Every book season at the Outpost brings a pile of assorted books by aspiring authors, self-published authors and, occasionally, talented authors. We do our best to weigh through them all, but don’t always make it.
From the leftovers of last week’s book issue, then, comes a quick overview of three books, one worth your attention, one that might be, and one best left alone.
The one worth a read is “Unbroke Horses,” a second novel by D.B. Jackson, a former Montana resident who now lives in California. The publishers thought enough of the book that they sent out an uncorrected proof prior to the July 24 publication date.
The novel isn’t perfect, and some of the imperfections may be cleaned up when the final edition comes out. But it is a novel of unquestioned power and an all but irresistible read.
It’s really two stories in one. The first opens with a Confederate general near the end of the Civil War, ordering his men to disband and head for home. When a captain resists, the general fires a round from his revolver “between the buttons of the captain’s field coat.”
Thus begins a rampage of murder and depredations by a gang of three: the defrocked general, his dull-witted brother and the silent “mulatto.” Their string of crimes eventually leads them out West, where they murder the preacher husband of a strong young woman, kidnap her son and nearly kill the rancher she nurses back to health.
When he is on his feet, he resolves to track the killers down and free the woman’s son. Despite the brazenness of the criminals, who appear almost indifferent to the odds of being killed or caught, they manage to stay a step ahead of their pursuers for much of the book. But when the inevitable showdown comes, the reader is only about 200 pages into a 300-page novel. Sounds like a heck of denouement.
But here the book takes a shift. Without giving too much of the plot away, let’s just say the final 100 pages are spent sorting out the consequences of those bloody deeds. Redemption, of a sort, is found in the routine of ranch life, learning to handle horses and cattle and get along with a roughhewn crowd.
The book shows much craftsmanship. Mr. Jackson has a real sense of how to make a story move. Even when we care nothing for the characters, the relentless pace and steady clip of action keep readers turning the pages.
The final section manages to tell a “Horse Whisperer” tale without going soft. I kept waiting for sentimentality to overwhelm the story, but Mr. Jackson stayed a step ahead of me. He needs some polish but shows real talent.
Talent is also evident in “Beauty Tips for the Dead,” a first novel by Gerald Medenwald, who operates River Rat Stained Glass Studio and the press that produced this book in Manvel, N.D.
This book should have been reviewed in the last Outpost book issue, but we ran out of time and space and never quite finished the book. But it has a lot going for it, with a dark sense of humor, a tangled plot and a sensibility that seems to owe something to Tom Robbins.
One character works for a mortician; another is a nurse; two others are marketing whizzes. I regret to say that I never quite found out where it all went, but I can’t let another book issue pass without giving it a mention. Mr. Medenwald can write, no question about it. Whether he can spin that gift into a fully realized novel is something I still hope to find out.
I confess all that with some shame, but none attaches to this judgment: “The Prophet,” by Timothy J. Korzep, is simply unreadable. Lord knows, I tried. I feel asleep with the book in my lap a half-dozen times, but a third of the way through I hadn’t found a sympathetic character or a credible thread of a plot. Worse, the writing is as flat as Iowa.
The gimmick here is that a Montanan, a woman, is president of the United States. At an international conference, she is one of 10 world leaders kidnapped by the mysterious Prophet, who proceeds to lecture his captives on the evils of American capitalism.
Meanwhile, a security agent who apparently blew her job of protecting all those high-ranking leaders manages to infiltrate the terrorists with astonishing ease, presumably planning a dramatic escape.
It all sounds pretty exciting, but the action flags, the speeches are tedious, and the writing drags. Maybe I will finish the book someday, but it will rest on my chest for a few more nights before that happens.