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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Sin Killer by Larry McMurtry

Sin Killer (The Berrybender Narratives, Book 1) by Larry McMurtry. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002. ISBN: 0-7432-3302-6

I resisted starting into The Berrybender Narratives series for as long as I could. But after reading (and enjoying) Boone's Lick, I eventually craved more in McMurtry's comedic Western style, and these stories were inevitably the most likely suspects.

The style is very similar, and so in that sense, at least, I wasn't disappointed. However, the basic premise of the story seems fairly farfetched. An aristocratic British family travels up the Missouri river with their retinue of servants and hirelings, via a paddle-wheeler they've chartered, captain, crew, and all.

The title comes from the sobriquet of a taciturn young American frontiersman and Indian fighter they meet, Jim Snow being his actual name. Tasmin, the aristocratic young daughter, impetuously marries herself to said character, who saves both her and other members of the family from several encounters with the all too savage Indians they encounter along the way.

Reading this book is a kind of guilty pleasure. Its carefree, humorous style is somehow at odds with the savage nature of the events as they unfold. I didn't keep count, but in retrospect, it's depressing to think of how many people are killed, some in fairly savage fashion, along the way. And to realize how little their deaths seem to mean to the primary characters. What's worse is that it's not clear if this is entirely the author's doing, or if I, too, am party to this attitude, which seems to make even the grief of a father for his son, for instance, one more minor annoyance to be scorned by the book's aristocratic cadre.

Even so, I'm sure that now I've gotten started, I'll continue with the following three titles in the saga, even though the first one, at least, was fairly thin, and could probably have been easily combined with the second. But then, you couldn't sell as many copies, or collect as many royalties, I suppose. Recommended for diehard fans of McMurtry and westerns.

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