Friday 6 April 2012

Violence at Sundown

By Frank O’Rourke
Pan, 1958

Originally published 1953 by Random House

“Turn around,” said Travis. “Check in those guns and get back across the line. I’ll give you one minute to start.”

Big talk…for a lone marshal facing fifty wild men from Texas. But Bob Travis had known for a long tome that this moment was coming. He had known the killers would be back. And he was waiting. He had to wait. He had to take his chance of getting killed – if he wanted to live.

I don’t remember the last time I read a Frank O’Rourke novel, if ever, so I came to this with an open mind. This book was published before I was born so I wondered how dated it would be in both outlook and writing style, so I was pleasantly surprised to find it stood up well with the westerns being written today. The only problem I had was with the pacing…it just seemed to take forever for anything to happen.

Frank O’Rourke spends a lot of time fleshing out his characters and describing life in the town of Olalla and explaining how the lawman, Bob Travis, is looking forward to his retirement and settling down on his own farm. The relationship between Travis and the man who will lead the fifty men into town with the sole purpose of wiping Olalla off the map, takes up a fair part of the tale too.

The killing that leads to the threat to the town takes sometime to happen, after which witnesses change their statements, one of whom goes on the run. With a hired gun tracking the frightened witness, Travis sets out to find one or both of them and stop a further killing. This chase takes up most of the book and leads to a tense and exciting showdown. After this there is another lengthy portion of the story that just tells of town life before the fifty cowboys return.

The anticipated final gunfight of lawman against massive odds looked set to provide an action-packed ending to a story that seemed to exist just to build to this one event. Imagine my disappointment when this just fizzled out to nothing with not a single shot fired.

Hopefully this book isn’t representative of Frank O’Rourke’s work as I’ve read lots of positive comments about his storytelling, so I will try another sometime down the line as Violence at Sundown was very readable, just so slow compared to the books I usually read.


Ray said...

I remember Frank O'Rourke and, believe it or not, had this very book in my western collection.
My first impulse was to disagree with you...but, then, this was written before your time.
To a kid like me a book like 'Violence At Sundown' would not have been out of place.
I just think that times have changed and when you had the likes of Gilman and Harvey etc who wrote at a faster pace - well, they raised the bar.

Steve M said...

The first westerns I read were those by Gilman etc so, as you've said, there was a huge difference between them and the books that came out around 20 years or so later.

I posted the link to this book review elsewhere and a comment there said that it's one of his weaker works. I keen to try some of his other books and have a short list of them that I'm keeping an eye out for.

Lacey S. said...

Anyone a fan of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? They're my favorite old west outlaws! Growing up with older brothers who always played Cowboys and Indians, it was hard not to join in! I even remember watching Paul Newman and Robert Redford portray Butch and Sundance in their 1969 classic, with my grandpa.

If you're a western lover, I'm in the middle of a book that my husband's friend recommended - it's called "Legends Lost" by Charlie Mac

It's a pretty great read!