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Evening Star

by Sigmund Brouwer
2000 / 317 pages

Set on the 1870s American frontier, this might at first glance seem to be a Western. But there a good deal of mystery novel here too – from the moment Sam Keaton steps into the town of Laramie he’s confronted with one riddle after another. It all starts with an Indian that Keaton saves from a vicious beating. This good deed puts Keaton behind bars. Before he can engineer his escape, the town’s Marshal, a mysterious sort himself, sends Keaton off to find out about some gold that may, or may not exist.

While mysteries abound in this very fast-paced book, what sets it apart is the growth Keaton goes through. Early on, he’s trapped in his tiny jail cell facing a very large, very angry man who has been sent to kill him. Staring down the wrong end of a shotgun barrel changes Keaton. Soon after, when a pretty, and very willing young woman throws herself at him, Keaton turns her down, but finds himself,

“… wondering why I had not pursued the company she had been offering…. Because of that shotgun I could not deny the nagging feeling that I was missing something, that life had to be bigger than finding ways to satisfy the varied demands of my body. I could not escape the feeling that deep down, I’d always known life had to be bigger, but along the way I had always chosen whatever distractions it took to keep me from wondering about God. Except now, try as I might, I couldn’t ignore what some certainty told me was beyond. If I turned my back on whatever instinct now pulled me to seek answers, if I chose distractions like this Suzanne, I would have to fool myself real good not to find those distractions sour and hollow.”

Keaton isn’t done with his spiritual wrestling by the end of the book, but he has made a good start of it.

But while there is a lot to love about this book, it is worth noting that there is some adult material here – there is some grit. One example: Keaton recalls a time when he was seduced by a “wild” woman. It never gets lascivious but Brouwer does describe sexual temptation in a pretty frank way. So this is a book I would recommend for adults and older teens only.

While every author works hard polishing their writing, most stop once the book goes to the printer. That’s not the case with Sigmund Brouwer who has revised several of his published works, creating, in one instance, three separate versions of the same story over the course of 20 years (Magnus 1995 ⇒ Wings of Dawn 1999 ⇒ Merlin’s Immortals series 2012-2014). That can make for some confusion, and the possibility of mistakenly buying the same story twice. So for clarification, Evening Star had an earlier iteration, first appearing as Morning Star back in 1994. There are three other books in the series, including at least one other, Silver Moon, that was first published under another title: Moon basket. The earlier version was called the Ghost Rider series, while the revised and more recent is Sam Keaton: Legends of Laramie and in order the titles are:

  1. Evening Star
  2. Silver Moon
  3. Sun Dance
  4. Thunder Voice

I’ve only read the first, but it has me looking forward to checking out the next three!


Up Next


Adult fiction, Book Reviews, Teen fiction

Shane

by Jack Schaefer 1949 / 176 pages Sometimes I reread children’s literature because I enjoy being captured again by the quality of writing and the stir of imagination. I read Laura Ingalls Wilder alongside every Louis L’Amour western in my junior high library. Not one librarian said I couldn’t read them because I was a girl, and thankfully, those same librarians pointed me next to Zane Grey. At age 13 and 14, these westerns were deep to me, even if I did recognize the plot patterns. I loved them. Action, mystery, rescue, the setting sun, the lonely West, and often, a misunderstood man. In the same vein, Jack Schaefer’s very first novel creates a story that’s even more impactful. Shane(1949) began as a short story that was serialized in three parts in Argosy magazine in the late 40s. First titled “Rider from Nowhere,” it wasn’t intended for young children, though it’s certainly suitable. Through the eyes of a child narrator and from his opening description, Schaefer crafts a deeper cowboy character than most, perhaps because we witness Shane’s moral choices and his influence upon an entire family. Dressed with a “hint of men and manners,” Shane mysteriously arrives in the Wyoming valley alone on his horse. I know, I know. It begins like a cliche to our adult eyes. And yes, we soon find out that a few homesteaders are holding out against one greedy rancher. It may seem predictable to an experienced reader but that is not the case for young hearts able to view historical realism with wonder. The appeal is simple. Yet here is where the story veers because Schaefer shows us, rather than tells us, who Shane is as he meets and is hired by homesteader Joe Starrett. Shane carries a chill with him yet is careful of his dress. He’s not large yet he’s wiry and powerful. Within the first day of working for Joe, Shane’s presence alone dissuades the local peddler from cheating Joe. Young Bob shares, “You felt without knowing how that each teetering second could bring a burst of indescribable deadliness…a strange wildness.” Even with an aloof nature, Shane begins a friendship with Bob, sharing chores and sharing wisdom like “What a man knows isn’t important. It’s what he is that counts.” But there are moments when the mystery of who Shane is overshadows his behavior. When he shows Bob how to hold and aim a pistol, a fierce moment of memory hits and Shane freezes, his face described as a “gash.” Bob has to say his name several times to break the hold of the past. Many times, Schaefer describes how Bob recognizes there’s more to Shane, yet Bob, and yes the reader, never learn enough. The story unfolds, tensions rise, and the homesteaders must choose to fight the manipulative mob boss of a rancher. More than once, Bob must watch Shane fight to right a wrong. He sees, and we see, “the flowing brute beauty of line and power in action” as Shane overpowers the rancher’s men. By story’s end, we want more. Schaefer has furrowed our curiosity to a point where we love Shane as much as Bob and his family do, yet we all remain caught in the unknown of who he is and who he was. It remains a true mystery and begs us as readers to ponder, to resolve, to discuss not only who Shane was but also who we are. Christine Norvell blogs at ChristineNorvell.com where a version of this review first appeared....


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