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Book Review: A Tale Out Of Luck by Willie Nelson With Mike Blakely

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There are two types of cowboys in this world. There are the ones who populate Hollywood's movie screens who wear six-shooters strapped to their waists in order to gun down those ner-do-wells stupid enough to challenge them to duels on the main street of town. On the other hand there are the men who hardly ever shot a pistol in their lives, and spent their days out on the pasture lands shepherding herds of cattle from point a to point b.

It's the former of course that captures everybody's imaginations. It's far more romantic to see oneself as a lone gunman facing down incredible odds then riding a horse in the freezing rain in the middle of the night trying to track down a cow that's gone missing. It's far more likely that a cowboy met his end because of an accident like being thrown from a horse and cracking his skull or falling under the hooves of a herd of cattle than from staring down the business end of any weapon.

Of course there were bank robbers and train robbers, but most of them probably never saw the inside of anybody's bunk house any more than a bank robber today would work on a ranch, so you can't really call them cowboys either. People who take to robbing banks for a living aren't going to find the hard work and lousy pay associated with herding cattle and other ranch associated chores that appealing. On the other hand cattle theft, or rustling, was probably one of the few crimes committed where a knowledge of cattle and the wilderness was needed in order to succeed
MIke & Willie.jpg
In his first novel, A Tale Out Of Luck, published by Center Street an imprint of Hachette Book Group USA and being released Wednesday September 3rd, Willie Nelson, with the help of Mike Blakely, has combined the reality of life on a cattle ranch with a dash of the cowboy myth to create a story that's every bit as enjoyable as the songs he sings. Real cowboys (the guys who work as ranch hands), rustlers, Texas lawmen, tavern girls and even a band or two of Indians meet up together on its pages with the expected, and some unexpected, results.

Set in Texas in the years following the American civil war, the action takes place in a small town called Luck and it's surrounding environs, specifically the Broken Arrow Ranch owned by former Texas Ranger Captain Hank Tomlinson. When the post-war reconstruction government of Texas disbanded the Texas Rangers for political reasons — they wanted to rid the South of anything that had been around before the war — Hank decided to turn his hand to ranching. In those days most of Texas was still considered "open range", and the government was only just beginning to parcel up the land and sell it to those willing and able to work it.

In Hank's case that means establishing corrals for his horses and fencing in swathes of the range as pasture for his herds. His almost adult son Jay Blue works on the ranch just like any of the hired hands, and is proud to consider himself one of them. In some ways he's almost too proud, of himself and his abilities, and that ends up causing him all sorts of trouble. Trouble which also happens to find his closest friend, Skeeter, Hank's adopted son, and eventually, damn near engulfs the whole ranch and the town of Luck.

It all starts with the disappearance of Hank's prized Kentucky thoroughbred mare, who was whisked away out of her pen one night as if by magic. It had been Jay Blue's turn to stand watch that night, but he'd convinced Skeeter to cover his shift so he could go into town and romance Jane who works in Flora's Saloon. It was only when both boys woke in the morning to the sound of Hank going off like a Howitzer that they knew they were in trouble. Deciding it was safer to take on what ever the wild world had to offer instead of an irate ex Texas Ranger, the boys set off in hunt of the missing mare.

While there's dangers a plenty out on the range as it is, when a ghost from Hank's past shows up bodies start being found. Feathered with arrows and scalped, all the signs read like a party of renegade Comanche are operating in the area. However, Hank recognizes the arrows that feather one of the first bodies that's found and realizes that not only is somebody trying to throw the blame onto an innocent group of Comanche hunting in the vicinity, but are out for his blood and the blood of any close to his heart – especially his son.

Willie and Mike have written a neat and tidy book that combines all the best elements of a mystery story with the genuine wildness of life in the wide open spaces. Out there sometimes the weather and the environment are your toughest enemies, and this book does a wonderful job of bringing the real wild of the "wild" west to life. From beautiful box canyons full of winding trails and deep chasms where the mist from hidden waterfalls paint rainbows in the air, to the arid desert where a man's blood can dry out from the heat of the sun, the authors paint a very realistic picture of the stark beauty of the desert.

You'd think a trail would be easy to follow in the desert, what with so much sand to leave tracks in, but the wind can shift the sand so quickly that the trail from a hundred head of cattle could vanish within half an hour. But a good tracker doesn't look at the ground when following a trail, he looks for clues rubbed into the bark of a tree or in the twigs of a tree gone missing. In A Tale Out Of Luck the authors lay just this kind of trail for us to follow so we can pick our way through the story. Like all the characters we start off blind to what's happened but gradually we begin to see the big picture and can only hope our heroes and their friends can weather the approaching storm.

A Tale Out Of Luck is well written, with characters that have the ring of truth to them and their actions, offering a nice alternative from the cliches of old that used to encumber Westerns. We meet unexpected good-guys and even more surprising bad guys as our two guides, Willie Nelson and Mike Blakely, lead us along paths that no other western I've read has taken. So sit back and put your feet up by the fire for a spell and enjoy an entertainingly spun tale.

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.