Elmore Leonard's Western Roundup #3: Valdez is Coming & Hombre

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9780385333245: Elmore Leonard's Western Roundup #3: Valdez is Coming & Hombre
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Valdez Is Coming: The shotgun went off aimed at the wrong man, held in the wrong man's hands. A crowd had gathered to drink and laugh and shoot down at the old shack where a supposed killer was hiding out. Then Bob Valdez, humble town constable and stage-line shotgun rider, walked down to the shack. Moments later Valdez had killed an innocent man, and the crowd, sapped of its bloodlust, wandered off. But for Bob Valdez it was far from over. He wanted the wealthy landowner who had enginnered the scene to give the dead man's woman money for a wrongful death. They laughed at Bob Valdez. They taunted him and beat him until Valdez had no choice but to come back to them again. Only this time Valdez was coming with three guns--three guns and the will to teach a rich man's army how costly atonement can get.

Hombre: Set in Arizona mining country, Hombre is the story of a stagecoach held up by outlaws. One of the passengers, John Russell, is a white man who was raised partly by Apache Indians, and knows first hand the indignities suffered by them at the hands of the whites who control the reservations. He has also learned to live and fight like an Apache. Combatting the outlaws, Russell finds himself faced with the decision of whether to save only himself or to save his fellow white passengers. John Russell becomes the key player in a drama examining man's responsibilities to his fellow man, acted out on a dusty stage in America's Wild West.

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Review:

"The basic structure of an Elmore Leonard plot," Larry Beinhart explains in How to Write a Mystery, "is that a big tough guy pushes a little tough guy. The little guy doesn't take it. He shoves back. The little guy is the kinda guy, the harder you shove him, the more trouble he's gonna be. In the end, the big guy really wishes he'd picked someone else to shove. When Leonard started he wrote westerns, and in those early books you can see the bones without an X-ray. I recommend Valdez Is Coming to anyone who wants to understand the structure of an Elmore Leonard novel."

When part-time constable Bob Valdez tries to put together a compensation package for a woman whose husband was killed in a case of mistaken identity, the matter quickly escalates into a brutal struggle to regain honor and dignity. There's not a wasted moment; every scene, every line of dialogue moves the story forward to the inevitable showdown where, as Valdez says, "you get one time, mister, to prove who you are." The second novel in this volume, Hombre--perhaps Leonard's best-known Western novel--is just as relentlessly plot-driven, with characters that reveal their psychological complexity strictly through what they do and say as they struggle to make their way to safety across a hot desert in the aftermath of a stagecoach holdup. The only difference between these two novels and classic Leonard crime novels like Get Shorty or Out of Sight is the time and place. Other than that, you've got two classic tales of hard-boiled professionals who know that every step they take is a matter of laying their reputations and their lives on the line. --Ron Hogan

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