Callaghen is one of those books that came along at just the right time for me. I was due to read a western anyhow, but I had a bit of a bad day on Tuesday (don't worry, nothing all that serious). Nevertheless, it was one of those instances where somebody close to me got the raw end of the deal through no fault of their own...and was punished for it. The world ain't black and white but your typical Louis L'Amour western novel usually is. I really liked being able to escape into this world where you know who the good guys and the bad guys are. And you can be pretty comfortably assured that the bad guys will get what's coming to them in the end. This one was no exception. The main character, Callaghen, is an army sergeant with years of experience in both US, just after the Civil War, as well as in foreign services. He has an intriguing past, having held the rank of Major before being busted down several times. Now he is eligible for discharge but doesn't really know what to do with his life. Soldiering is all he knows.
Fortunately, Callaghen has one last bit of work to do for the US Army, namely serving with a unit to protect the Government road to Vegas Springs and Las Vegas. Right through Indian country. Callaghen's vast experience with desert survival serves him and his companions well as they run into all sorts of Indian trouble, stage coach protection, and of course the political snakes within their own camp. We spend a lot of time seeing the countryside through Callaghen's eyes, an especially vivid portrait of the desert landscapes. L'Amour does a better job than anybody I've read on describing the thirst his characters encounter when they run short of water. Coupling that with the action of the gun battles as well as the intrigue that develops among the members of the Army unit makes for a fine story. I'd rate it a top 20% of all of L'Amour's works.
From there it was an easy transition into another L'Amour short story from his The Strong Shall Live collection, "Merrano of the Dry Country." This is the longest story in this collection and seems to me could have easily been fleshed out into a full novel. As it was it was very enjoyable but in essence it seemed to me to be too much plot for the short story format. It is about a half white, half Mexican rancher who has to fight for his land when the drought has the other ranchers in a bind. The protagonist has thought ahead and worked hard to be prepared for such times but he has to fight against the prejudice of the others to keep what he has earned. This story had a great opening and middle...sort of a "stand up for what's yours" plot. But something happened over the last third of the story and it changed into a "who shot who" story. As I say, if this was a full length novel, the author could have explored all sub plots completely and expanded the characterization.
Next up: I need another relatively short book so I can finish before I take a business trip next week. I've selected another in the "Cat Who" series with The Cat Who Tailed a Thief."