Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Code of the Mountain Man by William W. Johnstone

Walk into any place that sells books and, even if they don't carry many Westerns, you're likely to always encounter two names: Louis L'Amour and William W. Johnstone. I've tried L'Amour, like most people, but burned out on his dry, heavily descriptive style — and there was never anything about the Johnstone books that appealed to me.

But I saw Johnstone's name so often (he's still putting out new books, even though he died in 2004), I started to wonder if I was missing out on something. (This despite the fact that I usually try to avoid the immensely popular.) So, I got a copy of Code of the Mountain Man — the 8th in the long-running "Last Mountain Man" series — from the library just to try it out.

It's been at least a year since I put a book down before finishing the first chapter, but Code of the Mountain Man was so riddled with cliches by that time that I just couldn't stomach any more. Johnstone starts in the correct way, right in the middle of the action. A band of outlaws ride into Big Rock, Colorado, for no apparent reason and shoot up several citizens. One of the victims is the wife of Smoke Jensen, the last mountain man.

From the start, Jensen is painted as such a lone, invincible, penny dreadful–type character that it's hard to believe he could be married. But maybe he just has to be in order for there to be a reason for his revenge. He instantly begins preparations to go after the outlaws, and Johnstone goes right along with him in the kind of ridiculous language usually reserved for genre spoofs: "Nobody shot his wife. Ever."

And if that's not laughable enough, soon after comes a scene where Jensen convinces the sheriff that he'd be safer at home with his family, letting Jensen take the law into his own hands. And the sheriff agrees: "Come to think of it, my wife just baked a fresh apple pie. It'd still be warm." I was so disgusted, I threw the book on the floor — another thing that hasn't happened in a long time. In any case, I've learned an important lesson: I've tried Code of the Mountain Man and Johnstone now and don't have to worry I'm missing out on some great writing.

3 comments:

Melody Parker said...

Having been an avid reader of Bill's for many years, all I can say is that I'm glad he found a co-writer in his later days to continue these series. Maybe you should try reading some of the stuff he co-wrote with J.A. Johnstone, you may find it more agreeable to your literary constitution.

KentAllard said...

Johnstone wrote a horror trilogy back in the 80s that are among the worst I've ever read - all the titles had "Devil's" in them. Very weird books - written from a very Christian perspective, yet filled with explicit sex.

ARCHAVIST said...

Yeah some of these are better than others.

Related Posts with Thumbnails