Friday, March 6, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Book: A Man Called Brazos by T.V. Olsen

For more of Friday's Forgotten Books, visit Pattinase.

"Brazos — that is a strange name. Isn't that a river?"
"Yes, ma'am, in Texas. My father settled by it, and I was named after it."

In Twentieth Century Western Writers, author Joe R. Lansdale says of T. V. Olsen, "He should be better known outside the immediate Western field, and ... I can not help but feel that with the right press, Olsen could command the position currently enjoyed by the late Louis L'Amour as America's most popular and foremost author of traditional Western novels."

The author of 40 novels under his own name and pseudonyms such as Joshua Stark and Christopher Storm, Theodore Victor "T.V." Olsen won a Spur Award for The Golden Chance, and two of his novels were made into films: The Stalking Moon with Gregory Peck and Soldier Blue with Candice Bergen. Olsen has lately become known for his often-sympathetic treatment of the American Indian in his fiction (see Bob Herzberg's recent Savages and Saints), though he considered his Jefferson Davis novel There Was a Season to be his most important work.

This week's "forgotten book," A Man Called Brazos, was originally published by Fawcett under their famous Gold Medal banner. It showcases Olsen's skill at the traditional Western tale. Based on my experience with it (and Lansdale's high praise), I'll definitely be looking for more of Olsen's work in the future.

Brazos Kane's parents were killed when he was ten by a raid of Choctaw Indians, and he was sent to live with his uncle, whom he left one night after a few too many beatings. Afterward, Brazos lived like an urchin in a trail town for a year until he picked the wrong drunk to roll — Pop Melaven. Pop offered Brazos a choice: work for him, or get his ass beaten right there. ("He'd rubbed his brass-studded belt, and Brazos was two seconds making up his mind.")

Brazos pulled his own weight and then some (as Pop liked his whiskey) in their partnership and was never treated as less than an equal for ten years. Then, after selling their largest herd of horses yet, Pop took the $12,000 into town and was promptly robbed and murdered. ("It was easy to anticipate a brutal and bitter end for the man, and yet when it came it had dropped the bottom out of Brazos' life.")

From that point on, Brazos's only goal in life was to find the man who'd killed his friend and mentor. Following up on a vague description of the culprit, Brazos zooms in on John Lambeth as his prime suspect. He hires himself out with Lambeth's crew on the Nugget ranch during the middle of a range war with the neighboring Montalvos.

The revenge story alone would be enough for some authors, but Olsen fills out the majority of A Man Called Brazos with the bad blood between the two ranches. Olsen also adds the spice of a femme fatale of sorts in the character of Lila Mae Lambeth, John's wife — a Southern belle with vast ambitions and just enough Lady Macbeth in her to make them happen.

All she needs is a cowpoke dimwitted enough to follow along while thinking he's in charge. The cast of characters is a little hard to keep straight at times, but the tension of the war, the suspense of Brazos's quest, and Lila Mae's machinations (while insightfully illustrating the difficulty of getting a man to see the truth about his wife) combine to make A Man Called Brazos a gripping read with a fine, fast-paced finale that more than satisfies the justice requirement.


pattinase (abbott) said...

I always find it helpful to have the cast of characters listed up front when it's large-but I guess that's gone out of style. Great book. Thanks so much.

Todd Mason said...

T.V. Olsen was the first western writer whose work I sought out...his willingness to deal with supernatural horror themes in at least some of his work was how I found it, and I doubt that discouraged Joe Lansdale, either.

Ray said...

I've read a lot of T.V.Olsen - and I agree with the comment that this writer should be better known.

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