Two Western Novellas

      “In order for a frontier town to endure in the Southwest of the 19th century, it had to assert a toughness and siphon its energies into a sense of community. Any internal weakness needed to be strengthened so as not to undermine the fragile degree of harmony. In the two novellas that comprise The Way of the Eagle by Ned Conquest, the town of Paco gradually undergoes a collective face-lift of attitudes and an eventual restoration of long-abandoned ethics. The author also proves that the problems confronting Paco are similar to the difficulties assailing modern-day urban communities.
            “The narrator in both stories is Sam McCullum, a ranch foreman and later a reluctant peace officer. Inwardly, he is bound by an unshakable cynicism stemming from his service to the South of the Civil War and the death of his wife in childbirth. In the first novella, ‘The Woman, a Dog, and a Hanging Tree,’ his love interest is Sadie McGrath, a saloon hostess who yearns for the conventionality of home and hearth. Sam can love Sadie only in an idealized fashion and never allows himself to take the vulnerable step toward a real liaison. He fluctuates between admiration and resentment for Giff Lothers, a fellow ranch hand who possesses a bristling self-confidence that is both praiseworthy and insufferable. Though Lothers has a tendency to incur debts and drink to excess, he marries Sadie. Sam is a tortured bystander to the tragic repercussions of this union, but is privileged to see an act of selflessness by Sadie in order that the purest statutes of the law not be diluted by a sentimental pity and partiality. ‘The Death of Granite Hendley’ elevates Sam to marshal in Paco, with the law now being enforced more rigorously. Tom ‘Granite’ Hendley is Sam’s taciturn deputy who carries out each duty with commitment and finality. Though distant and reclusive, Hendley’s devotion to his half-breed son melts a little of his steely resolve. Sam, who is the closest to being an actual friend, sees in Hendley a revelation of himself as he once was and wants to be again.
            “Richmond native Ned Conquest creates a wistful mood of a lament in his aching atmospheric descriptions and the sacrifices made by many characters. The Way of the Eagle touches upon the majestic, unselfish attributes of the eagle to surrender even its own life in a protective gesture. As with the eagle, the solitary brooding natures of Sam, Tom Hendley, and other lesser characters are clearly conveyed to the reader. The author’s rich language reflects a verve and a vigor that intensify this robust period piece, where history and destiny are remolded and triumphantly restructured.”
      —Bruce Simon, Richmond Times-Dispatch