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SPOILER on the cover! High Lonesome by Louis L’Amour

February 13, 2022

High Lonesome by Louis L’Amour is kind of a forgettable book. I read it a few days ago, and I’ve already forgotten the characters’ names. I’ll always remember the book cover, though, because it gave away about 80% of the book in one sentence:

“He threw away $60,000 in gold to fight for a girl the Apaches wanted.”

When I saw the teaser on the cover, I thought maybe High Lonesome would center around that fight with the Apaches. Instead, the fight takes place in the final 20 pages of the short novel.

Half of the book is about the main character planning to steal that $60,000 in gold from a bank while also falling in love with a young woman traveling to California with her father. Because of the cover, I knew that the main character would successfully rob the bank and then give up the money to save the girl and her father. That covered 80% of the book. The only question I had was which of the minor characters would get killed in the fight with the Apaches.

I was off by only one character. All the main character’s sidekicks got killed. I really thought the girl’s father would get killed too. I wasn’t hoping he would get killed. The old cus grew on me. I was glad he didn’t get killed, even though that made me wrong about something.

The father was supposed to be a smart old man, but his poor decision to travel alone with his daughter got a lot of minor characters (and Apaches) killed. Maybe the father should have been one of the characters who got killed. He was fair game. He wasn’t even mentioned on that SPOILER book cover.

I only spent $2.00 on this pocket book, so I’m not too upset about the SPOILER on the cover. If I had spent $5.00 or more, then I might have gotten ticked off.

I haven’t seen many sentences that give away 80% of a book. Yeah, the book was only 150 pages long, but still. It takes talent to give away 120 pages in 14 words. When I need to edit my book, I think I’ll hire the guy who wrote that sentence. Right now my work in progress is around 60,000 words. He could probably cut it to 20. Not 20,000 words. Just… 20.

High Lonesome was originally published in 1962, and this was a 1971 copy. Back then, “SPOILER’ wasn’t a word. Nobody ‘SPOILED’ a movie or a book. Somebody might give away the ending, but then the guy who gave away the ending would get ostracized or beat up or bullied.

Back in the 1970s, it was seen as okay to bully kids who gave away the endings to movies. All those adults who now complain about having been bullied as kids leave out the part where they gave away the endings to movies. I’m not saying it was good to bully kids who gave away the endings. I’m just saying it’s what happened. And most kids stopped giving away the endings to movies.

The title High Lonesome reminds me of Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. Lonesome Dove was over 700 pages and won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1986. High Lonesome came out 25 years earlier and was 150 pages. Both book titles refer to places that characters didn’t stay in very long in the book. Lonesome Dove was the tiny settlement that the characters left at the beginning of the book and then returned to at the end. High Lonesome was where the final big gun battle with the Apaches took place, and then everybody left. I guess that’s why they called both places Lonesome.

High Lonesome author Louis L’Amour wrote at least 100 books, most of them westerns. I’ve only read a couple of his books, but I wonder at what point he started writing the same book over and over again. Most genre authors do that to some extent. Even the greatest authors have a limited number of stories to tell. The best ones have maybe five or six good stories, and they keep rotating the stories so that readers don’t notice. That’s okay. Those authors have pretty good stories. Fans don’t mind seeing the same stories, as long as the names and details are slightly different.

A lot of the details in High Lonesome are vague. It takes place somewhere near Mexico. I think most westerns have to be near Mexico because outlaws always need a place to escape to. No western outlaws want to escape to Canada. Even the outlaws in Montana and North Dakota want to escape to Mexico. If I ever write a western, it will be about an outlaw in North Dakota who robs a bank and then tries to escape to Mexico. I guess there was too much law and order in Canada. Or maybe it was too cold. Or maybe the women weren’t as nice.

I might buy and read another Louis L’Amour western if I see one for $2.00. But I’m not going to read the cover first. I’m not falling for that trick again.

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