No writer chronicles the battles of misfits, underdogs and renegades like Elmore Leonard ... VALDEZ IS COMING is a stunning stale of morality and justice in which a simple, honest man is transformed into a killer - and begins a long journey of revenge against those who scarred his soul for ever. Elmore Leonard's Western novels stand as some of the most vivid writing of his career. With all of his trademark sharp dialogue and set against a beautifully evoked landscape, this is a classic work that captures the wild and ...
No writer chronicles the battles of misfits, underdogs and renegades like Elmore Leonard ... VALDEZ IS COMING is a stunning stale of morality and justice in which a simple, honest man is transformed into a killer - and begins a long journey of revenge against those who scarred his soul for ever. Elmore Leonard's Western novels stand as some of the most vivid writing of his career. With all of his trademark sharp dialogue and set against a beautifully evoked landscape, this is a classic work that captures the wild and glorious spirit of the American West.
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The Library of America has recently published a volume of westerns by Elmore Leonard (1925 -- 2013) to accompany its earlier three volumes of Leonard's crime fiction. The LOA collection is an excellent way to get to know Leonard's writings in the western genre.
The LOA volume includes this novel, "Valdez is Coming", published as a paperback original in 1970 and made into a 1971 movie starring Burt Lancaster. Set in the Arizona territory in the 1880s, Leonard's novel combines a tale of revenge and violence with character analysis. The book is told by an omnipotent third person narrator with highly introspective flashbacks into the lives of its main characters. The novel is replete with religious symbolism as its main character, Bob/Roberto Valdez is pinned to a cross under orders from the book's villain, Frank Tanner, and subsequently engages in a lengthy meditation on St. Francis of Assisi.
The conflict between Valdez and Tanner is set up in the novel's early chapters. Tanner runs a large illegal business selling weapons to rebels in Mexico. He believes that an African American man has killed his friend, the husband of his mistress. The unfortunate target and his pregnant wife are surrounded in a shack by a posse Tanner has assembled which includes Valdez, the town constable. Valdez reluctantly shoots and kills the man only to find, by Tanner's own admission, that it is the wrong person. With a sense of remorse and responsibility, Valdez tries to collect money for the victim's pregnant widow. He approaches Tanner twice for a contribution but is violently turned away, the second time painfully tied with a metal cross on his back. The long, violent feud and denouement between Valdez and Tanner and his men follows.
Much of the book is a character study of the reserved and taciturn Valdez. The narrator observes that "a man can be in two different places and he will be two different men". In his earlier years, Roberto Valdez had been part of the violence of the West. He had developed great skills with weapons and the use of terrain in the process of hunting down the Apache. Later in life, as Bob Valdez, he became a man of peace and law serving as the town constable and as rider on stagecoaches. Bob Valdez acts from compassion for the widow of the man he had wrongly killed. In the process, Roberto Valdez uses the skills of fighting and maneuver he had learned earlier as the feud with Tanner intensifies.
Leonard also explores the inner lives of several other characters, including Tanner's mistress, the local madam, some of Tanner's men, and Tanner himself. With its character development and religious overtones, the book offers more than violent, Western melodrama. After setting the stage for the story, and even with the strong characterizations, the novel moves quickly and effectively, with a strong build-up of dramatic tension and violence to the surprising but appropriate conclusion.
"Valdez is Coming" is an excellent novel for readers interested in Leonard or in the American western.
Aug 4, 2008
things are seldom what they seem to be
Valdez is a part-time constable and a full time shotgun rider on the stage. He wears a suit, starched collar, and tie. People know him to be mild mannered, and they call him Bob. However, ten years ago he was chief scout for the army chasing Apaches all over the southwest, and was called Roberto. An innocent man is killed by mistake by Valdez, and leaves behind a very pregnant indian wife. Valdez goes to the man responsible for the killing, Mr. Tanner, and asks for $500 for the woman. He not only is turned down, he is beat up and tied to a couple of tree limbs, like a cross, and tries to hobble 10 miles to a friends house for help dragging the one limb, with the other limb tied to his extended arms. When he recovers from his ordeal, he goes after Tanner (who turns out to be a murderer among other things.) Tanner has over 25 fighting men working for him, and Valdez goes up against the whole crew. Valdez sends Tanner a message. "Valdez is coming." There are several twists , turns, and surprises. A great story.
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