Posts Tagged Les Savage Jr.

Book Review: Black Rock Canon by Les Savage Jr.

22 February 2012
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Del Rockwall is a Texas horse runner working the high country of Montana for wild mustangs with his young partner Tie Taylor. On the day Rockwall first sees the most beautiful wild horse he has ever seen he also meets the most wild and beautiful woman (Aldis Spain) he has ever seen. Both the horse and the woman are claimed by one man, Kenny Graves, who will stop at nothing to possess them both.

All the ingredients that make a classic noir story are here: anti-heroes and moral ambivalence; a femme fatale and dark inescapable destiny. Black Rock Canon is classic western noir because it is classic Les Savage, Jr.

As a writer, Savage’s stories do at times require a willing suspension of disbelief. Yet there is something in his poetic prose and the strong, unrelenting undercurrent of fate that keeps you reading. It is a dark vision, but one you find difficult to put down.

One of the hallmarks of a noir story, western or otherwise, is this sense of inexorable circumstance and fate… characters locked into a grim battle they cannot ultimately escape . Savage, Jr., captures this well. His characters are haunted and hunted men and women, battling simultaneously the situation they find themselves in and one another.

The geography of Montana that Savage describes is an “idealized” one… or more properly an iconic one. It is a wild and mountainous place of great valleys and great ranches and violent boom towns. It is western mythic.

Black Rock Canon is available at Amazon in both paperback and kindle editions.

I end with some quotes from Black Rock Canon, courtesy of the kindle highlight function. Great writing? Perhaps not. Great classic western noir lines? Indeed!



Some Quotes

“The parallel struck him. A man could want this kind of horse as intensely as he could want a woman.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

He gained the tamarack and poplars along the trickle of water. The timber was bunched in dense patches here, and beyond its tangled mat a sentinel peak had speared a falling ball of fire. Light spread in a crimson tide from this impaled sun as if it were flooding the world with its life’s blood, to form ruddy pools of the open glades and cover the forest floor with a sanguine dappling. The foliage of the poplars caught it up thirstily, till each slick olive-green leaf gave off a brazen glitter. It made a tawny illusion of the shadows, to close about Rockwall like a dark mist whenever he left the patches of light.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“The moon was a painter, splashing the earth with a pot full of yellow ochre. The wolves were singers, filling the night with their mournful chorus. The brush was an audience, applauding in ghostly whispers with each passage of wind.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

He knew a momentary disgust with himself that he could feel such desire for the wife of his friend. Then he knew how foolish that was. A man couldn’t help what he felt; he didn’t have that much control over his emotions. It was what he did about them that counted.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It was an odd habit of mind, he often reflected, to test the past against the future, when so many were content to let each experience fade so soon behind them. It had been taken for cynicism in him. But a man didn’t make the same mistake twice, very often, if he put things together this way.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Like a beautiful woman you can’t leave alone. We’re wound up with that horse, Kammas, and, if one of us can’t finish it, the next one has to, one way or the other.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *.

His head seemed empty now. He was left with the sense of awesome inevitability, as if following out some plan that had been ordained for him long ago.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *..

He tried to read defeat in the lines of her silhouette, standing there, watching the end of everything she had tried to gain by playing so many ends against the middle. But, somehow, he could not find defeat. She seemed as unbridled, as defiant as ever. She was like Blue Boy. One man could never hold her. Probably no man ever would.

Savage Jr., Les (2009-01-01). Black Rock Canon . Dorchester Publishing. Kindle Edition.



Western Writer: Les Savage, Jr.

12 February 2012
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This is the third installment in the Western Writers Series at MontanaWriter. Other writers in the series can be found at Western Writers Series.

Like fellow western noir writer H.A. DeRosso, Les Savage, Jr. does not, at the time of this posting, appear to have a Wikipedia article. It is more than a little interesting that two of the first three western writers I have chosen for the Western Writers Series do not yet have such articles. It certainly says something about the state of western noir and something about my reading tastes.

As is the case with De Rosso, what I know of Savage’s life is what I have read and  pieced together from various book introductions.

Les Savage, Jr. was born and raised in Los Angeles. He began writing at the age of 17 and sold his first story to Street & Smith’s Western Story magazine. He was a steady contributor to the pulp magazines for many years, writing close to 100 short-stories.

Les Savage Jr as a writer worked hard to bring realism and authenticity to his fiction. In the 1950s, this meant that his work was often heavily censored and reworked by editors and publishers that did not like his realistic depictions of  the various kinds of multi-cultural and non-traditional male-female relationships that would have been very common on the frontier. Most modern editors and publishers of his work have tried to restore his manuscripts back to their original forms.

Savage is a wonderful noir writer. His west is not the sun-lit hollywood backdrop of most of his contemporaries. It is a place of shadows and dark places where morally complex men and women live and fight and struggle. His work is often violent yet also has that touch of the poetic that is a feature of great noir fiction. That delicate balancing act between the brutal and beautiful seems to me to be one of the defining characteristics of noir fiction. To realistically portray life is to bump up against the beautiful, the brutal, and the banal. Savage portrays it all well.

As a western writer, his work has that essential quality of the mythic or iconic that is part of every true western. As has been said before on MontanaWriter, westerns are the essential American myth. The great challenge for the western noir writer, indeed any western writer, is to balance realism and myth. This balance may be one of the most difficult challenges for a writer of American Fiction to undertake. Yet when it is pulled off well, as Savage often does, it remains one of the most satisfying reading experiences you can ever have.

Les Savage, Jr. who suffered from diabetes died at St. Johns Hospital in Santa Monica, California on May 26, 1958, at the age of 35. In his short life he wrote novels, a few hollywood screenplays, and short stories. Some of his work is available again electronically as well as in reprints, most redacted to reflect his original intent. He may be little known but he is not, thankfully, completely lost to us… yet.


Les Savage Jr. Partial Bibliography

     * The Bloody Quarter [Nov 1999]
     * The Cavan Breed [June 2003]
     * Coffin Gap [May 1997]
     * Copper Bluffs [Jan 1999]
     * Danger Rides the River [Aug 2002]
     * The Devil's Corral [Jan 2003]
     * Fire Dance at Spider Rock [Nov 1995]
     * Gambler's Row [Feb 2002]
     * Hangtown
     * In the Land of Little Sticks: North-Western Stories [Aug 2000]
     * The Lash of Senorita Scorpion [July 1998]
     * The Legend of Senorita Scorpion [July 1996]
     * Medicine Wheel [Aug 1996]
     * Phantoms in the Night [Nov 1998]
     * The Return of of Senorita Scorpion: A Western Trio [July 1997]
     * The Shadow in Renegade Basin: A Western Trio [June 2001]
     * Silver Street Woman [July 1995]
     * Table Rock [Nov 1993]
     * The Trail
     * Treasure of the Brasada [Jan 2000]
     * West of Laramie [May 2003]
(source: Ultimate Western Database)