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West Texas Kill by Johnny D. Boggs
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West Texas Kill

by Johnny D. Boggs

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This is one instance where you really shouldn't judge a book by its cover: not only is the cover art poorly executed (the figures are too stiff and posed in a way that no journeyman comic book artist would perpetrate), but it's astoundingly, egregiously, head-slappingly wrong: there are no Indians "on stage" in West Texas Kill, war-bonneted or otherwise. It's obvious that the publisher was disappointed with the painting, given that they reduced it to one-third of the front cover.

West Texas Kill is a decent, workmanlike, pulp fiction-y action adventure that one can easily envision as a solid B movie (although with an aspirational blockbuster set-piece). Set in the fall of 1885, West Texas Kill revolves around the story of an especially bad example of a Texas Ranger, Hector ("Hec") Savage, deciding to carve off three counties of Texas to make up his own country, the country of Savage; he has the assistance of 14 like-minded Rangers and a larger group of Mexican bandidos (some of whom appear to be duly deputized Rurales...), led by the Shakespeare-quoting Juan Lo Grande. Opposing these nefarious no-goodniks are the Ranger Dave Chance (who, although he owes his life to Savage, is operating under no misapprehensions as to his character) and his prisoner, the gambler, horse-thief and murderer (one should remember that, in the Old West, being a horse thief was often regarded with more opprobrium than being a murderer in the definition of the law...), Moses Albavera, a 6',3" gregarious black man who is proud of what he calls his "Moorish" heritage. (Considering that a Moor usually denotes a Berber occupying the Iberian Peninsula in the Middle Ages -- although the term was also variously used by Europeans to refer to Arabs, Muslim Iberians and West Africans -- I was confused by this. The term has also been deemed in the otherwise rather racist article "Moors" in the 1911 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica to have "no real ethnological value.")

If Boggs' prose never quite reaches the poetic heights of Rider Haggard, Robert E. Howard or even Edgar Rice Burroughs at their peak, it never drags, which is nearly always fatal to the reader's interest in an adventure story. If Boggs verges on cutesyness with some of his character names (a decent and tough grass widow who runs a saloon in a tent is named Grace Profit; the hero is named "Chance;" the main villain is named "Savage;" and the hero's eventual buddy is named "Edge of Dawn" in Spanish, with a Christian name that suggests a leader who won't actually make it to the promised land but who will ensure that his people do), one should probably be thankful that he resisted the urge to name his main villain "Helstrom Savage," giving him a nickname of "Hell." ("Savage Hec" reminded me of the character in the devil suit and giant spoon from Scott Adams' Dilbert strip.)

Still, Boggs keeps things humming along: the violence and language get increasingly brutal, grisly, and salty as the book rolls along, verging perhaps a shade into the realm of overkill towards the end; but he lightens things up periodically with touches of black humor, and one's confidence that he really knows his material never flags. While brand names (chiefly of firearms and railroad engines) are frequently dropped, what was especially interesting to me was the "Apache trick" performed on telegraph lines: "'Cut the wire. Splice it with a rubber band. Tie it back to the pole. Takes a really good eye to spot it. The railroad crews'll likely spend a few days just trying to find the cut.'" (p. 119)

One could wish for a little more background on the enmity between Mexicans and the Texas Rangers -- the Mexicans call them rinches, which is far from a complimentary term -- but one gets the general idea, based on the actions and words of Hec Savage, et al, and the bigotry of the other "good" Rangers (save only for Chance, of course).

There was a proofreading error on p. 100 that made me chuckle: the names of the main villain and his lieutenant, Doc Shaw, are compounded, so that Doc Savage makes an apocryphal appearance in West Texas in 1885. (The sentence in question reads: "'Damn you, Savage,' Grace cried, but had to step out of the way of Doc Savage as he led the other Rangers after the captain.")

I'll definitely be on the lookout for more books by Boggs; if his literary qualities are weak, at least he doesn't succumb to the downfalls of the genre that other writers have: the pompous and dubious racial theories of Forrest Carter's Josey Wales books; the pompous bombast about manhood and manifest destiny of Louis L'Amour; the vaguely fascistic, anti-democratic bloviations (to say nothing of rampant sexism and dated ideas of manhood) of Owen Wister's The Virginian.

Boggs could easily turn West Texas Kill into a series; if it's made into a movie, I'd love to see Mario Van Peebles play Moses Albavera. A movie version of West Texas Kill could be even more fun than Van Peebles' 1993 movie Posse. ( )
  uvula_fr_b4 | Jun 4, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0786022760, Mass Market Paperback)

Between the Pecos River and Rio Grande a vast, harsh land was ruled by Texas Rangers Captain Hector Savage. Savage's motive wasn't duty, it was money; he's turned this desolate place into a bloodied, terrorized kingdom. Now, a protege of Savage, Sergeant Dave Chance, has come with a prisoner - a big-talking murderer in his own right - shackled at his side. A decent, honest Ranger, Chance cannot stand idly by while Savage runs roughshod over the territory. Now, to save a traumatized people, he must turn his prisoner loose and give him a gun. Only their combined firepower can penetrate Savage's fortress and kill him. That is, if they don't kill each other first...

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:36 -0400)

"Between the Pecos River and Rio Grande a vast, harsh land was ruled by Texas Rangers Captain Hector Savage. Savage's motive wasn't duty, it was money; he's turned this desolate place into a bloodied, terrorized kingdom. Now, a protégé of Savage, Sergeant Dave Chance, has come with a prisoner--a big-talking murderer in his own right--shackled at his side. A decent, honest Ranger, Chance cannot stand idly by while Savage runs roughshod over the territory. Now, to save a traumatized people, he must turn his prisoner loose and give him a gun. Only their combined firepower can penetrate Savage's fortress and kill him. That is, if they don't kill each other first..."--P. [4] of cover.… (more)

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