BRULES by Harry Combs


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Impressive scope and vivid detail don't redeem this violent and misanthropic novel of a killer's journey across the Old West, by the author of Kill Devil Hill (1979). On a Colorado ranch in 1916, the elderly Cat Brules tells his story to a college-age listener. He begins in Hays City, Kans., where in 1867 he has just quit his job and plans to rob a Texas bank with his old friend Pedro. Brules has a night of wild sex with a prostitute named Michelle; returning to her room on the following night, he finds his former boss beating the woman. Brules kills him and must flee Hays City with Michelle. After traveling several days with little food or water, they cross paths with Pedro and decide to follow his trail markings southward. Comanches soon capture Brules and Michelle, torturing him and roasting her alive. Brules shoots his way out of the camp, only to find Pedro's remains further down the trail. He begins an Indian-killing spree to avenge his two friends' deaths, but after a Shoshone woman named Wild Rose nurses him back to health following a grizzly bear attack, his opinion of Native Americans changes. Brules and Wild Rose marry, have a daughter, and build a cabin. After a horse tramples his wife to death, Brules gives their child to the care of the Shoshone and lives the rest of his life in solitude. Many unnecessary digressions make this novel far too long. Its violence, moreover, is off-putting: Combs clearly intends Brules's hatred of Indians to reflect Old West attitudes, but the fugitive's racism becomes grating over the course of 500 pages; the 100 pages of domestic bliss following his marriage to Wild Rose cannot change the protagonist's brutal image. The bloodshed and bravado may thrill some shoot-'em-up enthusiasts, but this story is as flat as the western desert.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0440217288
Page count: 608pp
Publisher: Delacorte