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"Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money."
Louis Untermeyer


By Harry Combs
Island Books, 695 pp, 1992

This is a sprawling, detailed (at times painfully so), entertaining Western. Harry Combs, 80 years young when he wrote this, did his homework on this debut novel. He and his character, mountain man Cat Brules, seems to know everything about anything to do with the old West, whether itís journeying from New Mexico to Wyoming, making moccasins from buffalo hide, or outwitting and killing Comanche Indians. Sometimes, the action bogs down amidst the quicksand of such minutiae, but other than that, this is a great book.

Most of the novel covers Brulesí teenage years and early twenties. He and his first girlfriend are kidnapped by Comanches. The Indians torture them both and kill her, but Brules escapes before they kill him. This experience, unsurprisingly, leaves a deep and bitter hatred for all Comanches in Brules, and he dedicates the rest of his life to killing as many as he can before they get him.

He kills several Comanches, leaving a sign of a cat at each kill, and soon the superstitious Indians are mortified of this mysterious cat person. But then Brules decides heís had enough, and travels to Colorado, gets mauled by a bear, and meets the true love of his life Ė a Shoshone Indian woman. They marry, have a kid, but donít necessarily live happily ever after.

The one major fault of the book is the device Combs chose to tell us Brulesí story. He invents an eleven-year-old kid who, in 1909, meets an old hermit in the Colorado mountains: Cat Brules. The novel is actually Brulesí narrative to the kid. The problem with this is that since we know Brules is still alive in 1909, he obviously survives all the harrowing events Combs conjures for him, removing all suspense.

Nonetheless, it is a fine Western, packed with action and detail, and Brules is a memorable character.

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