Road to Reckoning
“I, to this day, hold to only one truth: if a man chooses to carry a gun he will get shot. My father agreed to carry twelve.”
When his salesman father agrees to carry a case of Samuel Colt’s patented revolving pistols, young Thomas Walker is carted off on a trip across the country to bring the new technology to the masses.
When things go awry he must enlist the help of the gruff bounty hunter Henry Stands to help him find his way home, and protect him along the way.
I couldn’t stop reading this once I started and raced through it. The economical style and slow pace fit perfectly with my tastes. It’s exactly the kind of book I love.
Not a lot happens in many of the chapters, large chunks of the book are given over to the preparation of meals and travelling between towns, as the two figures cross the sparse countryside on their horses. This slow, quiet approach means that when something of importance does happen, its impact hits all the harder, the reader is pulled out of their mellow comfort zone and straight into the action.
The characters were fantastic, the standout being Henry Stands, the ranger Thomas employs to help him get home. I loved every single line that came from Stands’ mouth and never tired of him. That his gruff exterior would eventually crack as he grew to care for Thomas was predictable but enjoyable nonetheless.
Thomas Walker himself was a decent character too, though I enjoyed the words of his older self, the novel’s narrator, more. His comical asides and little details that he adds to the story with the benefit of hindsight add some much needed comic relief to the novel and stop it ever being relentlessly grim. The narration is well written and well placed, never ruining the atmosphere or outstaying its welcome.
The old west is presented as a harsh and brutal place but also a very romantic one. Despite the horrible circumstances that bring them together, you can’t help but want to crawl into the world of the book and rest by the fire with Thomas and Henry Stands. The sprawling, unspoilt vision of America the novel projects may be harsh, but it’s just as beautiful.
I’ve seen the novel compared to True Grit and it’s easy to understand why. Both see young, headstrong protagonists enlist the service of older, tough riders. The main difference though is that while Mattie Ross goes out seeking vengeance, Thomas Walker has his quest thrust upon him.
The main point of comparison is Henry Stands, the curmudgeonly bounty hunter, who invites obvious comparisons to Rooster Cogburn. In fact as I read the book it was hard not to find myself imagining Rooster in Stands’ place (Jeff Bridges portrayal of the character in particular).
That said, while the comparison to True Grit is easy to make, I don’t think the similarities in any way diminish the accomplishments of Road to Reckoning. It may play on similar themes but it’s no less enjoyable for it.
I enjoyed this novel immensely and will definitely return to it. While it has the occasional moment that feels a little cartoony (like the old man living in the cave who shelters Thomas one night), these are few and far between and for the most part the novel manages a good balance of action, character development and slow scenes which help set the tone. It’s a great read.
I received this book for review through GoodReads FirstReads