Wednesday, December 2, 2009
For the Brand
For the Brand, a Ralph Compton novel by David Robbins
First, a disclaimer: I’ve never read a Ralph Compton novel written by Ralph Compton.
Apparently I’m in the minority among western readers, because Signet Books wouldn’t continue to publish novels by other writers under Compton’s name unless people were buying them. It’s similar to the Robert Ludlum novels featuring Jason Bourne that Eric Van Lustbader is writing -- the Bourne film series has made the property valuable, so the publishers continue to pay writers to produce new novels about the character. Ian Fleming’s James Bond has experienced the same treatment.
Compton’s situation is a bit different, because from what I can tell, none (or maybe only a few) of the non-Compton novels feature characters created by Compton. But they all feature characters of the type that Compton wrote about: cowboys, drovers, ranch hands.
Actually, I think the non-Compton-penned Compton novels now outnumber the original Compton-authored books.
I’m curious how this all came about, because usually publishers want characters to continue to appear in new adventures, like Sherlock Holmes and the aforementioned Bourne and Bond. But in this case, Signet is selling Compton’s name as a brand.
It also seems curious to me that Bantam hasn’t done something similar with Louis L’Amour. Certainly L’Amour created plenty of characters who could be used in new stories. Certainly that was done for a number of Zane Grey’s characters for novelettes in Zane Grey Western Magazine. But perhaps the L’Amour estate is opposed to the notion, or perhaps L’Amour was simply so prolific and sells well enough without other hands touching his characters that Bantam has no need for new L’Amour novels written by (fill in the blank).
That preamble aside, let me say that I quite enjoyed this novel by David Robbins. Robbins has proven over and again his ability to portray convincing, enjoyable characters and believable action plots in frontier settings with his Wilderness series and other novels. This tale about a busted-up bronc buster, Willis Landers, and his awakening to the joys of living is well told. Robbins knows how to pace a story and people it with entertaining characters -- persnickety cowboys, hen-pecked ranch owners, stalwart lawmen, evil villains, and interesting women.
There are passages in For the Brand that seemed well-suited for translation to film or to a mini-series, like Lonesome Dove. The rivalries and loyalty of the drovers in For the Brand reminded me at times of McMurtry’s depiction of characters on the well-known trail drive. Robbins’ writing is convincing and sincere. Many times, that’s the best you can get from a western novel. Robbins delivers in For the Brand. Even if Compton got top billing.