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October 11, 1987|Miles Beller

HORSE THIEVES by Nelson Nye (M. Evans: $14.95; 180 pp.). Nearly 18 years after Nelson Nye's last sagebrush saga comes his latest cowboy opera, a novel titled "Horse Thieves," which launches a new line of hardback Westerns by well-known contemporary authors of old West tales.

"Thieves" is a silly but diverting trek into the romanticized, fictional badlands of America a century ago, a time and place, as envisioned by Nye, that's marked by hackneyed regional jargon (e.g. "She had that gun pointed at my brisket," "I bought a cigar and fired up . . ."), tough-talking ranchwomen, mysterious drifters, and mayhem and malevolence lurking behind every thorny cactus and craggy mountain peak.

The central conceit found in "Thieves" concerns wanderin' wrangler Peep Boyano and his efforts to assist a pretty, pioneer-spirited gal named Merrilee Manton, who has to get a bunch of top-dollar bangtail horses up to Goldfield to thwart foreclosure of her ranch. And during the course of dealing with the risky horse drive north, Nye puts a herd of obstacles in our protagonists' way, including renegade Indians, bad bureaucrats and out-and-out swindlers.

"Horse Thieves" amounts to a paint-by-numbers Frederic Remington canvas in book form, a highly stylized depiction of the bygone frontier, nostalgia swaddled in rawhide.

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