Legend of the Painted Horse-P460315/2b

Harry Combs, Author
Harry Combs, Author Delacorte Press $21.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-385-31201-1
Reviewed on: 09/02/1996
Release date: 09/01/1996
Mass Market Paperbound - 307 pages - 978-0-440-21732-9
Paperback - 978-1-56895-402-8
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It's difficult to believe that this artless novel comes from the author of Brules and The Scout, to which this is a kind of sequel. In the Rocky Mountain wilderness in 1950, Steven Cartwright, a 52-year-old Colorado rancher, sits by a campfire, hopelessly smitten by his beautiful 24-year-old companion. Hoping to charm the young woman, Cartwright, who was once the young protege of legendary frontiersman Cat Brules, launches into an apocryphal tale about how the painted horse came to America. This artifice is quickly abandoned, however, as Cartwright commences to render a big, gaudy portrait of himself as an aviation pioneer and authentic all-American hero. Beginning with his eastward migration to Yale at age 18, Cartwright recites a litany of feats in the classroom, social clubs and football fields--and of learning to fly in his off time. With the U.S. entry into WWI, he was commissioned by the Navy and, overnight, became a legendary pilot. Modestly confessing his successes with the ladies, he includes his role in the early formation of Pan Am Airways and his heroism in WWII. In a dime-novel denouement, Cartwright describes how he put the war on hold, speeding to the bedside of the dying Brules in under 40 hours--just in time to tell him he has proof that the old man is his grandfather. Finally, our hero grudgingly confesses he won the Medal of Honor. The wide-eyed heroine avows her lifelong adoration, and the history of painted horses goes a-glimmering. Readers may want to note that Combs himself, who is an octogenarian rancher, was an aviation pioneer. As a quaint history of early aviation, this is mildly amusing, but as the final chapter in the saga of heroic Cat Brules, this Walter Mitty-like tale is a big disappointment. (Oct.)
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