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Book review: 'Painted Horses' transports reader to the Wild West

By Tara Creel

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Aug. 30 2014 2:45 p.m. MDT

"PAINTED HORSES," by Malcolm Brooks, Grove Atlantic, $26, 367 pages (f)

The mid-1950s isn't often connected with the Wild West, but author Malcolm Brooks proves that during that time, Montana was unsettled, unstable and unpredictable.

In "Painted Horses," the main character, Catherine Lemay, is a 23-year-old archeology student fresh from a dig in the ruins of war-torn London and is determined to prove herself as a serious contender in her professional field.

When she takes a position with Harris Power and Light to search for ancient relics in a canyon, which they hope to be the future site of a power-producing dam, she is not only thrust into an unknown territory, but into a situation in which she suspects strongly she is expected to fail.

When the wranglers hired to help her traverse the canyon give evidence that supports her theory, not even John H., the mysterious horseman who befriends her, can save her from the mystery and misery that awaits.

Brooks writes with a literary style well-suited to the big Montana skies. His descriptions are spot-on and at times poetic, transporting the reader back in time and into the wild lands of the unsettled west.

His characters are excellent vehicles to show how turbulent the times were in the 1950s. Lemay is rejecting her country club past and expected housewife future to become a career woman. John H. is clinging to his past and digging in his spurs against the changes that are taking over his land. Harris, who owns the power company, is trying to prove that power is everything and will overcome all.

While at times the novel is confusing as to whether the current information is a flashback or current time and place, as a whole, the story flows like wind through the canyon, leading the reader to discoveries about nature, both earthly and human, that are as organic as it gets.

With an ending that is surprising but not unsatisfying, "Painted Horses" is reminiscent of the classic western adventures, but is poised to set a standard of its own.

"Painted Horses" contains mild violence and multiple use of swear words. There are romantic love scenes but are not detailed or gratuitous.

If you go ...

What: Malcolm Brooks book signing

When: Thursday, Sept. 11, 7 p.m.

Where: The King's English, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City

Web: kingsenglish.com, malcolmbrooks.net

Note: Places in the signing line are reserved for those who purchase a copy of the featured book from The King's English.

Tara Creel is a Logan, Utah, native and mother of three boys. Her email is taracreel@gmail.com, and she blogs at taracreelbooks.wordpress.com.

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