“Catlow” is Louis L’Amour’s 1963 novel. Two childhood friends, Bijah Catlow and Ben Cowan take different paths as they grow from boyhood to manhood. Cowan becomes a U.S. marshal. And Catlow? He becomes an outlaw. I’ve read this book three times in the past few years, each one on my hammock and with a good cigar. I’m already looking forward to the fourth time.
Paul Bishop is my co-author on the book “52 Weeks • 52 Western Novels,” and Paul stole this one right out from under me, so I’m going to steal his write-up and share it with you. Thanks Paul!
By the time these childhood friends reached manhood, they had drifted apart. Ben had taken the path to wearing a tin star, while Catlow followed a more serpentine trail to becoming a top cowhand with a wild streak who followed the spirit of the law if not the letter. By mutual consent, they avoid each other so as not to force a confrontation. But after a disastrous confrontation with a band of greedy ranchers, Catlow is branded an outlaw and it is U.S. Marshal Ben Cowan’s job to bring him in alive — if Catlow will let him.
When Catlow escapes to Mexico, determined to pull off a Confederate gold heist and retire, Ben is hot on his trail. But circumstances will force the two men on opposite sides of the law to become allies again, fighting for survival as they are pursued across the harsh Mexican desert by forces who want them both dead.
Louis L’Amour died in 1988 with all of his 105 existing works (89 novels, 14 short-story collections and two full-length works of nonfiction) still in print. Thirty years later, most of them continue to crowd bookstore shelves. He is considered one of the world’s most popular writers, and John Wayne referred to him as “the most interesting man in the world,” long before the title became a popular commercial catchphrase.
While Catlow is clearly from the early stages of L’Amour’s writing career, it has a stripped-down charm I found satisfying. I enjoyed the interplay between Catlow and Cowan — friends turned reluctant adversaries — and found myself rooting for both characters to win. L’Amour was a master at creating this type of reader engagement and, because Catlow is so stripped down, an attentive reader can get a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes writing mechanics. I found this fascinating.