Monday, October 1, 2007

Saddlebums Review: Wyoming Wind by Jon Chandler

A guest review by Corinne Joy Brown

Historical fiction in the hands of a master storyteller can prompt new ways of looking at both fact and myth. Such is the effect of the fictionalized account of Tom Horn in the novel Wyoming Wind, a story built on fact but embellished with creative imagination, created by Colorado author Jon Chandler. Chandler gives voice and depth to the life of one of Wyoming’s most infamous outlaws, creating a unique look at the psychological factors that shaped the life of a killer.

Horn, an army scout, a civilian under Army command in Cuba under Roosevelt, and finally a Wyoming stock detective during the end of the cattle and sheep wars at the turn of the 20th century, allegedly met his death at the gallows in Cheyenne in 1903. He was accused of the murder of 14 year-old Willie Nickel, a sheepherder’s son. Both Horn’s responsibility for the crime and the exact circumstances of his death remain in question, but he was convicted due to incriminating circumstances, a scapegoat, in fact, for larger forces.

In spite of Horn’s earlier accomplishments as a hired gun for the US military, his eventual lust for killing branded him a dead man. As a mercenary, he felt above the law, taking it in fact, into his own hands. He intimidated and helped decimate the encroaching squatters eating up the cattle range.

Chandler writes a compelling scenario. In a desperate attempt to forestall his execution, Horn wrote a letter to the press exposing all those who hid behind his treachery. An effective blackmail tool that actually forced a rescue attempt (a rigged hanging), the letter was intercepted before it could do any public damage. Horn’s edge was reduced to nothing.

The reader may find it hard to separate truth from fiction, but can refer easily to numerous Wyoming history sources for the documented account if wanting more. Wyoming Wind reads like a Western thriller. A man on death row, reminiscing through the circumstances of his life while counting the hours to his own demise. His vigil and attempt to escape creates enough tension to keep the reader turning the pages, wondering if Horn will meet the same fate as his many victims, or get away with blackmail, his last act of treason.

Chandler, an accomplished songwriter and musician, and an award-wining author, knows how to write musical lyrics where the message is not only in, but also, between the lines. His narrative prose is just as successful. With vision and clarity, he creates a believable West in time and place and a thoroughly plausible character for whom we actually develop a kind of empathy. Having read numerous historical accounts of this very same event, I’d choose Chandler’s fictionalized version any day. This is one story of Tom Horn a reader can never forget.

1 comment:

James P. said...

I had no idea Jon Chandler wrote books. I went to his homepage and found out he's written a few others. Thanks for this interesting review.