Bookworm: ‘Law of the Land’ is ‘Twilight-Zone’-ish

‘Dark Hearts’ – a good, scary book

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist

“Law of the Land: Stories of the Old West”

  • By Elmer Kelton
  • c. 2021, Forge Books
  • $27.99, $37.99 Canada, 306 pages

Drums or hooves? Here’s the answer: nothing’s better than the pound of a horse’s hooves, as heard from a saddle. They can sound like a dance, a drumstick skittering over a snare drum. A lively trot reminds you of bongos; a good run, like a bass kick. It’s music to a cowpoke’s ears and in the short-story collection, “Law of the Land” by Elmer Kelton, you’ll find a treat for your eyes.

“Law of the Land: Stories of the Old West” by Elmer Kelton.

There aren’t a lot of things a lawman likes better than crossing a name off a Wanted list and Fitz Battles was about to do that. Giles Pritchard was an outlaw and to Fitz, that made Pritchard just plumb worthless. Problem was, Pritchard had help and in “The Fugitive Book,” that meant more no-good outlaws for Fitz to eliminate.

All Grant Caudell wanted was his money back now that he’d caught up with “Slack” Vincent. Vincent had tricked Caudell out of his money and without it, Caudell would lose his family’s farm. The problem was, the sheriff had the outlaw locked up and in “Jailbreak,” Vincent was about to hang – unless there was a little more trickery ...

Old George Simmons never wanted trouble. He just wanted to cook for the Slash R cowboys and be unbothered. So, in “Biscuits for a Bandit,” an outlaw rider learns that it’s best not to rile the camp cookie.

Everybody knew that the Apache One-Ear was ferocious. Lieutenant Monte Fowler already lost many soldiers to One-Ear’s band in a massacre the likes of which Fowler wasn’t eager to repeat. But One-Ear was still out there causing trouble, and in “Apache Patrol,” Fowler’s the only man who can lead G Troop to stop him.

“Law of the Land: Stories of the Old West” author Elmer Kelton.
Forge Books

A “pretty little girl” like Rachel should never’ve been brought to Texas. She should’ve stayed back East but it was already too late: the Comanches were outside their door. Her husband, Matthew, was ready to fight but in “The Last Indian Fight in Kerr County,” Rachel had a few ideas up her pretty little sleeve.

Zero and a hundred. In “Law of the Land,” that’s what you can expect: zero political correctness, one hundred percent old-school, classic western tales.

And yet, there’s something else that’s interesting for readers to look for here...

In many of the 16 short stories inside this book, there’s a fiendish twist at the end, as if the late author Elmer Kelton consulted with the late Rod Serling on each tale’s crafting. Many are so “Twilight-Zone”-ish, in fact, that they almost don’t seem entirely like westerns.

And yet – they are. There are cowpokes and sheriffs in these tales, purdy gals, worn saddles and beloved horses, outlaws and rifles and bloodthirsty killers. Readers are taken across arroyos, through mountain passes and inside corrals. The shoot-outs you expect are here. So are the white-hatted heroes.

Despite the lack of modern PC-ness, the twists in these tales may bring old-fashioned westerns to a new audience. For sure, if you’re already an oater fan, getting “Law of the Land” would behoove you.

“Dark Hearts: The World’s Most Famous Horror Writers”

  • By Jim Gigliotti, foreword by Danielle Vega
  • c. 2021, Penguin Workshop
  • $14.99, $19.99 Canada; 140 pages

The scratch against your window made you jump, didn’t it?

The shivers down your spine are real, caused by the terrors in the book you’re reading. Yes, the frightening creatures that surround you are just words, but they’re making you feel unsettled. Try to relax, though. They’re only stories and in “Dark Hearts” by Jim Gigliotti, you’ll meet the minds that created those monsters.

“Dark Hearts: The World’s Most Famous Horror Writers” by Jim Gigliotti, foreword by Danielle Vega.

When people tell Jim Gigliotti that they “aren’t a fan of horror,” he has a hard time believing it. Scary stories, he says, seem to be what “makes us human,” they were “some of the first stories human beings ever told.” Lucky for you, they never stopped being shared.

Take, for instance, young Mary Shelley.

She didn’t have a lot of “formal schooling” but she was an avid reader and a friend of many famous people in her day. One of them was a man who said that “galvanism,” a sort of electrical stimulation, could bring back the dead. Mary thought about that and created a novel about a mad scientist named Frankenstein.

Edgar Allen Poe used real stories to create horror, but he really didn’t have to look far: many of the people Poe loved died early, and it led to a bit of a morbid fascination with death. Bram Stoker was a sickly child whose mother told him scary stories while he was abed, recuperating. Daphne du Maurier wrote her most famous novel, Rebecca, as a sort of revenge aimed at her husband’s first girlfriend. Shirley Jackson told people jokingly (or maybe not) that she was a witch. Anne Rice’s real name was Howard; she was named after her father, and she hated the name. R.L. Stine grew up very poor in Ohio. When he was four years old, Stephen King witnessed the gruesome death of a playmate.

And you’ll never guess who inspired author Joe Hill...

All their lives, you’ve taught your child to be safe. Look both ways before crossing the street. Don’t do anything that would break a limb or a skull. So why not steer them in a direction of safe danger by handing them “Dark Hearts”?

Wild, edgy actions aren’t the only things to make a heart pound; a good, scary book will do the trick and in this one, there’s plenty of insight on the people who’ve penned the tales your teen loves. Now, granted, your kid may not recognize some of the authors in this book and some may be a far reach, but author Jim Gigliotti does a great job in presenting reasons for their inclusion: reading these biographies gives horror-novel lovers of any age a chance to truly know where the scares are coming from. They’ll also find new books to devour and inspiration for turning their own experiences into a scream-fest.

If your reader is old enough to understand Clive Barker, Daphne du Maurier, or Stephen King, they’re old enough to read this book, too. “Dark Hearts” is, in fact, a book anyone ages 15-and-up will jump on.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Read past columns at marconews.com.