Thursday, May 21, 2009

Local writer delivers fast-paced Western novel


The American Civil War is over. In Texas, changes are coming even to the communities spared the smell of battle. Strangers are passing through: "Poor folks fleeing the destruction, avaricious Northerners and men with criminal intent, adventurers, and returnees hoping to find something of the homes they'd left." The little town of Three Corners, near the Big Thicket area in the southeast, is one such place. Elias Trace has come to settle here. He is "in his early twenties, of average height and somewhat lean" and, as Crabby Janes, his friend and unofficial town mayor, says, Trace is formerly "of Mosby's Raiders, late of the Confederate States of America."

Not far from Three Corners a group of emigrants has been massacred by a "gang of deserters, Mexicans, and renegade Indians" led by Gilbert Clayton. Farm wagons were burnt, bodies scattered. "Men's trouser pockets had been pulled out; women's fingers bent awkwardly or were cut off for the rings." Some of the bodies were desecrated; some of the women were missing. A burial detail from town finds devastation, and they return with guns ready. "All who lived on the frontier were familiar with death as a part of life, but the details of what lay buried behind them would have unnerved even the most hardened of men."

That's the setup of "From Hell to Breakfast" ($12.95 in paperback from by Chico area writer John Henry Lyons.

Lyons introduces quite a cast of characters, including a love interest in the young widow Emma Mann. The story is one of courage, but also of leadership. Trace's plan to surprise Clayton's gang draws on skills honed with Mosby, and though Trace had wanted to put battle aside it had come to him. Trace wavers, but Crabby puts it bluntly: "It's leadership here that makes for victory, that and some luck and dirty tricks."

Trace remembers what a compatriot had told him: "Men that believed in a leader . . . would follow such a man if only to reach down inside their souls and see if they really had the courage to match what they had come to expect of themselves."

It's a crackling good yarn, a page-turner leading inexorably to the final confrontation in scenes of intense, cinematic violence.

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