CODE OF THE WEST by Aaron Latham


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The story of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table has been revived numerous times, by such masterly writers as Alfred Lord Tennyson, T.H. White, and Thomas Berger.

And now it's been beaten to a bloody pulp in this unimaginably awful new novel by the author of The Ballad of Gussie and Clyde (1997), etc., and screenwriter of, uh, Urban Cowboy and Perfect. Any questions? There won't be, once readers realize that adopted Texas orphan Jimmy Goodnight, who wins a county fair competition by pulling an axe out of an anvil (Excalibur, you see) is King Arthur; his sweetheart, proper Bostonian Revelie Sanborn, is wild-at-heart (and in-bed) Queen Guinevere, and Jack Loving, the handsome drifter who's her husband's best friend, is that chivalrous adulterer Lancelot. It's downhill all the way, over a 30-year span beginning in the 1860s, during which Goodnight (as if by magic) becomes leader of a band of cattle drovers, survives several encounters with his archenemies "the Robbers' Roost gang," prospers and grows wise (attuned to the earth and its creatures, a gift from the Comanches who captured Jimmy after slaughtering his family), holds his "kingdom" together when cowboys unionize and go on strike, and meets his doom at the hands of Claw, the evil son he never knew he had inadvertently fathered (Mordred, in case you're still keeping score).There's a howler on almost every page of this bloated monstrosity, which commits the further artistic sin of withholding for nearly three hundred pages information crucial to understanding its main character's thoughts and motivations, then slings it at us in a shapeless extended flashback that clings to the body of the novel like a tumor invading an innocent organ.

Latham has a proven track record, and Code of the West will probably make it to the screen in some form or other. Remember you heard it here first: see the movie if you must, but do not, under any circumstances, read the book.

Pub Date: April 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-7432-0117-5
Page count: 496pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2001


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