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362 Western American Literature The Time It Never Rained. By Elmer Kelton, with an Afterword by Tom Pilkington. (1973; rpt. Ft. Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1984. 377 pages, $16.95.) The republication of Elmer Kelton’smodern “cowboy” novel, The Time It Never Rained, is a welcome event for readers and students of western American literature. The plot details the struggle of the rancher Charlie Flagg against not only the devastating drought that gripped the area around San Angelo, Texas, in the 1950s, but also his battle against governmental red tape in the aid programs which turned out to be financial quagmires for unsuspect­ ing ranchers. This volume is the second in the new Chisholm Trail series from a suddenly quite active Texas Christian University Press, and the After­ word by Tom Pilkington is excellent. LAWRENCE CLAYTON Hardin-Simmons University The Turquoise Dragon. By David Rains Wallace. (Yolla Bolly Press/Sierra Club Books, 1984. 230 pages, $12.95.) The publishers are calling The Turquoise Dragon “an eco-thriller,” and I have to confess that when I first heard that term, my guard went up. A murder mystery with bio-regional intentions? It sounded like an unwieldy mixture. Too tricky. Too trendy. But David Wallace quickly disarmed me. He has not only delivered an immensely readable book; he has added some­ thing fresh to the literature of environmental consciousness, and given us a high-country version of the West Coast detective novel. Like Lew Archer and The Continental Op, George Kilgore is a loner. Not as hard-boiled as Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe, he still displays enough cynicism to have a place in their jaded company. The big difference is that he lives not in the city, but in the wilds of Trinity County, five hours north of San Francisco. And his world-view has been shaped, not by street life and the many varieties of urban corruption, but by disillusionment with the Forest Service, followed by a few years growing dope in the backwoods, protecting and then selling his crop, all of which led to the collapse of his marriage. What Kilgore lacks in toughness, he makes up for in paranoia. Still wary from his days living outside the law, he trusts almost no one. Yet he is not irredeemably cynical, or hopelessly suspicious, nor have all his ideals been compromised. He still respects the mountains around him, knows and trusts their habits. Kilgore truly understands nature’s various cycles and how they interconnect. And the special appeal of this novel lies right there, in the way he uses this knowledge of soils and trails and wild creatures and geology to unravel the mystery and solve the crime. On the day the story begins, he has driven down to the Bay Area, “doing a few errands,” as he says, and decides to call on an old pal who lives in Reviews 363 Oakland. Kilgore enters his friend’s silent apartment and finds him on the livingroom floor with a bullet hole in the back of his head. This friend, Tom Blackwell, had a double career. A frequent traveller in Latin America, he trafficked in cocaine. But he was a biologist by training, with a special interest in herpetology—frogs, snakes, turtles, lizards, sala­ manders. Before long Kilgore discovers that a rare and as yet unrecorded species of salamander—The Turquoise Dragon—has been found in a remote north county canyon, one that local developers would like to see dammed and filled with water. The trouble is, this discovery doesn’t fit with what Kilgore knows about the region’s climate patterns. Blackwell had been active in a movement to save this canyon. So perhaps the salamanders were planted, as an environmentalists’sploy. Or perhaps not. It is one of several leads that send Kilgore speeding up and down the high­ ways and logging roads between Oakland and the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, just above the Oregon border, where he catches up with Blackwell’s ex-wife and, later, where the tale reaches its nightmarish finale. JAMES D. HOUSTON University of California, Santa Cruz Los Angeles in Fiction. Edited by David Fine. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1985. 262 pages, $9...


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pp. 362-363
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