Jericho’s Road by Elmer Kelton – WWOBC Review

This is Book 6 of 9 in Elmer Kelton’s Texas Rangers series

Once while Len was taking his turn at walking they came upon a long-horned cow with her calf. Not accustomed to seeing a man afoot, she took Len for a threat to her offspring, lowered her head, and charged. Len’s long legs carried her in a wide circle until she gave up and trotted away with her calf, wringing her tail in agitation – Elmer Kelton, Jericho’s Road

Finding a somewhat battered 2009 paperback copy of this book in a local ‘free book’ box very shortly after Elmer Kelton was recommended to me by western writer Neil Waring (@wyohistoryguy) I decided this book was “meant to be” the March read for the “Western Wednesdays Online Book Club” – (Current Membership – 1 – feel free to join in and read along!) [For April, I will be reading Rachel Kovaciny’s western re-telling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses fairy tale in her novel Dancing and Doughnuts – available in both Kindle and paperback format.]

I did not immediately love Jericho’s Road, and I can’t say I love it now that I’ve read through it, either. But I did come to appreciate its pulp-y story telling.

I should not fault this book for its early stage references to events that I must assume took place between Book 1 and Book 5 in a Texas Ranger series. It did make it a bit difficult for me to get immediately drawn into the story, but if you’re dropping into a series part way through, that’s on you, not the author.

I did find the style a bit disconcerting at first – having spent my last two forays in “western land” with novels written significantly farther back in the past, it seems I had unconsciously come to expect longer, more ‘literary’ sentences, and perhaps a more languid, detailed, pace, as well. This book appears to have been copyrighted in 2004. Not too surprising then, that it reads rather like a relatively modern pulp. I would not be the least bit surprised if I could have picked this book up at a beach side or campground convenience store’s “library” of second hand books for 25 cents in the early 2000s. I don’t mean this as a negative criticism. There is a definite and wonderful place for genre literature.

What I might be coming to understand is that perhaps I personally prefer more literary western stories. But, I should not fault this book for being what it is. It came with no pretenses towards being other then what it is.

Regardless, there was a time when I was starting to feel rather doubtful about the whole thing. Right about the time that I came across what has got to be one of the shortest shoot-outs ever recorded in the pulp literary world (less then half a page! After several pages clearly leading up to it!) I seriously considered taking this story back to the free book box and leaving the rest for someone else to read. Then I realized that although it didn’t really feel like I was getting involved with these characters and this tale, and I wasn’t finding anything particularly lovely language wise, after getting past the first section that felt a bit bogged down with (for me) mysterious call-backs to previous events, and despite the disappointingly concise exchange of gunfire, each time I had to put this book down, I was annoyed and wanted to get back to it.

Unfortunately, due to circumstances not really in my control, I was interrupted rather frequently while trying to read this book, the result being that I got it in little pieces at a time – I even had to put it down right in the middle of the climatic international revenge raid.

This novel follows a Texas Ranger, Andy Somethingorother (the Texas Rangers being a famous law enforcement unit in Texas dating back to the 1820s which is currently a division of the Texas Department of Public Safety (says that font of much knowledge, Wikipedia)) Our particular Texas Ranger hero is sent (sometime in the 1870s?) to help patrol the border region with Mexico, along the Rio Grande. I am not very up on my Texan history, but I have seen the Rio Grande, and I agree with this character when The river was less impressive than Andy had expected. From what I have seen, it is not a very impressive river, it is shallow (at least in places) and like Andy, I too have seen people casually cross it. (Admittedly this sighting would have been close to twenty-five years ago. How casually it is crossed now even in the remoter reaches, I don’t know.)

Andy finds himself trying to keep two patriarchs, one white Texan, the other Mexican, from wrecking destruction upon their respective ranches, employees, families, and unlucky bystanders as they pursue vengeance upon each other as part of the fall out from the land in the border region changing legal hands more then once, their particular argument dating back to the Mexican-American war, or perhaps further back, to the Texas Revolution, (see: The Alamo) it does not really matter. They are pretty annoyed with each other.

When an outlaw working for the white guy inflames the situation further by falsely reporting that white guy’s nephew has been killed by the Mexican guy’s men (although in actuality the nephew is killed during the outlaw’s failed attempt to hijack our hero’s horse – (apparently Texas Rangers didn’t go around in uniform back then and our hero gets mistaken for a civilian/easy target more then once) the situation between the two patriarchs comes to a boil. (And we eventually get a lengthier “battle”-type scene to satisfy our vicarious blood lust.)

There is a formula to patriarch/revenge stories, and this one does not deviate substantially. But the plot (once it gets going) keeps going, and the pace holds your interest. There is a considerable amount of humour thrown in, and although not all of it really landed for me, I did appreciate the effort. And formulas become formulas because they deliver stories with satisfying resolutions. There is nothing wrong with meeting expectations. And I liked the wasps in the windmill.

I will probably not rush to get another Elmer Kelton book right away, but if another finds its way to me, I won’t dismiss it out of hand, either. I am sure there are lessons to be learned from him about how to tell a story. I appreciated the chance to read this book.

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? Please leave a comment!

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