I have been trying to write a review of Ride the Dark Trail for a long time now, but every time I sit down and begin looking over my highlights, I end up rereading large portions of the book. Not because I forget what it’s about, but because the story and characters are so engaging that I just don’t want to stop reading. Let me introduce you to a few of the characters. Better yet, let me have L’Amour introduce you to some of my favorite characters yet.
“Well, they hadn’t much to see. I’m a big man, weighing around two-fifteen most of the time and most of it in my chest and shoulders. I was wearing a handlebar mustache and a three-day growth of beard. My hair hadn’t been trimmed in a coon’s age and that beat up old hat was showing a bullet hole picked up back of yonder. My slicker was hanging open, my leather chaps was wet, and my boots rundown at heel so’s those big-roweled California spurs were draggin’ a mite.”
This is Logan Sackett. Main character and narrator of this particular book. Is it just me, or do you feel like you could sit by a fire and listen to that guy tell stories all day? That’s why I just keep reading every time I pick up the book.
“They guessed right on some things, they guessed wrong on Emily Talon.
‘You got nothing,’ she said, and she cut loose her dogs… only they were slugs from a big Dragoon Colt.
They couldn’t believe it. They’d been sure if there was trouble it would come from me, and they paid no mind to the womenfolks, or mighty little. And they didn’t even know about Al.
Em just tilted her old pistol and cut loose, and just as she fired, Al Fulbric jumped from the bedroom door with a shotgun in his hands, and somehow my old six-shooter was speaking its piece right along with them.”
Oh, Em Talon. She is the kind of woman needed in a frontier land. The kind of woman who does what needs to be done, who will stand with her man, and if she outlives him, will stand firm on what they built together. A woman who does what is right, and encourages others to do the same, even if that encouragement comes by force.
There is another woman in the book. Pennywell Farman. She’s younger, but she has a good teacher to follow. After that last fight, Logan says, “I might have held back myself, for fear of the women getting shot, but there was no hold-back in Em.
Nor in Pennywell.
She had got off two shots. I saw her loading up again afterwards. She was pale as a ghost when it was over, but she was thumbing two cartridges back into her pistol, and she was ready.
Man, those were women!” She may have been scared, and new to shooting, but that didn’t stop her. There was shooting that needed to be done, and there she was, so she did it.
And a newcomer that I am very interested in meeting in his own book. “The rider sat erect, holding the reins easy in his hand, a dark and handsome young man whose what-the-hell sort of smile was in odd contrast to the coolness of his eyes.” Milo Talon. A name I have long been familiar with, but with no more information than simply the name. And let me tell you, the years of waiting were not for nothing. Milo Talon did not disappoint. “‘There’s only one of you,’ Chowse said, trying for a bluff. ‘You’re buckin’ a stacked deck.’
‘Stacked decks don’t always turn up the cards a body would expect,’ Talon said mildly, ‘especially when I’ve got all the aces. I didn’t come in here to lose anything, and if you’ll recall, I opened the game. Of course,’ he straightened form the bar, ‘if you boys want to see what I’m holding you’ll have to ante up, and the chips are bullets… forty fives to be exact.’
‘I’m betting,’ he said easily, that I can deal them just a mite faster than you boys can, and without braggin’ boys, I can say I ain’t missed anything this close since who flunk the chunk.'”
And that is just a few of the characters. We haven’t mentioned Reed Talon, Barnabas Talon, Al Fulbric or even any of the bad guys.
Logan is on his way to California. He’s wanting to see the ocean for the first time. But, when he sees some men harassing a lady, he is unable to leave her on her own. He stands up for Pennywell and takes her out to Em Talon’s place to be taken care of. Once there, he finds that before she married Talon, Em’s last name was Sackett. She’s a Clinch Mountain Sackett and she’s in trouble. Naturally, Logan stays to help her out of her troubles. The story goes from there, and in true L’Amour fashion, things aren’t easy, but they’re worth it. This is one of the things I love about L’Amour’s writings. If you read carefully, you see a man who understands and values life. He doesn’t hit you over the head with the things he holds true, but the imprint of it lies just beneath the story. I love all the recollections of Em and Talon. When you read them, it’s as if you are remembering a true love of your own. And if you are blessed enough to be living with your love, you appreciate him all the more. If not, it would leave you longing for one of life’s greatest treasures. Because a strong relationship between husband and wife is nothing to be taken for granted. It is something to be nurtured and fought for. I leave you with this interaction between Logan and Em.
“‘You stand tall in any outfit.’ I said. ‘I’d like to have known your husband.’
‘Talon was a man… all man. He walked strong and he thought right, and no man ever left his door hungry, Indian, black man or white. Nor did he ever take water for any man.’
‘He was a judge of the land,’ I said, ‘and of women.’
‘We had it good together,’ Em said quietly, ‘we walked a quiet way, the two of us, and never had to say much about it to one another.’
She paused. ‘I just looked at him and he looked at me and we knew how it was with each other.’
Hours later, well down the trail to Brown’s Hole, I remembered that. Well, they’d been lucky. It was not likely I’d ever find a woman like that, but no matter what any man says, there’s nothing better than two, a man and a woman, who walk together. When they walk right together there’s no way too long, no night too dark.'”