True Grit’s inheritor…

The Road to Reckoning by Robert Lautner

Robert Lautner Road to Reckoning UK coverI’ve turned out to be a big fan of good westerns – this debut novel is one such book.

Young Tom Walker is twelve when this novel begins in 1837. His mother is lost to the pock, his father is a ‘quiet man in a noisy world‘ – a spectacles salesman, when he hears of an irresistible opportunity that could bring in enough money for a comfortable living. Escaping the depression and the disease-ridden boroughs of New York can only be a good thing.

His father agrees to become a salesman for Samuel Colt’s new handgun with a revolving chamber. They set off westwards from Colt’s factory in New Jersey a wooden model gun and twelve of the real thing, which can be sold to clinch an order, or for expenses on the road.

I, to this day, hold to only one truth: if a man chooses to carry a gun he will get shot. My father agreed to carry twelve.

It’s in a small town in Pennsylvania that Tom’s life changes forever, when they encounter Thomas Heywood in the back of the hardware store where Tom’s father was about to clinch a good order. Heywood, drunk, won’t take no for an answer when he confronts them. Tom and his father change hotels, and then leave town – but Heywood and his pals jump them, robbing them of the remaining pistols. Tom’s father is shot in the back in front of him, leaving Tom an orphan – but with a full order book.

Tom resolves to return to NJ to collect their commission, and it is on his way back that he meets Henry Stands, a retired US marshall. Stands is large, gruff, and although he is heading east, he has no wish to be saddled with an orphan, he’ll only take him so far. Tom persists, and eventually earns Stands’ grudging respect as they make their way east – a journey not without adventure.

There are many parallels between The Road to Reckoning and True Grit by Charles Portis (reviewed here), the former could be viewed as an east coast version of the latter. Although both Tom and Mattie are orphans, Mattie is single-mindedly hunting the murderer of her father; Tom just wants to go home to his aunt with his father’s last pay packet. Both eventually manage to awaken paternal instincts in their chosen protectors, but whereas Mattie sees Marshall Rooster Cogburn as the best man for the job, Stands is the only man around who can help Tom. Both books also have their narrators recounting their childhood from old age, adding the veneer of wisdom that comes with the years to the story.

The Road to Reckoning may owe a debt to Charles Portis, however it did feel very real – you don’t need to be in Texas or the canyons of the West to achieve that  – just leave the city and you’re a pioneer. This book is an assured debut, well-written and emotionally involving and I really enjoyed it. (9/10)

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Source: Amazon Vine ARC. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Road to Reckoning by Robert Lautner, pub 30 Jan 2014 by The Borough Press (HarperCollins), 240 pages.
True Grit by Charles Portis

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8 thoughts on “True Grit’s inheritor…

  1. I also love good quality westerns. I have recently read Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses and loved it. I now want to read this one!

  2. I don’t think I’ve ever read a bona fide Western, because I always thought of them in the same category as Harlequin romances. Weird I know but the romance and Western sections were opposite one another at the library when I was little and I associated them together: the Westerns were for men and the romances for women. Strange! Would you recommend starting with this one or with True Grit or something else?

    • I remember the shelves of westerns in the library too. Luckily there are some more literary ones about, this is one, True Grit and Cormac McCarthy’s trilogy are others. Others will add ‘Lonesome dove’ but I haven’t read that yet. My favourite has to be one of the originals though – Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey from 1912 – it is wonderful.

  3. Heh, now that I know you like Westerns, it’s interesting to read your review. I didn’t think people wrote them any more! Or at least, if they did, they had to do Brokeback Mountain-type unusual things to them. I’d be sad to see any category of novel disappear, so it’s great to know that some good new ones are out there.

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