Confessions of a Gunfighter served notice that a new and talented practitioner of the art of the Western genre was on the scene. In Cooper, Tell Cotten gives us that same clear and simple style, but the mood and tone of the book is decidedly different from Confessions.
Cooper Landon is on his way back home to Midway, TX with his new, true love, Josie, recently rescued from life with the Apaches. The couple gathers themselves a nice collection of beaver pelts, which they pack on their mule. They run into a notorious outlaw (who later turns out to be running guns to the Indians). He takes a fancy to the pelts and to the idea of ridding the world of a Landon (Cooper’s brother and sheriff, Yancy, is pretty famous for his quick draw.) Difficulties ensue.
In the meantime, said brother Yancy returns to Midway with another notorious outlaw in tow, one whom he stashes in jail awaiting a judge and a trial. There’s unfinished business with this one, though, because the money he stole from the beauty in the action hasn’t been recovered. Yancy has left the search for the cash to two borderline miscreants. Bothered that Cooper is overdue, he leaves town to find him, entrusting the outlaw to his young deputy, who is several cards short of a full deck.
There’s a fire, a jailbreak, and the stage is set for what turns into almost a French farce as several sets of good guys and bad guys and a passel of Indians chase one another around the surrounding territory. “Sure is getting crowded in these hills,” remarks one character. Well and truly said. That mule and his beaver pelts get stolen and recovered several times. Outlaws get tied up hugging a cactus; a bad guy gets killed by a ricochet, and a fool gets credit for it; infatuated outlaws reform so that the beauty can pursue her man, and half the time people don’t know who they’re shooting at or who’s shooting at them.
Much of Cooper is wild and comical in a way that’s refreshing and unusual in Westerns, but the serious parts are serious as a bullet in the heart, and there’s even some philosophical decision-making about the difference between what’s legal and what’s just. Quite a package. Go for it.