Friday, June 5, 2009

Western Paperbacks: Written in Blood: The Further Exploits of Hayden Tilden

Written in Blood: The Further Exploits of Hayden Tilden
by J. Lee Butts

Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Berkley (February 3, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0425226301
ISBN-13: 978-0425226308

On a late night trip to Walmart to pick up another pair of rubber boots for doing some prospecting, I decided to check out the ample selection of westerns that our local Walmart carries. As is my habit, I generally grab at least two Westerns. Usually one by an author that I like such as Louis L'Amour, Zane Grey, Luke Short or William Johnstone, and then another by an author that I typically haven't read. If I can't do that, I pick them by publisher. In this case, I picked up a Leisure reprint of John Trace's "Trigger Vengeance" and "Written in Blood" by J. Lee Butts.

had heard a lot about J. Lee Butts, but must admit that until recently, I hadn't read anything by him.

"Written in Blood" begins with an aging Hayden Tilden. He is a sassy old cuss, a retired lawman living in an old folks home during the 1940's. Nearly 90 years old, but still full of piss and vinegar, he despises his situation, his age. He sees ghosts of his long gone friends, yearns for the old days and begins to recall the past. Tilden begins to tell us a story from his younger days.

Let me say right here, that J. Lee Butts can write. The first chapter or so of "Written in Blood" is remindful of some of my favorite works of Elmer Kelton or Johnny Boggs. Tilden is a very likeable character and you can't help but to sympathize with his plight of old age. I really thought I was going to enjoy the story that Tilden's character was about to relate.

However ...

Butts soon introduces us to Hayden Tilden's old sidekick. The fella begins to relate to Tilden the exploits of a notorious outlaw gang that they need to track down immediately.

Well, never mind the outlaws, because I found Tilden's pal's description of the exploits so annoying that I was kind of hoping that Tilden would plug him with his Peacemaker. The sidekick launches himself into page after page of overdone, old Hollywoodesque, Western vernacular to the point that I would have kind of liked to have plugged him myself.

It may be that the character's overuse of stereotypical vernacular was intended to be a bit humorous (much like was done in the exploitation film "The Terror of Tiny Town" during the 30's), but I personally found it very distracting and unrealistic. Real people in the Old West simply did not speak this way and though a Western should be entertaining, like Louis L'Amour, I believe that Westerns are a type of historical fiction. As writers, we should all be striving not just to entertain, but also to enlighten people about the authentic Old West.

Needless to say, I simply had to put "Written in Blood" down. It's not often that I don't finish a Western, but this was one of those rare instances.

However, as I said earlier, J. Lee Butts can definitely write and up until the sidekick came on the page, I really liked "Written in Blood".

Needless to say, I will be trying him again in the hope that Tilden's sidekick isn't on the scene.

1 comment:

Liz said...

I completely agree with your assertion that Westerns are a type of historical fiction. Of course they are! If a book is set in a certain time period -- whether it's a historical romance set in post- Napolean England or a novel set in the 1870s in the West, the details need to be accurate or, as you were, readers will get annoyed. While L'Amour, Grey, et al are great choices, give James Best a look as well. He's written books (including "The Shopkeeper" about Steve Dancy, as East Coast city slicker, gun-slinger tycoon type who heads West for adventure and write a journal about said adventures. "THe Shopkeeper" refers to the store in NY he sells before heading West. And this book isn't just "Western" genre, it's historical fiction!