Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Man from Nowhere: a Ralph Compton novel by Joseph A. West (Western)

Eddie Oates has always been a drunk, good for little else than humiliating entertainment given in exchange for a drink. When the Apaches surround Alma, New Mexico Territory, its citizens cut the fat to save supplies. This includes hanging the stage-robbing Hart brothers ahead of their sentenced date and banishing Eddie, three whores, and "simple boy" Sam Tatum.

Left to his own devices, Eddie continues to show off his faults. But he soon finds the better part of himself through dealing with people he meets along his travels — especially a young Lipan Apache who says she's his wife.

Author Joseph A. West wrote the first two "Ralph Compton" novels I read: Doomsday Rider and Vengeance Rider. Those two introduced me to the style, and at first it didn't seem like anything special. But I've read other Comptons in the meantime (Rio Largo by David Robbins and The Goodnight Trail by Compton himself) and have since come to appreciate the particular tone and blend of action with characterization that it typifies. Now I'm continually on the lookout for them, and "Ralph Compton" (whoever is actually doing the writing) is one of my favorite Western authors.

So, when I saw The Man from Nowhere, I decided to give West another try. He pleasantly surprised me. Eddie Oates, along with all the other characters that people the novel, are fully realized portraits of individuals under some form of duress or another — none more than Oates himself, who continually fights his desire for alcohol and eventually redeems himself and even becomes a hero of sorts.

The story is mainly Eddie's, but West makes sure to give each character in The Man from Nowhere his or her time in the spotlight and offers up not just one but two memorable villains in the process. He also ties things up with a feel-good ending that doesn't forget the seriousness of what came before. West has truly impressed me with this latest offering, and I'll definitely look for his name in the future.

Nitpicker's Note: When a character has a pet phrase that is repeated several times throughout a novel, it sticks in the memory. At the same time, it's understandable when a mistake on the last page of said novel slips past even the best copyeditor's eye. Even so, when Nellie calls her friend Lorraine "Darlene" in the midst of that pet phrase, you'd think somebody would have noticed.

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