by Louis L'Amour

Reviewer Rating:


Louis L'Amour is probably the most prolific writer of Westerns who ever lived, weighing in at 89 novels, 14 short-story collections, and 2 nonfiction works. His short story "The Gift of Cochise" was made into Hondo—a film starring John Wayne—which L'Amour then novelized as Hondo based on the film's screenplay. Hondo was a success onscreen and on the page, and gave L'Amour the success he needed to launch his long career.

Even to someone who hasn't read or seen many Westerns (but not totally inexperienced), Hondo seems like the quintessential mid-century Western novel. Hondo Lane is a tough man with an unflappable moral code, but when he meets Angie Lowe and her young son, Johnny, Hondo considers retiring from the desert life with a nice ranch and the love of a good woman. The enemy here are the Apache, under the leadership of Vittoro (presumably a stand-in for the real-life Victorio), who sweep the desert at regular intervals to kill settlers. The US Army are trying (and failing) to get rid of the Apache as well. Everyone needs the help of Hondo, who is not only an accomplished gun-fighter, but actually lived with the Apache, which means he knows enough about their ways to fight them.

The plot is a little all over the place, with the army's major victory happening off-screen and the final battle lasting under five pages. L'Amour is really guilty of telling-not-showing as far as the emotional lives of the characters. We know Hondo had an Apache wife while he lived with them, but the back-story is pretty paltry and his motivations remain too much in the dark. Angie is really flat and is defined by whichever man she is thinking about: her estranged husband, her son, her father, or Hondo. Most of all, reading a Western written in the 1950s is pretty troubling in a twenty-first century context. Hondo has respect for the Apache people to a certain extent and Vittoro is portrayed as more reasonable than violent or "savage." But there are still a lot of gross stereotypes and white supremacy at work in this novel. I think Cormac McCarthy's Western novels are more my speed.

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