Monday, December 26, 2011

Three Wild Ones (1963)

Three Wild Ones
John Reese
1963, The Westminster Press

The grey went on the alert.  He lifted his head.  His ears shot forward curiously, then were laid back flat on his head in angry defiance.  He bunched his four feet and stood trembling, ready to stroke or kick or run.

16-year-old Art Byfield runs away from his Nebraska home after another argument with his new stepfather.  Hotly resentful of his mother’s remarriage and bored with his life, Art hits the road with little more than the shirt on his back.  Eleven days later, he’s in southern California.  He’s cold, hungry, frightened by the violence and hardness of life on the road, and still not ready to go home.  He stumbles across a small horse ranch owned by cantankerous old Grover Henry “Yuma” Schoonover, and settles in as a much-bawled-out stable hand.
Up until this point, the book is hard going.  It has a violent, disturbing core that’s evident from the first paragraph:

When they pulled out of the drive-in hamburger stand at one thirty A.M., the other car emerged through thick shadows down the road to follow them.  Art Byfield felt heavy dread as well as hot anger as he glanced from the rearview mirror to the sleepy, golden-haired girl who sat between him and Piddy Kern.  No question now – those three fellows were following him, hoping to pick up somebody else’s pretty girl.
It’s a scene to make any woman’s skin crawl, being followed home after midnight by men half drunk and wholly nasty.   It’s followed quickly by more hardscrabble scenes where Ar t runs afoul of criminals, including Yuma, who immediately tells him he’s an ex-con who went to prison for manslaughter, and threatens him with a broken bottle. 

Then Art, who has only had a mild interest in horses before, becomes interested in the grey colt Hickey, a shy and wild horse Yuma has expressly told him to leave alone.  The slow, understandable work of handling horses is a comfort to the reader and to Art, after the random, chaotic world of the criminals who have until now dominated the book.  They continue to appear – Art and Yuma tangle with a killer, and Art forms a wary friendship with a local deputy – but the emphasis shifts over to horses.
Yuma’s horses are movie horses.  Sam, a big bay gelding, is a natural ham who loves the camera and who is recruited to work on a new Western series.  When Yuma is hurt, Art takes over the job of hauling the horses to the set every day, and begins to consider stunt riding and horse training as a career. 

Hickey – grey colt
Ritzy – 15-year-old bay mare
Sam – 11-year-old bay gelding
Pancho  - buckskin gelding
Daisy – 6-year-old Thoroughbred-cross mare
Lottie – 6-year-old mare
John Henry Reese (1910-1981) mostly wrote Westerns, but a few children/teen books in the 1960s, including a dog book, Big Mutt, which I reviewed on my dog blog and liked very much.

In other news.
Christmas was a beautiful and balmy 50 degrees, my year-old review of Helga Sandburg's Blueberry has been updated with a cover image, and I have finally convinced birds to use the newest feeder.

Purple finches!!!

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