Probably the least of the Elmore Leonard Westerns but still a good read
Escape from Five Shadows is a 1956 Western novel by Elmore Leonard, his third, and it followed The Law at Randado (1954).
If I say it is probably the least remarkable of Leonard’s Westerns, by that I don’t mean that it is poor. All Elmore Leonard Westerns are well-written and enjoyable. But it doesn’t really have the panache of Randado and is certainly not of the class of great novels like Hombre or Valdez is Coming, partly because the characters are a bit paler.
The Five Shadows of the title is a convict labor camp where our hero, Corey Bowen, has been unjustly sent after a spell in Yuma Territorial Prison for a crime he did not commit, rustling. The camp is run by crooked, cruel Frank Renda who is taking the government funding for himself, mistreating the convicts and hiring out their labor for his own gain to build a road. Renda has a sadistic gunman crony, Brazil, and also a group of Mimbreño Apache trackers in case any convict should run. But Corey is determined to escape…
25₵. That's what I call good value.
In this way the book has similarities with the Yuma tale Forty Lashes Less One.
There’s a girl, natch. She’s Karla, daughter of the owner of the local Hatch & Hodges stage station (we are in southern Arizona, of course, it being a Leonard Western). Karla knows Convict Corey’s good just by looking at him and she is going to help him prove his innocence, though her dad has his doubts.
Well, it’s fairly predictable but like all Leonard Westerns it’s pacey and actionful. It also has a ring of authenticity. Corey’s relationship with the Apaches is especially well done.
Elmore Leonard (1925 - 2013)
I would say, though, that it’s the most traditional of the stories and reads like a Luke Short. That’s praise, not criticism – I love Luke Short Westerns – but it’s a straight tale of brave Westerner beats crooked thugs and gets girl. No sex, no rude words, a fair bit of violence.
It never made it to the screen but if it had it might have been a Randolph Scott movie with Karen Steele as Karla, Richard Boone as Renda, that kind of thing. It would have been an OK B-Western, with some nice AZ location photography shot round there at Sedona.
Worth a read, anyway, dear e-readers.
The nine Western novels of Elmore Leonard - all good