Review: “The Ferguson Rifle” by Louis L’Amour

I actually read The Ferguson Rifle (*****) for the first time years ago* and loved it, but I recently won the audiobook from Goodreads via their FirstReads program. (My review is not influenced by this fact, for the record.) This lined up nicely with a road trip my wife and I had to take, and so the adventure began anew….

I don’t usually do audiobooks, as I have little time for them. I don’t have copious amounts of driving built into my day (if this ever changes, I likely will start consuming larger quantities), I can’t listen at work, and frankly given the choice I would rather actually read the book myself. All that said, this was an excellent production. The reader, Brian D’Arcy James, has a marvelous command of accents, be they British, Scottish or Irish, and this book allowed him to showcase them to great effect. My wife and I both loved it, so I am reasonably sure this book will please both Louis L’Amour fanatics and newcomers.

It is no real secret that given how many novels L’Amour wrote that were set in the old west, sometimes they tend to run together in your memory. This, however, is one of those especially excellent entries in his bibliography that stand out in your memory both from sheer uniqueness and from persistent quality. Unlike most of Louis L’Amour’s bibliography, this book is not a “western” in the classical sense. It is set on America’s frontier around the year 1800, meaning the northerly Great Plains–the Dakotas, Montana, that area. In another sense, however, this is very much a western. That was “the west” at the time being described, just as what we now think of as the “east coast” was at one point the western frontier of exploration. It is into this territory, newly bought from France through the Louisiana Purchase, that Ronan Chantry rides. His old life is dead, all he loves burned up in a tragic fire. Now all he has is his experience on the frontier as a boy, his education in Europe as a man, his horse, and the extraordinary rifle he was given as a boy. He rides with a company of trappers into a new land, nearly unexplored, in search of a new start. When he discovers the trail of a woman and boy alone, being ruthlessly hunted by unsavory men, Ronan feels called to help. But when there is a fabled fortune of gold in the offering, men are not likely to give up its pursuit easily….

I’m a known Louis L’Amour devotee, so I absolutely loved this. No one crafts an adventure like Louis L’Amour, and few writers I’ve found have his appreciation for the scope of human history and the persistent force of western movement, while still retaining an appreciation for the contributions of the individual to history’s march. This is one of those books that, while reading, makes you yearn to look out across the unspoiled territory this country once was, to stand where his characters stand and see what they see. There’s a beauty to it, and you can hear in L’Amour’s writing a lilting note of mourning for what we have lost. He does not blame the pioneers and the farmers for what has happened, he understands history too well for that, and appreciates the inevitability of the march of “progress.” That doesn’t mean he (or his characters) have to like it. Ditto for the Indians, and you see that here as well. There are several sequences where the Indian is discussed, his character, his future, and his habits. Again, L’Amour understands why things happened as they did, but it still saddens him. Longtime Louis L’Amour readers will know what to expect in terms of characters and character development–there’s not usually a whole lot of moral ambiguity to a L’Amour adventure, there are good guys and bad guys, and they know their roles. Is that a problem? Not so far as I’m concerned. We need stories like that just as much as we need the other kind, maybe more. And this day and age, that type of story is harder to find.

CONTENT: Mild language, some violence, little to no sexual content.

*I’ve read most of Louis L’Amour’s books, but I can’t always remember which ones. This is fine–I’m totally up for reading a lot of them again. Probably going to go questing to read the entire bibliography at some point.

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