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Leonard offers a new flavor in ‘Western Stories’

Terri Schlichenmeyer

So let’s say someone gives you a box of chocolates for a present this year. You pull off the cellophane, open the box, grab a piece of candy and bite into it, certain that it’s going to be your favorite kind, but whoa, it’s not the one you expected. Then, after a minute you find a pleasant surprise: you decide that this kind actually tastes better.That’s what it’s like reading “The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard” by Elmore Leonard (c.2004, William Morrow). When you see Leonard’s name, you’re probably thinking of mysteries. But guess what: this is a better flavor of book.Back when he was a young man, Elmore Leonard decided that he wanted to become a writer. Westerns were popular then and he liked the genre, so he wrote a few stories and submitted them. They were rejected. Leonard pushed on, writing while working as a copywriter in Detroit and raising a family. “Trail of the Apache”, the first story in this book, was his first story published.In “Trail of the Apache”, a young soldier fresh out of West Point is assigned to accompany sixteen hostile Chiricahua Indians to Camp Gila for resettlement meant to make them docile. Captain Travisin, the man who runs Camp Gila knows that bringing the Chiricahuas there without their families is a mistake, but the Bureau has made mistakes before. When Pillo, the leader of the Indians, steals some horses and guns and escapes with his men, Travisin and his Apache trackers need to find them, but the Chiricahuas aren’t making any effort to hide their trail. Travisin knows they’re riding into a trap but where?In “The Colonel’s Lady”, Mata Lobo has hijacked a stagecoach. It’s something he’s done before, but this time, he finds an extra passenger in the overturned coach, and he decides to kidnap her. She doesn’t seem to be very frightened, and she sure is pretty. Tracker Simon Street is sent to bring Colonel Darck’s wife back, and when he finds her, he also finds something he wasn’t expecting.Soft-hearted Terry McNeil is sweet on Delia, the merchant’s pretty daughter, so he spends plenty of time at the general store. When Max Repper brings in a boy that he says he found, McNeil is suspicious and tries to help. In “The Kid”, McNeil gets exactly what he bargains for and more.Fans of Elmore Leonard’s “Get Shorty”, “Mr. Paradise”, and other mysteries might be surprised to see this book of westerns, but it’s a nice surprise. Most of these thirty stories were written forty or more years ago and they’re still full of excitement. Author Leonard says in the introduction that he researched weapons, stagecoach lines, and scenery, and used that information for authenticity. That attention to detail makes this book seem more like an historic account, than fiction.If you’re familiar with Leonard’s mysteries, give this book a nibble. I think you’ll like it. If you’re an old-genre Western fan, however, be sure to pick up a copy. You’ll eat this book up. VT


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