Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Broken Trail by Alan Geoffrion
Print Ritter’s sister dies, and leaves all of her property and money to him, instead of her son, Tom Harte. Print, upset by this slight, convinces Tom to join him on a new job: to take 500 horses from Oregon to Sheridan, Wyoming, to sell to a man buying horses for the British Army. They take up the deal, but it turns out to be far more than they bargained for, as early on they run into Captain Billy Fender, a scurrilous man who has five Chinese girls that he is taking to sell into prostitution, and is raping on the journey. After a fight between Tom and Billy, the Ritter-Harte party suddenly has five new members, none of whom can communicate in English with the two men. Ging Wa, Mai Ling, Sun Foy, Ye Fung, and Ghee Moon (or Numbers 1 through 5, as Print renames them) join the two men on their trek across the vast west, and through many other dangers, on their way to Sheridan.
An interesting mix of using the tropes Western’s made famous while at the same time making fun of them, this revisionist Western digs into the nitty-gritty of being a cowboy, instead of promulgating the romantic ideal seen in many other books in the genre. The pace of Broken Trail has a tendency at times to slow down a bit, but for the most part it is an intriguing look at the west, as well as the prostitution trade that ran rampant through the region, in particular among Chinese girls, who were shipped to the west for that sole purpose. Humor and life philosophies are mixed in with the action, making certain moments incredible and unforgettable. Hopefully in his next book, Geoffrion will remove the slow parts, focus on the mixing of deep thoughts and cowboys he does so well in Broken Trail, and will leave us an even more masterfully written book.