Top critical review
Coming back to an old acquaintance
Reviewed in the United States on February 23, 2011
The novels of Louis L'Amour don't hold the place in popular culture that they did while he was still alive and publishing, but sometimes I find myself compelled to reread some of those Westerns and historical novels that I found so exciting in my youth. With a more critical eye, I can see that most of these stories were not great works of literature - some were just pulp fiction written for L'Amour to make a living as a writer. But I have good memories of some of his later works, especially the longer novels, where Louis L'Amour invested his characters with so much of his own mind and heart.
"Bendigo Shafter" is one of these - a large-scale story of a young man's coming of age, traveling west to shape the land, and, in turn, being shaped by it. It is filled with all the better qualities of L'Amour's writing - stirring narratives, a love of the land, and a hero with a wandering soul. Yet it also has, in full, the weaknesses which often mar his westerns. If Bendigo has a flaw as a character, it is that he has no flaws. He is virtuous in all respects, and never seems to question the rightness of his actions. Though we enjoy following his adventures, we cannot fully identify with him. It is easy to see a character as heroic when he achieves great things; but true heroism is more subtle, arising from victories, and sometimes failures, in the personal struggles which threaten to weigh you down. In this sense, secondary characters like Cain (who denies his attraction to the widow Macken) and Webb (who always seems on the verge of giving in to his dark side) are far more interesting characters. And, though the novel is filled with the sense of Bendigo's hopes for the future, it's a shame that L'Amour didn't return to the character in a later story to let us know whether he achieved his potential.
Since Kindle users will want to know about this aspect, I'll say that I have no complaints about the Kindle format - the presentation was clear, and there were no obvious errors.