Monday, December 08, 2008

Louis L'Amour

Louis L'Amour was more than a writer, he was a phenom. It's estimated that at one time he laid claim to nearly 75% of all available rack space in the western section. There were better western writers to be sure but a combination of luck, pluck and an ability to tell colorful stories in dramatic and uncomplicated ways made him a publishing icon.

As a journeyman pulp writer, L'Amour wrote for virtually every available market, from frontier stories to South Sea adventures to hardboiled stories of the mean streets. The sixth volume of his Collected Stories concentrates on the latter, mixing tales of gangsters, boxers, killers and detectives.

While there are no masterpieces here, L'Amour brought all his skills to the task of pulp crime. For me the run of boxing stories are the gems. L'Amour was himself a former boxer and he obviously had a real feel and affection for fighters and the ring. And the shadowy figures who have always run boxing.

The detetctive stories work both as tales and as snapshots of the big city in the Forties. Like O'Henry and New York, L'Amour understood that cities themselves are characters and he gives us tours of life at the very top and life at the very bottom.

I'd recommend this as a nightstand book. It's a large collection and is best read a few stories at a time. There are some clinkers (I'm not sure why the editors chose to lead with such a poor story) but if you like pulp fiction this is the book for you.


mybillcrider said...

I think in some places L'Amour still gets 75% of the western rack space. That is, where there's any western rack space at all.

August West said...

My local BN store has 2 shelves of Westerns. I have better luck at the Salvation Army store.

And a big "Here Here" to L'Amour's boxing stories and his Kip Morgan & Joe Regan detective ones. (I believe Morgan was an ex-boxer before he turned P.I.)

Paul Bishop said...

I too love L'Amour's boxing tales. In fact, I have a big collection of sports pulps from the '40s and '50s with a ton of boxing stories and golf stories -- who knew!

I'd like to edit a collection of these one day and bring more of them back into print.

GFS3 said...

I've read one L'Amour book in my life -- and I was a teenager. Somehow I've managed to miss out on him. Thanks, Ed, now I have to add yet another author to my enormous stack of unread books!

Chris said...

Hey Ed, nice post! I'm currently making my way through West of Dodge over at The Louis L'Amour Project. I've reviewed a few of the stories from the anthology you reviewed--they were first published (in book form, at least) in Beyond the Great Snow Mountains.

You're right about the boxing stories--I particularly liked "The Money Punch." Crime-wise, "The Gravel Pit" is good, too.

What story opened the anthology? I'm interested to know.