Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Searchers by Alan LeMay

Before it was a classic Western film starring John Wayne, The Searchers was a novel written by Alan LeMay (published 1954) and now having read The Searchers I can say the book is every bit the movie's equal.  Here for example is a passage from chapter one of The Searchers.  To set the scene it's a few years after the Civil War and the Edwards family is living in a remote part of Texas, near Comanche territory. As night aprroaches Henry Edwards is standing guard on his porch looking out at the vast land in front of him.  He is worried and reflects on his decision to keep his family here all these years:

"Once they could have quit and found safety in a milder land. They couldn't quit now, with fortune beyond belief coming into their hands.  They were as good as rich - and living in the deadliest danger that had overhung them yet...But you get used to unresting vigilance, and a perpetual danger becomes part of the everyday things around you.  After a long time you probably wouldn't know how to digest right, anymore, if it altogether went away. All that was behind could not explain, exactly, the way Henry felt tonight".

We are not shown tbe massacre.  Instead, the next day racing to the burning Edwards ranch, Amos Edwards (Henry Edwards' brother) and Martin Pauley (who the Edwards adopted as a young boy after his own family was killed by Comanches) come upon the mutilated body of Henry Edwards, his wife Martha and their two sons. The Edwards daughters, Lucy and young Debbie have been taken captive. Amos, Martin and a few other men from the area begin the search to rescue Lucy and Debbie.  A few days later, Amos finds Lucy's body. That leaves Debbie still out there and the thinking is that since she was young, the Comanches may have spared her and are raising Debbie as their own..

After a week, the neighborhood men go back to their lives.  But Martin and Amos continue to look for Debbie, a search all over the Southwest which will take years. That's the heart of this book, the epic journey that Amos and Martin go on and how it changes Martin Pauley in particular.  Martin soon realizes that Amos is more set on revenge against the Comanches which will risk Debbie's life in the process.  Martin is determined not to let that happen.

Amos though gruff and out for vengence cares about Martin. Amos is a man in his early forties who has been fighting in wars and living out on the range for years.  He warns Martin not to follow his example and to go home and start a life.  An old Buffalo hunter reinforces this when he relates his dream to Martin about how all he wants as he comes to the end of his life is "a bunk, a little grub and a chair by the stove".  Martin thinks, "there you had it - the end a prairie man could  look forward to". But Martin is as stubborn as Amos and so the search continues.

Even if Westerns are not your genre, I would recommend The Searchers by Alan LeMay.  The first chapter alone in which Henry Edwards stands on his porch realizing that his family's luck has run out is a powerful and haunting dissertation about the dangers we get into when we live in denial.  And the remainder of this very well written book lives up to the first chapter as we learn about life on the plains, the lives of Cowboys, the lives of Indians and above all Martin Pauley who starts his search for Debbie when he is eighteen, grows to adulthood during his six year odyssey and ends up at the end a very admirable and interesting young man.  He is no two-dimensional cowboy and you will enjoy meeting him.


  1. Great review. The movie was so good.

    The book sounds just as good if not better.

    Though I have not read many Westerns I think that almost any genre contains great books.

    I have heard that Alan LeMay is a writer who is worth reading.

    1. Hi Brian, very true about how every genre contains it's gems. Not sure what happened with the Western. Mysteries, Romance and Science Fiction still going strong but Westerns as a genre out of fashion but when they are good ike The Searchers they are well worth reading.

  2. Westerns are defo not my thing but I will have a wee nosey, thanks for sharing.


  3. Hi Lainy. I know what you mean about Westerns. I do like the old classic TV westerns Bonanza, Gunsmoke but the books are dry and the hero two dimensional. That said the Searchers one of those rare books that surpasses the genre. I would recommend the Searchers for tbe first chapter alone.