Noir Journal's ace reviewer, Ann Snuggs, just published her own first novel.
Donovan's Trail, by Ann Snuggs
Donovan's Trail, written by Ann Snuggs, is now available in the Kindle format at Amazon.com. A traditional Western, definitely PG-rated, Donovan's Trail tells the story of Tom Donovan, sheriff of Sundown, whose devotion to duty and the letter of the law conflict with personal considerations when his finance's brother goes wrong and the man who killed his father reappears in his town.
Reviewed by Kristofer Upjohn
There are probably a lot of arguments among fans of the Western. At least, there's definitely some generation gap, culture clash, whatever you want to call it. You see, it has been argued by some that there is the classic Western and then there is the new Western. Cinematically, you can point back to [fill in the blank of John Wayne movie here] and witness classic Western cinema. You can turn to the likes of Sergio Leone and his "spaghetti Westerns" as a watershed moment for the Western. Now you have "modern" Westerns such as "Unforgiven" or the "3:10 To Yuma" remake, the likes of which stick in the craw of fans of more vintage stylings.
The same could probably be said about the Western novel. L'Amour, Luke Short, Max Brand, Zane Grey, et al, have huge canons of fiction to represent the old guard. Then you have Larry McMurtry and others representing the more contemporary Western (by "contemporary" I mean style, not temporal setting of the story, but you probably figured that).
At any rate, the Western has changed.
So it will come as a joy to long-time Western readers of the if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it variety to know that such a novel as Donovan's Trail by Ann Snuggs has ridden into town. Doffing its hat and introducing itself, the novel reveals to the reader that there's lots of introducing in the works. Snuggs has filled her exemplary novel with a full cast of rich characters. No fear, though; the reader needn't chug through page after page after get-on-with-it-PLEASE! page of introductions. The characters are deftly integrated into the story as their presence is required and we get to know them through the much-lauded/oft-ignored show-don't-tell method.
Which is to say, Snuggs by no means tortures the Western fan with laborious exposition.
That's good. Great, in fact. Sure, a huge historical epic with a massive temporal scope, such as James Michener was wont to write, warrants lengthy passages and a heady page count. Not so the traditional Western.
And that, folks, is what we have here. I was reminded strongly of the character depth and economy of words that are hallmarks of great Western fiction (that same economy applies to crime/noir, as well, but that's a different review, isn't it?), and Louis L'Amour came to mind more than once. However, let's dispel any inferences that Snuggs is just following the L'Amour template. No, her book invites qualitative comparisons to L'Amour but Donovan's Trail is hardly derivative.
For a genre that's been around for a long time and which has produced a boggling number of slender--and some not-so-slender-- volumes for the gazillions of oat opera fans to consume, it says something for Snuggs as a storyteller that one doesn't feel like he (or she) is retreading the same old ground. Despite the assertion I've heard more than once that there are something like six basic Western storylines, I credit the author with a healthy serving of originality, heaped up like a cowboy's hard-earned dinner. By now, the Western palate ought to be thirsty for suchy a book, like an outlaw crawling in from the desert craves agua.
One disclaimer is in order: Just because I consider this old-school Western writing should not suggest that it's (a) inaccessible to contemporary readers or fans of the modern Western, or (b) wordy like some of the REAL old-school Old West writers. Snuggs' prose is as lean as her book is packed. The prose is economical yet vivid, and the story gallops forward with nary a stumble. The reader isn't given the chance to be bored. There's nothing but meat here - no fat. Everything is in place, from a story tapestry woven out of several engaging plot threads (none gratuitous) to a colorful cast of characters, each imbued with depth and dimension. Standouts are a dastardly bastard of a villain, mean as hell and just as cunning - and no cardboard cutout. Katie, Sheriff Tom Donovan's love interest, is more than just a pretty face in a pretty dress wringing her hands, awaiting rescue from the guy in the ten gallon.Donovan's sidekick Ben is a particularly robust character, especially given his co-starring role.
And, of course, there's Donovan himself, who must be at the very least an interesting lawman for the readers' sake. Snuggs meets and exceeds that bar as she does all others. Donovan is a great Western lawman, moral quandry or no. But his soul-deep wrestling with trying to get his black-and-white morality to jibe with all the grays is at least as compelling as the surface story with which it is entwined. Further, in the course of learning that there's a spectrum between good and evil, he has to be careful to accept shades of gray without sliding all the way over to the evil himself and becomng the very thing he hates.
About the Author
Ann Snuggs was creating stories from the time she could talk. Her mother transcribed then - for family enjoyment only. A lifelong writer, she has written everything from advertising copy to poetry, newspaper columns to novels. She considers herself a true writer-- one who writes like she breathes, no matter what she writes, because it is necessary for living.
Donovan's Trail is her first novel, written a number of years ago but available to the public for the first time this year. Currently it is available only in Kindle format but Ann hopes to have a print edition available before the end of the year.
She has two other books to her credit, Riding the (Silver Screen) Range and Uncredited: Cliff Lyons, On & Off Screen, both non-fiction on the topic of Western movies.
Having an interest in design, Ann also created the cover art for both Donovan's Trail and her book on Cliff Lyons.
At this time, Ann reviews for Noir Journal; is working on memoirs with child star of the 30s Dick Jones, who was the voice of Pinocchio for Disney; is editing a second novel for Kindle availability; and, of course, journals.