Monday, October 28, 2013
Review Roundup: Benevolent Torture
By Frank Roderus
Western Fictioneers, March 2013
$0.99 Kindle, ASIN B00BNQFZTQ
Harrison Wilke is anything but heroic. In fact, on most days he’s doing good to rise to the level of milquetoast. He’s afraid of horses. He doesn’t like cattle. Thanks to living in the east after his father’s death, he’s far too erudite and cultured to waste his talents on the Kansas frontier where the most sophisticated of the locals is about as polished as a rusty nail.
Reliant on his late father’s brother for charity, Harrison chafes under his uncle’s uncouth insistence that he “man up.” As far as Harrison is concerned, the ranch his father co-founded is good for only one thing: A ticket back to civilization. The minute his uncle dies — and surely the tough-as-rawhide old coot will kick off one of these days — Harrison plans to sell the property and escape to the life he should have had all along.
At least that’s his plan until his only friend, a clerk at the local bank, comes up with a get-rich-quick scheme that won’t require Harrison to get dirt under his fingernails. The arrangement seems perfectly sound…until the hemp neckties come out.
Frank Roderus’s Leaving Kansas won the Western Writers of America Spur Award for Best Western Novel when it was released in 1983. The Western Fictioneers’ re-release of the book in digital format pays tribute to the enduring spirit of an uncommon tale. Not a classic western by any stretch of the imagination, Leaving Kansas may be all the more intriguing because it turns the western a bit sideways.
As a protagonist, Harrison Wilke is annoying in the extreme, but like a car accident on the freeway, readers won't be able to look away. Part of the reason is an unseemly eagerness to see Harrison get his comeuppance. It’s unusual to find oneself rooting against the protagonist — and downright confounding to reach the end of the story and find yourself missing the whiny stuffed shirt.
Fortunately, Leaving Kansas is the first in a trilogy. No doubt Harrison continues to trip all over his clueless self-indulgence in Reaching Colorado and Finding Nevada (also re-released by Western Fictioneers), but frankly, between Roderus’s engaging voice and absorbing storytelling, I’m looking forward to the excursion.
Kathleen Rice Adams is a Texan, a voracious reader, a professional journalist, and an author. She received a review copy of Leaving Kansas from the publisher. Her opinions are her own and are neither endorsed nor necessarily supported by Western Fictioneers or individual members of the organization. Links in the review are for convenience only; they do not produce affiliate revenue.