Lonesome Dove was the first western novel I ever read, persuaded by it’s inclusion in so many ‘must read’ lists. I was impressed by it’s sparse, matter-of-fact storytelling, it’s range of characters and by it’s atmosphere. When I finished I resolved to read the two prequels, and this, it’s sequel. The first two, telling the story of Gus McRae and Woodrow Call up to the events in Lonesome Dove were very readable, but not quite as good. I think this is partly because of the curse of prequels; namely that the author has to get to a point which we, as readers, already know, so major surprises are difficult to conjure.
So how does this sequel compare?
It takes place many years after the events of Lonesome Dove. Of the cast of characters who survived that book, some are dead, but many reappear here. The world has also changed, and Call is an old man, doing the occasional bounty hunting job. He is hired to track down Joey Garza, a young man who has taken to holding up trains, and killing passengers indiscriminately. The railway company sends Mr Brookshire, a Brooklyn accountant, to monitor Call’s work, to ensure that it’s money is not wasted.
Call asks Pea-eye Parker, one of the last remaining members of the old group, to join him in the hunt, but at first he refuses. He is now a farmer, married to Lorena, another familiar character, and they have five children. So Call sets out with Mr Brookshire to catch a killer.
Joey Garza’s story is also told alongside Call’s, and we soon learn that their pasts are not unconnected. A few other familiar characters appear along the way, some helpful, others ambivalent at best. Matters are then complicated by another killer from the past reappearing. Call and the small group he has assembled have to decide what to do. I won’t give away any more of the plot and risk spoiling your enjoyment!
For me, this book is similar in many ways to the prequels. Firstly, there is more explicit violence and cruelty than in Lonesome Dove. This is not really a complaint, but does alter the tone of the books slightly. It was, after all, a violent world; to use a platitude, life was cheap for the men and women who took their chances in what remained of the ‘Wild West’. Secondly, the atmosphere is generally less intense; the feel for time and place is not as strong.
Having said that, the book still kept me turning the pages. The relationship between Call and Brookshire is an endearing one. They represent the two Americas which now existed; the one looking back to a wild, individual, pioneering world, the other representative of the growing corporate, urban America. These two extremes have virtually no knowledge or understanding of each other.
Indeed much of the book is really about Call’s relationship with others, and particularly his lack of understanding that their worldview is increasingly different to his. Most of his surviving contemporaries are, to varying degrees, accepting change; Call is painfully aware he knows nothing but his old life. It is a study of ageing; of coming to terms with a rapidly changing world, where Call is a relic. He is more a reputation than someone of use.
In amongst the storyline, there is a lot about the meaning of relationships, about the ties of loyalty and family. These play a significant part in the book, and lead to many moments of pathos and quiet reflection.
My only real criticism is in the character of Joey Garza; I never really understood his actions and feelings. Most of the other major characters have been fully drawn, giving you a clear view of them, their backgrounds and their motivation. With Joey, although his background is covered, I never got through to the man, to know why he was as he was.
Apart from that, this is a moving, melancholy end to an absorbing series. Of the four, Lonesome Dove is definitely the defining volume, with the others being valuable additions to make the story complete. As mentioned at the beginning, these are the only western novels I’ve ever read, so I cannot compare them to the rest of the genre. However, I am a regular reader of historical fiction, and I believe this work – along with the rest of the series – stands strongly within that arena.
This is a review of the Picador 2015 Kindle edition.