cover image Dance on the Wind

Dance on the Wind

Terry C. Johnston. Bantam Books, $21.95 (517pp) ISBN 978-0-553-09071-0

Fourth in Johnston's series of historicals about mountain man Titus Bass (after One-Eyed Dream), this entry goes back to Titus's youth, in the early 1800s. The opening pages, covering the future legend's years as a Kentucky farmboy, move slowly as Titus debates whether to run away from home. The story picks up speed, plot and action when, restless and hungry for adventure at age 16, he finally does, joining the jolly crew of a flatboat carrying cargo from Cincinnati to New Orleans, a dangerous 1000-mile trip down the majestic Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Handy with a long rifle, pistol and knife, Titus survives Indian attacks, barroom brawls and highway robbery, leaving few opponents upright. When not slugging, shooting and stabbing, he expends his remaining teenage energy as a randy-and not too particular-backwoods Lothario. After his successful trip downriver, Titus still dreams of going west to see the far mountains, plains and buffalo. Then, abruptly, Johnston puts the brake on the pace and rhythm of his story by having his hero languish in St. Louis as a blacksmith until he is 30. The novel's final hundred pages are as dull as the first hundred, as Titus makes horseshoes, gets drunk and listens to others tell tales of the mysterious West. Still, the historical and geographic descriptions are vivid, as are the many hearty and colorful characters. Hopefully, the next Titus Bass book will find both the mountain man and his creator busy with the action that each handles so well. (Sept.)