Friday, October 2, 2009
Stouthearted Men by R.C. House
New York: Pocket Books, 1995.
Finding on a used bookstore’s shelves a western by R.C. House that I haven’t yet read is a pleasure. I rather broadly categorize westerns into those focused on action and those focused on storytelling. The two categories don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but House’s novels I usually place in the Storytelling bucket.
There can be plenty of action in a Storytelling-focused western. For example, I’d place the O. Henry story about the Cisco Kid, “The Caballero’s Way,” in the Storytelling category, but while the yarn-spinning and attention to language is an important part of the tale, there’s plenty of murderous action in the story.
There’s action in Stouthearted Men, but clearly House loves the play with words, just as I note in my post about O. Henry’s story. The roll out of of the plot and action is far more leisurely than one would encounter in a paperback original from the Gold Medal, Ace, and Signet era of the late 1950s up through the '60s. House focuses on characters, their quirks, their ways of speech, and brings a smile or a frown as appropriate. The opening paragraph of Stouthearted Men:
"A killer and pillager deluxe named Bad-Face Ike Bodene broke jail for the second time and is on the prod. That's why I called together this posse commitatus of stout-hearted men. There'll be six of us against about three to one odds."
House can demonstrate a bit of the poet's DNA as well:
With dawn, night clouds turned themselves into glorious smears of rose paint against a gray sky fast ripening to a rich blue along the eastern horizon. Close to the still-dark land, silhouetted forms of six mounted figures loomed black as paper cutouts against the dim of daybreak, their heads bobbing sleepily on the trail out of Fort Walker.
I had the pleasure of making R.C.'s acquaintance through the miracle of e-mail, thanks to a virtual introduction by Robert Randisi. We corresponded a few months before he died. It was a pleasure to know him slightly before his death. It's a pleasure to read one of his books for the first time.