By Cecil Snyder
First published by Wingate, 1970
Klee had lost out twice – once when his farm was raided by Jeb Stuart’s men, and then again, later, and much harder, when he had to watch helplessly as a thousand Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho overran the wagons and his wife and step-daughter died horribly.
He was a man twice filled with hate – and with rage at himself because he had not been better able to defend his own. There was no room in him for anything else. He set himself to hate, and kill, and hate.
But no one really knows how to hate like an Indian…
This is a very powerful book. Klee isn’t a man you’ll like – but he is a fascinating character. Just why is he like he is and what motivates him? When did he become a cold-hearted killer? And what will happen to him?
Cecil Snyder describes landscapes and simple tasks beautifully, sometimes taking pages to paint his vivid imagery. Something that you might think a reader would get bored with, but such is his way with words you’ll find yourself immersed, swept up in his superb storytelling.
A lot of the story is told as flashbacks explaining what Klee was like before the loss of his wife and step-daughter, this savage act that sees him become a hunter of Indians who lives for nothing more than finding and killing them, be they man, woman or child. Yes this is a brutal story that contains acts that will horrify the reader, yet will compel you to read on. Can a new love change Klee back into the man he once was?
Snyder’s technique used for the flashbacks is worth mentioning; the main story is told in the third person, yet the chapters and passages that deal with the past are in italics and written in the second person. The different styles gel perfectly and add to the energy of the book.
There are many fascinating facts to be discovered too, mainly during the scenes dealing with Klee being taught how to survive in the wilderness; what plants he can eat for instance, or how to carry enough bullets to ensure he doesn’t run out in a life and death situation.
As you’ll see from the cover image this book won a Spur Award for best first novel (the book says in 1970 on the cover, but the Western Writers of America lists it as 1969) and it’s easy to see why it won this accolade.
I have no hesitation in saying this book has found it’s way onto my list of favourite westerns of all time.