Louis L'Amour,
War Party
(Bantam, 1975)

A short story is a different sort of animal than a novel. Louis L'Amour, one of the most popular western novelists in American history, proves he's also a master of the shorter form in War Party, his first collection of stories.

The stories, written for magazines, were first published in the late 1940s, '50s and '60s. They were collected in 1975.

And they're good. Very good.

"Trap of Gold," for instance, builds an immense amount of tension with a solitary miner with a lucky, but dangerous, find. As a child, I remember how much stress that story engendered -- not just the first time, but every time I read it. The weight of the rock above you as you read is palpable.

"One for the Pot," on the other hand, is a genuine love story, although its framework -- a hired killer come to gun an honest rancher down -- helps to set it apart from romantic sap.

And the title story, "War Party," gives us a bold female protagonist -- rare in L'Amour's works -- who refuses to turn around after her husband dies on the journey west.

Each story in the collection is strong, for different reasons. Some L'Amour readers are drawn to this book solely for "Booty for a Badman," which features recurring hero William Tell Sackett in yet another gold-related yarn. "The Gift of Cochise" is famous because it led to the novel -- and John Wayne film -- Hondo.

Other stories in the collection are "Get Out of Town," which supplies an unlikely hero when a boy hires a drifter to help with the roundup, "A Mule for Sante Fe," "Alkali Basin" and "Men to Match the Hills," which provides a deft game of cat and mouse between a gunman for hire and his intended target. The book ends with "The Defense of Sentinel," the entertaining story of a town drunk left behind to fend for himself when Apaches come calling.

I love this collection. Anyone who enjoys L'Amour's novels -- or who likes a well-crafted short story -- should pick it up.

book review by
Tom Knapp

4 February 2017

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