SPANISH JACK

Robert J. Conley, Author
Robert J. Conley, Author . St. Martin's $22.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-312-26231-0
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In what seems like a never-ending effort to chronicle the historical minutiae of the Cherokee people, Conley adds to his considerable body of work—36 novels to date—this tale of Jack Spaniard, aka Spanish Jack, a Chickamauga renegade who has trouble making peace with the Osage. The novel follows the serpentine trail of Jack's evolution from homicidal maniac to assistant horse thief to highly successful riverboat gambler to benevolent friend of the Eastern clans to grateful benefactor of white Christian Samaritans to vengeful vigilante to justified bounty man to upright citizen. Jack is as ruggedly handsome, boldly intrepid and physically indestructible a frontier hero as ever hung a lasso from a lariat. The plot, such as it is, concerns Jack's attempt to come to terms with his own humanity as a microcosmic reflection of his people's plight at the hands of an unfeeling federal government. Unfortunately, he emerges at the end no less one-dimensional than he was at the outset, and considerably less believable. The book neglects probability and historical fact—and geography, for that matter—with casual indifference. Prose style is sloppy and inconsistent. Relying on incredible coincidence and unlikely happenstance, the story stumbles along through a forest of clichés, a wilderness of imprecise language and a swamp of sentimental claptrap, with occasional bouts of bombastic dialogue uttered by a collection of cardboard-cutout characters, none of whom behaves in any way similar to any human being of any era. The story is repetitious when it's not redundant, illogical when it's not implausible, and just plain silly from start to finish. (Aug.)

Forecast:Despite Conley's longstanding popularity, this stumble might cost him a fan or two.

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