Louis L'Amour,
(Fawcett, 1953)

Hondo is a romance.

Oh sure, the hero (popularized in film by John Wayne) is a hard-bitten, Apache-fighting man, much like many who populate Louis L'Amour's books. But when he meets Angie Lowe and her son, Johnny, alone at a desert ranch, the novel shifts gears.

Hondo, written more than a half-century ago, was L'Amour's first big, critical success. Wayne himself said it was his favorite western novel. And there's a reason it's still in print. Hondo Lane, who has lived with the Apaches and who scouts and carries dispatches for the army, is a powerful protagonist, cunning and savvy. His growing relationship with Angie Lowe -- and the sharp turn the story takes when her long-absent husband reappears -- is even more central to the tale than the growing danger as Apache chief Vittoro prepares the tribes for war.

Even sweeter, though, is Hondo's budding paternal friendship with Johnny, a young boy in need of a father. L'Amour's writing here is deftly tender, without being overly sentimental.

Of course, a L'Amour book always has plenty of fighting, from man-on-man gun battles to large conflicts between the Apaches and U.S. troops. Although the action centers mostly on its eponymous hero, there is a strong sidebar depicting the valor of Company C, a detachment of calvary troops caught out in Apache territory. Their story is terribly moving, and adds a note of solemnity to the novel.

Hondo is a no-nonsense western hero, a man alone who is forced to face what's missing in his life, even as the landscape erupts in chaos around him. Powerful stuff.

book review by
Tom Knapp

17 September 2016

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