cover image Dead Man's Walk

Dead Man's Walk

Larry McMurtry. Simon & Schuster, $25.5 (477pp) ISBN 978-0-684-80753-9

Woodrow Call and Gus McCrae, the heroes of Lonesome Dove, return in a rousing if slightly contrived yarn set decades before the events of that Pulitzer Prize-winning novel--and earlier still than the latter-day adventures of Call, detailed in Streets of Laredo. Now hardly more than teenage runaways, the pair, just recruited into the ragtag Rangers of the new Texas Republic, come face-to-face with death on their baptismal patrol as Gus, foolishly wandering away from his guard post, stumbles onto the grotesquely disfigured Comanche chief Buffalo Hump and narrowly escapes with the Indian's lance embedded in his hip. Gus and Call return safely to San Antonio but, lured by myths of silver and gold, the hapless duo sign on to a small army led by a former seafaring pirate intent on liberating Santa Fe from Mexican rule. An unforgettable (and equally unlikely) crew of blackhearted villains, foppish officers and star-crossed heroes and heroines, the sorry little force heads west only to be terrorized by Buffalo Hump, then captured by Mexican militia. With the ruthless Captain Salazar calling the shots, Mexicans and Americans are ordered to march toward El Paso. Along the way, Call is whipped nearly to death for a minor offense, and the group is stalked by a murderous Apache. Forced by Salazar to cross the high desert known as ``dead man's walk,'' Gus, Call and company end up at a leper colony near El Paso, where they find salvation. Suffering from McMurtry's usual coincidences and miraculous escapes, as well as from some stereotypical key characters and too much obvious melodrama, this falls short of both Lonesome Dove and Streets of Laredo. Still, it's bracing entertainment in its own right, with McMurtry flashing his storytelling skills as he recreates the salad days of two flawed but all-American heroes adrift in the Old West. 500,000 first printing. (Sept.)