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  • Tim O'Brien

The Mountain Valley War (1978)

Updated: Nov 3, 2020

Absolutely one of the bad-assed-est Louis L'Amour heroes of them all is Lance Kilkenny. 
As The Mountain Valley War opens, Kilkenny is living quietly in Idaho under the assumed name “Trent,” trying to escape his violent past. (Note to self: if you want to disappear without attracting attention, use two names.)
The bad guys, though, just won't let this tortured soul in a gunfighter's body find peace. The Hales, who control the town and the surrounding lowlands, are determined to clear out Kilkenny and the other sod-busters up in the hills, including a big family from Kentucky with the portentous last name of Hatfield. Meanwhile, Kilkenny's babe from his former life just happens to be running a saloon in town and fending of the unwanted advances of the senior Hale. Bloodshed ensues, and in great supply.  For the most part it is the usual, satisfying, L'Amour gore-fest, but it has its exceptional parts as well.
Among other things, Kilkenny beats up not one, but two much bigger tough guys, the second a famed prize-fighter with 30 pounds on Kilkenny, himself no slouch at 6'1" and 200 pounds.  Most men would rest up in the hospital after such a fight, but not Kilkenny, who barely stops to wash his face before going back into battle. Ecce homo! The next wonderful thing about the tale is Kilkenny's hottie, the half-Spanish, half-Irish Nita Riordan. She has followed him all the way from Texas--and what smokin' hot babe wouldn't do the same in her shoes? Most L'Amour heroines are as pure, chaste and pedestal-bound as the Lady Galadriel. We get glimpses of Nita, though, that are really quite fetching. To wit: She stood across the table from him, taller than most women, with a slender yet voluptuous body that made a pulse pound in his throat. (Page 29) Her black hair fell over her shoulders halfway to her waist. He saw the quick rise of her breast under the thin material of the nightgown. Her voice was low, and something in the timbre made his muscles tremble . . . . (Page 137) "Oh, Lance!" she whispered. "Don't let me go. Keep me now. It has been so long, and I've been so lonely." (Page 192.) Well, now!  This is pretty heavy breathing for Louis L'Amour, not to mention his teenage fanboys. Did I just read the word "breast"? Hold me back, boys! But the coolest superpower Kilkenny has is his Jedi mind-trick ability to make enemies surrender without a fight. Take Cain Brockman. He haunts the book like a vengeful ghost, having followed Kilkenny from Texas to kill our hero for beating him up and besting his brother Abel in a gunfight. They finally square off in the saloon run by Nita (she of the thin nightie). It's page 173, and it's about time they settled things.   And what happens? Kilkenny talks him out of it! With the old "You're too good a man for this" speech. What's more, 18 pages later, Kilkenny and Brockman have become besties, and Brockman gives up his wicked ways to file a claim with the other sod-busters. And not by himself. No, Kilkenny worked the same magic on Dan Cooper earlier on ("I like you Cooper. I think you've got sand, and I think you're a good man tied in with the wrong crowd."). Now Cooper, too, can't wait to turn farmer. In case we've missed the point, Kilkenny does it one last time, in a stand-off with a passel of Hale's tough guys. One of them, Tandy Wade, backs down without a fight, and throws himself on Kilkenny's mercy, with the pathetic question "What happens to us?" And, of course, Kilkenny intones the magic words again: "You're too good a man to run with this crowd, Tandy."   Lance Kilkenny, channeling The Force! But instead of "These aren't the droids you're looking for," he says "You're a good man . . ." and the storm troopers--er, tough guys--are putty in his hands. A stretch, you say? Look at the year The Mountain Valley War was published; 1978, the year after the first Star Wars movie came out.  

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Harry Walsh
Harry Walsh
06 nov 2020

The critic is an even better writer than the genius writer!

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