Monday, January 17, 2011

Dead Man's Walk

I decided to get a quick start on my 2011 goal of re-reading Larry McMurtry’s four-book “Lonesome Dove series” in the correct chronological order in which the books occur– rather than in the order in which they were published.  That meant starting with Dead Man’s Walk, a book that surprised me by being better this second time around than it was on the first.  As I recall, I rated the book a four back in 1995, but I am giving this re-reading a solid five-star rating.

Written in 1995, ten years after McMurtry’s huge success with Lonesome Dove, Dead Man’s Walk was billed as a prequel to that masterpiece.  The timing was good.  Hardcore fans of Lonesome Dove were already intimately familiar with the 1989 television movie of the same name, and they were probably watching episodes of the new miniseries by that name that ran in 1994 and 1995.  So, most fans would find it hard to resist a new book that featured teenaged versions of Augustus McCrae and W.F. Call, two of the most beloved characters in the Western genre.

Gus and Call are literally two “young pups” when it comes to the ways of the world, although Gus is already showing his delight in keeping company with the nighttime ladies who so willingly offer him a good time – as long as he has the cash to pay for it.  When the two young men, trying to survive Texas on their own, randomly meet, they quickly form a bond that will last them for the remainder of their lives. 

At loose ends, and hoping for a little adventure, the two join up with a raggedy bunch of Texas Rangers on two different missions, both of which the boys will be lucky to survive.  It is the second trek into the Texas desert, during which the Rangers must cross the “Dead Man’s Walk” from west Texas to New Mexico that gives the book its title.  But, before the boys and their fellow survivors begin what seems like a certain death march, they must first survive the attentions of the Comanche, Buffalo Hump, and the Apache, Gomez, two men who will haunt Gus and Call for rest of their lives. 

Dead Man’s Walk pulls no punches when it comes to the raunchy lifestyle of the nineteenth century Texas Rangers or the torture-focused warfare the Apache and Comanche tribes waged against the white settlers encroaching upon their hunting grounds.  To say that the book is not for the fainthearted reader is an understatement.  What makes Dead Man’s Walk so intriguing, and atypical of the popular western genre, is that McMurtry does not take sides in the conflict between the settlers and the Indians.  He presents the good and bad elements of both groups and leaves it up to the reader to decide the “rightness” or “wrongness” of the conflict. 

In addition to meeting Gus, Call, Buffalo Hump and Gomez, the reader will delight in spotting the young Clara, as well.  That she was “love at first sight for Gus” is certain; what was on flirtatious Clara’s mind remains to be determined. 

Dead Man’s Walk is a great western adventure but, as usual with a McMurtry novel, character development does not take a back seat to plot.  The book is filled with memorable secondary characters, good guys and villains alike, and its ending (although it might seem farfetched to some) works perfectly for those that grew up on old-fashioned television and movie Westerns.

This is good stuff.

(This is my favorite piece of Lonesome Dove trivia, although it will not surprise dedicated fans of the book.  Lonesome Dove originally was a 1970 screenplay meant to star John Wayne as Call, Jimmy Stewart as McCrae, and Henry Fonda as Jake Spoon.  Wayne pulled out of the movie, followed by Jimmy Stewart, and the whole thing fell apart.  McMurtry decided to turn the screenplay into a novel, and the rest is history.  Even stranger, James Garner was originally offered the Gus McCrae part in the television movie, but he had to turn it down due to his ill health...and along came Robert Duval to forever claim that character for himself.  And then, Garner got to play the roll of Call in the miniseries for another of the books in the Lonesome Dove saga.  How cool is that?)

Rated at: 5.0 


  1. I love, love, LOVE Lonesome Dove! I am not a western fan in any other respect, but boy does this book and movie grab me. I have never read the other books in the series, but it sounds like I should. Great movie trivia as well - I can't imagine anyone but Duvall as Gus!

  2. Mostly because of your posts about the Lonesome Dove series, I downloaded it to my ereader. I loved the book and, now, I think I'll read the series again.
    P.S. I think James Garner is a fine actor but, I cannot ever imagine Call as anyone other than Robert Duvall.

  3. Whoops... I meant Robert Duvall as Gus. I have a huge crush on Tommy Lee Jones so when I think of the movie I think of Call... lol!

  4. A plan I can endorse thoroughly because I did it last year, and no regrets.

  5. I didn't watch the series, but I read and loved Lonesome Dove way-back-when.

    My main comment is about how rereading a beloved book can either prove a disappointment or provide new insights that make you enjoy it even more. I love it when a book is even better the second time around!

  6. Amanda, I think you'll like this one. From what I remember of reading them all the first time around, this one and Lonesome Dove are the two best books in the series.

    You're right - Duvall owns Gus...for ever and ever.

  7. Kathy, see above. I do think you would enjoy this one a lot...hope so, at least.

    I probably confused you a bit saying that Garner ended up playing Call after he first had to give up playing Gus. There were a lot of quality actors that had "near misses" on this one; that's for sure.

  8. C. Allen, I take it this was your second time around on the books? If so, were you disappointed in any of them this time? Which is your favorite?

  9. Absolutely, Jenclair. I'm always afraid to re-read a book, especially one I really loved reading the first time. I hesitate because I'm afraid to destroy some great far, so good this time.

    (I've already read Lonesome Dove several times, though, and don't have that fear with that one.)

  10. I have not read any books in this series and plan to read Lonesome Dove this year. For someone who has not read any books in the series,however, do you suggest reading them in chronological order or is starting with Lonesome Dove best?

  11. I think you could go either way very safely but that the reading experience will vary greatly based on which way you choose. Reading them in the order in which they are written gives you a lot of hindsight for when you meet the guys as younger men. Reading them in chronological order, on the other hand, allows you to watch them mature knowing only what they, themselves, knew at the time.

    You can't lose either way, IMO.