Hell of a Good Book

For book lovers, the pleasure and discovery of browsing through a bookstore’s shelves can never be replaced or replicated by visiting an online site.

A couple of months ago, I was browsing through an independent bookstore in Mendocino, California and happened upon HELL AT THE BREECH by Tom Franklin, which was published in 2003 and yet was still stocked on the shelves as a new title. Imagine a chain bookstore holding on to a title that long. I doubt I ever would have discovered the book otherwise.

I finally got around to reading HELL AT THE BREECH in two long, blissful sittings this week, finishing it at 2:30 this morning, invigorated and wishing the book wasn’t finished. The experience was like re-uniting with an old lover. The pleasure of reading this fine novel brought back memories of all the hours I’d spent reading good books in my life….huddled in my sleeping bag in a cabin at Loon Lake, sitting on the boardwalk in Capitola, sunbathing on a chaise lounge at my grandfather’s place in Palm Springs, lying in the bathtub with my head propped on a wet towel, laying in a hammock with my baby daughter asleep on my chest etc…. and all the associations that came with them, like the smell of suntan lotion, the fresh-caught trout in Nana’s smoker, the soap bubbles in the bathtub, the baby lotion on my daughter’s skin. A good book can do a lot more than simply entertain and pass the time.

HELL AT THE BREECH is one of those books. It’s a wonderfully entertaining book, the best western I’ve read since LONESOME DOVE, though far be it for any of the critics who raved about it….and there were many…to concede it’s a western. The closest anyone came was to refer to it as "historical fiction."

The book is full of vividly drawn, complex characters…violence, humor, and powerful imagery.  There are many moving scenes and darkly funny moments…and many masterful descriptions of people, places, expressions and emotions.  I often found myself re-reading passages just to experience the beautifully-evoked images and moments again…and to marvel at Franklin’s prose, wishing I had his talent. It’s a book that will make you eager to read another book to recapture that pleasure…and, if you are like me, it will inspire you to write.

3 thoughts on “Hell of a Good Book”

  1. Wow. Imagine my surprise in reading your column when I realized that I’ve had an advanced reader’s copy of this very same book sitting on my shelf at home for over four years, and that I haven’t taken the time to read it. Shame on me; as a Barnes and Noble store manager, I really should have read this one years ago when I received it. With your recommendation, I’ll move it to the top of my to-read stack. Thanks, Lee.

  2. Tom Franklin is ridiculously underrated. POACHERS was a consistently excellent short story collection (the title story won the Edgar Award, in fact) and his most recent novel SMONK is in a similar vein to DEADWOOD but bawdier and more blackly comic. I think you’re in for some very good reading soon, Lee.


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