LORDS OF THE PLAIN by Max Crawford


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In this dark novelization of the Texas/Indian wars of the 1870s, the llano estacado--the great, featureless plain upon which the Army pursues the Comanches--often seems to be the true enemy of the warriors on both sides. ""No formation of any sort, no work of man nor nature, was to be seen anywhere. There was the wind, and that might be seen playing across the short stiff grass, and there was what the sky might offer, and there were the playa lakes. But when the day was calm and the sky overcast, when one had lost sight of the last lake and there were none to be seen ahead, then there was nothing."" Crawford (Waltz Across Texas, The Bad Communist) puts this stark narration into the voice of Army captain Philip Chapman, who is ethically queasy over the destruction of the Indians. At the same time, however, as a military man, Chapman is impatient with his erratic commandant McSwain, who alternates between gung-ho bloodthirstiness and cowering indecision. And eventually the troops do move out across the plain, as Crawford produces a series of vigorous, full, visual set-pieces: an insanely grand-scale buffalo hunt; flash floods; the ultimate attack on Comanches in the canyon they've been driven into (the smoke and heat almost destroy the victorious Army troops when fires are put to the encampment on the canyon floor); and the mass killing of tired horses before returning across the llano. Elsewhere, unfortunately, the novel is less commanding, with a muffled climax and some hollow preachment (grandiloquent, populist) at the final trial of the surviving Indians. Still, this is superior historical-reconstruction fiction--from a writer with a painterly eye and a forceful interest in history's large, disastrous commitments.

Pub Date: Jan. 21st, 1984
Publisher: Atheneum