The regular readers of Saddlebums have probably noticed it has been a little quiet around here the past few weeks, and there is a reason. It’s not that I’m not reading, don’t enjoy a solid Western, or anything else like that. The problem is, I recently—three weeks ago—started a new job and it’s taking most of my energy right now, but things are beginning to break. I think. So bear with me—and my Saddlebums partner Gonzalo—while I get the new schedule down and get back to the nitty-gritty operation of a blog.
And to whet your appetite I have a few completed author interviews—Peter Brandvold, and John D. Nesbitt to name two—and I’m working on a few reviews as well. Until then here is a review of Max McCoy’s Hellfire Canyon I wrote in April 2007 for my Gravetapping blog. It's a terrific novel written by a versatile and very dependable author.
Hellfire Canyon is the story of Jacob Gamble: outlaw, renegade and general hell-raiser. He is the archetypical western outlaw, with one exception: He is likable, and rather than the antagonist, he is the hero.
The novel begins when three men trample into young Jacob’s farmhouse and demand breakfast from his mother. They are confederate soldiers with a platoon of blue bellies hot on their trail. This is the catalyst that shapes Jacob’s life—the Union soldiers burn down his home, and he discovers his father is in lockup scheduled to by hanged. Jacob and his mother set out to save his father, but instead they find themselves crossing Missouri in the company of a stranger, facing cutthroats, soldiers, the coming winter, and finally forced indoctrination into the gang of the notorious killer Alf Bolin.
Hellfire Canyon is not the typical. There is violence, but there is something more—a yearning and understanding of history, legend, and even folklore. Gamble is an admitted liar, killer and thief, but he—the story is written in first person—portrays himself never as a victim, but as a survivor. Interestingly, in the opening pages of the novel he casts doubt on everything that is to come: And I won’t tell the truth. Instead, I will spin the tale that is expected—that I was forced by circumstances at the tender age of thirteen to become the youngest member of the Bolin gang.
Hellfire Canyon is a campfire story. It is raw, tender, and fresh, but we are left knowing it isn’t the real story. It is the story the witness—Jacob Gamble—wants us to know, or perhaps more accurately thinks we want to know. It is more folklore and legend than anything else, and I loved every word. Ignore the horrible cover art and give Hellfire Canyon a try.