DEAD MAN’S WALK by Larry McMurtry – For those folk already familiar with the characters of Gus McCrae and Woodrow Call, from McMurtry’s LONESOME DOVE, all you need to know is that this book is a prequel. Here we meet Gus & Call as young men, just having met but already forming the bond which will last them all their lives. We also meet the Comanche war chief, Buffalo Hump, the horse thief Killing Wolf and the love of Gus’ life Clara.
McMurtry shows us just how it was that Gus & Call first became Texas Rangers. We see them on their very first adventure where Buffalo Hump almost kills both of them. Here Call earns the hatred of the Comanche chief, barely escaping with his life and discovering just how much he himself can hate. McMurtry introduces us to a large cast of characters in this novel, some of whom we will meet again in the series, and others who will quickly meet their individual fates.
I first became familiar with McMurtry via his novel THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, which was adapted into film by Peter Bogdanovich. Other folks might know him better for the novel TERMS OF ENDEARMENT which was also adapted for the screen. Besides these contemporary novels, McMurtry is considered by many as one the great writers of American westerns. The four novels in the LONESOME DOVE series, his “Berrybender Narratives” (that tells the story of the Berrybender family in the Old West) and a number of stand-alone novels are all prime examples of western adventure.
Young Gus & Call, bored with life in town, hear about an upcoming expedition into Mexico to ‘liberate’ Santa Fe. Under the leadership of Caleb Cobb, a former pirate already well-known to the Spanish/Mexican military, close to two hundred former Rangers and others begin a doomed journey across the desert and into the homeland of Buffalo Hump. It soon becomes apparent that Cobb is incapable of carrying out this adventure as the elements and the Comanches begin taking their toll. Ill-equipped and ill-trained the members of the expedition fall prey to all manner of misfortune. Along with Gus & Call are their comrades Shadrach, Bigfoot and Long Bill, men who have seen their share of folly and lived to tell the tale. McMurtry also gives us the wonderful Matilda Jane Roberts, the whore known as Great Western, who goes along with the expedition in hopes of finally making enough money to buy her own whorehouse in California.
Once I started the book it was difficult to put it down and twice I actually missed my subway stop, so engrossed was I in the story. If that isn’t praise, I don’t know what is?
To be honest, I’ve never read LONESOME DOVE, being familiar with the story only from the television mini-series. I decided it was time to finally read it, but felt that since two novels act as prequels, I would start with those. Having finished DEAD MAN’S WALK, I’m going to start on COMANCHE MOON as soon as I can.
As you can tell, I can’t recommend this book enough. Four stars.