Louis L'Amour,
North to the Rails
(Bantam, 1971)

Borden Chantry, eponymous hero of one of Louis L'Amour's earlier novels, is dead.

His son, Tom Chantry, was just a boy in Borden Chantry. Now he's a man, returning to his father's West after spending his formative years growing up in the East.

But Tom Chantry isn't the savvy gunman his father was. He doesn't even carry a sidearm, and when he's challenged to a gunfight, his instinct is to flee town.

That doesn't win him many friends in the West, where a man is judged by his courage.

But Chantry has people who are counting on him back East, and he's promised to acquire a sizable herd of cattle for shipment. After several cowmen prove unwilling to deal with a known coward, Chantry takes a gamble by making a winner-takes-all bet with an unsavory man. To win, Chantry has to stick with the herd all the way to the railroad, which pits him against some unforgiving territory, rustlers, thieves, an unbroken horse and an unruly tribe of Kiowas who don't much want Chantry pushing through their land.

This is not the sort of book where a man's convictions are enough to win the day. Rest assured, before the book is done Chantry will buy a Winchester rifle and, shortly thereafter, he belts on a Colt. And, once the chips are down, he proves to be his father's son after all.

Granted, it's a little disappointing that L'Amour gives us a man whose firm beliefs about guns and violence change so quickly when faced with danger. It would have been interesting to see if the author could contrive a way for a man to navigate the challenges Chantry faces without discarding his ideals along the way.

But let's face it, L'Amour writes best when guns are blasting and, to be honest, Chantry probably would have wound up dead otherwise.

If Chantry's cattle drive isn't enough adventure for you, you'll be happy to know that Borden Chantry's killers, who gunned him down in an ambush, will also rear their heads before things are done.

book review by
Tom Knapp

26 August 2017

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