It was time for me to go back to the Wild West. And this is done with this dusky western by Bruce Holbert, Lonesome Animals. The action takes place in 1932 in the county of Okanogan, in Washington State. Though cars have made their appearance, the county is still a pretty isolated and wild place when the remains of an Indian man are found. His body has been severely damaged. The old demons come back to the surface.
In his quest, Russell will come across old ghosts from his past. Who is Russell ? A violent man, who enjoyed killing. The author leads us through his secrets and beneath his past and his family. In his world, outlaws, gold diggers, Indians who have lost their groundings, all come across. They’re all lost souls, lost animals. Is Russell one of them ?
A dark novel where the hero is not a hero. Strawl is a former US Army Officer – a Métis Scout (mixed Indian) who betrayed his people, helped the Army chasing them and killing them. Strawl has himself an impressive hunting table. And he’s not afraid to strew more dead bodies. He walks alongside the Grim Reaper, he knows she’s awaiting him. She walks with him, day and night. She’s in his dreams, in his aging body. She’s waiting.
Bruce Holbert’s first novel is powerful but so dark. You have to be aware of that. The novel is pretty close to a mystical tale, with the character of Dog Man and the Stick Indians, these malevolent Indian spirits.
The author is taking us into a world where there is no justice but only punishment. A world filled with zombies : these Indian men and women deprived of everything, who wander through these woods, lost souls, looking for redemption. And that series of killings is suddenly bringing back all these buried beliefs.
I really enjoyed that dark novel, very close to a western, though I have to confess : one has to keep one’s nerve because violence is continuous and the author doesn’t try to soften it. The reader is at close range with death throughout the book.
The book has a few drawbacks : some people have found it too long. I, myself, didn’t. The style might surprise : the author adds lyricism throughout the book. I have to say that I did guess who the killer was before the ending, but the novel is far more than just a thriller. To me, it’s definitely the personal quest for an old man at the end of his life.
As for the author, Bruce Holbert grew up in these mountains and his great-grand father, was actually a Métis who was a well-known and respected scout for the US Army until he murdered his son-in-law, Bruce Holbert’s maternal grand-father.
Now, I want to read his new novel, The hour of lead.