By Harry Combs
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.
Island Books, 695 pp, 1992
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
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.