Friday, June 16, 2017

The Haunted Mesa (Louis L'Amour)

The Haunted Mesa
Louis L'Amour
Fiction, Sci-Fi/Western
**+ (Bad/Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Mike Raglan has made a life traveling the world, seeking lost legends and "haunted" places, but he came to the American Southwest desert on a personal matter. An eccentric acquaintance, Eric, wrote him a cryptic letter, requesting help - but he seems to have vanished without a trace. His notebook tells of strange experiences on a desert mesa, such as the uncovering of a buried kiva, or Native American worshipping place, and odd visitors. The more Mike investigates, the more he suspects he may have at last run up against a mystery even he can't debunk, mysteries tied to the legendary "Third World" spoken of in native legends… a world their ancestors reportedly abandoned due to an unnamed evil, and one that may be reaching out again.

REVIEW: I was looking for a Western title for a reading challenge, and the author looked to be one of the prominent names in the genre, so I gave this book - with its promise of an otherworldly twist - a try. It starts with some decent potential, even if the characters aren't especially original or memorable, but that potential's soon wasted.
Mike's a fairly generic hero, a self-made adventurer who can take care of himself, but who has resisted settling down and building bonds. He encounters various stock figures, including the local sheriff, a handful of shady thugs, a beautiful Native American woman (who pushes into stereotype territory, with her stilted English and limited knowledge of the white man's ways - but, then, there's a certain white male slant to the whole story, so I suppose that's to be expected), and so forth. But things become wobbly as the possibility of other worlds comes into play. Mike spends an inordinate amount of time reflecting on the same core set of ideas: what is known of the Anasazi culture (rather little), whether other worlds are real or if it's all an exceptionally elaborate kidnapping hoax, and a smattering of personal history and speculation on the nature of reality around the sides. This wouldn't be much of an issue if some manner of progress was made during these speculations, or if new information prompted them, but the vast majority of this thought process just eats pages while repeating itself, sometimes almost verbatim, and with little to no external prompt for the speculation or subject shift. He'll be driving down a highway, then suddenly thinking about how the Anasazi built in cliffs despite the energy required to haul in water and food, followed by disbelief (or belief, sometimes in the same scene and with no notable reason for the flip-flop) about the "third world" portals. Even an encounter with clearly otherworldly creatures leaves him with doubts, and yet more circular speculation. At some point, I wanted to smack him to get him to do something other than drive around and speculate, already. (Well, to be fair, he also experiences plenty of eerie feelings, more than half of which turn out to be nothing.) Around and around and around Mike goes, in the desert and in his head, only rarely making tangible progress. The climax feels a little rushed and flat as a result of all this wasted time, and the conclusion too neat.
The sense that I wasted so much time on what amounted to plot filibuster, plus an overall feel that the story didn't live up to its potential, ultimately dropped it a half-star below the bland Okay rating. Something about that waste just plain irritated me more than usual, possibly exacerbated by a sense that L'Amour, likely unintentionally, was white mansplaining native mythos.

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