Third in the brutal and amusing saga of the dissolute Lord Berrybender and his lusty brood in the great American West (Sin Killer, 2002, etc.).
Readers who have not been put off by McMurtry’s over-the-top (much scalping, butchering, piercing, dismemberment and spur-of-the-moment sex) take on the unsettled American frontier will be happy to follow the Berrybenders, whose numbers stay roughly constant as births in the bush balance deaths by all sorts of brutalities, as they take a big left turn from the undeveloped northern plains to head for purported comforts of Santa Fe. Berrybender, whose taste for big-game hunting seems unaffected by the loss of numerous limbs and digits, has returned his attentions to his erstwhile mistress, the distinguished cellist Venetia “Vicky” Kennet. Lady Tasmin, Berrybender’s beautiful eldest daughter, irritated by the constant disappearances of her free-range frontiersman husband Jim “Sin Killer” Snow, is now focusing her formidable energies on Pomp Charbonneau, diffident son of trapper Toussaint Charbonneau and Sacagawea (yes, that Sacagawea). There’s a liaison, but an unsatisfactory one: Pomp, although he doesn’t disappear like Jim, is nowhere near as ready to, as Tasmin delicately puts it, rut whenever Tasmin is in the mood. Into the mix float a pair of European balloon-equipped journalists on assignment and their factotum, still bleeding from the midnight loss of an ear to the Ear Taker. Numerous Indians lurk in the neighborhood, but their numbers have been suddenly and devastatingly reduced by smallpox. Indeed, the great Sioux warrior known as the Partezon, whose maraudings nearly meant the end of the saga, correctly sees aviation and the plague as the end of the way for his people and heads for the Black Hills to die. Santa Fe lies on the other side of a seemingly endless desert, but the plucky Brits and their wild American assistants walk on.
The Berrybenders may be de trop, but the scenery continues to be worth the trip.