Saturday, November 28, 2009

Longarm (Longarm #1) by Lou Cameron writing as Tabor Evans (Western series)

Prolific author Lou Cameron created Deputy U.S. Marshal Custis "Longarm" Long in 1978, and you couldn't ask for a more complete character introduction that the one he gives in the opening of the first novel in the series, simply titled Longarm. In a smooth narrative style, Cameron chronicles Longarm's rising in the morning, and we get the whole rundown from nearly every detail of his appearance (his hair is tobacco-leaf brown) to his whiskey preference to his philosophy on hygiene.

On this particular morning, Long goes into the office of his boss, U.S. Marshal Billy Vail for an assignment: to go to the tiny village of Crooked Lance and bring Cotton Younger to face trial. When Longarm gets there, though, he finds that others had the same idea.

A Canadian mountie, a local sheriff, a French-Canadian bent on revenge, a couple of bounty hunters, and a captain of the U.S. Army all want Younger, either for the crimes committed under their jurisdiction or for the price on his head (as well as his assumed knowledge of the whereabouts of Frank and Jesse James and the even bigger rewards for them).

So, since nobody is letting anybody go anywhere with their prisoner, things come to a standstill. Soon, people start getting killed and true identities come to light, and it's up to Longarm to bring his man back to justice — even though Younger swears he's not Younger — and find out what happened to Deputy Kincaid, who came to Crooked Lance looking for Younger and disappeared.

This initial entry in the long-running series is one of the more interesting and well-written I've read yet. Cameron offers surprises galore in Longarm and keep the suspense high. Who is this Frenchman who doesn't speak French? And who is the woman who keeps climbing into Longarm's bed in the dark of night? Cameron knows his period and continually inserts little nuggets of historical context.

Longarm (bound with the second novel in the series in "double" fashion) is a hot-blooded Western and a good old-fashioned mystery with a solid, sensible ending. Only one question is left unanswered, but it serves to end the book with a chuckle. Even the love interest is drawn in an intriguing fashion, with the woman Longarm ends up with being the only one who can hold her own in a intellectually stimulating conversation. This novel starts the series off well, and Cameron (who was still occasionally writing Longarms as recently as 2006) sets the standard for all to follow.


James Reasoner said...

I liked this one a lot and recall that Cameron's second entry, LONGARM AND THE WENDIGO, is even better. His Longarm novels were nearly always solid mysteries.

Steve M said...

Excellent review of a book I read a long, long time ago. Incidently the first 12 were published over here with different covers.

Craig Clarke said...

James - Thanks for the recommendation. I'll pick up the second double (which contains Wendigo) directly. I'm definitely eager to read more of Cameron's books.

Steve - Thanks for the kind words. We seem to only have got the first four reprinted over here.

Related Posts with Thumbnails