Louis L'Amour,
Ride the River
(Bantam, 1983)

Louis L'Amour, for all his finesse when it comes to crafting a tough-as-nails western yarn, doesn't have much to say when it comes to a woman's place in the world. Sure, he often lauds women who walk beside a man, not behind him, in his books, and some of them are pretty self-sufficient and feisty in a fight, but the majority of female characters in his books are prizes to be won by the male protagonist.

Not so in Ride the River, an early tale of the Sacketts written late in L'Amour's career.

Ride the River focuses on Echo Sackett, still a young girl (who, we learn, will eventually count William Tell, Tyrel and Orrin Sacket among her nephews) who sets out for Philadelphia to claim an inheritance left to her family by someone who benefitted from their aid in years past.

Although Echo has never been far from the Tennessee hills she calls home, she knows her way in the world -- and, while she doesn't turn up her nose at the occasional hand from a man, she proves early on that she doesn't often need it.

Set in 1840, the book deals mostly with her legal troubles in Philadelphia, where an unscrupulous lawyer tries to cheat her out of the majority of her money, and her journey home, where a gang of thieves try to take her money from her. In both cases she is aided by a Chantry, a family that has been woven by L'Amour into the Sackett clan's history.

Echo Sackett is good company on the trail, and her story makes me wish L'Amour had managed to squeeze a few more female protagonists into his impressive -- but unquestionably male-dominated -- library of books.

book review by
Tom Knapp

17 June 2017

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