Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Long High Noon by Loren D. Estleman

Reviewed by Ben Boulden

“No one but Randy Locke and Frank Farmer knew just what it was that blackened the blood between them, but it didn’t lose its kick with time.”

The feud began in 1868, for reasons unknown, when the two traded drunken shots in an El Paso saloon. It escalated the following morning when Randy broke one of Frank’s ribs with a .44 slug, and their lifelong co-dependence was cast with Randy’s crushed leg; an injury caused by Frank’s misjudged pistol shot, which placed the pill in the horse rather than Randy. From there the two men dance across the Western frontier, their sole reason for living the taking of the other’s life—they trade barbs in Salt Lake City, hunt each other in Wyoming and San Francisco, and plan, with the aid of huckster Abraham Cripplehorn, a live pay-per-view duel to the death in Indian country.  

The Long High Noon is the tallest of tall tales, and its power isn’t a telling of the West, but rather a telling of the mythology of the West. It is told in vivid strokes, whimsy and humor. The humor often exposed in fine dialogue—

In an early passage the narrator—an unidentified gentleman who, from time to time, slips into first person—tells of Randy’s success with women (sometimes not having to pay at all), and Frank’s reaction: “That little stump’d have to pay a sheep.”

In a later passage Abraham Cripplehorn tells Randy: “It never occurred to me you had a mother.”
It chronicles, tongue-in-cheek, the settlement of the American West; from the post-Civil War expansion to its ultimate settlement and civilization. It is something of a mythology of the mythology of the West. It starts with the dime novels, the sensationalism of early western journalism, the traveling Wild West shows, and ultimately the rise of settlement and the fall of men such as Frank Farmer and Randy Locke. A fall both men take quite fittingly.

The Long High Noon is smooth, vivacious, and curious. There are moments—splashes of dialogue, shimmering narrative, clever twists—when Mr. Estleman appears to be showing off; it isn’t cheap or distracting, but rather a display of how good a writer he is. He has mastered his art, and it shows. It also displays a deep understanding of both the westward expansion and the literary genre that grew up around it; the reality and mythology wrapped into one neat package.

1 comment:

Richard S. Wheeler said...

Mr. Estleman may well be the finest western novelist of our times, and a master of surprise.