Book Review: The Big Country

Donald Hamilton’s 1957 book, “The Big Country,” started out as short story, a four-week serial in the Saturday Evening Post, known then as “Ambush at Blanco Canyon.” It became known as “The Big Country” after the movie with the same name came out. I only recently saw the movie for the first time and was astounded at how good it was, even after having read the book.

Captain Jim McKay, a man of independent means and an independent mind, is thrust in the middle of the Old West and the middle of a war over water rights. He arrives believing he will marry Patricia Terrill, but it quickly becomes clear that her expectations of a Western man are very different — and disappointing for her — than his. He is unwilling to change his ways for anyone, regardless of the cost — and the costs are extremely high.

Tensions mount between the two warring families, and McKay seems to have a way of getting under the skin of all involved, which leads him to the center of the final battle.

“The Big Country” was highlighted in my book, “52 Weeks • 52 Western Novels.” The contribution came from Terry Alexander. Here are his notes on the author.

Donald Bengtsson Hamilton was born in Uppsala, Sweden, to Count Bengt Leopold Knutsson Hamilton and Elise Franzisca Hamilton. Hamilton immigrated to the United States to attend the University of Chicago, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1938, before serving in the United States Navy Reserve in World War II. Hamilton’s first novel, “Date With Darkness” was published in 1947. He brought his best-known creation, secret agent Matt Helm, to life in 1960, penning 26 novels featuring the character. “The Damagers” was the final Matt Helm adventure published in 1993. Another Helm novel was written in 2002, but was never published.


Three horseshoes


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