I finished my first Louis L’amour novel last week, Brionne. My grandfather and father both read lots and lots of westerns, my granddad especially. In fact, I think the only thing he read was westerns with the occasional Perry Mason or Ellery Queen mystery. Most of my granddad’s L’amour books are at my dad’s house, but I’ve got a few. I can’t say for sure why I felt the urge to read one of these books, but I’m glad I did.
Brionne is the story of Major James Brionne, a man who works for President Ulysses Grant. He’s away the night the Allard brothers show up at his house with his wife and son alone. Brionne brought Dave Allard to trial and the guilty man swore that his kin would take vengeance on the lawman. That vengeance comes with a terrible price. Mat, the son, is told to hide by his mother, Anne. This stoic woman defends her home defiantly and, seeing as there’s no escape for her, takes her own life. Cotton Allard, Dave’s brother, seeing his vengeance taken from him is angry, but impressed. Nonetheless, Cotten sets fire the Brionne home. Mat escapes and evades capture and Brionne finds him the next day.
Seeking a new opportunity for his son and himself, Brionne turns down President Grant’s offer of employment and set out west with his boy. Traveling by train, Brionne is always keeping his eye towards his back, always fearing that Cotton or some member of his gang is tracking him. Along the way, Brionne meets some folks on the train, and through the shared comradeship of fighting a grassfire, the group comes together, including Miranda, a young woman after a lost silver mine.
This 1968 novel is brisk at only 151 pages. As such, the narrative never lags, but neither does the tension. I found myself, over the course of a few nights, eager to return to this book. It’s clear, early on, that Brionne and his boy are being followed. Not giving anything away here. What kind of western would you have without the big finale? And, naturally, all the characters end up in roughly the same place. Again, not rocket science here. But it is good, effective storytelling.
L’amour’s style is clean, straightforward, and without flair. What comes across is his narrative voice. This book reads like an old cowboy is telling the story. For example:
There was something about such emergencies that lasted, Brionne thought. No matter what happened to them afterwards, the men on this train would never be strangers to each other again. They had something in common and there was now a warmth between them, a knowledge of readiness to rise to an emergency, and each one of them felt better within himself for this victory they had won together.
L’amour filters much of his narrative with the questions that Brionne–and, by extent, the reader–must answer. It’s helpful, of course, but it’s also an effective way to keep the momentum of the story going along. There are few chapters that end with cliffhangers, but more than a few that end on a question.
The best thing about reading and enjoying my first Louis L’amour western is the happy knowledge that there are over a hundred more novels to read. I’m looking forward to the journey.