Louis L'Amour,
Reilly's Luck
(Bantam, 1970)

Reilly's Luck isn't about its eponymous hero, Will Reilly, as much as it is about Val Darrant, the 4-year-old boy who would have been abandoned to die in the cold, northern wilderness if it wasn't for the kindness of a weak but compassionate man who defied the boy's mother and left the boy in Reilly's keeping. Reilly, a wanderer and gambler, took the boy in and raised him as his own, giving young Val the kind of life his mother never could have imagined.

This isn't the usual Louis L'Amour novel for a couple of reasons. At 218 pages it's longer than most, although it's worth every paragraph. But this book is less about cattle-ranching and gun-slinging, although you'll find some of each in this book. Rather, L'Amour does some of his best character development here, weaving his heroes and villains into an unusually intricate web of plot and growth.

Besides the major protagonists of Reilly and Darrant, you have characters including Myra, Val's unsentimental and utterly ruthless mother; Van, who is under Myra's spell but has surprising strength beneath his apparent weakness; the Bucklin family, especially the girl named Boston; a variety of lawyers, businessman and gamblers; two members of Russian nobility; and Tensleep, Tom and Sonnenberg, three men on the wrong side of the law who first encounter Val on a fateful snowy night and all of whom will play major -- and very differing -- roles in his future. Figures from history including Wild Bill Hickok, Billy the Kid and the head of the Pinkerton Agency also have parts to play.

There are surprises here, and one major plot development will certainly catch most readers off guard. It's hard to review this book without mentioning it, but even an oblique reference would spoil the shock and lessen the emotional impact it carries. Suffice it to say, Reilly's Luck is a good, solid read on many levels, and it's worth reading again to savor the nuance.

book review by
Tom Knapp

30 July 2016

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