Louis L'Amour,
The Key-Lock Man
(Bantam, 1965)

Matt Keelock is leading the posse on a merry chase through deserts and canyons, regardless of the fact they mean to kill him when they catch up. He's had them in his sights on several occasions -- and he's left clues so they know it, too -- and he even lays out campfires, leaving coffee and sugar for them, so they can chase him through the wilderness in relative comfort.

They want him dead because he shot one of their friends in the back. He wants to get away because he didn't -- in the days before forensic investigations, it was harder to prove the details of any shooting, and just because it looks like murder doesn't mean that it was.

Besides, his new wife Kristina is waiting for him in the wilderness, and he's not sure she'll make it alone. To make matters worse, her spurned would-be husband, Oskar Neerland, is looking for her with vengeance planned for shaming him in public.

The Key-Lock Man is an entertaining story about a good man falsely accused, and also the good men who believe they're riding for justice but find themselves troubled by the obvious nature of the man they're pursuing.

And then there's the legend of the lost wagons full of gold.

All told, The Key-Lock Man has less action than many of L'Amour's other books. It's more of a delicate cat-and-mouse, although it's not always clear who's cat and who's mouse.

And Keelock is an immensely likable protagonist. It's even more interesting, though, getting to know the men who are on his trail -- who are forced to re-examine their actions as they ride.

book review by
Tom Knapp

10 December 2016

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