Sunday, February 15, 2009

Destiny Valley by Fred Grove (Western)

Evan Shelby moved out to the great Gila Wilderness in New Mexico Territory, an area he had once visited before and held fond memories of. Diagnosed with tuberculosis, he wanted to live out his last days surrounded by the beauty of the land. The dry air of the Southwest has done wonders since: Evan hasn't shown any symptoms in the past six months, and he has fallen in love with the Mimbres Valley area. He has also made many friends, though some still hold his past as a Captain in the Union army against him.

Now Evan's Destiny Valley is about to be shaken up. The Empire Cattle Company has come into town looking for more land on which to graze their stock. "Cash on the barrel" is only one of their enticement; unfortunately, men like Arch Kinder and Code Sloan are the other, roughnecks who are used to getting their way and are willing to do anything to ensure that Empire — which is run by Lucinda Holloway, the daughter of the previous owner — rules the roost.

It is common opinion that Empire's offering price for folks' homesteads is considerably lower than the value of the land, but no one is brave enough to confront the company's representative at the town meeting — no one but Evan. He states his opinion publicly, bringing the ire of Kinder and Sloan down on him. Making things a mite more complicated is the fact that he is falling for Lucinda, and she for him.

I won't pretend to have read enough Westerns to know what makes a good one, but I do know that I was completely engaged by Destiny Valley. Five-time Spur Award winner Fred Grove (The Great Horse Race and Comanche Captives) has produced a fine piece of frontier literature with masterful characterization. Grove slowly lets us get to know Evan and Lucinda, and even Kinder and Sloan, ensuring that we know who is mostly good and mostly bad (because no one's motives are entirely noble). He also takes his time telling Evan's story, making his ups and downs all the more compelling.

I'd never even heard of Fred Grove before coming across this Western with several others at a dollar store. Luckily, the price gave me the opportunity to expand my boundaries a bit, and I'm certainly glad I did, because Grove really knows his way around the West. After reading Destiny Valley, I felt that I could find my way around Mimbres Valley without a map, and that's an accomplishment I've noticed rarely of late. I'll definitely consider picking up another Fred Grove novel the next time I'm in the market for quality frontier writing.


Ray said...

Can't say that I've come across anything by Fred Grove - but from this the book looks a good place to start.

Craig Clarke said...

Thanks for the kind words. Grove certainly isn't one of the big names (maybe because of his books being more historical than pulp-based?), but the man knew how to tell a really human story.

There's a good profile on the (late) author here:

PONY said...

I'm glad you have discovered Fred Grove. In my opinion he is one of the great Western aurhors of the 20th century.Leisure books have republished some of his "newer" Westerns first printed as HC by Five star. Some of his greatest novels, like BUFFALO RUNNERS, COMANCHE CAPTIVES and THE LANDSEEKERS have been out of print as papersback for years, but they are worty seaching for on the net and in second hand book stores. A few years ago Leisure published a collections of short stories and a short novel called THE VANISHING RAIDERS. Fred Grove did not write action stories. If you like shoot em up books, he is nothing for you.
11 years ago I was so fascinated by Fred Grove's novels and short stories that I contacted the author. This was the beginning of a friendship that lasted for 10 years. Twice my wife and I went from Norway to Tucson to visit Fred and his family. We etablished a very close friendship. Fred Grove was a great author and a wonderful person. I'm glad that one more reader has disovered his tallent and I'm glad you recommend him.


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