Showdown on the Hogback by Louis L’Amour

Showdown on the HogbackLouis L’amour wrote all kinds of books from murder mysteries to spy thrillers and even international chases and survival stories. The kind of books he is most famous for, though, are his westerns and anybody who has read one will see why. The man knew the genre in which he was writing and he played those strings like a practiced fiddler.

Showdown on the Hogback is one of his early ones and is only available today as an audiobook or in very old print editions of western magazines.

Despite it’s age it holds up pretty well. The story involves corrupt land barrens and mysterious ghost riders as well as squatters, gunmen, horses, secluded caves and an assortment of guns and ammunition. L’amour’s heroes are all tough men who are fantastically competent, the women tough and kind and the bad guys slimy and mean right down to the core.

There aren’t a lot of shades of gray in these books, and, being placed in northern New Mexico, there probably aren’t a lot shades of any color other than brown either.

What surprised me was the depth of politics and legal wrangling that went on in a wild west story about frontier justice. L’amour didn’t just pay tribute to legal method with a sheriff that gets overridden by the hero because of his incompetence — like the more modern westerns of Lee Child — he actually includes senators and political machinations as part of the bad guys scheme (and the heroes method of defeating them).

As a youth I enjoyed Louis L’amour immensely and I was worried starting this one out that it would have faded with time as so many of my other youthful enjoyments have done. Especially when the beginning started describing Tom Kendrick as a man who all the women liked to look at but who didn’t seem to notice them looking. I rolled my eyes so hard it was a good thing I was sitting still.

After that, however, the adventure started and L’amour knows just the right recipe of action, deceit, discussion and moral quandary to stir together and mix into a stew that equals brilliant adventure and the kind of fun that can only be had from Louis L’amour. At this point I think he pretty much owns the genre of western fiction.

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2 thoughts on “Showdown on the Hogback by Louis L’Amour”

  1. No one does a western like L’amour, he is my favorite in that genre. His descriptions seem a tad cliche now. but when I remember how old his books are I see that they were probably the original.

    1. There are a lot of cliches. What surprised me about this book was that, even though it’s one of his earlier ones — one I expected to be riddled with cliches — it turned several of them around. Many times the cliches that rise out of an influential work are not the cliches that are in the original. L’Amour seems cliche because he’s been borrowed from so liberally but if you pick any two books of his at random they may have common elements but they are different enough that they feel fresh. Many westerns since then have latched on to certain elements of L’Amour’s writing (usually the worst parts) and made them into cliches.

      The same thing has happened with other genre. Fantasy cliches that get compared to Tolkien all the time are actually nothing like the Lord of the Rings. Tolkien never wrote about a poor orphan discovering he is the long-lost heir to the throne — or at least, he never did that as the main story line.

      I believe movies are to blame for most of these things. The science fiction we see in movies today is the science fiction we saw in short stories in the 1930’s. Most of the fantasy movies are akin to what could be read about in the 1950’s and westerns, when they exist at all are just John Wayne remakes.

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