zondag 22 januari 2017

"The Searchers" by Alan LeMay

"Martin found the body of Henry Edwards draped on its back across the broad sill of a bedroom window. The Comanche knives had done eery work upon this body. Like Martha, Henry and both boys had been scalped."

I used to read a lot of westerns when I was a teenager. You know: Max Brand, Zane Grey, Louis L'Amour (and Karl May, of course, who was my favourite). But I grew out of them. I still read historical novels about the west, but not the traditional westerns. Still, I was tempted to read 'The Searchers', Alan LeMay's novel upon which the famous John Wayne movie was based - widely regarded as one of the very best western films of all times.  It turns out 'The Searchers' is not a traditional western at all - at least not the shoot-'em-up type of story that most people think of when imagining 'western'.

Texas in the 1860s. The Comanches are raiding white settlements, prompting many to leave. Henry Edwards and his family have decided to stay, but it was only a matter of time before the Comanches attack their place as well.

When Henry's brother Amos and the Edwards' adopted son Martin arrive at the house, they find most of the family slaughtered. The two daughters are missing. 17-year old Lucy is found a bit later, brutally raped and murdered; the youngest, Debbie, was taken by the Indians. Amos and Martin set out to rescue her. The search lasts for years and Amos and Martin not only have to fight Indians, but also storms, robbers and other misadventures. The final confrontation is shocking (and quite different from the movie verson).

The book was probably inspired by the real-life story of Cynthia Ann Parker, who was kidnapped by Comanches in a similar fashion in the 1830s. It might be difficult to market a story like this these days, with the one-sided, negative view of Native Americans. But as the events are completely told from the point of view of the whites, it makes sense. This is not about who was right or wrong - this is about dealing with feelings of guilt, hatred and revenge. It is a bleak reading experience. But it's exactly this dark atmosphere which makes it a very good novel.

Author: Alan LeMay
Title: The Searchers
Publisher: Pinnacle Books, New York
Year: 2013 (orig. 1954)
Number of pages: xl + 308 p.
ISBN: 9780786031429

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