There were a few things I knew about westerns before reading the chapter and my western novel. First of all, men who read westerns read them like women who read romance read romances. They will read them constantly and consistently, they rarely read the back cover to see if they will enjoy the plot because they know they usually do. Secondly, a western can be falling apart, have coffee or weird stains on it, all in all look outright disgusting and a man who reads westerns won’t notice and will pay the same amount of money for it that he will pay for one in pristine condition. In a used bookstore, you often have to make hard decisions about which books you can put on a shelf and which you shouldn’t pay or give trade credit for. With romances you can’t really keep the ucky ones, women don’t want to read sex scenes in a book that smells like cigarette smoke and has odd smears on it. Westerns though, you can sell and sell again until pages start falling out, and then again after if you tape them back together, and the guys don’t mind at all.
I decided for my western to read an average one. Not one like Louis L’Amour or someone else who might go beyond the genre, I decided to read a comfortable, well-known but mid-list author so I could get a good sense of the genre as a whole. So I browsed the shelves at half-price books and found Guns of Wolf Valley by Ralph Cotton. I have heard of Cotton but not a lot, and I couldn’t recall anyone telling me they loved him, but I also couldn’t recall anyone telling me they hated him. Then again, western readers didn’t really talk much. Except for one who always gave me cd’s of himself singing karaoke (to play in the store ) and talked about his great personal friendships with Elvis and Johnny Cash.
Guns of Wolf Valley seemed to be very typical for a western. It definitely reinforced my idea of westerns being men’s romances. I liked it a lot better than I liked my adventure book, but doubt that I will read many just for pleasure. It made me think of the show Deadwood but I think just because of the setting. The plot is fairly simple, with a couple of interesting twists. Guy gets shot by a bunch of toughs but not before talking big and shooting several of them, thus showing him as a Superior Human Being. A couple of toughs make it out alive and the Superior Human (CC Ellis) is found by a young boy and his dog. He and his mother take him home and nurse him back to health, and she keeps pretending her husband is around, even though it’s obvious that he is long gone. She finally admits that he’s been gone for a year and she pretends he’s still there so the preacher in the nearby town won’t come steal her and make her be one of his wives.
Turns out the toughs are employed by said preacher, who really has a cult-like hold on the town. Everyone owes him money or is employed by him. If you owe him too much money he takes your woman, being that she is also a possession. Note that the overt sexism in this novel doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it did in the adventure novel, being that it is somewhat period appropriate and, even if the author is sexist or says sexist things, he does not appear to actively despise women as Clive Cussler did. There are some sub-plots with the preacher and some of the people he employs, but they aren’t that interesting.
After about 45 minutes of him being awake, CC and the woman have sex. That might be an exaggeration but it was interesting to note the difference between the western and the romance novel in this case. The romance novel seems to be so much more about what leads up to the sex. In this novel, you don’t even notice any sexual tension or any real reason that the woman would want to sleep with this man, when she’s been keeping celibate and waiting on her husband to come back for a year. I mean all of a sudden they are declaring how lonely they are and doing it in the barn. She was still making him call her Mrs. Mosley! And, I hate to stereotype here, but I guess that is what would make it more a romance for a man, especially the quiet, reserved men who seem to like to read westerns. They don’t want to have to talk, or say anything, or seduce someone, they just want beautiful women to automatically fall into bed with them for no discernible reason. Which I guess makes absolutely perfect sense.
So back to the plot. Some guys arrive in town just in time to see the preacher horsewhip a couple of townsfolk, one for mouthing off and one for getting drunk. These guys have hatched a pretty obvious scam that they think is clever. They have boatloads of money that they want to put in a secure bank, and they decided to ride into an unknown town and announce this to people while holding this bag of money in plain sight, rather than put it quietly into a bank in a town they already know. Of course they need to examine the bank vault before they decide it is secure enough. At this point, they normally would have robbed the bank, but the leader gets a bad feeling and decides to wait around a bit. They state they need to meet this preacher that they have heard so much about before they can trust the bank.
Well it turns out that these are the guys that Ellis was riding here to meet, only he’s decided to give up the outlaw life and stay with Mrs. Mosley and run away to farm in Oregon with her once they figure out a way to get away from the preacher. Turns out he doesn’t like people leaving town for some reason and hunts anyone down who tries to. The outlaw guys don’t like this one bit – it turns out that Mr. Mosley used to ride with them as well, but he got caught and was just about to be executed when they left town.
Exciting events ensue, and, I don’t want to ruin the end for you, but it is really not hard to guess how it turns out. Somehow, the preacher has seen through the outlaws’ cunning ploys, and kills them all by crucifixion. A couple escapes the hold of the preacher and makes it out to the Mosley place. This creates drama, and eventually leads to Ellis going into town to confront the preacher. Mosley wins this confrontation by getting a traumatized kid to shoot the preacher in the head. As he rides triumphantly back to the Mosley ranch to begin his new life, who does he run across but the thought to be dead Sloane Mosley? Yes, somehow his lawyer got him a gun and he broke out at the last minute. This is just like the episode of In Plain Sight I watched yesterday. Make absolutely sure your buddy is really dead before you start sleeping with his or her significant other.
Of course, Sloane immediately suspects CC has slept with his wife, I am not sure why unless she has a habit of falling into bed with every male person she comes across, but CC reminds him that Sloane was the one who told them to come rob the bank here in the first place, so he can’t be mad at him if he slept with his wife. Sloane does some mental gymnastics that somehow make him decide to agree with this logic, and they shake hands and part ways, agreeing to meet up with each other soon for some more outlawing. Looks like Ellis is still going to be a loner outlaw instead of a farmer in Oregon as he and Mrs. Mosley were talking about.
As easy as this book is to make fun of, I did enjoy reading it. It was very fast paced and easy to read. And though the plot was predictable it was also enjoyable. You really wanted to see that preacher get shot in the head. I was waiting and waiting for it, Cotton made him so odious. It had a formulaic feel, but the plot was complex enough to make it interesting even though you were pretty sure the preacher would end up dead and Mosley would come back. All in all, it is definitely one I would recommend to a western reader.