cover image Zeke and Ned

Zeke and Ned

Larry McMurtry. Simon & Schuster, $245 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-684-00396-2

At first glance, McMurtry (Dead Man's Walk) and Ossana (his screenwriting partner, and collaborator on Pretty Boy Floyd) appear to be spinning a merely folksy tall tale about a battle for a woman that spirals out of control in the Cherokee territory of Oklahoma in the late 19th century. As the story develops, however, it becomes apparent that they have greater ambitions, such as exploring the different values behind white and Native American justice and the different responses of men and women to the sudden, often brutal, enforcement of frontier justice. Zeke Proctor is the primary protagonist, a Cherokee tribesman with a wife and triplets who lusts after Polly Beck and decides to try to make her his second wife. When Polly's husband objects to Zeke's overtures, a shootout occurs in which Polly is accidentally killed. Zeke is arrested and tried in a Cherokee court. The impatient Beck clan seeks justice via a courtroom shooting spree, leading to Zeke's best friend, Ned Christie, a Cherokee leader with a razor-sharp temper, also being accused of murder. Zeke is eventually granted a government pardon, but Ned is hunted relentlessly by white posses. The friendship between Zeke and Ned gives the story its prime canvas, even as their battles with marshals and rivals add period color. But what gives this well-wrought tale its depth is how McMurtry and Ossana convey the era's various moral shades of gray. 100,000 first printing; major ad/promo; BOMC featured alternate; paperback rights to Pocket Books. (Jan.)