Louis L'Amour,
Last Stand at Papago Wells
(Fawcett, 1957)

Not too long ago, I opened up a box and found my old collection of Louis L'Amour novels.

I haven't read anything by L'Amour -- or, really, any western novels -- in many years. But when I was a teenager, I couldn't get enough. I read a lot, but westerns, particularly those by L'Amour, were among my mainstays. My late brother -- and believe me, it's still almost impossible to use the word "late" in connection with John -- first got me hooked, and for years, they consumed me.

Then I packed them away. Now, I wondered if they still held up.

So I pulled out Last Stand at Papago Wells, a short little novel that is, I think, the first L'Amour novel I ever read. I finished it in less than a day. And yes, it's still good.

Logan Cates is a loner in the Arizona desert, making for Papago Wells to find a reliable water source. Several other parties -- a slick gambler with his runaway bride-to-be, an old buffalo hunter and a half-breed Pima on the run from the law, the lone survivor of an Apache raid, the remnants of an ill-fated posse and more -- are also finding their way to the desert oasis. So, too, is a renegade band of Apaches who are raiding the desert frontier. Soon, the rocky sanctuary becomes a fortress as Cates and other survivors try to survive a series of Apache attacks.

It doesn't help that half the people at Papago Wells don't trust the others, and it's not always easy to be sure just who the enemy really is.

L'Amour's books are a little simplistic by adult standards. His heroes are good, his villains are bad, and there aren't a lot of gray areas in between. (These are old-fashioned westerns, by the way, so your villains will often be Indians -- but not always, and sometimes, he turns the tables on that chestnut.) His heroes tend to be simple, easygoing men, rough around the edges but typically well-educated and philosophical. His dialogue can sometimes sound a little corny. And, at the beginning of this book we're told Logan's parents died of cholera when he was 14; by the end, we're reading that his father was gunned down when Logan was 16. Oops!

But these are good, hearty yarns, and I have to say I enjoyed reading Last Stand at Papago Wells after so many years. I just might dip into the L'Amour well again; after all, I've got a dusty boxload of these books to unpack.

book review by
Tom Knapp

23 April 2016

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