Contemporary Literature · Western

Country of the Bad Wolfes

by: James Carlos Blake

I did a short stint working events at a local bookstore in between graduating and my current job.  I was working this event – it was marketed as mystery – and I remember thinking, oh god. Wolves is misspelled.  A bad mystery author I’m going to have to sit through for a whole hour.  I set up the room, met the author briefly, and then sat down as he did his spiel, which was fairly interesting and short.  And then he begin to read.  James Carlos Blake is a fabulous storyteller. He has a gorgeous voice which lent itself well to the style of his book.  I became intrigued by the story and. after he was done, picked up a signed copy of the book to read.  (For what it’s worth, I believe that was the only time I’ve ever done so.) And then I settled in to read the book, which I did in two chunks several weeks apart.  I loved this book.

Blake is both a master storyteller and a fantastic writer.  Reading the book made me feel like I was listening to him tell it.  It’s an epic saga, based partly on his own relatives, telling the story of the Wolfe family as they make their way, through generations, from England to New England to Mexico to, finally, South Texas.  The family is largely morally straight but legally questionable and they play by the rules of the old West. Though the plotline of the book is focused heavily on the Wolfe family, Blake delves into the overarching issues of the time, like the Mexican-American War, class tensions, and Mexican politics. I truly enjoyed the way he combined knowledge of the time period with the actions of his characters to give the story historical depth. There are a few more graphic scenes, both violent and sexual.  Though the reader learns and follows the characters, we don’t quite get intimate with them. It works, in a John Wayne-type of way; never do we feel the characters are truly emotionally vulnerable to the reader, but never is it necessary to the story.

Read this book if you love old-fashioned storytelling, epic sagas, tales of the West – it’s not quite a Western, but it feels much the same in terms of actions and character types – or if you’ve been looking for that elusive crossover between Westerns and literature.  (I have no idea why this was marketed as mystery.)  If you’re looking for a Western genre book, light reading, or something purely action packed, this may not be the book for you.


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