Blue Heaven, by Willard Wyman; 978-0-8061-4218-0; Hardcover; 194 Pages; $21.95; Published October 2011; Published by University of Oklahoma Press
Western skies, mountains, trail riders, and the old West come alive in this compelling novel by award-winning author Willard Wyman. A prequel to his "High Country," we encounter the early days of Fenton Pardee.
Wyman opens in classic style with a train wreck, which creates havoc in the Wild West show of "Buffalo Bill," who has been known to all as William F. Cody. A bizarre crash results in the destruction of rail cars used to transport the entourage on to their next engagement. Assessing the situation as hopeless, Fenton Pardee rescues his mules and horse, packs them up, says goodbye to old friends and hits the trail to the openness of Montana.
Traveling is rugged even for this experienced mountaineer, but he trudges his way westward in search of fulfillment of his life. He follows Indian trails and game trails as he moves deeper into the wilderness.
Fenton faces hardship when his horse dies and he has to travel on foot to lead his three mules, which are carrying his worldly possessions. He walks through the valleys and up mountains leading his pack animals to the camp of Tommy Yellowtail.
Tommy was surprised at the arrival of Fenton and was astonished that he was able to do it without a saddle horse. Admiration starts a new friendship that lasts for years.
Tommy was a self-styled horse trader who was trying to survive on his own by selling his collection of horses. Fenton was in need of a horse and it was a perfect situation for both of them in this serendipitous meeting.
Fenton brought his skill as a hunter, tracker, trader, and chef to the arrangement, and Tommy displayed his knowledge of the land. It was a time in which they both gained mutual respect for each other.
What makes this story stand out as being exceptional is the development of a relationship between an Indian and cowboy.
Tommy and Fenton each recognize that in order to succeed they will need to become civilized and live in society rather than being out in the wilderness. Their time in the wilderness still exists, but it is under different circumstances.
They become guides to city folk who want to experience the outdoor conditions, but with the thoughtful guidance of experienced packers. Because they are so responsible, their business thrives and they acquire land.
There are many opportunities which open doors for Fenton to become a landowner. The exploration of these events is another part of the compelling interest in this story.
Fenton has romantic interests that lead to him marrying Cody Jo. Tommy also has romantic interests, though he does not marry.
This is a book for adults with interesting interludes at "The Bar of Justice," a speakeasy and house of ill repute. After all, this did take place partially during the period of prohibition.
Willard Wyman easily describes a sense of reality since his background is similar to that of the same style as his character. Even with this wild side, Wyman has been a college instructor in literature and dean at Colby College and Stanford University. His previous novel, "High Country," was named Best First Novel and Best Novel of the West by the Western Writers of America.
This novel is highly recommended and is a 5-star book.
Clark Isaacs is an accomplished book critic who published in local newspapers and national book review lists. He is a member of the faculty of Mohave Community College in Kingman. Visit Clark Isaacs at http://clarkisaacs.ning.com.