlemen -- and a female rancher, the feisty and independent Nancy Kerrigan -- from their land. (Please note, the name is a coincidence; this novel was written nearly a decade before the well-known figure skater was born.)

I am still attempting to reconnect with my late brother by re-reading the novels we so enjoyed together in our younger days. This is the second of those well-worn Louis L'Amour novels that I have dug out from a long-untouched collection, and I remember it well; Flint was always one of my favorites. The character of Jim Flint is an enigma: His past is a mystery, and the knowledge of his impending mortality makes him fearless, even reckless, in the face of death. That makes him a dangerous enemy, as his rival gunmen quickly learn.

Another reason I loved this book is the hideout itself, a hidden oasis in the lava beds, with a stone fortress of a house, its own little garden and a secret herd of horses that always sounded -- to my teenage, western-loving mind -- like a slice of Heaven. I am pleased to see the book holds up, and I enjoyed it as much now as I did a few decades ago.

book review by
Tom Knapp

7 May 2016

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